Edited by Christina Higgins
[Pragmatics 17:1] 2007
► pp. 9–22
The co-construction of whiteness in an MC battle
Within hip-hop, MC (Master of Cermonies) battles are one of the most visible and potentially humiliating venues for demonstrating one’s verbal skill. Competitors face each other in front of an audience. Each has a minute to “diss” his or her opponent against a backdrop of rhythms produced by a DJ. Each participant’s performance generally consists of “freestyle” or spontaneously generated rhymes designed to belittle some aspect of the opponent’s appearance, rhyming style or place of origin, and ritual insults directed at his or her mother, sister, or crew. Opponents show good will by embracing afterwards. Ultimately the audience decides who wins by applauding louder for one opponent than the other at the end of the battle. Using the framework of interactional sociolinguistics (Goffman 1974, 1981), I will analyze clips from a televised MC battle in which the winning contestant was a White teenager from the Midwest called “Eyedea.” I will show how Eyedea and his successive African American opponents, “R.K.” and “Shells”, participate in the co-construction of his Whiteness. Eyedea marks himself linguistically as White by overemphasizing his pronunciation of /r/ and by carefully avoiding Black ingroup forms of address like “nigga” (c.f. Smitherman 1994). R.K. and Shells construct Eyedea’s Whiteness largely in discursive ways – by pointing out his resemblance to White actors, and alluding to television shows with White cultural references. Socially constructed racial boundaries must be acknowledged in these types of performances because Whiteness (despite the visibility of White rappers like Eminem) is still marked against the backdrop of normative Blackness in hip-hop (Boyd 2002). In a counter-hegemonic reversal of Du Boisian double-consciousness hip-hop obliges White participants to see themselves through the eyes of Black people. Hip-hop effectively subverts dominant discourses of race and language requiring MC battle participants to acknowledge and ratify this covert hierarchy.
Cited by 15 other publications
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