The languages of global hip hop

The languages of global hip hop. Ed. by Marina Terkourafi. (Advances in sociolinguistics.) New York: Continuum, 2010. Pp. xii, 351. ISBN 9780826431608. $170 (Hb).

Reviewed by MaryAnn Parada, University of Illinois at Chicago

In this well-written and intriguingly diverse book, editor Marina Terkourafi provides an invaluable contribution to the growing scholarship on hip hop. Consistent with the heterogeneity characteristic of the genre’s principal forms (i.e. breakdancing, DJ-ing, graffiti, and rap), the common thread across the book’s twelve chapters is in fact the distinctly ‘glocalized’ nature of the multiple hip hop varieties highlighted. From Germany to Egypt, Hungary to South Korea, Cyprus to Chicago, the linguistic analyses contained in this work offer diverse perspectives on the intersections between music, language, and identity in a globalized society.

Examining the linguistic peculiarities and local flavor of hip hop culture and production in their respective regions of study, specifically within the context of ‘connective marginalities’ (3) and the transnational notion of ‘keepin it real’, the authors adopt a number of methodologies and frameworks through which they analyze the ways in which authenticity is dually established both at the level of local life and in the acknowledgement of the broader hip hop movement and its origins.

In her engaging introduction, Terkourafi details how artists work to ‘claim’ authenticity at each of the two levels through strategic choices involving ‘both form (music samples and language varieties used) and content (topics and genres referred to, and attitudes expressed)’ (7). Authentic production in the local sense is typically accomplished through the incorporation of local rhythms, songs, or sounds, through the (often combined) use of national, regional, immigrant, or minority languages, and by referencing aspects of local culture and community. Global social issues highly relevant to the immediate environment, such as migration, may also be invoked to the same end. On the other hand, staying ‘real’ to hip hop culture more broadly is regularly observed in artists’ recognition of its Black inner-city roots through their use of linguistic features and styles associated with African American English (AAE) and through their stances of social critique and resistance.

Embedded in the book’s consistently clear prose are a host of other recurring and interconnected topics that relate to or directly interface with notions of authenticity, including ethnolinguistic identity, multilingualism and codeswitching, global English, audience design and marketability, emblematic discourse, lyrical structure, and sociopolitical taboo. This thematic variety endows the collection with an interdisciplinary appeal and utility to individuals of diverse research interests. However, despite the helpful glossary of hip hop terms in the appendix, it may read somewhat densely for those unacquainted with the hip hop genre or its trajectory of linguistic analysis. One may wish to first read one or two of the abundantly cited precursors to this book for a better understanding of pertinent sequences of events and investigative approaches.

The rich analyses contained in this work both advance hip hop research in exciting directions and expand the scope of sociolinguistics, and in so doing, offer important insights to scholars and graduate students dedicated to investigating the relational complexities of language and society.