Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

McLeod, Kembrew

First Committee Member

Carrillo-Rowe, Aimee

Second Committee Member

Forman, Murray

Third Committee Member

Havens, Tim

Fourth Committee Member

Young, Vershawn


In this dissertation, I examine the articulation of hip-hop in the mid-1980s as it emerged onto the national stage of American popular culture. Using Articulation Theory, I weave together an argument explaining how and why hip-hop went from being articulated as a set of multicultural and inclusive practices, organized around breaking, graffiti, and DJing, to being articulated to a violent, misogynistic, and homophobic hyper-masculine representation of blackness as essentially rap music culture. In doing so I also argue that there are real political, social, racial, cultural, and ideological implications to this shift in articulation; that something is at stake in defining hip-hop as both black and rap music culture.

I put forward this argument by making three distinct steps over the course of this dissertation. First, I identify a change in how hip-hop was represented and thus articulated in popular media. Through an intertextual analysis of the hip-hopsploitation genre films I show that early hip-hop was being represented primarily as a set of cultural practices cohering around breaking, graffiti, and DJing rather than the now dominant articulation as rap music culture.

Next I set forth one possible reason for this shift within the limiting conditions set by the available media technologies and means of commodification. The visual nature of hip-hop's early articulation coupled with the economic inaccessibility of consumer home video made breaking and graffiti difficult to commodify compared to rapping as an aural element. Using "technological determinist" theorists like McLuhan, Innis, and Kittler, I argue that understanding how hip-hop as been historically constructed requires analyzing the limiting effect that the material conditions of media technologies have on the production of hip-hop.

Finally, I offer a second, racial and cultural reason for this shift in articulation, and begin identifying some of the significance of this shift. A key aspect of the articulation of hip-hop as rap music is the further connection to blackness. This connection may function to maintain white patriarchal hegemony by displacing it on the black body via rap music: a complex dynamic of disidentification and appropriation.


Articulation, Film, Hip-Hop, Hip-Hopsploitation, Media, Race


2, vii, 310 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 300-310).


Copyright 2009 Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Included in

Communication Commons