Volume 26, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1018-2101
  • E-ISSN: 2406-4238


Towards the turn of the 20th century, a new wave of hip hop music emerged in Nigeria whose sense of popularity activated, and was activated by, the employment of complex linguistic strategies. Indirection, ambiguity, circumlocution, language mixing, pun, double meaning, and inclusive pronominals, among others, are not only used by artists in performing the glocal orientations of their music but also become for them valuable resources in the fashioning of multiple identities. In this paper, I interrogate some of these linguistic markers, using four broad paradigms: “Signifying,” “slangifying,” “double meaning,” and “pronominals and ghetto naming.” Under each of these areas, I show how Nigerian hip hop music is creating–through the mediation of language–sub-identities and a new subculture for a generation of urban youth.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Abati, Reuben
    (2009) A nation’s identity crisis. The Guardian. June21: 35.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Adedeji, Adewale
    (2010) Yoruba culture and its influence on the development of modern popular music in Nigeria. Ph.D. Dissertation. The University of Sheffield.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. (2011) Negotiating globalization through hybridization: Hip hop and the creation of cross-over culture in Nigerian popular music. Paper Presented at the 4th European Conference on African Studies (ECAS 4) , Uppsala, Sweden15-18 June 2011.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. (2013) African popular culture and the path of consciousness: Hip hop and the culture of resistance in Nigeria. Postcolonial Text8.3 & 4: 1-18.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Adelakun, Abimbola A
    (2013) Coming to America: Race, class, nationality and mobility in “African” hip hop. MA Thesis. University of Texas.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Adeleye-Fayemi, Bisi
    (1994) Gender, sexuality, and popular culture in Nigeria. Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities: Media, Popular Culture, and 'the Public' in Africa8: 1-2. Retrieved fromquod.lib.umich.edu/p/passages/4761530.0008.002/-gender-sexuality-and-popular-culture-in-nigeria?rgn=main;view=fulltext
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Adetunji, Akin
    (2013) The interactional context of humor in Nigerian stand-up comedy. Pragmatics23.1: 1-22. doi: 10.1075/prag.23.1.01ade
    https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.23.1.01ade [Google Scholar]
  8. Afokpa, Kodjo JB
    (1994) On the Eue sex-related idiom Nafɔ: An interpretation of gender-sensitive speech in a rural setting. African Languages and Cultures7.2: 83-90. doi: 10.1080/09544169408717778
    https://doi.org/10.1080/09544169408717778 [Google Scholar]
  9. Agbo, Maduabuchi
    (2009) Language alternation strategies in Nigerian hip hop and rap texts. Language in India9.1: 34-62.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Agheyisi, Rebecca
    (1988) The standardisation of Nigerian Pidgin English. English World-Wide9: 227–241. doi: 10.1075/eww.9.2.06agh
    https://doi.org/10.1075/eww.9.2.06agh [Google Scholar]
  11. Aito, Emmanuel
    (2005) National and official languages in Nigeria: Reflections on linguistic interference and the impact of language policy and politics on minority languages. In J. Cohen , K.T. McAlister , K. Rolstad , and J. MacSwan (eds.), Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, pp. 18-38.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Akande, Akinmade T
    (2013) Code-switching in Nigerian hip-hop lyrics. Language Matters44.1: 39-57. doi: 10.1080/10228195.2012.744083
    https://doi.org/10.1080/10228195.2012.744083 [Google Scholar]
  13. Alim, Samy H
    (2002) Street-conscious copula variation in the hip hop nation. American Speech77.3: 288-304. doi: 10.1215/00031283‑77‑3‑288
    https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-77-3-288 [Google Scholar]
  14. (2009) Translocal style communities: Hip hop youth as cultural theorists of style, language, and globalization. Pragmatics19.1: 103-127. doi: 10.1075/prag.19.1.06ali
    https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.19.1.06ali [Google Scholar]
  15. Amos, Alex
    (2012) History of Nigerian hip hop music: A tale of 3 decades. Retrieved from www.360nobs.com/2012/07/history-of-nigerian-hip-hop-a-tale-of-3-decades/
  16. Anderson, Benedict
    (1983) Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Anibeze, Onochie et al.
