Throwin' words at U : a lyrical analysis of MC Lyte's rap texts : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Recently, rap music has become a prominent musical genre and is possibly one of the most popular and influential forms of African-American music of the 1980s and 1990s (Erlewine et al 921). Rap is dominated by male artists, although females have been increasingly writing and recording rap music. Considerable research has been conducted on various aspects of the rap phenomenon, but there has been little focus on analysing rap lyrics using traditional literary criticism. The present study analysed the rap texts of MC Lyte, an enduring female rap artist, employing literary techniques used to analyse poetry. The development of rap music is traced from its inception, identifying some of its features and impact, particularly within the economically-disadvantaged and predominantly African-American areas of large cities. The emergence of women rappers, and how their input has contributed to the changing nature of rap music, both in its subject-matter and in the language techniques used, is discussed. MC Lyte was chosen as a representative female rapper because she had recorded several albums spanning more than a decade, because she focuses on issues affecting African-American women and because her lyrical techniques have developed across time. Drawing similarities between rap music and "street poetry", a comprehensive textual analysis was conducted on the albums of MC Lyte. Her use of vocabulary and common elements of poetry was examined, as well as the topics she addresses. The analysis shows that Lyte uses both the common characteristics of rap music, and traditional literary techniques, to successfully comment on issues relevant to her audience. Many of her lyrics involved self-promotion and denigration of other rappers, common elements in rap music. Other lyrics commented and advised on important issues facing African-Americans living in poor black communities, particularly women. Many texts, however, had a more universal relevance. While her lyrics show a consistency across albums, the literary devices and language techniques became more complex, and a wider range of issues were discussed. Inherent limitations in the study were that other possible forms of analysis were not conducted, such as sociological and feminist approaches. Comparisons with other rap artists were not possible due to the lack of prior research into their lyrics. These were identified as topics for future research.