Terms Used in African American Music

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In hip hop, a style and philosophy centered on or derived from the idea of African heritiage. Identifies Africa as the source for black ideals, practices and social order. Express their African heritage through beats, lyrics, and Afrocentric dress and other images. Artists include Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, De La Soul, and X-Clan. 

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b-boys and b-girls
The first generation of hip hop; dancers (breakers), graffiti artists, local kids from the neighborhood; sometimes used synonymously with breakers. 

A DJ technique in which the record is spun on the needle in the opposite direction. 

beat juggling
Creating a new rhythmical composition by using two records and manipulating the arrangement of the elements (drum sounds, headnotes, etc.). 

black feminism
(See womanism) White middle-class, feminist activists had racial and class blind spots, and did, would, could not address the social inequality experienced by African American women. Black feminism (or womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker) makes an effort to address racial identity in conjunction with gender inequality, and responds to a feminism that is read by black women to mean "white feminism." 

Black Power
The Black Power Movement was inspired by the philosophy of Black Nationalism, which advocated self-sufficiency, self-control and the full participation in the decision-making process on issues affecting the lives of black people. These issues include political participation, economic empowerment, local school governance, and community control. The Black Power Movement was spearheaded by the teachings of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael (of the Black Panthers), all of whom promoted the concepts of Black Pride; Self-awareness; Self-control; National Black unity. The Black Power movement sought to unify all blacks from southern and northern regions through a shared philosophy. 

A film genre popular in the early 1970s, made with black performers and aimed at a black audience. These low-budget films typically glorify black criminals and typically portray black men as only pimps, pushers, prostitutes, and gangsters. These films and their stock characters achieved cult status in the black community. Films include Shaft, Foxy Brown, Superfly. 

An African American verbal art genre in which the performer praises or brags about personal attributes, material possessions and verbal and technical skills. Boasting is a subcategory of storytelling and is related to toasting. 

Also breakdown; the most percussive or rhythmically complex section of records that often featured Latin instruments such as congas, timbales, and cowbells. 

Hip hop dance style; phase one was introduced by African American youth in the early 70s who adapted a number of dance moves - the shuffle, James Brown's slide, spins, robotic moves, etc - into a medley labeled "breaking"; phase two was transformed by Puerto Rican youth who made breaking competitive. Crews emerged (from the urban gang culture), challenging other dancers to meet on the school ground, subway platform, or street corner, armed only with cardboard of linoleum. A stylized form of combat. 

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Viewed with regard to profit; designed for a large market; suitable, adequate, or prepared for "commercial success"; as a result, often criticized for being of an average or inferior quality, producing artistic work of low standards for quick market success. 

cross-over hip-hop
A broadening of the popular appeal of an artist (as a musician) or an artist's work that is often the result of a change of the artist's style. 

cultural function
Hip-hop served as a source for social control; a forum for creative expression; and helped define a cultural and social identity for the urban youth. 

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dancehall music 
A Jamaican dance and music with a hard driving beat played through heavy bass speakers. 

The breaking up and scattering of a people who had to settle far from their ancestral homeland. 

Sly Stone was the first to employ devices to alter the spoken and sung voice and guitars in funk music.For example Sly Stone's film "Sex Machine".

The DJ form began at live sound system dances, eventually leading to recordings of toasts on disc. When hip-hop mixing emerged in New York (thanks in part to native Jamaican Kool Herc), the term was soon transferred to the urban instrumentalists, not the vocalists. Major innovations by Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa led to a '90s generation (see turntablists) who had inherited a mature form of artistic statement. 

dozens, the (doin' the dozens)
An African American form of verbal dueling. A competitive exchange of insults involving women special in the lives of males; a game of ritualized insults. 

dub poetry
Instrumental track versions of the A-side vocal track versions consisting of bass and drum. Dub versions were initially recorded in response to the growing practice of DJs toasting on microphones at public dances. the heartbeat of a people, yet not definable. 

dub poetry
Poetry imperfectly described as what has been called "Reggae Poetry." Recited over on insterted on instrumental tracks. 

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The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests. See black feminism, womanism. 

feminist hip-hop
Introduced feminist perspectives to the hip-hop tradition. Female rappers address a range of topics, including their, verbal skills, relationships, and social and political issues; often includes a black feminist ideology to empower black women. Some artists include - McLyte, Salt 'n Pepa, & Queen Latifa.

Sifting high end and mid-range sounds (they are not removed, but are compressed) and boosting up the bass. 

