Friday, May 24

Hip-hop speaks volumes on real life

Hip-hop speaks volumes on real life

Professor gets grant to study music’s influence on youth

By Tiffany McElroy

Daily Bruin Contributor

One can "dis," be "phat" or be "all that." Not uncommon to the
hip-hop world, these are only a few words that Marcyliena Morgan,
professor of linguistic anthropology at UCLA, is studying with a
grant to research California hip-hop.

While teaching a "Black English" course, Morgan was encouraged
by her students to learn and understand the reason for their need
to express themselves and their experiences through hip-hop.

"The students taught me how much it had to do with their lives.
It marked for them so many important periods into their move into
adulthood and they trusted me, an outsider (an adult), to embrace
it and I did," Morgan said.

She was introduced to a new language with expressions like "word
up" and "chillin’," which had been used for many years, but held
vague meanings to her. Morgan became interested in the emergence of
new words and the way they became part of the established

She defines hip-hop language as an art form, citing words like
"wack" (meaning worthless, of poor quality, weak or stupid), which
may soon fade out only to re-emerge in a few years with a new

Morgan has found that some words have incredible staying power,
such as the word "bad" which emerged in the late ’60s and is still
used today.

"Hip-hop comes from a wide range of oral tradition – there is
really no one source of origin," Morgan explained.

Morgan’s research has found that hip-hop is Afrocentric in
origin and is a mode of expression for young people in urban areas
who have turned their verbal skills into an art form. It is a way
of reporting news and current events, along with venting
frustrations with mainstream thought and educating oneself, she

Part of Morgan’s interest in competing for the grant from the
Institute of American Cultures arose after she traveled around the
country speaking about language used in hip-hop. During her
travels, Morgan learned of many afterschool programs that
encouraged kids to write hip-hop.

"I also recognized that elements in hip-hop had much to do with
the grammar and phonology of African-American English, in the sense
of sound and style," said Morgan.

Morgan and community members realized that kids were learning
about history, English and politics through hip-hop music.

"The importance of this grant and the study of hip-hop is to
break the stereotypical thinking that the language used in this
music is ‘bad’ English," said graduate student of sociocultural
anthropology, Dionne Bennett.

Morgan tries to accomplish this by demonstrating, for instance,
that "black English" is a language with rules that need to be
learned and taught.

Morgan’s research will also include studying the differences in
hip-hop between Northern and Southern California. Artists establish
local differences with hip-hop lingo; hence, Morgan’s research will
focus on the different meanings of words used in various
African-American communities.

The hip-hop artists deliver social commentary with a definite
beat and rhythm, Morgan emphasized, pointing to a song by music
group Grand Master Flash. "The Message" regularly repeats the
phrase, "It’s like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder how I
keep from going under," which describes the hardships of urban

Hip-hop is also about political critiques, said Morgan. Tupac
Shakur’s song, "Keep Ya Head Up," tells of his life in the ghetto,
and criticizes the government which "has money for wars but can’t
feed the poor."

"There is a stigma on people who listen to (hip-hop), but what
it really provides is an opportunity for African American youth to
be heard," said Marvin Sterling, a graduate student of
sociocultural anthropology.

In addition, hip-hop is news for a particular generation of
people in urban areas, said Morgan. The artists are the historians
for their generation – they create the lyrics and the dress which
are a part of their everyday lives. It is their identity.

Morgan’s research, which will be finished this year, shall
conclude with a cultural studies book detailing the phenomenon of
hip-hop language.

"(Hip-hop) is not just about what is said, it’s about how it’s
said," Morgan added. "(Hip-hop) is about creating new vocabularies
and ways of expressing a certain kind of reality."Comments to
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