    (2014) Today, content doesn’t sell in music, ‘beats’ do. Vanguard newspaper, Nov. 1 2014 Retrieved fromwww.vanguardngr.com/2014/11/today-content-doesnt-sell-music-beats/#sthash.YNDgWlMr.dpuf
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Babalola, E.T. , and R. Taiwo
    (2009) Code-switching in contemporary Nigerian hip-hop music. Itupale Online Journal of African Studies1: 1-26.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. Baker, Houston A., Jr
    (1986/2000) Belief, theory, and blues: Notes for a post-structuralist criticism of Afro-American literature. In Winston Napier (ed.), African American Literary Theory: A Reader. New York & London: New York University Press, pp. 224-241.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Bamgbose, Ayo
    (1999) African language development and language planning. Social Dynamics: A Journal of African Studies25:1: 13-30.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. (2000) Language and exclusion: The consequences of language policies in Africa. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. (2014) The language factor in development goals. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development35:7: 646-657. doi: 10.1080/01434632.2014.908888
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2014.908888 [Google Scholar]
  23. Bosire, Mokaya
    (2009) What makes a Sheng word unique? Lexical manipulation in mixed languages. In A. Ojo , and L. Moshi (eds.), Selected proceedings of the 39th annual conference on African linguistics. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project, pp. 77-85.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Bourdieu, Pierre
    (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Butler, Judith
    (1990) Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. London: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. (1997) The psychic life of power: Theories in subjection. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Charry, Eric
    (2012) A capsule history of African rap. In E. Charry (ed.), Hip hop Africa: New African music in a globalizing world. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 1-25.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. Dare, A. Samson
    (2005) Sexual discourse in Niyi Osundare’s poetry: A sociolinguistic reading. African Study Monographs26.2: 89-97.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. de Klerk, Vivian
    (1990) Slang: A male domain?Sex Roles22.9/10: 589-606. doi: 10.1007/BF00288237
    https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00288237 [Google Scholar]
  30. Deuber, Dagmar
    (2005) Nigerian Pidgin in Lagos: Language contact, variation and change in an African urban setting. London: Battlebridge.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. Deuber, Dagmar , and Lars Hinrichs
    (2007) Dynamics of orthographic standardization in Jamaican Creole and Nigerian Pidgin. World Englishes26.1: 22–47. doi: 10.1111/j.1467‑971X.2007.00486.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-971X.2007.00486.x [Google Scholar]
  32. Duranti, Alessandro
    (2006) Narrating the political self in a campaign for US congress. Language in Society35.4: 467-497. doi: 10.1017/S0047404506060222
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404506060222 [Google Scholar]
  33. Egbokhare, Francis O
    (2003) The story of a language: Nigerian Pidgin in spatiotemporal, social and linguistic context. In Peter Lucko , Lothar Peter , and Hans-Georg Wolf (eds.), Studies in African varieties of English. Frankfurt am Main: Lang, pp. 21–40.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Falola, Toyin , and Ann Genova
    (2009) Historical dictionary of Nigeria. London: Scarecrow Press, Inc.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Federal Republic of Nigeria
    (1979) The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979. Lagos: Federal Government Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  36. (1999) The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. Lagos: Federal Government Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Finnegan, Ruth
    (1970/2012) Oral literature in Africa. Cambridge: OpenBook Publishers.
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Fitzpatrick, Patrick
    (2007) Analyzing hip hop discourse as a locus of 'men's language'. Texas Linguistics Forum51: 64-73.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. Forchu, Ijeoma I
    (2009) Nigerian popular music: Its problems and prospects in development. Ujah2: 103-114.
