Rhythm, Rhyme and Reason: Hip Hop Expressivity as Political Discourse
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Using Norwegian hip hop as an example, this article argues that public sphere theory offers a fruitful theoretical framework in which to understand the political significance of music. Based on a musical and lyrical analysis of Lars Vaular's ‘Kem Skjøt Siv Jensen’ (Who Shot Siv Jensen) – a song that recently became the subject of extensive public political discourse in Norway – this article first highlights how the aesthetic language specific to hip hop music constitutes a form of political discourse that may be particularly effective in addressing and engaging publics. Further, the analysis brings attention to how hip hop music is characterised by phatic, rhetoric, affective and dramatic modes of communication that may be of value to democratic public discourse. Lastly, this article examines the expressive output of ‘Kem Skjøt Siv Jensen’ in light of Habermas' concept of communicative rationality. In conclusion, the article contends that the dichotomy between (‘rational’) verbal argument and (‘irrational’) musical expressivity constructed within public sphere theory is contrived and, moreover, that hip hop expressivity under certain conditions does conform to the standards of communicative rationality.