Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


The Symbolic Rape of Representation: A Rhetorical Analysis of Black Musical Expression on Billboard's Hot 100 Charts

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

John Makay (Advisor)


The purpose of this study is to use rhetorical criticism as a means of examining how Blacks are depicted in the lyrics of popular songs, particularly hip-hop music. This study provides a rhetorical analysis of 40 popular songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles charts from 1999 to 2006. The songs were selected from the Billboard charts, which were accessible to me as a paid subscriber of Napster. The rhetorical analysis of these songs will be bolstered through the use of Black feminist/critical theories. This study will extend previous research regarding the rhetoric of song. It also will identify some of the shared themes in music produced by Blacks, particularly the genre commonly referred to as hip-hop music. This analysis builds upon the idea that the majority of hip-hop music produced and performed by Black recording artists reinforces racial stereotypes, and thus, hegemony. The study supports the concept of which bell hooks (1981) commonly refers to as white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, which she believes is the basis for what Hill Collins (2000) refers to as the hegemonic domain. The study provides a framework for analyzing the themes of popular songs across genres. The genres ultimately are viewed through the gaze of race and gender because Black male recording artists perform the majority of hip-hop songs. Gender is central to this issue because much of the lyrical content of songs performed by Blacks reveals misogynist themes and/or nihilistic topics. Many of the songs performed by primarily White artists who represent other popular genres, including rock, country and pop music, however, contain far fewer misogynistic or nihilistic themes. On the contrary, these songs contain more themes and topics considered life-redeeming and/or uplifting. Although hip-hop music can be viewed as a site of resistance, the current form of the genre dominating the charts is not likely to lead to the empowerment of the dispossessed.