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Music Monday: Raising the Roof and More

May 28, 2012

Adam Levine from Maroon 5 with Wiz Khalifa, performing on “The Voice”.

“Where Have You Been” by Rihanna is this week’s new entry in the Top 10 on the Billboard Charts. This week’s hot summer songs have a lot of African American English (AAE) features yet to be explored. Particularly noticeable this week is AAE being featured alongside Standard American English (SAE) in songs that combine both hip-hop and rock elements.

Let’s look at the lyrics:



  • #3 “Payphone”-Maroon 5 Featuring Wiz Khalifa

“Switch the number to my phone/So you never could call it,”

In his verse, Wiz Khalifa does not use the SAE past tense marker -ed when talking about switching his phone number. AAE permits the absence of a past tense marker in some situations.

  • #5 “Starships”- Nicki Minaj

“Bad b**ches like me is hard to come by”

As we’ve written before, Nicki Minaj is often liberal with the use of AAE in her music. In this lyric, Nicki does not employ subject-verb agreement as one would in SAE, but rather uses the AAE variant. In AAE, a plural subject like b**ches is often followed by a singular verb. This is particularly common with high frequency verbs like is.

  • #7 “Wild Ones”- Flo Rida featuring Sia

“Somehow, someway, gotta raise the roof”

Here, Flo Rida invokes the imagery of raising the roof (a popular hip-hop lyric and accompanying hand motion since at least the early 90’s) to discuss how he’s going to get the party started.

  • #8 “Boyfriend”- Justin Bieber

“Spend a week wit your boy/I’ll be calling you my girlfriend”

Usher protege Justin Bieber incorporates AAE into his bubblegum pop style with this new track. Bieber uses the word wit instead of with, changing the word final th to t, which is a typical feature of AAE.

  • #9 “Where Have You Been”- Rihanna

“I  Ø been everywhere man/looking for someone”

Rihanna often uses AAE in her songs, and this new hit is no exception. Here we see the use of the perfect tense (been) with deletion of the verb have. For example, in AAE one can use I been instead of I have been(SAE).

There was a bit of movement on this week’s chart as compared to last week: “What Makes You Beautiful” moves up one spot to #6, “Wild Ones” moves down one to #7, “Boyfriend” moves up one spot to #8, “Where Have You Been” enters the chart at #9, and “Glad You Came” slips two spots to #10. We wanted to highlight some more AAE features contained in these tracks, though we wrote about some different AAE features in these songs last week. We’ll be back next week to keep you posted on the use of AAE in the hottest songs of the summer!

*Top ten songs as recorded by Billboard Hot 100 for the week of June 16, 2012

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