4.1 The Battle
4.1.1 Round One
From the outset, Eurgh makes extensive use of fillers like ‘yo’ and the ‘I’m busting + adjective’ construction. ‘Fillers’ are a form of poetic hinge, used to support and pre-empt rhyming words and punchlines. Eurgh is performing ‘cultural code-switching’ with the purpose of constructing his rhyme. Code switching refers to the concurrent usage of two different languages or varieties, and Myers-Scotton’s Markedness Model (Myers-Scotton, 1993) proposes that users of multiple varieties are methodical and logical and use the language that most benefits them within a social context. This is demonstrated in Eurgh’s switching between Standard English and features of HHNL.
The generic simplicity of the first line of each rhyming couplet and pattern allows the rapper to improvise a more targeted or context-specific rhyme as a punchline. In the filler material, Eurgh’s use of a HHNL lexicon is marked, and when he is finishing his punchlines, he switches to more standard English constructions:
‘everyone here knows this bitch frail (.) it’s funny it says tusk (.) on your t-shirt cos he’s so blackyou would never see –im (.) pale (..)’
In the first part of this insult, Eurgh makes use of one of the features highlighted by Remes as distinctive to HHNL, the deletion of to be (‘this bitch frail’) during the construction of the rhyme. However, this feature contrasts with the use of a contracted ‘is’ in the following line (‘he’s so black’). The deliberate movement between language designed for a restricted community and the use of Standard English is a defence technique. When Eurgh is not appealing to the audience by forming rhyming insults and wordplay about his opponent, he maintains his position within the social context by using language specific to that community, and this serves to boost his respect in a Hip Hop scenario where authenticity is seen as a route to the accumulation of respect.
Eurgh constructs adverbs in a notable fashion. A feature of HHNL slang is the replacement of adverbs in adverbial phrases with adjectives. This features on several occasions (‘i’m busting it strong’, ‘i drop nasty’ and ‘i’m sounding it well’ demonstrate this) and, as per the HHNL earlier in the round, occurs largely within the filler elements of the round. As before, this serves to support the authenticity of Eurgh’s language, and this authenticity is intending to at as a catalyst for the acquisition of respect.
This verse also draws attention to the use of stimuli from outside of the verbal exchange. Eurgh refers to Kulez’ previous round, beginning by highlighting which insult he is rebutting by making reference to Kulez ‘talking bout big tigger.’ and then forming his own wordplay using the same stimuli (‘it must be e t’ playing phonetically on the physical appearance of fictional alien ET, and relating this through language with Big Tigger, a television personality from Black Entertainment Television, or BET, hence the pun.) Through this overturning of Kulez’ verse, Eurgh undermines his opponent’s performance and esteem in the eyes of the crowd.
4.1.2 Round Two
At the start of his second verse, Eurgh uses a technique highlighted by Fitzpatrick in his study of Eyedea. Eurgh uses the rhetorical “everyone knows that k’s a prick” and within the same rhyme uses “anyone here who’s watched a battle knows…” and although this is not posed as a rhetorical question (Fitzpatrick 2007, p.70) it serves the same communicative purpose in actively engaging the audience through direct involvement in the verse. Through this use of rhetoric he increases his chances of gaining respect by both undermining his opponent and addressing the audience directly.
“everyone knows that k’s a prick (..) talking about how i’m on arkaic’s dick anyone here who’s watched a battle knows til a week ago i wasn’t even mates wi- him”
This provides a rebuttal for a directive Kulez made in the previous round, telling Eurgh to ‘get the fuck off arkaic’s dick’. Kulez ventured too far into territory that was, as Labov posited, ‘too probable,’ and as a result of this, Eurgh provides qualification to ensure that his status is not affected. This is an indication that the battle has moved within the boundaries of personal insults. The rules and structure of the verbal play within the battle, however, are unchanged, and Eurgh maintains the rhyme scheme and uses the same rhetoric and mode of address as he did outside of a personal context. This suggests that personal insults have been adapted into the mechanics of the rap battle, in accordance with Kochman (1983).
Eurgh combines two different levels of rhetoric via code switching in this round also.
‘i slew emcees (.) i heard the track where you changed your usual steez (.) rapping like r a (.) probably gonna call his album shadow state of lunacy’
In the first half of this insult, Eurgh makes two lexical uses of slang. Firstly, ‘I slew emcees’ follows the use of perfect declensions of ‘to be’ and ‘to see’ used in place of the present, outlined by Remes (‘She seen me lookin’ [Remes 1991, p. 139]) and this is achieved here with the past participle of ‘to slay’, a UK slang configuration of this grammatical feature. ‘Steez’ is a neologism, and means ‘style’. Use of this non-standard form again serves the rhyme scheme of the bar but also aims to show Hip Hop authenticity through language and by doing so accrue respect. In some contexts, members of a social group restrict the use of language socially specific to that group, through the emphasis of language, dialect, or, as in this instance, the use of slang in conversations with outgroup speakers (Bucholtz, 2007).
