Occupy Movement: How Hip-Hop is Taking Center Stage

Occupy Movement: How Hip-Hop is Taking Center Stage
Group 18: Sarah Velling and Hilary Nyberg

The influence of hip-hop musicians on the occupy movement is an important genre to study because of the sheer impact and stimulus that both music and celebrities can have on ordinary citizens.  What resources and actions are the game changers of the rap world utilizing to shine light on the occupy movement to their fans and bring about change? How are they connecting to a sub-culture and encouraging its members to band together to make their voice heard? Generally speaking, the hip-hop culture is comprised of young minorities, a demographic that is not often associated with Wall Street and politics.  The awareness and calls for action that hip-hop moguls are bringing about though their unparalleled influence with the hip-hop culture and community is an important social phenomenon that should be carefully studied. Hop-hop artists’ involvement raised visibility of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement which was beneficial to the salience of OWS, unfortunately when covering these artists’ involvement in OWS journalists focused much more heavily on the artists themselves rather than the movement they were supporting. In this paper we will elucidate on how we used an analysis of word frequencies using our personal corpus of over forty texts to more closely examine the hip-hop artists influence with OWS.  Additionally, we will specifically focus on rap artist Talib Kweli in order to more closely examine syntagmatic choices in texts written about hip-hop artists and the Occupy Movement.

Discourse Analysis research methods cover an incredibly large range of ways to approach and think about problems.  There is no way to qualify Discourse Analysis as “qualitative” or “quantitative” research, because, rather than examining and finding answers to a single problem, its focus is on allowing us to understand the socio-cultural conditions that lie behind a certain problems and challenging the assumptions that allow the problem to exist and continue being perpetuated (Olson). The first discourse strategy for analysis that we used was word frequencies, which create a list of all the words utilized in the text paired with how frequently they occur.  As explained in Word Frequencies and the Study of Roman Law by A. M. Honore, “A scholar may wish to find out how often a given author uses a word or phrase or a group of words or phrases either generally or in a particular work.  He may wish to do this for groups of authors belonging to a historical period…or to a geographical region….To confirm impressions gained from reading the texts, or to acquire fresh insights”  (280.)  Word frequencies are a useful tool for the analysis of a corpus collection.  Additionally this method was valuable in comparing the frequencies of certain lexical items in our personal corpus against the occurrences of the same lexical items with the group’s larger corpora.  As explained in Introducing Electronic Text Analysis A practical Guide for Language and Literary Studies by Svenja Adolphs,  Adolphs writes, “norming techniques can facilitate the comparison of individual items across two corpora in terms of overall frequency of occurrence” ( 43).   When looking more specifically at coverage of Kweli, we examined the relationship between sentences, clauses, and social actors (Fairclough) in coverage of Kweli’s appearance at OWS and the syntagmatic choices that gave Kweli power and authority through activization and simultaneously passivized OWS participants.

We chose to research the discourse genre of any written texts on hip-hop musicians and the occupy movement that were published after September 1, 2011.  Rather than focusing on a specific set of publications we chose to focus on any texts concerning the four most influential and well-known “game changer” musicians and hip-hop moguls of the occupy movement: Russell Simmons, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, and David Banner.  We gathered texts from numerous world-wide publications as well as blogs dating from September 1st until the present.  Our goal was to gather as much written textual evidence as possible documenting the four hip-hop game changers contribution and actions regarding the occupy movement in order to understand the vast influence sphere that is generated through hip-hop culture.  We collected over forty published texts concerning the game-changers.  The majority of the texts were from online publications and the average length of the articles was approximately one page.  The overall tone of the texts was positive, although some were written from a negative standpoint towards the four hip-hop moguls being studied.  We feel that the texts utilized served as a valid set of data for analysis because they were taken from a wide variety of online and written publications over a nine month time period, ensuring that a range of viewpoints and evidence could be taken into account.

One of our main findings that was relevant to our central research question of how (and if) hip-hop artists can utilize their music in order to make a positive change in the occupy movement was that the four game changing artists Russell Simmons, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, and David Banner are always mentioned in the texts with an introductory explanation of either their hip-hop credibility or their latest hip-hop/ music endeavor in order to give legitimation to both the moguls and the movement.  For example, in The New York Times article Protest T-Shirt Generates Anger Russell Simmons and Kanye West are introduced through the sentence, “Russell Simmons is currently touring with Kanye West to promote their album, ‘Watch the Throne.’  In the Musical Express article Tom Morello Plays the Occupy Wall Street three of the four hip-hop moguls are introduced using their music careers to bring legitimation to their appearances.  “Kanye West visited the Occupy Wall Street protests alongside Russell Simmons, the co-founder of record label Def Jam earlier this week. Visiting the Zuccotti Park camp on October 10, the hip-hop star (West) walked through the crowds, but did not take the opportunity to perform a set for the protestors, unlike rap artist Talib Kweli.”  The corpus’ tendencies to use hip-hop to legitimize Russell Simmons, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, and David Banner’s work with the occupy movement is arguably the key component to the four moguls bringing a positive influence to the occupy movement through the use of the hip-hop culture.

