Allusions of grandeur : figurative language use in rap lyrics

Christopher, Roy (Editor)
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This dissertation examines allusions among a corpus of rap lyrics to find their uses and functions. The functions of the allusions, as defined by Leppihalme, 1997, of interest are the puzzle (to identify someone with similar social knowledge), humor, to indicate cultural breadth, and characterization (taking on a character to make a situation more understandable). This study is important for many reasons not the least of which is the focus on language use, a tack that is often taken for granted in studies of hip-hop culture. It is also important for the culture because the so-named “Hip-hop Nation” is a community constituted by communicative action and is now a global phenomenon. According to Fiske (1987), intertextuality is “the understanding of a media text by bringing to bear understandings of other media texts” (p. 108), thereby it is the understanding of a text through the interpretation of allusions to other texts. Allusion has been variously defined as reference to another literary work, to another art, to history, to contemporary figures, or the like (Preminger, 1965); a reference, explicit or indirect, to a person, place, or event or to another literary work or passage (Abrams, 1984); a figure of speech that compares aspects or qualities of counterparts in history, mythology, scripture, literature, popular or contemporary culture (Lass, Kiremidjian, & Goldstein, 1987); Gorham and Gilligan (1997) distinguishes media allusions, calling them, “adaptations of or reference to a scripted line from the popular media” (p. 1), and referring to them as “cultural handshakes.” The limited empirical research in the area of allusion has focused on users' reasons for and use of media allusions (Gorham & Gilligan, 2006) and reader responses to the translation of unfamiliar allusions (Lippehalme, 1997). An allusion creates “a new entity greater than any of its constituent parts” (Kellett, 1933, p. 13-14). The use of allusion is traditionally thought of as adding a layer of richness to a piece of art or literature. I believe the same can be said for rap lyrics and the overall pastiche that has become hip-hop culture