Music Monday: AAE’s Soaring Like a G6!
This week African American English (AAE) is once again holding down the Billboard Charts, by way of the song Like a G-6. Performed by Far*East Movement featuring Cataracs & Dev, Like a G-6, which recently peaked at #1, currently holds the #2 spot–a major jump from it’s position as #10 on our last Music Monday post.
While Far*East Movement incorporates a number of AAE features (lexical, phonological and syntactic) in this song and performs hip hop combined with electronic music, they are not African American. The band’s four members represent different generations of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino ancestry within the Asian American community: Kev Nish identifies as Chinese and Japanese American, Prohgress and J-Splif are Korean American, and DJ Virman is Filipino American. The members of Far*East movement hail from Koreatown, Los Angeles, a neighborhood that is predominantly Latino (54%) and Asian (32.2%). Although they make use of a number of AAE features in their music, they struggle to some extent with being judged as inauthentic users of the language variety. As mentioned in an interview with JiZO Entertainment, “we constantly get the critique that we don’t sound African American which could be another way of telling us we don’t sound like what people are use [sic] to hearing”.
The Far*East Movement’s appropriation of AAE is likely influenced by their affiliation to hip hop and hip hop culture. In an interview with DXnext, the group revealed that they had not only listened to hip hop while growing up, but also interned at Interscope Records in the years prior to signing with the label. It’s important to note that for some time Interscope Records was a major hip hop manufacturer, with the help of producers such as Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. Through joint-ventures with Death Row, the label signed influential African American rappers such as Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre himself. Prohgress mentions that as interns at Interscope, Far*East movement members were constantly in contact with popular hip hop artists such as 50 Cent, will.i.am and M.I.A.
Below is a list of some African American English features sound in Far*East Movement’s hit single, Like A G6.
- Gerund Reduction (when the word-final ng is reduced to n’)
Illustrated by the use of poppin’ instead of popping in the line “Poppin’ bottles in the ice, like a blizzard”. Gerund reduction also appears in the line “Now I’m feelin’ so fly, like a G6”, where feelin’ replaces the Standard American English (SAE) word feeling.
- Zero Copula (absence of a form of the verb “to be”, such as is/are)
Appears twice in the line “When sober girls Ø around me, they be acting like they Ø drunk”. In Standard American English, the verb form are would appear in place of the slashed zero symbol, so that the lyric would read: “When sober girls are around me, they [act] like they are drunk.”
- Habitual Be (use of the verb “to be” to indicate that an act is habitually or regularly practiced)
This feature is also used in the line “When sober girls around me, they be acting like they drunk.” Here, be serves as an indicator that this type of behavior happens more than once, and with regularity. The lyric would be interpreted in SAE as “whenever sober girls are around me, they regularly act as though they are drunk.”
- Consonant Cluster Reduction (reduction of the final consonant in a word with a sequence of two or more consonants towards the end)
Consonant cluster reduction occurs often with words ending in t or d, such as the pronunciation of hand as han’ in African American English. In Like a G6, this AAE feature appears in the line “they be acting like they drunk, acting-acting like they drunk”, where SAE acting is pronounced more like ackin’. The final consonant of the word act is dropped due to consonant cluster reduction, so that only ac(k) remains. The –ing ending is then added (without the g because of gerund reduction), and the result is ackin’.
If the popularity of Like a G6 weren’t enough of a spotlight for African American English, it is also all over the other Billboard chart hits! Here are the the BillBoard standings for other AAE-infused hits in the top 10: #1- “We R Who R” by Ke$ha (new to the countdown), #3- Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” (down from it’s position as #1 in our last post), #4- “Only Girl (In the World)” by Rihanna (also down from its ranking as #2), #5- “Just a Dream” by Nelly (up three spots since it’s ranking as #8), #6- Usher’s “DJ Got US Fallin’ In Love” featuring Pitbull (down one notch from its stake as #5), #7- “Bottoms Up by Trey Songz featuring Nicki Minaj (new), and at #9, Taio Cruz with “Dynamite” (down from its previous position as #6).
*Top ten songs as recorded by Billboard Hot 100 for the week of Nov. 13, 2010.