In this round and throughout, Eurgh makes reference to popular culture (‘Bob Marley’, ‘Bloc Party’) and cultural figures outside the battle. By telling Inc, a rapper not involved in the battle, to ‘shut the fuck up’ and by mentioning “r.a.”- the abbreviation of the crew Rhyme Asylum, and using their album name (‘State of Lunacy’ [Rekabet Records, 2008]) as part of his wordplay, Eurgh brings those witnessing the speech event to a position within the discourses at play. Popular culture references broaden the range of those within the community that can identify with Eurgh’s verses.
The use of immediate stimuli (such as Inc) as rhyming subjects is known as ‘freestyling’ and in a battle context serves two objectives. Firstly, by referring to objects, events or lyrical content present at the scene of the battle, a rapper proves his creative prowess as the material could not have been prepared. Secondly, such referring to other rappers (such as Inc, mentioned on two occasions) and events inside and outside the battle, Eurgh places the battle in the context of a shared discourse, working events being witnessed by other emcees who stake respect in the rap battle into the battle itself. This defines the battle by its events and wider context, and places the lyrics neatly into the ongoing discourse of the rap battle league. By increasing the status of the battle, Eurgh increases his own status by association.
4.1.3 Round Three
Eurgh bases much of his final round on a reference to the host, Million Dan, by Kulez. The choice is made to focus not on his physical appearance or personal characteristics, but instead on his conduct within the social norms of battling and concurrently of Hip Hop culture.
‘(..) come on man he thinks referencing million’s good? (..) lickin the battle host’s arse come on we all know oldest trick in the book’
Eurgh attacks the authenticity of Kulez’ battling technique. By using rhetoric such as ‘we all know’, Eurgh aims to draw attention to his opponent’s methods. This reiterates the cultural importance of the linguistic elements of battling. Eurgh highlights Kulez’ movement outside of the confines of verbal play and his active engineering of social favour, then exposes the purpose of Kulez’ language. In the following couplet, Eurgh undermines Kulez actions, explaining that Million Dan would not ultimately have a hand in the outcome of the battle.
‘we all know kulez is gay cos he knows full well he ain’t a judge but he’ll lick his arse anyway’
Eurgh highlights flaws in Kulez’ use of rhetoric, claiming it was misdirected. By stripping bare the verbal play context, whilst remaining within it, Eurgh leaves Kulez social intentions exposed, in essence suggesting that Kulez would favour a winning decision from the judges over respect from the community. Eurgh identifies with the ideology of the Hip Hop community, and dismisses Kulez attempts to do so as misguided.
Analysis of Eurgh’s battling techniques has demonstrated his tactical usage of HHNL in conjunction with the discourses he introduces into the battle context. He balances out the ‘filler’ parts of each insult that do not directly address his opponent by code-switching between HHNL and Standard English. To validate his cultural authenticity, Eurgh involves figures and themes from hip hop and wider popular culture to aid identification with the community, and shows an awareness of the social mechanisms behind the battle in exposing his opponent’s use of rhetoric. Including figures from the audience cements the battle in the ongoing discourse of rap battling, and by bringing status to the battle, Eurgh brings status to himself. The inclusion of personal insults does not stall the verbal play, as Eurgh’s rebuttals fall within its confines.
4.2.1 The Interview
This interview is discussed as an example of Eurgh’s use of language outside of the context of the linguistic marketplace of a battle. This enables the examination of variations between his language inside and outside of battle. The analysis works sequentially through the interview.
‘it’s been (..) four years i been doing it now’
In section 1, Eurgh uses a feature of Black English. The progressive ‘been’ surfaces whilst Eurgh talks of his battling experience. This contrasts with the construction directly pre-empting this: the use of a contracted auxiliary ‘has’ before the progressive ‘been’. Although Eurgh is not battling, he has utilised HHNL in a conversational context wherein information about his experience and concurrently his prestige is required. As in the battle, this shows signs of cultural code switching when his status requires qualification. What follows, however, appears to overturn this.
‘i feel like it has taken on as me and cruger’s responsibility (.) to (.) keep putting battles out because there was no-one else providing that entertainment for the people (.)who’ve been watching it for the last three years’
In section 2, one use of the ellipsis ‘wanna’ is the only HHNL use. In this segment, Eurgh uses a standard complex grammatical structure, and in syntactic contexts within battles where he had replaced this with use of HHNL he has opted instead for constructions not restricted to the Hip Hop community. This provides a contrast not only with the battle but the previous response also.
