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Rhymin' and Stealin' – new book explores musical borrowing in hip-hop

Press release issued: 5 August 2013

One of the most essential elements of hip-hop – musical borrowing – is the subject of a new book by University of Bristol musicologist, Dr Justin Williams.

Whether it's taking an old dance move for a breakdancing battle, quoting from a famous speech, or sampling a rapper or 1970s funk song, hip-hop aesthetics involve borrowing from the past.

In Rhymin' and Stealin' Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop, Dr Williams uses examples from Nas, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Eminem, and many others to show that the transformation of pre-existing material is the fundamental element of hip-hop aesthetics.

Although all music genres use and adapt pre-existing material in different ways, hip-hop music celebrates and flaunts its 'open source' culture through highly varied means.  An exploration of this web of references, borrowed material and digitally sampled sounds forms the basis of Dr Williams's book which uses sampling and other types of borrowing as a framework within which to analyse hip-hop music and wider cultural trends.

Dr Williams said: "It's long been commonplace to speak of hip-hop as a form of music deeply reliant on borrowing, especially when it comes to sampling.  And yet, until now, almost no one has seriously investigated these critical elements, except to judge them on ethical and legal grounds.

"Rhymin’ and Stealin’ is the first book-length study of musical borrowing in hip-hop music.  It not only explores digital sampling but also demonstrates a wider web of references and quotations within the hip-hop world."

Rhymin' and Stealin' Musical Borrowing in Hip-Hop by Justin A. Williams is published by the University of Michigan Press

About Dr Justin Williams

Dr Justin A. Williams is Lecturer in Music at the University of Bristol.  He is the author of Rhymin’ and Stealin’: Musical Borrowing in Hip-hop for the ‘Tracking Pop’ series from University of Michigan Press.  He is currently editing the Cambridge Companion to Hip-hop for Cambridge University Press.

He teaches topics ranging from classical music analysis to African-American music and music and geography.  He has played trumpet and piano in a number of jazz and pop groups including the Sacramento Music Hall of Fame band ¡Bucho!   He hopes to use his expertise on African-based musics for his next book project: a history of black music in Bristol in the second half of the twentieth century.