Over the past four decades, rap and hip hop culture have taken a central place in popular music both in the United States and around the world. Listening to Rap: An Introduction enables students to understand the historical context, cultural impact, and unique musical characteristics of this essential genre. Each chapter explores a key topic in the study of rap music from the 1970s to today, covering themes such as race, gender, commercialization, politics, and authenticity. Synthesizing the approaches of scholars from a variety of disciplines—including music, cultural studies, African-American studies, gender studies, literary criticism, and philosophy—Listening to Rap tracks the evolution of rap and hip hop while illustrating its vast cultural significance.
The text features more than 60 detailed listening guides that analyze the musical elements of songs by a wide array of artists, from Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash to Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and more. A companion website showcases playlists of the music discussed in each chapter. Rooted in the understanding that cultural context, music, and lyrics combine to shape rap’s meaning, the text assumes no prior knowledge. For students of all backgrounds, Listening to Rap offers a clear and accessible introduction to this vital and influential music.
"Thanks to Michael Berry, we now have a common, cross-disciplinary language with which to discuss hip hop’s finer details and wider meanings. Addressing important themes of commercialism, gender, race, intertextuality, geography and much more, Berry has synthesized the ideas from hip-hop studies’ three-decade history into an accessible format that will appeal to both novice and hip-hop head."
—Justin Williams, Senior Lecturer, Music, University of Bristol
"Listening to Rap digs deep into the music, unpacking rap’s rich sonic and lyrical material. An eloquent guide to both classic and emerging voices, this indispensable volume is a welcome addition to any hip-hop lover’s library."
—Ellie Hisama, Professor of Music, Columbia University
"Michael Berry has provided an accessible way to study and understand rap with both the beginner and expert in mind. Listening to Rap is an important contribution to the critical study of rap music."
—Akil Houston, Associate Professor of Cultural and Media Studies, Ohio University
"This book gives the reader an outstanding framework from which to maneuver the universe of rap. Michael Berry covers it all from top to bottom. He highlights the new classics alongside the true old skool originals we've grown to respect. From Outkast to Juvenile and UTP to J.Cole and Killer Mike, Berry has modernized this conversation. I was blown away by this collection of thought and music combined."
—Tef Poe, rapper, musician, activist, and 2017-18 Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellow at Harvard University
List of Listening Guides
Chapter 1: Listening to Beats
Chapter 2: Listening to Poetry
Chapter 3: Listening to Voice
Chapter 4: Listening to Influence
Chapter 5: Listening to History
Chapter 6: Listening to Commercialization
Chapter 7: Listening to Gender and Sexuality
Chapter 8: Listening to Religion
Chapter 9: Listening to Race and Ethnicity
Chapter 10: Listening to Space
Chapter 11: Listening to Regional Styles
Chapter 12: Listening to Politics