Following this, Eurgh explains the idiosyncrasies of being a rapper in section 4, and the varying purposes different rappers have for their language choice. Eurgh highlights an extra element to the act of negotiating respect in a battle: the notion that different rappers have different approaches to doing so.
‘i think he never came in this (.) for respect he was never- he never wanted to be (.) the top dog he just wanted to rap and make people laugh’
Again, while the topic of respect is being discussed, we see a resurfacing of non-standard English, with ‘came in this’, and whilst not being listed by Remes, this strikes a contrast with Eurgh’s earlier explanation of how ‘[his] older friends got [him] into it’ which uses an accusative instead of dative preposition. The transformation from ‘into it’ to ‘in this’ shows the evolution of Eurgh’s self-perceived placement within the culture. The use of ‘into it’ implies arrival into the sphere of Hip Hop culture and ‘in this’ suggests the Eurgh has now moved to a position inside of the culture, and the position taken with discussion of other rappers ‘coming in’ is one of authority. Eurgh displays his status through the changes in his language as different themes come to pass in the interview
Eurgh proceeds throughout sections 5 and 6 to highlight the distinction between US battle rapping, the source of Hip Hop culture, and its UK subculture. Eurgh claims that:
“the american scene is much more (.) street orientated (.) and it’s much more about (.) who’s the hardest lyrically who’s the hardest physically”
Eurgh differentiates between two different types of respect in this instance. The first is street respect: the establishment of an imposing persona that carries outside of the battle. The second is suggested in this:
“i think compared to the british scene if you watch don’t flop (.) it’s much more about the comedy like today’s event (.) it’s all about who can make someone laugh more who can get the crowd on their side”
The suggestion is that the respect in this instance is not just implemented in a different way to the US, but is a different kind of respect altogether. The emphasiss in UK Hip Hop, according to Eurgh, is on the rhetoric and the verbal play on an intrinsic level. Due to its geographical removal from Hip Hop’s founding stimuli, the dynamics of the battle and the intentions of the language differ. This changes the criteria by which the social group assesses the standards of respect administration. The practice of battling has transferred but, at the exclusion of the specific sociohistorical context from which it was adopted, it is appreciated on an intrinsic and aesthetic level. Respect is still accumulated from technical mastery of the verbal play, but there is less emphasis on the rapper’s social threat outside of the battle.
Eurgh’s use of filler in natural speech is highlighted here. Both in the interview and the World Rap Championship footage (Appendix 3, to be examined later) Eurgh uses ‘d’you know what i mean?’ as conversational filler. In the battle, pauses for thought are occupied with ‘yo’ and ‘fuck it’- syllabically shorter and phonologically sharper, they serve to maintain the aggression of the battling context, and this energy need not apply in a natural setting. This displays a constant reassessment of the levels of respect that can be negotiated in his current context.
Eurgh proceeds to section 7, in which he discusses personal insults and their relevance within battling. The use of slang is negligible in this section of the interview, bar notably the use the expletive ‘shit’ to mean ‘content’ (‘he had personal shit’) which is a feature of HHNL. A pattern is developing within the interview where one or two HHNL features, primarily lexical, are used within each response, but largely Eurgh answers in Standard English. Eurgh dismisses personal insults, claiming that ‘the more important thing is just who’s more entertaining’. This comes down to the aforementioned cultural shift from US Hip Hop to the UK, and the emphasis on linguistic skill rather than social presence.
One further comment from Eurgh requires expansion, from section 10. When asked about the importance of degrading the opponent, and if a rapper can claim victory purely by display of his prowess, Eurgh maintains that it varies with the opponent and Eurgh’s relationship with them.
‘it’s been literally eighty eighty five per cent in my head i just wanna make you look shit (.) and by making you look shit (.) in turn i will eventually (..) you know (.) t- i will turn out (..) to look better… but there’s been a lot of ones where it’s been the other way round all i’ve cared about is spitting some good bars and i’m really not bothered if (.) they- how it looks to them i just want to get respect for sounding good’
In the first half of this section, Eurgh discusses the embarrassment of opponents, and does not make use of HHNL within it. However, when he proceeds with the discussion of his own prowess, and ‘respect for sounding good’, Eurgh uses the slang verb ‘spitting’ (as used previously to discuss US Hip Hop culture) and ‘bars’. The use of ‘bars’, meaning lyrics, is taken from a musical semantic field, and reinforces the musicality of African American oral culture, solidifying the link between language, music and the wider elements of the culture upon which Hip Hop music draws. As soon as his own reputation or prowess is mentioned, lexical items from HHNL are used. Eurgh is using this linguistic toolkit selectively to consolidate his authenticity and, consequentially, his status while reflecting on it.
