Publication details: Society for Music Theory, Volume 27, Number 1, March 2021
Abstract:The art of signed music involves the use of rhythmicized signs from a signed language, such as American Sign Language (ASL), in a musical context. Signed music encompasses a variety of subgenres, including ASL hip hop or “dip hop.” A typical dip hop performance involves a Deaf or hard-of-hearing artist simultaneously performing vocalized and signed rapping over a looped background beat. Although dip hop emerged as a grassroots movement in the early 1990s, it has received little analytical attention in the scholarly literature on hip hop. In this paper, the authors combine techniques adapted from analyzing rhythm in non-signed rap music with techniques adapted from analyzing non-rapped signed music to analyze the rhythmic flow of tracks by dip hop artists Sean Forbes, Wawa, and Signmark. The authors demonstrate that dip hop artists have developed genre-specific rhythmic paradigms and tropes to convey the periodicity and rhyme that are fundamental to rap music. Specifically, we address the alignment of rhythm and meter in signed and vocal rap and the conveyance of a repeated “beat” through rhythmic signing. The analyses of dip hop tracks reveal important differences between dip hop and vocal rap, as well as differences between the conventions of dip hop and ASL poetry.