    [Google Scholar]
  40. Garuba, Harry
    (2001) Language and identity in Nigeria. In S.B. Bekker , M. Dodds , and M.M. Khos (eds.), Shifting African identities. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council, pp. 7-20.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Gates, Henry Louis, Jr
    (1988) The signifying monkey. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Gilroy, Paul
    (1993) The black atlantic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Gumperz, John J
    (1982) Discourse strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511611834
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511611834 [Google Scholar]
  44. Hale, A. Thomas
    (1994) Griottes: Female voices from West Africa. Research in African Literatures25.3: 71-91.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Harding, Nancy
    (2008) The “I”, the “me” and the “you know”: Identifying identities in organisations. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal3.1: 42-58. doi: 10.1108/17465640810870382
    https://doi.org/10.1108/17465640810870382 [Google Scholar]
  46. Heritage, John , and G. Raymond
    (2005) The terms of agreement: Indexing epistemic authority and surbordination in talk-in-interaction. Social Psychology Quarterly68.1: 15-38. doi: 10.1177/019027250506800103
    https://doi.org/10.1177/019027250506800103 [Google Scholar]
  47. Hess, Mickey
    (2007) Is hip hop dead? The past, the present, and the future of America’s most wanted music. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
    [Google Scholar]
  48. Housley, Meghan K. , H.M. Claypool , T. Garcia-Marques , and D.M. Mackie
    (2010) ‘‘We” are familiar but ‘‘it” is not: Ingroup pronouns trigger feelings of familiarity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology46: 114–119. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.08.011
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2009.08.011 [Google Scholar]
  49. Hunter, Linda
    (1982) Silence is also language: Hausa attitudes about speech and language. Anthropological Linguistics24.4: 389-409.
    [Google Scholar]
  50. Hymes, Dell H
    (1972) On communicative competence. In J.B. Pride , and J. Holmes (eds.), Sociolinguistics: Selected readings. Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp. 269-293.
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Ihemere, Kelechukwu U
    (2006) A basic description and analytic treatment of noun clauses in Nigerian Pidgin. Nordic Journal of African Studies15.3: 296–313.
    [Google Scholar]
  52. Ikonne, Uchenna
    (2009) Nigerian rap: The first decade (1981 – 1991). African HipHop. Retrieved from www.africanhiphop.com/naija-nigerian-80s-rap-on-vinyl/.
    [Google Scholar]
  53. Johnson, B. Guy
    (1927) Double meaning in popular negro blues. Journal of Abnormal Psychology22.1: 12-20. doi: 10.1037/h0075493
    https://doi.org/10.1037/h0075493 [Google Scholar]
  54. Keyes, Cheryl L
    (2004) Rap music and street consciousness. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Kochman, Thomas
    (1981) Black and white styles in conflict. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  56. (1986) Strategic ambiguity in black speech genres: Cross-cultural interference in participant-observation research. Text6.2: 153-70.
    [Google Scholar]
  57. Künzler, Daniel
  58. Lambert, Ian
    (2011) Chris Abani’s Graceland and Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation: Nonstandard English, intertextuality and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Sozaboy . Language and Literature20.4: 283–294. doi: 10.1177/0963947011398559
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0963947011398559 [Google Scholar]
  59. Lane, Nikki
    (2011) Black women queering the mic: Missy Elliott disturbing the boundaries of racialized sexuality and gender. Journal of Homosexuality58.6-7: 775-792. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2011.581921
    https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2011.581921 [Google Scholar]
  60. Lave, Jean , and E. Wenger
    (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511815355
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511815355 [Google Scholar]
  61. Liadi, Olusegun F
    (2012) Multilingualism and hip hop consumption in Nigeria: Accounting for the local acceptance of a global phenomenon. Africa Spectrum1: 3-19.
    [Google Scholar]
  62. Mehlman, Jeffrey
    (1972) The "floating signifier": From Lévi-Strauss to Lacan. Yale French Studies48: 10-37. doi: 10.2307/2929621
    https://doi.org/10.2307/2929621 [Google Scholar]
  63. Mitchell-Kernan, Claudia
    (1972/2001) Signifying and marking: Two Afro-American speech acts. In Alessandro Duranti (ed.), Linguistic Anthropology: A reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell, pp. 151–64.
