Publication Date



College of Arts and Sciences


English--Teacher Certification


African-American Literature, African-American, Rap, Vernacular, Literary Theory, Literary Criticism, Kendrick Lamar, Henry Louis Gates Jr.


African American Studies | American Literature | American Popular Culture | Ethnomusicology | Modern Literature | Music Theory


Kendrick Lamar’s “Ab-Soul’s Outro” and “HiiiPower” employ complex patterns of Signifyin(g), testifyin’, and other classical African-American literary tropes in order to construct a nuanced style. Lamar creates a double-voiced text not only within his narrative, but also within the form itself. Lamar plays on rap's unique status in African-American literature as an oral text; it is an extension of the vernacular. Through this oral text, Lamar decentralizes the Eurocentric focus of classical interpretation and qualification of literature to a new Afrocentric perspective that privileges the oral text. These raps are complex, wrapped up in their current context along with a deeply rooted historical and literary context. Closely read, the raps function as liminal texts, straddling the horizons of music and literature as well as the horizons of white and black literary conventions. Because of this complexity, Lamar’s tracks transcend the techniques of interpretation readily applicable to music and thus can be classified as literature.