Music Monday: Vocabulary Lessons
As usual, AAE is strongly influencing this week’s top ten. This week it’s all about the wordplay. Here are some samplings of lyrics:
- #1 Nothin’ on You- B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars
AAE Lyric: “You shouldn’t worry about what they say/ ‘Cause they got nothin’ on you, baby.”
“Got” here is non-standard AAE grammar often used in place of have; however, the full research on the matter has yet to be done.
- #3 Hey, Soul Sister- Train
AAE Lyric: “You’re so gangsta, I’m so thug, you’re the only one I’m dreaming of.”
Here, Train (a band of white musicians) uses two AAE vocabulary words, “gangsta” and “thug.” “Gangsta” can have positive and negative connotations depending on context (UrbanDictionary has many interesting examples of the negative examples, most laced with profanity). Basically, The Free Dictionary defines “gangsta” as an AAE term meaning either 1) “a member of a youth gang,” or 2) “a person who is of equal standing with another in a group.” Train is clearly using the second definition. Thug is a more interesting case in that (definitions extraneous to this case aside) it has two main definitions that are seriously divergent. The first is the definition derived from Tupac Shakur, referring to a person who lives a life full of struggles, but intends to make something of themselves regardless. The second is, as taken from Princeton University’s WordNet, “an aggressive and violent young criminal.” From context we can assume that Train is using the first definition. However, even with the proper AAE definitions in place, the question arises, what is the intended meaning of this line? Perhaps it was only written this way to preserve the rhyme scheme.
- #4 Break Your Heart- Taio Cruz featuring Ludacris
AAE Lyric: “And I may break your heart./ But I don’t think there’s anybody as bomb as me.”
Ludacris refers to himself as “bomb” and no, he doesn’t mean the explosive. He is using it in the sense where “bomb” means “awesome” or “cool,” usually combined with the article “the.”
- #6 In My Head- Jason Derulo
AAE Lyric: “Everybody’s looking for love./ Ain’t that the reason you’re at this club?/ You ain’t gon’ find it dancin’ with him.”
Although it is also a feature in other non-standard dialects of English, the use of “ain’t” for negation is a common feature of AAE that is not found in SAE. Also notable is the clipped verb “gon.’” Speakers of AAE often shorten the verb “going to” this way.
- #8 OMG- Usher featuring will.i.am
AAE Lyric: “I fell in love with shawty./ When I seen her on the dance floor.”
Here we see another AAE vocabulary word in “shawty,” defined on UrbanDictionary as “A term orginating in Atlanta that, in the beginning, referred to a short person or child, but the span of the word has grown to include any and all people, especially a girl that is attractive.” Also, the use of the past participle “seen” in place of the simple past tense “saw” is a common feature of AAE.
Two of the songs from the last Monday Music post are still rocking in the top ten: “Rude Boy” by Rihanna (#2) and “Telephone” by Lady Gaga featuring Beyonce (#7).
*Top ten songs as recorded by Billboard Hot 100 for the week of May 1, 2010.