From Spirituals to Hip Hop

Punjabi, Rajul. “From Spirituals to Hip Hop: The Black Experience Expressed through Narrative and Music.” DMA diss., Long Island University,

Hip-hop involves not just lyrics and beats, but an entire culture that has captured a broad audience of youth in America. It is an amalgamation of African American music, often embedded with reggae riddims, Motown soul, and the powerful chanting of spirituals. More progressive hip-hop lyrics, like those of Talib Kweli, are a reaction to the tears, laughter, and political state of a community, just as spirituals were. While this content and the accompanying beats are marketed as a form of entertainment, Kweli’s hip-hop can be used as a tool to study race, class, and social constructs in America. Many parallels can be drawn between progressive hip-hop music of today and the stories and songs that discussed oppression more than a century ago. Examination of the lyrics that Kweli has written for his albums during the past decade show unsettling similarity to the issues that W. E. B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, and some of their peers toiled over long ago. (Author’s abstract, abridged and revised)