Date of Award

Spring 5-20-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



This thesis focuses on transcribing and analyzing a repertory of underground rap songs, examining how the quality of undergroundness manifests within beats and flows. I define underground as a subgenre of hip-hop that is unified by a culture of meditative listening, and I opt for it over related terms because it is style agnostic. Therefore, I am able to investigate how a small set of techniques manifest across a variety of approaches to making underground hip-hop. I argue that these are a way of sounding the underground, communicating meaning to the listener at the level of the song.

After an introductory Chapter 1, the subsequent chapters examine techniques used in underground production and underground emceeing respectively. Chapter 2 argues that producers employ techniques I term resampling/recomposing, choking, glitching, and slipping to create beats that use non-standard song forms and prioritize an aesthetic of internal variety and contrast; this heterogeneous sound promotes producers to co-authors in the construction of musical identity. Chapter 3 posits that emcees use techniques I term pivot rhyme, closing fragmentation, mimesis, and processing to engage listener’s expectations and challenge the perception that flow is the most hierarchically significant element in a rap song. This demonstrates an emcee’s reciprocity in the construction of their own identity, inviting listeners to deeply engage with how the music informs the resulting musical persona.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Paul Steinbeck

Committee Members

Christopher Stark, Lauren Eldridge Stewart

Included in

Music Theory Commons