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So what has Hiphop done that is new and innovative when it comes to vocabulary? Plenty! In Hiphop, Words can become symbols that communicate multiple meanings. In order to determine what a word really means we must have local and background knowledge. The knowledge needed to interpret and use Hiphop words correctly includes the following.


Hiphop writing can reflect how a word sounds when it is spoken. English spelling and writing does not always reflect one sound for one letter. Hiphop can illustrate this fact. Sometimes Hiphop simplifies the writing system and sometimes it makes it more complicated. This is a choice. It is not a hard and fast rule. For example:

 Not Hiphop  Hiphop
 School  Skool
 Business  Biz/Bizness/Bizniz
 Fat  Phat




New spellings often accompany a change in word meaning and reflect African American English (AAE) and hiphop pronunciation, knowledge General English (GE) spelling rules and alphabet symbol ideology. For instance, when writing about America’s negative treatment of urban youth, it is common to find it spelled Amerikkka, using the initials for the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). New spellings also focus on English irregular spelling rules. So to give a compliment about an activity or object one might say that it is phat (pronounced fat).

A consonant cluster is two or more consonants together: eg sch in the word “school” is a consonant cluster. Clusters are often simplified to focus on letters that reflect actual pronunciation. (eg. school = skool). Virtually every word that exceeds two syllables and ends with the er suffix is vocalized and spelled -a , uh or -ah is in brothah, (brother) sucka (sucker). Similarly, words ending in ing are written as in/un as in sumthin for something and thumpun for thumping. Spelling also reflects syllable reduction and vowel assimilation with rhotics and semi-vowels. Thus all right is spelled aight.

We always look for examples of usage to confirm what we say a word means. Examples are very important because they can be tested. Accuracy of definition is very important because word meaning can change in Hiphop. For example, the definitions of ill have developed over time.

We research the origin or etymology of a word. In Hiphop this can be very complicated for many reasons. First, a spelling change may suggest that it is from a word that is not related to the meaning. Secondly, the Hiphop usage may be associated with more than one word. In that case we examine the possibility of whether it is one origin or multiple origins.


Clark, Rickie. 1997. The Street Language Dictionary: Featuring Hip Hop & Gang Terms. Indianapolis: P.A. Clark & Sons.

Kearse, Randy. 2007. Street Talk: Da Official Guide to Hip-Hop & Urban Slanguage. Fort Lee, New Jersey: Barricade Books.

Major, Clarence. 1970. Dictionary of Afro-American Slang. New York: International Publishers.

Major, Clarence. 1994. Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang. New York: Penguin Books. Mitchell, Kevin. 2003.

Hip-Hop Rhyming Dictionary. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Publishing Company. RZA. 2005.

Smitherman, Geneva. 2000. Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner. New York: Mariner Books.

The National Rap Dictionary. New York: Marvel Enterprises. Westbrook, Alonzo. 2002.

Hip Hoptionary: The Dictionary of Hip Hop Terminology. New York: Harlem Moon., pp. 224

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