Hip Hop and the Literary, a special issue of African American Review

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Candice M. Jenkins, guest editor
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African American Review solicits articles applying the tools of literary theory and criticism to hip hop artistry. Much early and important hip hop scholarship has taken a sociohistorical and documentary approach to the genre, with more recent work beginning to attend, broadly, to aesthetics. Apart from a few notable exceptions, however, such scholarship has seen limited intervention at the level of language, lyric, story, or myth. Yet if we acknowledge hip hop as always already a verbally constructed space, both a spoken performance and an (un)written representation of the lyricist's vision, then the application of literary analysis to hip hop and its fictions seems both appropriate and necessary. Indeed, approaching the music from a literary perspective may lead to a more nuanced understanding of both form and content, allowing us better to consider hip hop's imaginative properties, the ways that rap invites artist and listener alike to explore interpretive possibilities that exist beyond the limited borders of "reality."

We invite a variety of literary methods and approaches. Scholars such as Imani Perry and Adam Bradley have published recently on hip hop poetics; articles for this special issue might, then, deepen and extend this nascent body of work with new considerations of rap as lyric form. How do hip hop artists manipulate rhyme, meter, and other poetic conventions, and how may we read rap's verses alongside or against other spoken or written poetry, past and present? Should hip hop be understood as another iteration of contemporary (black) poetry? What are the risks or benefits of such an approach, particularly given that poetry, for a host of reasons, often unfairly receives less critical attention than prose?

Articles may also examine hip hop as narrative, a medium of storytelling--and even as discourse, a constituent of language as well as a creative cultural practice. What sorts of stories does rap music tell, and to what ends? How does hip hop employ structures of language, and how does it function as a kind of discursive edifice? Who are hip hop's audiences, and how do they respond to, participate in, and shape hip hop's storytelling--
including those tales that rap tells about the nature of hip hop itself (i.e., hip hop metanarratives)? Conversely, how does "hip hop" function as a trope in literary texts and contexts? How is it deployed in the telling of stories in other media (e.g., the novel, television, and film)? Individual or comparative analyses of particular performances and recordings are welcome, as are broader theoretical considerations of hip hop as literary, cultural, and linguistic artifact.

Inquiries and queries encouraged. E-mail completed essays (not to exceed 8,500 words) to cjenki@hunter.cuny.edu by 31 December 2010.