This is the last section of the interview examined in detail, as it exemplifies the way in which a culture-specific linguistic practice has been assimilated into new cultural surroundings. The remainder provides very little that does not already mirror the features that have already been discussed. Thematically, the interview continued to discuss the conflicts between recorded rap music and battling, and the degrees of separation between his name as a rapper and his real name. The extent of HHNL use in sections 11, 12 and 13 is negligible, while this does highlight the limited use of these features in Eurgh’s speech outside of battle, it does not present non-standard lexical items or grammatical structure to analyse.
One of the issues with conducting an interview in this manner is that it does not represent Eurgh’s conversation with his peers. The use of HHNL will naturally emerge with those also immersed in the culture and its practices. In addition, and despite the fact that Eurgh discussed several themes within respect and battling, and used slang in contexts to defend his status when the interview focussed on it, there were no active transactions of respect- this interview occurred outside of the Hip Hop community.
4.2.2 Footage of Eurgh’s outburst during the World Rap Championships 2007
It is necessary, then, to examine a natural conversation between Eurgh and another member of a Hip Hop community. Eurgh competed in the 2007 World Rap Championships (hereafter WRC 2007) with a rapping partner, Arkaic. Large financial prizes and international acclaim and respect were at stake, and in the semi-final, Eurgh and Arkaic were defeated due to a decision being overturned by the judges. Eurgh expressed his anger vocally directly to the camera. The straight to camera tirade is examined, in addition to the proceeding conversation Eurgh conducts with the surrounding US rappers. This demonstrates Eurgh’s language choice in a context where a great deal of respect is in negotiation, yet natural speech is used. This will display more clearly the social purposes Eurgh has for HHNL outside of battles.
Eurgh begins, amidst a flurry of expletives, with a reference to his hometown.
‘yeah eurgh from norwich says FUCK jump off’ (Appendix 3)
The inclusion of his hometown amidst emotive language use, such as expletives, reinforces the idea of representation. As Newman posited, those involved in Hip Hop culture use neighbourhoods and origin as a source of pride and identity (Newman, 2001, p. 2). This is represented here in Eurgh’s inclusion of Norwich as both a statement of identity and a tool for conserving the respect he is angry at having lost. Specifically in the context of an international battle, this serves a double purpose. Eurgh later claims that Jump Off ‘always favour americans’ and is therefore within his language using his hometown as a negotiating tool to defend his status. In accentuating the British element of his identity, he appeals to those in his own community for respect.
Eurgh proceeds to use a heavy concentration of HHNL lexical items. Use of the lexical item ‘bars’ to mean ‘lyrics’ is semantically shifted further still from its musical context.
‘every bar –sessed and reain told us man (.) true man (.)’
Eurgh transforms the meaning of ‘bars’ in this instance to ‘units of information. By semantically introducing the context of ‘bars’ from music to the battle, and then from the battle context to natural speech, Eurgh relates the importance of language choice in battling its social context. In this case ‘bars’ is used to refer to information they were told by two previous British rappers in the competition. Drawing this connection legitimises the act of battling in the wider context of its social impact, and conveys the magnitude of Eurgh’s defeat on such a level.
Eurgh again uses ‘shit’ as a slang synonym for ‘things’, and a double negative construction in ‘they ain’t care about nothin’ man’. Use of multiple negatives is listed by Remes as a feature of Black English, and this is the only occurrence of it in any of the speech samples. The usage of these features show an increased effort to use respect acquisition tools within contexts where status is directly under threat. The need for identification with the cultural norms has invaded his natural language use. The display of adherence to these norms cements his position, relevance and authority as part of the culture.
In the proceeding conversation with Arkaic and a group of US rappers from the local community,Eurgh makes the use of explicitly British slang ‘bruv’ and follows this with another culture-specific discourse marker from HHNL, ‘straight up’. At the linguistic home of HHNL Eurgh combines HHNL and British slang, maintain his geographical identity, but by the same token grant access to greater identification with the US rappers. Eurgh utilises this in order to maintain his authenticity in a social setting to which he is not accustomed.
The mechanics of respect operate here in both examples of natural conversation. Eurgh constantly reassesses his positioning in terms of HHNL use according to the context and theme of conversation. Through his targeted use of lexical items and discourses from within the Hip Hop community, Eurgh legitimises his own role in this community and thus brings credibility and respect to his utterances within the social confines of Hip Hop. In the interview, Eurgh highlights many of the themes that define his language choices. He identifies the differences between the criteria for the administration of respect in US and UK battle rapping. These were connected to the issues surrounding the establishment of a linguistic practice outside of its founding sociohistorical setting, and how this alters the framework of respect to its own values.