Date of Award

Spring 4-3-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Andy Grace



As hip-hop increasingly circulates in academic discourse, some forty years after its conception in the South Bronx, it has attracted the majority of its critical study on the basis of its cultural and sociological impact. While these lenses are certainly appropriate and productive, it is important that hip-hop study also enters literary discourses and be recognized for its nuanced continuation of a tradition of poetic expression; hip-hop’s reliance on rhyme, meter, and voice all place it firmly within the realm of contemporary poetics. The latter is of particular interest because it draws on social and historical influences to develop a manner of representation, all elements that feature prominently under the heading of “hip-hop studies.” Given such context, I seek to identify rap’s central project for representative voice, community building, and democratic poetics through a critical analysis of rap lyric transcriptions. As the paper progresses, I will consider the availability of a universal hip-hop identity across barriers of race and gender.

Throughout, I offer close readings of lyric samples from prominent artists and carefully compare their poetic strategies with those of more traditional poets from an established canon. Therefore, within the scope of my project, it would not be unusual to see the names Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Gwendolyn Brooks interspersed within a discussion of Jay Z, Eminem, and Lauryn Hill. My discussion of artists is naturally not comprehensive, but it is varied and expansive in its scope; in offering my readings, I ultimately derive a theory for understanding hip-hop’s representative voice and a model for analyzing hip-hop lyrics as a poetic genre.

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