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Music Monday: AAE’s Soaring Like a G6!

November 8, 2010

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.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2010 10:21 pm

    Asians in hip-hop! Yesss. There is surprisingly little chatter about this; I’m really happy to see some mention of it on this blog. Guess I need to start paying attention to this group…

  2. Marcos permalink
    December 6, 2010 1:49 pm

    Wow, you certainly got a lot of mileage out of one verse! “they be ackin’ like they drunk” is so rich!

  3. Jessica Tauber permalink
    December 16, 2010 1:13 pm

    Ayeska, I’m so glad to see you’re keeping Monday Music going, and this was a really great analysis. I love this song and never even thought about how it had so so many of the features we learned about!

  4. Ayeska permalink*
    December 26, 2010 3:30 am

    Thanks Jess, your idea was too great for us to let it go!
    Happy holidays!

  5. Alex Gordon permalink
    April 20, 2011 8:16 pm

    While I don’t like this song personally, I think it proves the many facets people can use to enter into American society. In order to gain the covert prestige that hip hop holds, one must include aspects of AAVE. If someone isn’t paying attention to this song, it’s kind of easy to think that there aren’t aspects of a different dialect (or language or none of the above) in the song. I don’t know I’ve just been desensitized to a lot of the differences or if this song actually doesn’t use that many.

    If I had to add something to the article, I would say that “fly” tends to be a word I associate with AAE, as I don’t know many white people who have gotten it from other places besides hip hop and rap culture (with which I automatically associate AAE). This statement makes me realize just how much prestige words from hip-hop has in American society, especially in my generation.

  6. Ko S. permalink
    April 30, 2011 4:36 pm

    The appropriation of AAE by Asian Americans has become common practice. It is not surprising to see that the Far*East Movement has done the same. For one, they are involved in a genre of music that was founded by Black Americans who used the AAE. Thus, the sound is inexplicably tied to the language. Unlike rock ‘n’ roll or jazz, the emphasis on rap and hip hop’s music has been first and foremost the power of the word – not only in its meaning but in the way that it is said. Instruments become secondary, as the listener listens to the rhyme instead of waiting for the guitar solo. Therefore it only makes sense that music influenced by and belonging under the hip hop umbrella would sound very much like this genre, regardless of who sings it.

    On the other hand, they have been critiqued that they, “don’t sound African American.” Yet this article clearly shows that they in fact do use AAE, much like in rap and hip hop. Thus, the critique comes from a literal stance that the group does not sound African American, whether it is in their voices, cadence, or any other audible framework. While AAE is the appropriate to categorize the Far*East Movement now, maybe a derivative form will develop in the future due to the adoption of AAE by Asian Americans.

  7. Sarah permalink
    November 19, 2013 6:35 pm

    This post brings up one of the major controversies that surround African American English in contemporary America, the issue of the speaker’s – or “appropriator’s” – racial identity. In our AAE course we quickly reached a point where the legitimacy of the language itself was no longer in question, as a careful second glance at its highly systematic phonology and grammar proved beyond a reasonable doubt the immense communicative power and linguistic complexity AAE possesses. The legitimacy of the AAE speaker, on the other hand, remains under intense scrutiny in the United States, especially in cases where the speaker is a non-African American. But we must remember that it isn’t only non-Black, non-African American people who could be seen as appropriators of AAE, even if it is far less likely that black individuals adopting AAE linguistic features would be deemed inauthentic in their language use. We know that today not all African American individuals speak AAE and not all AAE speakers are necessarily African American. While it may seem incongruous and jarringly un-stereotypical for an Asian or White American individual to grow up heavily exposed to the experiences and linguistic culture of “Black America”, such is the nature of our multi-racial and unpredictable society. To make a highly extended metaphor, the culture of the United States today could be viewed as that of an inherently creole society where all the multitude of races who have come to America not only contribute to the greater melting pot culture and language of the nation, but also take from it what they find already there that is beautiful and useful and which speaks to their experience as Americans. Meanwhile we see an Asian-American hip hop group like Far*East Movement being criticized as inauthentic appropriators of a language that is not their own (but that has arguably become a quintessentially American language). And if indeed we are arguing for the need to see AAE as a linguistic entity, which stands on level ground with other dialects of English, shouldn’t we invite all people capable of appreciating AAE’s unique capacity for expression to freely spread their message through the language? I think so.

  8. Mercedes permalink
    November 24, 2013 1:12 pm

    As I read this entry I wondered to myself how much of Far*East Movement’s AAE use has to do with Black culture as it has to do with youth culture. Going back to the beginning of our lessons, we learned that many young white males identify with or try to identify with black culture because they feel it represents strength and masculinity, something they might feel is lacking within themselves as they try to figure out who they are and where they belong in society. I believe that this is more far reaching, not exclusive only to white males, but of young people across cultures (of all races and genders). Black culture (with AAE being a major aspect of it) is seen as something cool, something exciting that separates youth from their parents and gives them an identity that they believe makes them a part of something hip and different. For men, it may be the masculine aspects of hip hop and for women, it may be the overt sexuality of hip hop and the women in the music videos (think ‘twerking’). I feel it’s the same way with the language. By speaking in the vernacular of the rappers and singers that you see on television, in some small way you feel you are buying your way into the culture, and that now because you speak like what 2 Chainz and Nicki Minaj sound like in their music you are inches closer to being a part of that movement. What people like Far*East Movement, Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, Iggy Azalea and so on realize, is that by appropriating the music, vernacular, dress and “swag” of their black counterparts, they tap into this sector of young people and will gain even higher amounts of money and notoriety because their fans can identify with them racially and see that they can have all the features of black people without being black.

    When Ellen Degeneres asked Nicki Minaj what she thought of the twerking craze and Miley Cyrus being given credit for its explosion, Nicki said: “I don’t know, you know it’s the white girl thing. [Crowd laughter] It’s like, no seriously, if a white girl does something that seems to be like black, it’s like black people think ‘Oh! She’s embracing our culture’ and so they kind of vibe with it. And then white people think ‘Oh! She must be cool, cuz she doin’ somethin’ black.’ So it’s weird. But if a black person do a black thing it aint that poppin.” Enough said.

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