Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The School of Music

Document Type




As of January 4th, 2018, R&B/Hip-Hop (including rap) had overtaken rock and roll as the most popular genre among music fans. Nielsen Music reported that rap had surpassed rock in terms of total consumption with rappers such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar leading the charge. This would lead to the second-highest growth of any genre of music, spiking at 25% over the previous year.[1] This came as a very big surprise to many, especially when we take into consideration the rocky at best relationship that rap has had with public perception.

There are many misconceptions and biases about hip-hop/rap music and I hope that this document will shed some light on the artistic abilities and craftsmanship that is placed with care into many of these songs. I will show musical and poetic aspects by analyzing songs by N.W.A., Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, The Cunninglynguists, and Childish Gambino. I will evaluate and analyze songs by these rappers paying attention to their rhythmic devices, musical motives, and the connection between text and rhythm of the words. I will also show the growing world-wide appreciation of the genre by discussing artists from around the world. These selected rap artists will demonstrate not just the world-wide appeal of the rap music genre but will also show the power of their messages. I have selected these performers due to the lyrical abilities of the singers, the rhythmic motives that they use, and the overwhelming number of songs that are political or social in meaning.

My hope is that by highlighting the craftsmanship, techniques, and poeticism of these artists that more classically trained composers could be inspired to create works that fuse these genres together. I will also show this with my accompanying dissertation piece, The Freedom Train.

[1] Ryan, P. “Rap overtakes rock as the most popular genre among music fans. Here’s why.” USA Today. January 4, 2018. Accessed December 29, 2018.



Committee Chair

Gibson, Mara