Five-Percent Nation
An offshoot of the Nation of Islam and guided by the teachings of Clarence 13 X. The Five Percent Nation espouse the philosophy that 85% of the world's population is uncivilized, 10% are rich slave owners, and 5% are the poor, righteous teachers whose mission is to spread awareness. Their teachings are partly based on a Supreme Alphabet, a Supreme Mathematics, and metaphysical novelties. The Five Percenters or Five Percent rappers included artists such as Brand Nubian, C.L. Smooth, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Wu Tang Clan. 

A characteristically anonymous and timeless tale circulated orally among a people. 

funk -A musical genre characterized by group singing, complex polyrythmic structures, percussive instrumental and vocal timbres and featured horn section. James Brown and Sly Stone were the godfathers of funk. See Funk Glossary

A merging of diverse, distinct, or separate elements into a unified whole; in popular music, combining different styles (as rap and jazz formed New Jazz Swing) 

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A style of hip hopdistinguished by a raw edgy, raucous sound and gritty tales about urban life. The lyrics were an accurate reflection of reality; other times, they were exaggerated comic book stories. The most commercially successful form of hip-hop in the late '80s and early '90s that gangsta rap caused considerable controversy. 

gender duels
The tradition of "dissing" and ritualized insult games between men and women. UTFO's 
Roxanne, Roxanne", Roxanne Shanté's "Roxanne's Revenge", and The Real Roxanne "The Real Roxanne" popularized verbal dueling, or signifyin', between genders. 

gospel hip-hop
The fusion of contemporary gospel and hip-hop elements. Integrates gospel lyrics and Christian religious themes with hip-hop lyrical rhymes and beats to create inspirational songs of faith. Artists include - "Nu Nation" and "DC Talk"

gospel style
Improvised and melismatic vocal style characterized by a strained, full-throated sound, often pushed to guttural shrieks and rasps suited to the extremes of emotional-laden lyrics. Vocal timbres extend from lyrical to percussive and syncopated polyrhythms are accentuated with heavy, often hand-clapped accents on beats 2 and 4. 

An inscription or drawing made on some public surface (as a subway car or wall); a way to pass on unconventional views, mark turf, or for artful expression. 

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A style of hip-hop marked by confrontation and aggression, whether in the lyrical subject matter, the hard, driving beats, braying sampling and production, or any combination thereof. The musical style of hardcore hip-hop is aggressive, polytextured, polyrhythmic, and polysonic. Hardcore rap is tough, streetwise, and intense. Hardcore comprises conscious or nationalist hip-hop style as well as gangsta and x-rated. 

Competitive cultural expressions of urban youth, consisting of graffiti artists, mobile deejays, breakers (breakdancers, b-boys, b-girls), and MC's (later known as rappers). Hip-hop provided both entertainment for inner-city youth and a new forum for competitive, non-violent gang warfare. 

hip-hop ballad
Softer beats and lyrical themes of love and romance. Some artists that exemplify this genre are LL Cool J and PM Dawn.

human beat box
The incorporation of rhythmic vocal effects that became the trademark of the comic hip-hop group, The Fat Boys. 

Initially associated with the main characters in the toasting tradition and foundational to the characters of gangsta rap. The two types of hustlers: (1) the trickster who lives by his wits, constantly scheming and manipulating others; (2) The badman (also, the baadman) who rules by force and intimidation and feels justified in "beating" the system, making ends meet illegally or outside conventional paths, which often are not available to him (sometimes her). 

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A process of production by which the intent is to reproduce expressions of cultural tradition. The final product reflects in varying ways the sensibilities, aesthetics, cultural values, and musical perspectives of the appropriating culture. 

inner city
The usually older, economically-impoverished, and more densely populated central section of a city. 

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MC (emcee, rapper)
The percussive lyricist of hip hop. "Rapper's Delight" gave the MCs a new name, rapper, a label that continues to trouble old-schoolers. 

message hip-hop (conscious hip hop)
In the latter half of the 1980s, message hip-hop became a viable form for addressing the problems faced by the black community and suggesting possible ways to solve those problems. The voices of message hip-hop in the late 1980s-early 1990s express concern for: forging a positive Black identity; encouraging unity among African Americans; liberating African Americans from long history of oppression. See nationalist/social conscious rap, Five-percent Nation rap, and Afrocentric rap. Some examples are Kurtis Blow and KRS-One. 

mobile deejay/DJ
The DJ form began at live sound system dances, eventually leading to recordings of toasts on disc. When hip-hop mixing emerged in New York (thanks in part to native Jamaican Kool Herc), the term was soon transferred to the urban instrumentalists, not the vocalists. Major innovations by Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa led to a '90s generation (see turntablists) who had inherited a mature form of artistic statement. 

