Language and Identity

South African, Xhosa rapping hip hop artist Kanyi Mavi

Chapter Overview

Da Brains
Da Brains | Senegal

This chapter focuses on language, identity and cultural appropriation. It is according to Lee Watkins, and Williams & Stroud, that emcees use language to claim authenticity, and the chapter argues that point. Tanure Ojaide also speaks on the importance of language and culture in an artist’s works. He states that the African writer is a voice for their people and must represent Africa in the most honest way possible. Another source, Stuart Hall, states that cultural identity is made up of two factors consisting of the shared or collective self, and the shared cultural codes. The use of slang or code in hip hop connects individuals who share the same culture and even allows that code to spread to others. Some of an artist’s biggest tools in their music are their language choice, which dictates their audience. Their mastery of their language of choice is shown in their skills in rapping or poetry.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some ways hip-hop artists establish credibility?
  2. Can African-Americans “appropriate” African culture?
  3. Reflect on your own cultural identities. What would a misappropriation of those cultural identities look like?

Relevant Podcast Episodes

Relevant Links

Our blog posts about language and hip-hop

“Black America Please Stop Appropriating African Clothing and Tribal Marks:

Relevant Scholarship

One the Incredible
One the Incredible | Tanzania

Alim, H. S. 2006. Roc the Mic Right: The Language of Hip Hop Culture. Routledge.

Alim, H. S., and A. Pennycook. 2007. “Glocal Linguistic Flows: Hip- Hop Culture(s), Identities, and the Politics of Language Education.” Journal of Language, Identity and Education 6 (2): 89–100.

Stroud, C. 2015. “Orraait—Own Your Linguistic Citizenship.” Mail and Guardian, May 22.–05–21-orraait-own -your-linguistic-citizenship.

Watkins, L. 2012. “A Genre Coming of Age: Transformation, Difference, and Authenticity in the Rap Music and Hip Hop Cultures of South Africa.” In Hip Hop Africa: New Music in a Globalizing World, edited by E. Charry, 57–75. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Williams, Q., and C. Stroud. 2013. “Multilingualism Remixed: Sampling, Braggadocio and the Stylisation of Local Voice.” Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics 42:15–36.

Williams, Q., and C. Stroud. 2014. “Battling the Race: Stylizing Language and Coproducing Whiteness and Colouredness in a Freestyle Rap Performance.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 24 (3): 277–93.

Williams, Q. 2017. Remix Multilingualism: Hip Hop, Ethnography and Performing Marginalized Voice. Bloomsbury Press.