Founded in 1998, the Popular Music Interest Group is dedicated to promoting the scholarly study of popular music through methods including musical analysis and theory. Our goals include:
• Ensuring academic recognition for popular music research
• Encouraging more scholars of music theory to engage popular repertoires
• Encouraging scholars of popular music to make effective use of musical analysis and theory

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Readings in the Analysis of African-American Popular Music

7 replies, 4 voices Last updated by  Walt Everett 1 year, 1 month ago
  • Author
  • #36118

    Walt Everett

    Hello PMIG members,

    I decided this month to devote my Fall 2020 Pop-rock analysis class to the work of African-American musicians. The class is a mix of upper-level music undergrads and grads. I will have no trouble choosing repertoire, but I would appreciate any and all suggestions of readings that will support our analysis. We’re excluding jazz, because there’s another course devoted to that, but we’ll draw from all styles of recorded pop-rock-hip hop etc otherwise. Thanks for any ideas. best, walt

  • #36177

    Brad Osborn

    Hi Everybody. I replied to Walt privately with some readings from my own version of this class, but it’s too important not to share here as well:

    Attas, Robin. 2019. “Music Theory as Social Justice: Pedagogical Applications of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.” Music Theory Online 25/1

    Balaji, Murali. 2010. “Vixen Resistin’: Redefining Black Womanhood in Hip-Hop Music Videos.” Journal of Black Studies 41/1: 5–20.

    Fink, Robert. 2011. “Goal-Directed Soul? Analyzing Rhythmic Teleology in African American Popular Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64/1.

    *Heidemann, Kate. 2016. “A System for Describing Vocal Timbre in Popular Song.” Music Theory Online 22/1. < 16.22.1.heidemann.html>

    (*Kate’s article does include stuff about white musicians, but the focus of her analysis is Aretha Franklin).

    Kajikawa, Loren. 2018. “‘Young, Scrappy, and Hungry’: Hamilton, Hip-Hop, and Race.” American Music 36/4: 467–486.

    Sterbenz, Maeve. 2017. “Movement, Music, Feminism: An Analysis of Movement-Music Interactions and the Articulation of Masculinity in Tyler, the Creator’s ‘Yonkers’ Music Video.” Music Theory Online 23/2. 


    Hope this helps,

    Brad Osborn

    • #36254

      Walt Everett

      Thanks for posting, Brad! Btw, I’ve already gleaned appropriate items from the syllabi posted at the PMIG site.


      • This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by  Walt Everett.
  • #36220

    Noriko Manabe

    Hi all,

    Thanks to Walt and Brad for getting the conversation started.

    1.I think in a course on African American music, it is important to include the voices of Black scholars. Here are a few, keeping analysis in mind:

    Shelley, Braxton D. 2019. “Analyzing Gospel.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 72 (1): 181–243.

    Keyes, Cheryl Lynette. 2004. Rap Music and Street Consciousness. University of Illinois Press.

    Rivers, Patrick, and Will Fulton. 2018. “Noise Reconsidered.” The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Music, August.

    Gaunt, Kyra D. 2006. The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop. New York: New York University Press. (Some chapters of this book draw parallels between hip hop and girls’ verbal games.)

    2. For such a course, I also think it’s important to include some writing that addresses sociopolitical context. Here are a few recommendations for hip hop.

    Rose, Tricia. 1994. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan.

    Kelley, Robin D. G. 1996. Race Rebels : Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class. New York, NY: Distributed by Simon & Schuster.

    3. These works, by music studies scholars, balance context with musical writing:

    Kajikawa, Loren. 2015.  Sounding Race in Rap Songs. University of California Press. (I particularly like the chapter on LA in the 1990s/Dr. Dre here)

    Katz, Mark. 2012. Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Williams, Justin A. 2013. Rhymin’ and Stealin’ : Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop. Ann Arbor, Mich: University of Michigan Press.

    Schloss, Joseph G. 2004. Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan.

    Butler, Mark J. 2006. Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music. Profiles in Popular Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press Bloomington, IN.

    I’d also encourage readers to look at the forum on Kendrick Lamar on Music Theory Online, which includes bibliographies.


    Noriko Manabe, Ph.D.

    Temple University

    • #36255

      Walt Everett

      Thanks so much for posting, Noriko–huge help!

  • #36344

    Beth Hiser

    Hi Walt,

    Not sure if you’re familiar with the Journal of Hip Hop Studies, but it’s a wonderful open-access, peer reviewed journal that you might find useful for your course.




    • #36462

      Walt Everett

      thanks, Beth–good to hear from you. My bib and listening guide is coming along by leaps and bounds, but I hadn’t come across that journal yet. I’ll put my syllabus up by the end of the month.


  • #36599

    Walt Everett

    Thanks to those with suggestions for my African American pop music course. I’ve finished drafting a 73-page syllabus with lengthy bib and tracklist that’s too large to attach here. Please email me at weverett at [with @ for ” at “] and I’ll be happy to send you a copy.

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