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nationalist hip-hop
(Also conscious hip hop) Nationalist hip hop is rooted in the ideology of black nationalism and guided by the teachings of Malcolm X and the political activism of the Black Panthers. These hip-hop artists aim to help make African Americans self-sufficient, to learn their history and to acknowledge their past. Artists include Public Enemy, Paris, Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One, Sister Souljah, and the Roots, Mos Def, and dead prez. 

new jazz swing
(Also Jazz-rap) fuses jazz and hip hop. The rhythms of New Jazz Swing come almost entirely from hip hop, the samples and sonic textures were drawn mainly from cool jazz, soul-jazz, and hard bop. New Jazz Swing styled itself as a more positive alternative to the hardcore/gangsta movement taking over rap's mainstream at the dawn of the '90s. Groups like A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, Digable Planets and Gang Starr were notable early artists. 

new school
Marking the period of rap music's transition from the inner city into mainstream popular culture, becoming more diverse, musically and culturally. New School rappers, such as Run-D.M.C. and Boogie Down Productions, kept the beats minimal, expanded lyric themes and varied traditional rhyming patterns. They occasionally added hard-rock guitars or harder-sounding samples, and replacing live instruments with a battery of synthesized instruments and later samples. They paved the way for Public Enemy, whose edgy, political rhymes and dense, sample-heavy beats were the trailblazing sound of the late '80s and early '90s. Some rap groups, such as N.W.A., responded with gangsta rap. N.W.A. adopted PE's hard aggressive sound but concentrated on tales of violence, crime and sex. 

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old school
Old School rap is the style of the very first rap artists who emerged from New York City in the late '70s and early '80s. Old school is easily identified by its emphasis on simply having a good time (party rap). Aside from the socially conscious material of Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow, which greatly expanded rap's horizons, most old school rap had the fun, playful flavor of the block parties and dances at which it was born. Old school rap's recorded history begins with two 1979 singles, Fatback's "King Tim III" and the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," although the movement had been taking shape for almost a decade prior. Sugarhill Records quickly became the center for old school rap, dominating the market until Run-D.M.C. upped the ante in 1983-84. Their sound and style soon took over the rap world, making old school's party orientation and '70s funk, Latin and 1960s and 1970s R&B influences seem outdated. 

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A literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule; a feeble or ridiculous imitation 

layers of different rhythmic patterns; 
practice some African polyrhythms online. 

layering of different sound qualities 

A mid-1970s genre that returned rock & roll to the basics: three-chords and a simple melody, but played louder, faster, and more abrasively. Punk remained as part of the underground music scene in the United States, spawning the hardcore and indie-music scene of the 1980s-1990s (including grunge and rap-metal).Punk bands include artists such as the Ramones, Television, and the Sex Pistols.

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R & B hip-hop
In the 1990s, rap artists began to team up with R&B and funk artists and producers and/or employ the R&B verse-chorus and funk song structure. Evolved in the late '80s, when urban contemporary soul artists began incorporating hip-hop rhythms, samples, and production techniques into their sound. Some songs simply had hip-hop beats, others had rapped sections and sung choruses. Artists include Bobby Brown, TLC, Heavey D and the Boyz, Montell Jordan, etc. 

A term originally used to describe the art of verbal engagement designed to persuade listeners. Rhyming schemes were not necessarily employed. 

rap music
The product of inner-city African-American and Puerto Rican communities, which were plagued by poverty, community decay, and the proliferation of drugs and gang violence during the 1960s and early 1970s. Early rap records, commonly called "old school," were made by DJs scratching records and playing drum loops, with MCs rapping over the resulting rhythms; improvised, street poetry accompanied by a montage of well-known recordings. 

Fuses the most aggressive elements of hardcore rap and heavy metal, and has become an extremely popular variation of alternative metal during the late '90s and typically the domain of white musicians and white audience. Much of rap-metal focuses on the cathartic intensity that is performed by shout-rapping the lyrics instead of the applying the linguistic and rhythmic complexity of traditional rap. Rap-metal always features a rapper as frontman. Limp Bizkit became rap-metal's most popular band during the late '90s; Rage Against the Machine, its most political. 

recycling process 
The process of introducing new elements to a musical production that re-enters the market place as a new version, to which other innovations are added to produce yet another different version. 

The process of localizing foreign musical styles by introducing and intertwining new cultural values, resources, and familiar musical elements with those from foreign sources. The resulting style is distinguished by a blending of features from two and sometimes three cultural traditions. The various international hip-hop styles illustrate this process in various production stages. 

rock the house (also known as rockin')
Denoted the MC's power and control of crowds; to generate positive audible reaction and kinetic response 

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Involves the use of humor and irony to make a point that is often critical of real situations. Most often used in humorous rap, novelty rap, comic rap or comedy rap, it was designed to amuse and entertain. Frequently, it is the raps themselves that are humorous, but the music itself - particularly in the case of Biz Markie, arguably the greatest comedy rapper to date - can be clever and funny, as well. Comedy rap flourished in the '80s, when hip-hop was itself was lighter than it was in the '90s (when gangsta rap kept the music somber). 

