Cover for KEYES: Rap Music and Street Consciousness. Click for larger image

Rap Music and Street Consciousness

Awards and Recognition:

A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, 2004.

Rap from its earliest roots to the present day

In this first musicological history of rap music, Cheryl L. Keyes traces the genre's history from its roots in West African bardic traditions, the Jamaican dancehall tradition, and African American vernacular expressions to its permeation of the cultural mainstream as a major tenet of hip-hop lifestyle and culture.

Rap music, according to Keyes, is a forum that addresses the political and economic disfranchisement of black youths and other groups, fosters ethnic pride, and displays culture values and aesthetics. Blending popular culture with folklore and ethnomusicology, Keyes offers a nuanced portrait of the artists, themes, and varying styles reflective of urban life and street consciousness.

Drawing on the music, lives, politics, and interests of figures including Afrika Bambaataa, the "godfather of hip-hop," and his Zulu Nation, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Grandmaster Flash, Kool "DJ" Herc, MC Lyte, LL Cool J, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Ice-T, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and The Last Poets, Rap Music and Street Consciousness challenges outsider views of the genre. The book also draws on ethnographic research done in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and London, as well as interviews with performers, producers, directors, fans, and managers.

Keyes's vivid and wide-ranging analysis covers the emergence and personas of female rappers and white rappers, the legal repercussions of technological advancements such as electronic mixing and digital sampling, the advent of rap music videos, and the existence of gangsta rap, Southern rap, acid rap, and dance-centered rap subgenres. Also considered are the crossover careers of rap artists in movies and television; rapper-turned-mogul phenomenons such as Queen Latifah; the multimedia empire of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs; the cataclysmic rise of Death Row Records; East Coast versus West Coast tensions; the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace; and the unification efforts of the Nation of Islam and the Hip-Hop Nation.


"Rich in detail and analysis, this book is perhaps one of the most comprehensive in rap music scholarship. . . . Rap Music and Street Consciousness is certain to become one of the classic books in hip-hop scholarship."--Journal of American Folklore


Cheryl Keyes is an associate professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA. She is also a songwriter, composer, and performer.

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