From Blues to Rap Lyrics – Turning Social and Personal Failure into Global Musical Success

Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ulfried Reichardt

In this project, I will investigate lyrics in African American songs from the blues to rap. Most blues songs speak of failure – women or men who left their lovers, prison sentences, or social stigmatization because of race. Nevertheless, black music and African-derived forms of popular music have become immensely successful as a global idiom in the meantime and are only equaled, if that is even the case, by the success of European classical music. I am interested in investigating how music and how lyrics that foreground failure to such a strong degree could have become so influential worldwide. What are the links between singing / rapping about loss and being low-down on so many existential levels, on the one hand, and the music’s success in terms of money, influence, and admiration, on the other? My subject matter constitutes a great success story based in several respects on the experience of failure.