Jazz vocal improvisation; singing in which the singer substitutes improvised vocalized syllables for words in a song, may try to sound like a musical instrument. 

Cueing a record back and forth against the needle. 

An African American verbal art genre; signifying refers to a form of commentary that employs double meaning and hidden references; indirect insults exchanged during verbal dueling or a way of subtly implying indirect messages intended as insults. 

social commentary
Rap styles that are socio-political, expounding aggressively on the social ills and political issues that adversely affected the critical mass of African Americans, most of whom lived in inner-city communities. Themes include critiques of drug abuse, urban decay/neglect, sexism, racism, among others. 

Soul, is a concept, aesthetic and sensibility that embodies the ideology of Black Power. It echoes the voices of college-aged students who rejected the integrationist philosophy of the 1950s Civil Rights leaders for the nationalist ideology of Black Nationalism. Soul came to describe a number of R&B-based music styles in the 1960s and is rooted in the musical aesthetic of the gospel tradition: gospel vocal and instrumental stylings, emotional intensity, and rhythmic complexity. Different regions of America produced different kinds of soul. In urban centers like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, the music concentrated on vocal interplay and smooth productions. In Detroit, Motown concentrated on creating a pop-oriented sound that was informed equally by gospel, and 1960s R&B. In the South, the music became harder and tougher, relying on syncopated rhythms, raw vocals, and blaring horns. All of these styles formed soul, which ruled the black music charts throughout the '60s and also frequently crossed over into the pop charts. At the end of the '60s, soul began to splinter apart, as artists like James Brown and Sly Stone developed funk. Other examples are James Brown, the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye. 

A sensitivity or attachment to religious values often involving a life of prayer and devotion. 

spoken word performance
Contains poems, stories and sketches as recited by authors and actors, or they're documents of interviews and speeches with historical figures. Frequently, they're enhanced with musical backdrops, but throughout it all, the emphasis remains on the spoken word.

The art of narrative performance. 

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Guerilla art; the flamboyantly painted nicknames graffitists used to protect their identity and gave their work an air of personalized mystery. 

toasts (African American)
An African American verbal art genre; praises about an anti-authority, heroic figure; toasts can be an enactment, a recasting or exaggeration of an actual event 

toasts (Jamaican)
A Jamaican verbal art and musical genre; a DJ's rap over an instrumental tracks. Rappers (called toasters) would chant lyrics that praised dancers and addressed topical concerns 

Involves replacing foreign resources and materials with those distinctive to the appropriating culture. Local cultures introduce new elements that reflect their social norms, cultural values, and aesthetic principles. In essence, transformation results in an emergent new style. Sometimes the emergent style travels back into the originating culture. When this happens, the production process returns to the imitative component and may repeat the cycle as illustrated in the emergence of various rock styles. 

A term popularized by young non-American DJs popularized the term to describe the current generation's idea of the art of mixing and scratching. Turntablism showcases the DJ's dexterity and musical inventory in the creation of sonic combinations. 

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Underground hip hop falls into two categories: (1) it is either hardcore hip-hop that pushes musical boundaries and has lyrics that are more inventive than gangsta clichés; or (2) it is hardcore gangsta rap that wallows in all of the musical and lyrical clichés of the genre. The two styles share little regard for mainstream conventions, and they celebrate their independent status. Examples of underground include - the Jurassic 5, Common, and The X-Ecutions.

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verbal competition
Refers to a rapper's boasts about verbal skills, physical attributes, material possessions, the technological skills of the DJ, and their ability to "rock the house" while trading insults among members of the same group (known as "posse" or "crew") or directing insults at other groups. 

verbal riddims
Jamaican Patois for verbal rhythms. 

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wigger (wigga)
A nasty slurring of the epithet "white nigger"; the phenomenon of whites identifying with a faulty idea of being black. Like "nigger lover" during the civil rights era, the term was first used by whites who objected to other whites embracing black culture. Now it's also used by whites who embrace black culture to call out other whites who defame black culture.

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Also known as dirty rap, is hip-hop that is focused solely on sex. The fathers of the genre, 2 Live Crew, were one of the leading groups of the groove-heavy Miami bass sound, and that bass-driven groove remained at the foundation of dirty rap. Most dirty rap was simply blue party rap, designed to keep the party rolling. 

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Last updated 11 Jan 2001 © Trustees Indiana University