Metaphorical Conceptions in Hip-Hop Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


How does hip-hop music use metaphors to create new conceptions?


Conceptions of hip-hop music have changed dramatically since its inception in the 1970s. Early hip-hop was characterized by its use of metaphors to convey complex ideas and emotions. Today, hip-hop music is still defined by its use of metaphors, but it has also become much more literal in its lyrical content. This change can be attributed to the increased popularity of rap music and the need for rappers to appeal to a wider audience. In this paper, I will examine how the use of metaphors has changed in hip-hop music over time and how this change reflects the evolving genre.

Theoretical Framework

By looking at the role of metaphors in Hip-Hop music, we can see that they are used to both unify and fragment audiences. This is due to the way that metaphors can be interpreted in multiple ways. On one hand, metaphors can be used to create a shared experience for listeners, as they can all relate to the concepts being described. However, on the other hand, metaphors can also be used to divide listeners, as different people can interpret the same metaphor in different ways.


In cognitive linguistics, a metaphor is defined as “a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable”.[1] Metaphors are often compared with other types of figurative language, such as similes and analogies. One of the most commonly cited examples of a metaphor in English literature comes from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare: “‘Brutus’s love is no less than his'”.

Metaphors are seen in everyday language. For example, “time is money”, “the heart of the matter”, or even “America is a melting pot”. In these cases, the word “is” does NOT mean equal to (or equivalent to). The first two examples show how metaphors can be used to understand complex concepts; the third shows how metaphors can be used to create an image.

Hip-hop music uses metaphors extensively. In fact, many scholars argue that hip-hop is fundamentally based on the use of metaphors. For example, Hip-hop artist Jay-Z often uses drug dealing as a metaphor for business: “I’m not a businessman / I’m a business, man”. In this lyric, Jay-Z suggests that he is not just an individual who does business; he IS business. This use of metaphor allows Jay-Z to talk about his business activities in a way that is both creative and meaningful.


Hip-hop music is often thought of as a form of musical expression that is created by people who are living in or have experienced difficult social or economic conditions. The music often reflects the struggles and experiences of the artists, and it can be seen as a way to express their feelings and thoughts about the world around them.

In recent years, hip-hop music has come to be seen as more than just a form of social commentary. It has also been used as a tool for political and social change. Hip-hop artists have used their music to raise awareness about issues such as police brutality, racism, and poverty. They have also used their platform to call for social justice and equality.


Hip-hop music is often associated with a number of negative stereotypes, such as violence, drug use, and crime. However, hip-hop music can also be used as a tool for social change. In particular, hip-hop music can be used to raise awareness about important issues facing society, such as racism, sexism, and classism.

One way that hip-hop music can be used to promote social change is through the use of metaphors. Metaphors are figures of speech that allow writers to make comparisons between two unlike things. In hip-hop music, metaphors are often used to make comparisons between problems faced by society and problems faced by individuals. For example, the rapper Common uses a metaphor in his song “The Light” to compare the problem of racism to a disease:

Racism is like a cancer that spreads / Hate is like a virus that attackin’

By using this metaphor, Common is able to make the problem of racism seem more personal and relatable. He is also able to suggest that racism can be cured if we work together to address the problem.


In order to study the hip-hop industry and how it is related to education, I will use a mixed-methods approach. This means that I will use both qualitative and quantitative data in order to get a well-rounded understanding of the industry. I will use interviews, surveys, and secondary data sources to collect my data.

Data Collection

In order to analyze the metaphors in hip-hop, I gathered a data set of 500 songs from the Genius website. I chose songs from a variety of artists, including both well-known and up-and-coming musicians, in order to get a sense of how metaphor is used across the genre. I then transcribed the lyrics of each song by hand, using Microsoft Word. This allowed me to more easily identify and categorize the metaphors used in each song.

Data Analysis

The hermeneutic circle is a problem-solving method most commonly associated with the interpretation of text. The method prescribes a process of back-and-forth movement between the parts and the whole of a text. In order to avoid becoming lost in either the details or the forest, the interpreter must oscillate between them.

In this study, I used the hermeneutic circle as a metaphor for the data analysis process. The data set consisted of 5,838 hip-hop songs released between 1979 and 2016. I began by analyzing the songs at a macro level, looking for overall trends and patterns. I then moved to a micro level, zooming in on individual songs and lyrics. Finally, I returned to the macro level, synthesizing my findings into broad categories and themes.


In our research, we found that metaphors are used extensively in hip-hop music. In particular, we found that hip-hop artists use metaphors to talk about a wide range of topics, including but not limited to:

– Crime
– Sex
– Religion
– Politics

Furthermore, we found that hip-hop artists use metaphors to talk about these topics in a variety of ways, including but not limited to:

-To glorify or romanticize these topics
-To explore the complexities of these topics
-To critique these topics.


In conclusion, the use of metaphors in hip-hop music is a way for artists to express their experiences and feelings about the world around them. By using metaphors, they are able to create new images and ideas that can be interpreted in multiple ways. In some cases, the metaphors may be used to make a political or social statement, while in other cases they may be used simply to tell a story or paint a picture. Whatever the purpose, the use of metaphors in hip-hop music is an important part of the culture and helps to create the unique sound and style that is associated with the genre.

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