Hip Hop

Since 1990, I have been mesmerized by the evolution of hip-hop, which has given us a new global language—a language of language-using practices, of ways of doing new things with words, and creating a new community in the process.


These are the things I am mainly interested in:


• how hip-hop evolves in social interaction—in the competitve, conversational poetic arena of the cypher

• how it has become an ever-more complex and versatile idiom, and how innovative emcees step by step discovered the inherent possibilities of language and poetry; hip-hop evolves through interactions between rappers and their native language(s), interactions that are structured by simultaneous interactions with the beat

• the parallels between the development and globalization of jazz and of hip-hop

• how hip-hop practices enable young intellectuals to remake their identities and gain recognition, intitially and often against all odds

• how the structure of the music—especially sampling—make it possible to create cultural hybrids, and how hip-hop became global by allowing for infinite local adaptations


In general, I am curious whether the evolution and globalization of hip-hop could teach us something about the globalization of language itself.


Some of the research I have done on rap is based on a series of video-tapes I shot during open-mic sessions, including battles, organized by Brent Fierro and Jeff Cox at the University of Texas. I am particularly interested in how people learn how to freestyle, including how body motion helps them get into a groove.


1992 The Converse Conversation of Rap (on the web)


1999 M. A. Foytlin, C. A. Nelson, W. Rahman & J. Streeck. Casualties of lyrical combat.

SALSA No. 6. Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Symposium About Language and



2002 Hip-Hop-Identität. Soziale Welten und sprachliche Stile. Festschrift für Werner Kallmeyer.

Eds. I. Keim & W. Schütte. Tübingen: Narr, 537-558.


2010 J Streeck & D. Henderson. Das Handwerk des Hip-Hop. Freestyle als körperliche Praxis.

(The handiwork of hip-hop. Freestyle as embodied performance). C. Wulf and E. Fischer-Lichte (Eds.) Gesten: Inszenierung, Aufführung und Praxis.

München: Wilhelm Fink.


to appear, Sonnenschein als Grenzobjekt. In Grenzobjekte. R. Hörster, S. Köngeter, & B. Müller (eds.). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag. (‘Sunshine as a boundary object”—About samples in hip-hop) in Boundary Objects.