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Rap Vocality and the Construction of Identity.

By Alyssa S. Woods


This project fuses musical and socio-cultural perspectives in order to better understand how the voice participates in the construction of identities in rap music. Rap is an important site for the performance and negotiation of identity in the public sphere, and as rap has become increasingly entrenched in popular culture, many studies have been published on the importance of rap, its functions in identity formation, and its workings as a cultural discourse. My research contributes to this field by combining socio-cultural critique with discussion of the musical codes and conventions. Specifically, I explore the ways in which gender and race are performed vocally through musical and lyrical conventions. MCs’ vocal production and performances are not only primary carriers of the lyrics, but also convey musical meanings through vocal nuance, declamation, and rhythmic delivery. The examination of MCs’ vocality in relation to other aspects of rap production and reception provides insight into rap’s gender roles and racial positions, which can illuminate constructions of gender and race in a larger social context. Chapter 1 outlines the vocal parameters used throughout the dissertation. Chapter 2 discusses the ways that musical and lyrical conventions in rap have been coded as black, as well as how MCs have linked themselves to an African-American musical lineage. Chapter 3 outlines the masculine attributes of rap and the various ways in which masculinity is performed through the voice in rap. I also discuss how the roles of singing and rapping have been gendered and interrogate the ways in which these roles have been interpreted in rap music. Chapter 4 discusses a sexually aggressive style of MCing that is common among women and the problematic implications of this type of representation. By analyzing the vocal strategies of several prominent MCs, I demonstrate the ways in which they simultaneously resist and reinforce the raced and gendered norms of the rap sphere. Chapter 5 explores how white MCs negotiate the raced boundaries of the rap sphere. I contend that many successful rappers have exaggerated their whiteness in order to gain credibility, thus acknowledging their position within this predominantly black musical style

Topics: Rap Music Analysis and Interpretation, Rap Vocal Performance, Gendered and Raced Identities
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