Abstract Hip Hop

Abstract hip hop is a relatively new genre that emerged in the last 5 years, in NYC. This genre is lyrically a lot more complex, surreal and unorthodox. It has more of a conscious message and doesn’t have the same materialistic stereotypes that modern mainstream rap has. Its music is also jazzy, sample heavy, drum-less and very socially conscious.

The Ethos of Hip Hop

A prevailing ethos associated with hip hop is based on a “four element” model that involves deejaying, break(danc)ing, graffiti writing and emceeing (see Rose 1994; Chang 2005; Ewoodzie 2017). While this is a popular definition among hip-hop purists, other more ambiguous and diverse expressive practices are frequently considered to be part of the same ethos (Gosa 2015).


A fundamental element in the ethos of hip hop involves layering, which involves situating multiple strata of expressive materials on top of or in close relation to one another. This strategy can be used in different ways to produce a variety of meanings across the contexts in which the layered texts resonate.

For example, rapper Snow Tha Product uses an exaggerated declamatory style to produce a sense of quickly mounting tension on her track “Get Down Low” (2016). This contrasts with the vocal pitch used by Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q to “resolve” phrases at the end of rhymed lines.

Adlibs and Hype

Adlib vocal tracks are one way in which hip-hop creators try to achieve hype within the recording studio. They replicate the live performance role of hype men by introducing supplementary voices into the main vocal track, which punctuate specific phrases by repeating them. The result is a layered vocal flow that adds an extra level of polyrhythmic complexity and heightens the energy of the song.

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