Rhymin' and Stealin'

Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop
Justin A. Williams


Rhymin’ and Stealin’ begins with a crucial premise: the fundamental element of hip-hop culture and aesthetics is the overt use of preexisting material to new ends. Whether it is taking an old dance move for a breakdancing battle, using spray paint to create street art, quoting from a famous speech, or sampling a rapper or 1970s funk song, hip-hop aesthetics involve borrowing from the past. By appropriating and reappropriating these elements, they become transformed into something new, something different, something hip-hop. Rhymin’ and Stealin’ is the first book-length study of musical borrowing in hip-hop music, which not only includes digital sampling but also demonstrates a wider web of references and quotations within the hip-hop world. Examples from Nas, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Eminem, and many others show that the transformation of preexisting material is the fundamental element of hip-hop aesthetics. Although all music genres use and adapt preexisting material in different ways, hip-hop music celebrates and flaunts its “open source” culture through highly varied means. It is this interest in the web of references, borrowed material, and digitally sampled sounds that forms the basis of this book—sampling and other types of borrowing becomes a framework with which to analyze hip-hop music and wider cultural trends.

“As a contribution to music theory, musicology, and cultural studies—or simply as a book about hip-hop—Rhymin’ and Stealin’ is terrific. To begin with, it is an enjoyable read. Williams writes well, and his style is energized by an evident enthusiasm for hip-hop music and culture. He also has an enviably broad knowledge of the music and its secondary literature and is thus able at all times to convey a sense of authority about his subject. Most importantly, his book creates (at least for me) one of those “a-ha” moments, in which another scholar brings into consciousness a perspective that one was aware of on some level but never articulated. Like most hip-hop fans, I realized that hip-hop depended on borrowing, but I had neither devoted any serious thought to the many types of borrowing that influenced hip-hop culture, nor considered the fundamental differences inherent in a musical genre that depends solely on borrowed material for its creation. By foregrounding the numerous different borrowing practices and all their ramifications, Rhymin’ and Stealin’ provides an entirely new perspective on hip-hop culture.”
Music Theory Spectrum

Jacket art: Turntable ©iStockphoto/sandsun

Dr. Justin A. Williams is Principal Lecturer in Popular Music, Anglia Ruskin University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Rhymin’ and Stealin’ is a very welcome addition to the canon of hip-hop scholarship. Williams’ innovative contribution is his ability to broaden theories of borrowing beyond their typical scope of lyrical content and musical samples to include figurative borrowings of spatial and temporal concepts. The book is well researched and brilliantly written, a powerful offering of new ways to consider and contextualize the practice of borrowing in hip-hop."
    Ethnomusicology Review
  • "Williams has written the ultimate history of the art of sampling, intertextuality, and recycling in the various waves and styles of rap music."
  • "The material practices of hip hop – taking and deploying the past in a specific manner, consuming, juxtaposing and recycling recording music to produce something new through a dynamic process of artistic re-layering and reconstitution – have been much commented upon over the years. Musicologist Justin Williams makes this the fulcrum of his original and stimulating monograph. ...by addressing one of hip hop’s most fundamental practices, this is clearly a welcome contribution to the existing scholarship of the genre... there is much here that will provoke stimulating debate on both undergraduate and postgraduate courses."
    --Popular Music
  • "Like Afrika Bambaataa spinning the Monkees or Kraftwerk for South Bronx audiences in the 1970s, Williams lays down a compelling mix to get popular music scholars dancing to new and unexpected beats."
    --Journal of the Society for American Music

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 280 pages.
  • 7 Tables, 14 Color and 1 B&W Illustrations, 31 Examples.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02939-6

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  • hip-hop, musical borrowing, popular music, rap music, intertextuality, musicology, Dr. Dre, jazz rap, Eminem, 50 Cent