Sunday midday, November 8, 12-12:50 CST

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Linguistic Expression and Popular Music

Karen Fournier (University of Michigan), Chair

Rhythmic Techniques in Signed Rap

Anabel Maler (University of Iowa)

Anabel Maler is an Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa. She received her PhD from the University of Chicago with a dissertation entitled “Hearing Form in Post- Tonal Music.” She completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music theory at McGill University. Her research on the analysis of signed music has been published in Music Theory Online and the Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies. She has presented on post-tonal form, signed music, and music in Deaf culture at conferences both nationally and internationally. She previously taught at Indiana University and the University of Chicago.

Robert Komaniecki (University of Iowa)

Robert Komaniecki is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Iowa. He received his Ph.D. in music theory in 2019 from Indiana University. Robert's dissertation, "Analyzing the Parameters of Flow in Rap Music," focuses on the rhythm, rhyme, and pitch of the rapping voice. His article "Analyzing Collaborative Flow in Rap Music" can be read in Music Theory Online, and Robert contributed to the St. James Encyclopedia of Hip-Hop Culture. His work on vocal techniques in rap music is also forthcoming in Intégral. Robert has presented on hip-hop, popular music, and music theory pedagogy at regional, and national conferences. He previously taught at Indiana University and Appalachian State University.

Anabel and Robert’s co-authored article, entitled “Rhythmic Techniques in Deaf Hip-Hop,” is forthcoming in Music Theory Online 27/1 (March 2021).


The art of “song signing” involves the use of rhythmicized signs from a signed language, such as American Sign Language (ASL), in a musical context. Song signing encompasses a variety of subgenres, including ASL hip-hop or “dip-hop,” a term coined by Deaf rapper Wawa in 2005 (Best 2015–16, 73). A typical dip-hop performance involves a Deaf or hard-of-hearing artist simultaneously performing vocalized and signed rapping over a looped background beat. Although dip-hop began as a grassroots movement in the early 1990s (Best 2015–16, 71), it has received little analytical attention in the scholarly literature on hip-hop. In this paper, the authors combine techniques adapted from analyzing rhythm in non-signed rap music with techniques adapted from analyzing non-rapped signed songs (Maler 2013, 2015) to analyze the rhythmic flow of tracks by dip-hop artists Sean Forbes, Wawa, and Signmark.

Condit-Schultz (2016) states that “rap is made musical, as opposed to poetic, by its rhythm.” Much of the current analytical literature on rap music reflects this sentiment by describing rhythmic paradigms in non-signed hip-hop (Adams 2009; Condit-Schultz 2016; Ohriner 2016; Komaniecki 2017). Dip-hop presents a unique format, however, as artists rhythmically convey lyrics in two distinct languages simultaneously.

In this paper, the authors demonstrate that dip-hop artists have developed genre-specific rhythmic paradigms and tropes to convey the periodicity and rhyme that are fundamental to rap music. Specifically, we address the alignment (or lack thereof) of rhythm and meter in signed and vocal rap and the conveyance of a repeated “beat” through rhythmic signing.

Abe Road: the Beatles in Linguistic Simulacrum as Political Parody in Japan

Noriko Manabe (Temple University)

Noriko Manabe is associate professor of music theory and ethnomusicology at Temple University. She researches music in social movements and popular music in Japan and the Americas. Her monograph, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Protest Music After Fukushima (Oxford), won the Hall Prize from the Association for Asian Studies, the Book Prize from the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, and Honorable Mention for the Alan Merriam Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology. Her second monograph, in progress, posits a typology of intertextuality in protest music and the patterns by which these methods are used.

Her article analyzing Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” won the Outstanding Publication Award from the Popular Music Section of the Society for Music Theory. She is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Protest Music (with Eric Drott) and Nuclear Music (with Jessica Schwartz), both under contract with Oxford, and editor for the book series, 33-1/3 Japan (Bloomsbury). She is outgoing treasurer of SEM and incoming treasurer of AMS. She serves on the publication awards committee of SMT and on the editorial boards of JAMS, Twentieth-Century Music, and Music and Politics.


In May 2009, Japanese rock star Kuwata Keisuke performed a parody of the Beatles’ Abbey Road on his weekly television show. His Japanese lyrics criticized corruption in Japanese politics and commented on sociopolitical issues. Kuwata’s parody was unusual because Japanese recording artists rarely engage in politics, due to broadcasting industry guidelines that disallow politically controversial lyrics. Furthermore, Kuwata presented the show as a “mishearing” of a beloved album: he sang Japanese lyrics that sounded remarkably like the original English ones—a difficult feat, given the phonetic and morphological differences between the languages. Using International Phonetic Alphabet charts, I demonstrate Kuwata’s linguistic sleight of hand: he picked Japanese words with consonants and vowels that are phonetically similar to the English lyrics by type or place of articulation; he modified his pronunciation and contracted prosodic units to match the English sounds. He was particularly mindful to match or choose similar vowels and consonants on the stressed parts of musical phrases, e.g., onsets, (anticipated) downbeats, and cadences. He thus transformed “She Came In through the Bathroom Window” into a polemic against capital punishment and “Carry That Weight” into a contemplation of the debt crisis.

Abe Road illustrates the value of intertextuality in protest music: it captures attention, recalls cultural heroes, and makes political critique entertaining. Only by presenting his acrid commentary as a “cover” of this well-known album, aided by sophisticated manipulation of the Japanese language, was Kuwata, as a rock musician, able to criticize Japanese politicians on nationwide media.