    [Google Scholar]
  64. Morgan, Marcyliena
    (2002) Language, discourse and power in African American culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511613616
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511613616 [Google Scholar]
  65. (2003) Signifying laughter and the subtleties of loud-talking: Memory and meaning in African American women’s discourse. In M. Farr (ed.), Ethnolinguistic Chicago: Language and literacy in Chicago’s neighbourhoods. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    [Google Scholar]
  66. (2009) The real hiphop: Battling for knowledge, power, and respect in the LA underground. Duke: Duke University Press. doi: 10.1215/9780822392125
    https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822392125 [Google Scholar]
  67. (2010) The presentation of indirectness and power in everyday life. Journal of Pragmatics42: 283–291. doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2009.06.011
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2009.06.011 [Google Scholar]
  68. Mvula, Timpunza E
    (1991) Strategy in Ngoni women’s oral poetry. Critical Arts: South-North Cultural and Media Studies5.3: 1-37.
    [Google Scholar]
  69. Ndolo, Ike S
    (1989) The case for promoting the Nigerian Pidgin language. The Journal of Modern African Studies27.4: 679-684. doi: 10.1017/S0022278X00020504
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022278X00020504 [Google Scholar]
  70. Okeilome, O. Albert
    (2013a) ‘Are women just bad porn?’: Women in Nigerian hip-hop music. The Journal of Pan African Studies5.9: 83-98.
    [Google Scholar]
  71. (2013b) Pop musicians and the 'evergreen' status in present day Nigeria: A discourse from the social media. Contemporary Experiences: Journal of African Humanities1.2: 69-89.
    [Google Scholar]
  72. Okome, Onookome
    (2007) Introducing the special issue on West African cinema: Africa at the movies. Postcolonial Text3.2: 1-17.
    [Google Scholar]
  73. Okuyade, Ogaga
    (2011) Rethinking militancy and environmental justice: The politics of oil and violence in Nigerian popular music. Africa Today58.1: 78-101. doi: 10.2979/africatoday.58.1.79
    https://doi.org/10.2979/africatoday.58.1.79 [Google Scholar]
  74. Olaniyan, Tejumola
    (2004) Arrest the music! Fela and his rebel art and politics. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indian University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  75. Olusegun-Joseph, Yomi
    (2014) Transethnic allegory: The Yoruba world, hip hop and the rhetoric of generational difference. Third Text28.6: 517-528. doi: 10.1080/09528822.2014.970772
    https://doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2014.970772 [Google Scholar]
  76. Omoniyi, Tope
    (2005) Toward a re-theorization of code switching. TESOL Quarterly39.4: 729-734. doi: 10.2307/3588532
    https://doi.org/10.2307/3588532 [Google Scholar]
  77. (2006) Hip-hop through the world Englishes lens: A response to globalisation. World Englishes25.2: 195-208. doi: 10.1111/j.0083‑2919.2006.00459.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0083-2919.2006.00459.x [Google Scholar]
  78. (2009) So I choose to do am Naija style: Hip hop, language, and postcolonial identities. In H.S. Alim , A. Ibrahim , and A. Pennycook (eds.), Global linguistic flows: Hip hop cultures, youth identities, and the politics of language. New York: Routledge, pp. 113-135.
    [Google Scholar]
  79. Omoniyi, Tope , S. Scheld , and D. Oni
    (2009) Negotiating youth identity in a transnational context in Nigeria. Social Dynamics: A Journal of African Studies35.1: 1–18.
    [Google Scholar]
  80. Orekan, George
    (2010) Language policy and educational development in Africa: The case of Nigeria. Scottish Languages Review21: 17-26.
