A considerable volume of work has been compiled relating to Hip Hop culture and its role in society, largely focussed on the US culture. The context of Smitherman’s work (1997), and the sociohistorical context he provides for the birth and growth of Hip Hop, has already been operated within. Also aforementioned is Remes’ ethnographic account of the roots and importance of verbal play in African culture, and their link with the act of battle rapping (1991). In addition, Remes provides some of the grammatical, lexical and syntactic features that appear in HHNL. The extent to which Eurgh puts these to use, and to what ends, is ascertained through examination of the the speech samples. For the battle in particular, and as aforementioned, Fitzpatrick’s Critical Discourse Analysis of Eyedea (2007), a US battle rapper, provides the framework for analysing Eurgh. Whereas Fitzpatrick examines Eyedea’s language from a gender perspective, the emphasis within Eurgh’s battle is on the use of rhetoric and the adoption of HHNL features and how these are applied to increase his status within the Hip Hop community, through his references to popular culture and shared experience. For all of the speech samples, there is a thematic and practical application of Labov’s Rules of Ritual Insults (1972). This, alongside a rebuttal from Kochman (1983) regarding the inclusion of personal insults within ritual play is used as a theoretical backdrop for study the context and usage of insults, and the respect that their accuracy and complexity serves to accumulate. Eurgh, in his interview (Appendix 1) dismisses personal insults, so this will be called into comparison.
2.2 The Features of Battling: Remes (1991)
2.2.1 The roots and means of battling
The sociohistorical backdrop for Remes’ work has already been outlined, but what still requires explaining is the relevance of the rest of his piece to this study. Remes relates one particular verbal game, ‘playin’ the dozens’ or ‘sounding’ to battling in its use of a cyclical insult- rebuttal structure. (p. 138). Furthermore, he identifies the role of insults: each insult is a speech act in the wider speech event of the rap battle, and intended for an effect outside of the language used (p. 139). Of particular utility was his examination of language use in raps, in which he reduces the language to two components: Black English and Slang. The use of slang is a ‘means of separating oneself from others’ (p. 139) and use of this ‘special language’ forms a major part of a rapper’s identity. Slang use and identity are often connected: it is a key tool for the negotiation of meanings and values and the formation of an social identity.(Bucholtz, 2007, p. 252)
2.2.2 Linguistic characteristics of Hip Hop Nation Language
Remes defines a selection of the more prominent features of Black English that transferred to hip hop language, such as the deletion of ‘to be’ (as in ‘she real skinny’ [p. 139]), multiple negation (‘I don’t do no crime’) and the invariable ‘be’ (‘you be on a mission’). Slang is associated with the rapper’s peer group, and so tends vary in extent of use and meaning between speakers even within the same social group (Bucholtz, 2007, p. 243), making regularly occurring features harder to identify. Resultingly, the presentation of the features of Black English is the most consistent framework of comparison between the language used in the Eurgh’s UK battle and standard HHNL.
2.3.1 An analysis of Eyedea
Fitzpatrick (2007) focuses on the discourses, rhetoric and narrative at play within battle, rather than the act of battling itself. He achieves this through a study of a televised battle between Eyedea and Shellz which is largely informed by Critical Discourse Analysis in the field of gender. By examining each of Eyedea lyrics and the way in which they function to emasculate his opponent, Fitzpatrick suggests that ‘users of HHNL consciously modulate their speech to appeal to the notion of covert prestige and in-group acceptance which comes with the use of hip hop language’ (p. 66). This is particularly relevant to the study of a British rapper, as a boundary has to be drawn between the adoption of HHNL, a culturally African American sociolect, and the use of their dialect. The emphasis Eurgh places on each will show how he aims to negotiate status through language choice and the delivery of his verse.
2.3.2 Bourdieu’s linguistic marketplace
Fitzpatrick links the discourse of battling to Bourdieu’s ‘linguistic marketplace,’ wherein language is ‘rarely used strictly for communicative purposes’ (p. 65). Language is used as a tool for acquiring ‘social capital’, which lends credibility to future utterances and enables the accumulation of further respect over time. With this in mind, rather than focussing on gender, I will focus on the rhetorical features of Eurgh’s verse, and how he draws in popular culture and context-specific events to increase his popularity.
2.4 Personal and Ritual Insults: Labov (1972) and Kochman (1983)
2.4.1 Labov: The Boundaries of Ritual Insults in Verbal Play
As far as the aggressive content of battle rapping is concerned, it is necessary to question the veracity of the insults being exchanged. Labov’s 1972 study of inner-city black children suggests that personal insults fall outside the realm of ritual play. The ritual insults present in sounding achieve their communicative purpose through layers of hyperbole and metaphorical excess. However, whenever an insult becomes ‘too ordinary- too possible’ (p. 147) it is removed from the context of the verbal game and into disputable claims in a real social arena that require denial, rebuttal or qualification. Labov establishes rules for the conduct of verbal play but claims that there are exceptions: ‘it is possible to hurl insults and it is possible to join in a mass attack on one person there is always a cost in stepping out of the expected pattern’ (p. 334) and enabling these alters the purpose of the language choice.
2.4.2 Kochman: The Role of Personal Insults in Verbal Play
Kochman responds to Labov’s rules in 1983 with a rebuttal, refuting his placement of the play/non-play boundary. Kochman suggests that personal insults fully qualify as part of verbal play, as the movement of the personal into the ritual context reconfigures the dynamics of the insult. Kochman aims to show the functional similarities of accusations and denials in order to display their adaptability as play. Eurgh’s placement of personal insults (and his rebuttal in the second round of the battle [Appendix 2]) and the ways in which they are implemented will illustrate the social purpose of his use of HHNL and rhetoric. In placing personal insults on one side of the play boundary, emphasis shifts within the role of battle rapper.