Sound off: Rhythm, rhyme, and voice in rap and hip-hop
Porco, Alessandro Stefano
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"Sound Off: Rhythm, Rhyme, and Voice in Rap and Hip-Hop" examines the sonic structure and meaning of rap lyrics. Critically engaging with representative rap artists and recordings from 1979 to 2009 as well as print materials from multiple fields, including poetic theory, sociology, ethnography, sound studies, and African-American literary and cultural studies, the project outlines rap's relatively autonomous sound poetics. Rhythm, rhyme, and voice possess unique formal, expressive, rhetorical, and symbolic values within hip-hop culture's audiovisual signifying system. Rhythm, rhyme, and voice are, in part, constituted through the body (e.g. the breath unit) and by acoustic/recording technologies (e.g. multitrack recording). But rap's sonic features are also shaped by a series of inaudible forces' from weak/strong stress patterns that play out at informational levels of lyrical discourse to juxtaposed rhyme-word classes (nouns, verbs, adverbs, et cetera ), to the consumption of drugs and alcohol in the recording studio. This project is not a defense of rap as American poetry but an investigation into rap's poetics. It reflexively critiques the way in which rap is annexed and instrumentalized through racially-coded debates over poetry's form, audience, difficulty, and use-value. Ultimately, "Sound Off: Rhythm, Rhyme, and Voice in Rap and Hip-Hop" opens up rap recordings to new listenings that complement and complicate dominant cultural studies readings, and it contributes to the emergent field of what Alexander G. Weheliye calls "sonic Afro-modernity," in which sound prompts the reconsideration of race and representation in American popular culture.