    [Google Scholar]
  81. Orie, Olanike Ola
    (2009) Pointing the Yoruba way. Gesture9:2: 237–261. doi: 10.1075/gest.9.2.04ori
    https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.9.2.04ori [Google Scholar]
  82. Osundare, Niyi
    (1982) Caliban's curse: The English language and Nigeria's underdevelopment. Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies11.2: 96-107.
    [Google Scholar]
  83. (1993) Midlife. Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  84. Pennycook, Alastair
    (2009) Refashioning and performing identities in global hip-hip. In N. Coupland , and A. Jaworski (eds.), The new sociolinguistics reader. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 326-340.
    [Google Scholar]
  85. (2007) Global Englishes and transcultural flows. London: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  86. Pennycook, Alastair , and Tony Mitchell
    (2009) Hip hop as dusty foot philosophy: Engaging locality. In H.S. Alim , A. Ibrahim , and A. Pennycook (eds.), Global linguistic flows: Hip hop cultures, youth identities, and the politics of language. New York: Routledge, pp. 25-42.
    [Google Scholar]
  87. Potter, Russell A
    (1995) Spectacular vernaculars: Hip hop and the politics of postmodernism. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  88. Rose, Tricia
    (1994) Black noise: Rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  89. Saah, Kofi K
    (1986) Language use and attitudes in Ghana. Anthropological Linguistics28: 367-377.
    [Google Scholar]
  90. Sajnani, Damon
    (2013) Troubling the trope of “Rapper as modern griot.”The Journal of Pan African Studies6.3: 156-180.
    [Google Scholar]
  91. Sarkar, Mela , Lise Winer , and Kobir Sarkar
    (2005) Multilingual code-switching in Montreal hip-hop: Mayhem meets method or, “Tout moune qui talk trash kiss mon black ass du nord”. In J. Cohen , K.T. McAlister , K. Rolstad , and J. MacSwan (eds.), Proceedings of the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, pp. 2057-2074. doi: 10.2167/ijm030.0
    https://doi.org/10.2167/ijm030.0 [Google Scholar]
  92. Sendén, Marie Gustafsson , Torun Lindholm , and Sverker Sikström
    (2014) Selection bias in choice of words: Evaluations of “I” and “We” differ between contexts, but “They” are always worse. Journal of Language and Social Psychology33.1: 49–67. doi: 10.1177/0261927X13495856
    https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X13495856 [Google Scholar]
  93. Sholola, Damilola
    (2014) What Dorobucci really means—Dr Sid. VanguardSeptember21 2014 Available through: www.vanguardngr.com/2014/09/dorobucci-really-means-drsid/#sthash.OdoYQnYl.dpuf. . 02/16/2015.
    [Google Scholar]
  94. Shonekan, Stephanie
    (2012) Nigerian hip hop: Exploring a black world hybrid. In E. Charry (ed.), Hip hop Africa: New African music in a globalizing world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 147-167.
    [Google Scholar]
  95. (2013) “The blueprint: The gift and the curse” of American hip hop culture for Nigeria’s millennial youth. The Journal of Pan African Studies6.3: 181-198.
    [Google Scholar]
  96. Siegel, Jeff
    (2010) Pidgins and creoles. In N. Hornberge , and S.L. McKay (eds.), Sociolinguistics and language education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, pp. 232-262.
    [Google Scholar]
  97. Smitherman, Geneva
    (1977) Talkin and testifyin: The language of Black America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
    [Google Scholar]
  98. (1997) “The chain remain the same”: Communicative practices in the hip hop nation. Journal of Black Studies28.1: 3-25.
    [Google Scholar]
  99. Tang, Patricia
    (2012) The rapper as modern griot: Reclaiming ancient traditions. In E. Charry (ed.), Hip hop Africa: New African music in a globalizing world. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, pp. 79–91.
    [Google Scholar]
  100. Wise, Christopher
    (2006) Nyama and Heka: African concepts of the word. Comparative Literature Studies43.1-2: 19-38. doi: 10.1353/cls.2006.0045
    https://doi.org/10.1353/cls.2006.0045 [Google Scholar]
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error