Are Most White Rappers Upper Middle Class Citizens?

Back in the day, the Oakland school system had an idea to incorporate ‘Ebonics’ into their school system to ‘enrich’ studies for  students.  The reaction from the mainstream media was that this would encourage a lazy form of language.  Criticism that carried with it heavy racial undertones.  Linguists, the least racist professionals in the world, fired back.  ‘Ebonics’ isn’t objectively any ‘lazier’, they argued:

“The systematic and expressive nature of the grammar and pronunciation patterns of the African American vernacular has been established by numerous scientific studies over the past thirty years. Characterizations of Ebonics as ‘slang,’ ‘mutant,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘defective,’ ‘ungrammatical,’ or ‘broken English’ are incorrect and demeaning” “There is evidence from Sweden, the U.S., and other countries that speakers of other varieties can be aided in their learning of the standard variety by pedagogical approaches which recognize the legitimacy of the other varieties of a language. From this perspective, the Oakland School Board’s decision to recognize the vernacular of African American students in teaching them Standard English is linguistically and pedagogically sound”
—the Linguistic Society of America

Most academics who’ve spent their lives studying language saw this ruling as a positive step forward but the mainstream backlash remained negative.  One systematic feature that distinguishes ‘Ebonics’ from ‘regular’ English is something called ‘g-dropping’.  That is, words with the suffix -ing end up being pronounced -in: {‘speaking’} -> {‘speakin’}.  This isn’t something limited to ‘Ebonics’, obviously.  G-dropping occurs in many English dialects and is heavily influenced by economic class.

A dope dude by the name of Bill Labov ran scientific experiments on participants to see if there were socio-economic factors that affected how often people ‘dropped’ the ‘g’.  He found that, yes, there is a definite correlation between how often you ‘drop’ the ‘g’ and what social class you belong to:

Lower Class 80%
Working Class 49%
Lower Middle Class 32%
Upper Middle Class 5%

Okay.  Why does this matter?  Well, it occurred to me looking at some of the numbers that are the basis for my new ‘race’ classification tool that most of the high-probability ‘black’ words seem to have g-dropping.  I gathered most of my data from OHHLA so mistakes are only natural.  However, a high g-dropping rate for ‘black’ words assumes either:

  1. The people who input the lyrics did so in an agenda-driven manner.
  2. G-dropping is a characteristic inherent in black raps.

Assuming that the lyric writers didn’t have an agenda and were doing their best to match the transcription to what they heard, g-dropping as a statistical phenomenon in the actual transcribed lyrics would be very interesting.  What do the numbers say?  Well, ‘black’ words in the lyrics dataset are much more likely to display g-dropping than ‘white’ words.

G-dropping in ‘black’ words    91%
G-dropping in ‘white’ words      9%

So, definitely, yes.  Words that display g-dropping are much, much more likely to be found in rap songs by ‘black’ artists.  Interestingly enough, the super low rate of g-dropping in ‘white’ rapper lyrics’ points to either a systematic effort by lyric transcribers to give the lyrics of ‘white’ rappers a less ‘Ebonic’ texture or that white rappers display the sociolinguistic characteristics consistent with a middle-class upbringing.

Essential Readings:

Linguistics Society of America (LSA) Resolution on the Oakland “Ebonics” Issue

The Internet Pilgrim’s Guide To G-dropping 

Mock Ebonics: Linguistic racism in parodies of Ebonics on the Internet



6 thoughts on “Are Most White Rappers Upper Middle Class Citizens?

  1. I love your blog dude. It helps me explain to my friends that rap is much more than just beats and similes.

  2. I love your blog dude.

  3. zach says:

    Do you know Brotha Lynch Hung from Sacramento. He’s got some crazy amazing stuff and a lot of great rhythmic variety. If you don’t know him you might wanna check him out. Season of the Siccness is basic westcoast sounding 90s greatness. And then Loaded which is just crazy and dark and so cool.

  4. planzzz says:

    bro, you are fucking up the game exposing all this valuable information out there, but i ain’t got nothing but love cuz you sound like a smart ass brother. With the large amount of rappers out there, and since this is mainly a rapper’s blog than a regular consumers, and also since most of the rappers are clones and mainly suck, perhaps this blog can place most of them on a path to enhancing their skills… force the craft to evolve at a quicker speed.

  5. […] is a rule-governed language that can sometimes be studied on paper.  For example, something like G-Dropping can be looked at on text.  Another rule of ‘Ebonics’ has to do with word-initial […]

  6. […] will shit-talk the fact that your ‘white’ score is so high or that you G-Drop so often.  This will prove that rap isn’t a thing you ‘need’ to ‘get […]

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