While it is admirable that hip-hop moguls are utilizing their celebrity to call attention to and positively influence the Occupy movement, these efforts are often lost in translation when journalists focus too heavily on the artists themselves rather than the movement. This became apparent when closely examining coverage of Kweli in relation to his work with the movement.

Throughout coverage of Kweli’s support of OWS, writers reproduced power relations between celebrities and the citizen who are responsible for organizing OWS by activizing Kweli in sentence structure.  For example, in coverage published on the Village Voice blog, writer Nick Pinto wrote a short article about Kweli’s appearance at OWS. Out of the 9 instances where anyone was activized, 8 of those were Kweli.

“Talib Kweli showed up in Zuccotti Park Thursday night…”

“…to perform for the protesters of Occupy Wall Street.”

“Kweli arrived and stepped up onto the stone bench…”

Only once were the protestors referred to in a way that described them as taking any action in the event at all. The people who are actually participating in the OWS protests are almost completely excluded from this coverage, and the audience is therefore asked to read Kweli as the most important participant in this case. Another example of how protestors at OWS are reduced to passive participants through coverage of Kweli is in the choice of quotations used when writing about Kweli’s visit. In 9 out of the 12 articles that included quotations from Kweli himself, he was quoted in giving instructions to his audience, the protestors. The most frequent of the quotations was Kweli ordering “everyone with a camera, computer, phone, or voice” to to “do [their] job” and spread the word, finishing with the sentiment that “this is the end game, we have to grow” (Haykes). By consistently representing Kweli in this way, he is constructed as someone with the authority to give instructions while the protestors are reduced recipients of instruction. Overall, the passivization of protestors and the activation of Kweli are a means through which coverage of OWS reconstructs the idea that celebrities carry an innate authority that allows them to speak about social movements.

We believe it is important to note that the findings described above are not unique to coverage of OWS. In fact, one could say that they are merely an reflection of greater patterns in discourse surrounding social phenomena. The analysis done on our corpus regarding hip-hop culture and the four “game changers” of the occupy movement confirms our theory that hip-hop has in fact positively influenced the occupy movement.  Russell Simmons, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, and David Banner’s involvement and action with the movement is transmitted in the corpus by the stating of the four hip-hop mogul’s music credibility in almost every text introduction of the artists to bring legitimation and relevance to the movement.  The awareness and calls for action regarding the occupy movement that hip-hop moguls are bringing about though their unparalleled influence with the hip-hop culture and community is an important social phenomenon that should be carefully studied. It is important to examine these patterns on a smaller scale in order to understand how they might work on a larger scale within the discourse surrounding movements like Occupy Wall Street and other social activist causes. Knowing that hip-hop moguls have so much power to influence social causes while also knowing that coverage of celebrities often minimizes the actions of the non-celebrity protestor provides readers with power. The power to read and think critically about these issues is crucial in our successful navigation of discourse surrounding social phenomena and helps us be more responsible, informed participants in them.


Adolphs, Svenja. “Exploring Frequencies in Texts: Basic Techniques.” Chapter 3 in Introducing Electronic Text Analysis. London ; New York : Routledge, 2006. 37-50.

Fairclough, Norman. “Representation of Social Events.” Analyzing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. New York, NY: Routledge, 2003. 134-15. Print.

Honoreì, A. M. (November 01, 1972). Word Frequencies and the Study of Roman Law. The Cambridge Law Journal, 30, 2, 280-293.

Olson, Hope. “QUANTITATIVE “VERSUS” QUALITATIVE RESEARCH: THE WRONG QUESTION. “ University of Alberta School of Library and Information Studies, 8 May 1995. Web. 30 May 2012. <http://www.ualberta.ca/dept/slis/cais/olson.htm&gt;.

Pinto, Nick. “Talib Kweli Plays Occupy Wall Street.” Web log post. Politics: The Village Voice. The Village Voice, 7 Oct. 2011. Web. 30 May 2012. <http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2011/10/talib_kweli_pla.php&gt;.


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