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Music Monday: AAE Playing Large Role in This Week’s Top 10

April 5, 2010

African American English is having a serious moment in this week’s top ten pop songs.*.   Lines written using AAE are appearing in a number of these songs, sung by singers of varying musical styles and races.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • #1 Telephone- Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce

AAE lyric: “Boy why you blowin’ up my phone won’t make me leave no faster, put my coat on faster, leave my girls no faster.”

In this line, sung by Beyonce, we see at least two grammatical features of AAE.  First, we see an absence of the copula “are,” and then there are two examples of negation through double negatives (“won’t make me leave no faster” versus “won’t make me leave any faster”).

  • #3 Imma Be- Black Eyed Peas

It’s hard to pick just one line in this song to talk about.  The title and almost every line in the song uses the verb form “Imma,” which is used in AAE as a condensed form of the verb phrase “I am going to” or more simply “I will.”

  • #5 Tik Tok- Ke$ha

AAE lyrics: “Tonight Imma fight ‘til we see the sunlight,” and “PO-lice shut us down, down.”

Here we see white singer Ke$ha using “Imma” which has already been discussed, and also employing a phonological variation of AAE.  AAE speakers will commonly place stress on the first syllable of words which may be pronounced with stress on the final syllable by Standard English speakers.  Here we notice that Ke$ha says “PO-lice” instead of the standard “po-LICE.”

  • #6 Bedrock- Young Money featuring Lloyd

AAE lyrics: “And now we murderers/ Because we kill time” and “I like the way you walkin’/ if you walkin’ my way.”

Choosing from a wealth of examples throughout this song, I noticed a high frequency of dropped copula verbs.  In these four lines, there is not a single appearance of the copula, although in Standard English it would appear three times.

  • #7 Rude Boy- Rihanna

AAE lyric: “Is you big enough?”

In this line, Rihanna employs a grammatical rule wherein in AAE it is common for the verb form “are” to be replaced with “is.”

It would be nice if the popularity of these songs pointed to an overall growing acceptance of AAE.  While I am skeptical of this, perhaps only time will tell.

*As recorded by Billboard for week of April 10, 2010.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Amy permalink*
    April 5, 2010 3:17 am

    Wow. I didn’t realize how much AAE is used in songs! Considering the amount that AAE is used in mainstream American pop culture, it’s interesting that AAE still seems to be looked down upon by so many.

  2. Cara Shousterman permalink*
    April 5, 2010 8:12 pm

    Bedrock is a seriously hot song. My favorite linguistic moment is the line “she like tannin / I like stayin in”. Sounds like some sort of vowel change and monophthongization in “stayin”.

  3. Brittney permalink
    April 6, 2010 6:20 pm

    I also find it interesting that AAE still isn’t accepted and is still looked down upon, despite its apparent popular use in American everyday life and culture. I think this could be because many people only look at it as slang or an informal language that sounds “cool” or “funny” and is fun to use in the context of songs or music. When discussion of its use enters the realm of the classroom and education, however, that is when people really become uncomfortable, defensive, and often times judgmental. People may see AAE as something artists or musicians use as a rhetorical or musical strategy, but fail to realize that many artists are actually native AAE speakers (although many are not and simply use it for effect or by preference). Not everyone can turn their dialects on and off at their convenience. It’d be nice to see more people acknowledging that.

  4. Caitlin permalink
    July 5, 2010 9:22 am

    Look at all of these uses of AAE in popular song, and yet we have been trying to gentrify African American music for the past century. Everything from jazz to the blues to rock and roll have been required by record companies to come forward with a white face in order to be incorporated into the mainstream. So, right on Amy! It truly is a wonder that AAE can still be looked down upon when we have people of all races and classes singing along to these lyrics. (I just want to point out that I had only heard Kesha on the radio and was under the belief that she was African American until she played on Saturday Night Live. Serves me right for trying to hear race through pronunciation.)


  1. Monday Music: Vocabulary Lessons « Word. The Online Journal on African American English

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