This morning, I stumbled upon the newest music video of Irish hip-hop artist Lethal Dialect. Take a listen:
As you may notice, this young man raps in a thick Dublin accent. Anyone accustomed to American hip hop is likely to find the effect jarring; rap was, for much of its history, the exclusive linguistic province of African American Vernacular English. Yet the past decade has seen a number of artists use entirely different accents, with varying degrees of success.
The question, broadly speaking, is whether certain genres of music are inextricably linked to particular dialects. For example, it’s hard to imagine American country/western music sung without some type of twang. Along the same lines, can hip hop truly be considered hip hop if performed in a dialect different from the one that originally defined it?
Many would argue this is a stupid question. Heck, I might even argue that this is a stupid question. Yet I will confess that as much as I like British rapper The Streets, I am sometimes unsure of how to categorize the music he makes:
This strikes me as a very British style of music that is not entirely contiguous with the conventions of American hip hop. If musical instruments define certain types of music, it seems just as valid to define them by dialects. Pronunciation arguably has the same sonic uniqueness as, say, a banjo.
But I admit this is perhaps a pointlessly semantic line of questioning; music is music, regardless of what ‘genre’ it fits into. And for the record, I’ve found the recent spate of hip-hop artists of so many cultural backgrounds a really great development in music. It will be interesting to see what new dialects the genre will accommodate.