Yeezus meets Watch the Throne: How Kanye West and Jay Z Construct Identities and Build Relationships in Rap Music and Interviews

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


Cynthia Gordon


Discourse Analysis, Identity, Intertextuality, Kanye West, Rap Music, Sociolinguistics

Subject Categories



My thesis gives insight into the linguistic structure of rap songs, examines identity and relationship construction in the context of rap artists' discourse, and demonstrates the utility of applying linguistic concepts--especially intertextuality, overlapping frames, story round, and boasting--to the context of rap music. Drawing on Gordon's (2009) concept of "overlapping frames"--i.e., layers of meaning that rely on what Becker (1995) calls "prior text"--and intertextuality, the first analysis chapter explores the use of sampling, the process of reusing music from a prior context, in Kanye West's "Blood on the Leaves" and "Through the Wire." In the second analysis chapter I examine how identities and relationships are created in rap collaborations. Analyzing "Otis" and "N***** in Paris," two songs from Jay Z and West's collaborative album, Watch the Throne, I particularly explore how they exchange stories of their lifestyle that highlight their shared background and experiences with wealth as African American men and rap artists. The final analysis chapter examines how the linguistic strategies from West's rap music, are employed in his style of interviewing. Analyzing three interviews with radio show hosts, Zane Lowe, Sway Calloway, and Charlamagne tha God, DJ Envy, and Angela Yee (The Breakfast Club), I explore how West works to project himself within the hip-hop culture through his personal accounts and depicted prior interactions with individuals in the industry. Applying discourse analytic methods to rap music, I explore how this genre transcends stereotypical and dismissive assumptions by demonstrating how the artists use particular linguistic strategies to not only create various aspects of identity and build relationships with one another, but also highlight significant events that illustrate their journey to where they are in the current context.


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