“Rakim's Performativity” considers the influence and relevance of pioneering Rapper Rakim's influential track “Follow the Leader” through the lens of J. L. Austin's theory of performativity presented in his philosophical work How to Do Things with Words. The author reflects on Rakim's writing and performance as an MC by referencing performance studies theoretical frameworks from Erving Goffman, Martin Heidegger, and African American cultural iconography. Morris emphasizes Austin's constructed dichotomy in the first half of How to Do Things and his more expansive framing later in the book, and applies both overarching breakdowns to Rakim's work. This article not only praises one of Hip Hop's most important writers and utterers, it also seeks to affirm Austin's theoretical applicability through an unconventional lens. The twenty-page article is divided into four sections: a preface that outlines the context in which Rakim's work was heard by the author; section 1, “Follow Him into a Flow,” which contrasts Rakim's work with that of other Rappers at the time the track was released; section 2, “Austinian Performativity,” which diagrams Rakim's lyrics in the context of Austin's constative and performative distinctions, among other philosophical references; and section 3, which emphasizes the applicability of Rakim's work to Austin's three locutionary delineations. In addition to analyzing Rakim's iconic lyrics, Morris conveys a poetic and cultural nostalgia for the cultural time frame that epitomized Rakim's work (known as the “Golden Age of Hip Hop”) as well as a deep affection for J. L. Austin's theory as an infinitely applicable and a fundamentally democratic ethos.
Tracie Morris; Rakim's Performativity. boundary 2 1 August 2009; 36 (3): 49–61. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2009-019
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