Jay-Z, Phenomenology, & Hip-Hop

APA Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience 11 (1) (2012)
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This essay undertakes a phenomenological inquiry into the ‘experiential structure of hip-hop’ – a structure that hip-hop artist Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) gestures towards in his text Decoded. In this book, Jay-Z argues that hip-hop has a particular power to act as the vehicle for the communication of a specific type of experience, i.e. contradictory experiences, or those which do not seem possible under the principle of non-contradiction. For instance, Tupac Shakur says of his mom that “…even as a crack fiend, mama / You always was a Black Queen, mama.” The way in which hip-hop is a powerful vehicle for this communication lies, according to Jay-Z, in its very structure, which he describes using two sets of terms: rhythm/flow and music/rhyme. Using Jay-Z’s general outline, this essay attempts to complete a phenomenological analysis of hip-hop, in the effort to (1) isolate the experiential structure of hip-hop and (2) isolate, within this structure, the way in which hip-hop is able to communicate contradictory experiences. In the final analysis, the author isolates the experiential structure of hip-hop and shows how its multiple layers work to draw listeners in and induce them to experience-with the artist.

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Harry (H. A.) Nethery
Florida Southern College


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