Allusion - MrHolmesEnglish

• A reference to someone or something that is
known from history, literature, religion,
politics, sports, science, or some other branch
of culture
• References are made to help illustrate a point
about a situation
Allusion in Rap
• Allusion is EXTREMELY common in rap music
• Rappers allude to just about everything in
their lyrics, but there are several common
sources of allusion within rap
Allusions in Rap
• Slavery:
– “They treat you like a slave / put chains up on your
soul and put whips up on your back / they be lying
through their teeth, hope you slip up off your path” –
Lupe Fiasco, “Show Goes On”
– “Pyramids to cotton fields to Wrigley Field / forgotten
men who did get killed” – Nas “Can’t Stop Us Now”
– “Maybe one day I’ll ride back to Georgia on a train /
folks round there call me Peaches, I guess that’s my
name” – Talib Kweli, “For Women”
Allusions in Rap
• The Civil Rights Movement:
– “Stuntin’ on Martin Luther, feelin’ just like a King /
guess this is what he meant when he said that he
had a dream” – Young Jeezy, “My President”
– “Everybody wanna be the king then shots ring
/you laying on your balcony with holes in your
dream / or you Malcolm X'd out, get distracted by
screams / everybody get your hand out my jeans”
-- Jay-Z, “Most Kingz”
Allusions in Rap
• Film:
– “Whose world is this? / The world is yours”
-- Nas, “The World is Yours”
Reference to film Scarface; “the world is yours” was the
motto of the title character.
– “Career on stilts – Braveheart, no kilt / you can
hear it screaming ‘freedom’ as the beat gets
killed” – Lupe Fiasco, “Joaquin Phoenix”
Reference to film Braveheart.
Allusions in Rap
• Other sources:
• Literature
– “Mom, I love you but this trailer’s got to go / I cannot
grow old in Salem’s Lot” – Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
• Reference to Steven King’s vampire novel Salem’s Lot
• Sports
– “Hood phenomenon, the Lebron of rhyme / hard to be
humble when you stuntin’ on the Jumbo-Tron” – Kanye
West, “Devil in a New Dress”
• Reference to Lebron James, hyped NBA player
Ernie Barnes
• African American painter, July 1938 – April
• Played football professionally from 1959-1965,
but after an injury ended his career, he
focused entirely on his painting
Ernie Barnes
• A common characteristic of Barnes’ work is that the
people’s eyes are closed:
I began to see, observe, how blind we are to one another’s
humanity. Blinded by a lot of things that have, perhaps,
initiated feelings in that light. We don’t see into the depths of
our interconnection. The gifts, the strength and potential
within other human beings. We stop at color quite often. So
one of the things we have to be aware of is who we are in
order to have the capacity to like others. But when you
cannot visualize the offerings of another human being you’re
obviously not looking at the human being with open eyes.”
“We look upon each other and decide immediately: This
person is black, so he must be... This person lives in poverty,
so he must be...”
Langston Hughes
• One of the central figures of the Harlem
Renaissance – period of time spanning the
1920’s and 30’s of poetic and literary activity
centered around Harlem neighborhood of NY.
• Hughes was a poet and essayist who was very
concerned with African Americans accepting
and embracing their unique cultural history
Langston Hughes
“We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our
individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white
people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter.
We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and
the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If
they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build
our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand
on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”
-- Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” 1926
• Born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. in 1972.
• Began rapping in 1992, and rapped as
Common Sense until 1996.
• Best known for the 1994 track “I Used to Love
H.E.R,” which describes hip-hop through
personification by presenting the music as a
woman that he knows.
“The Believer”
• From Common’s 2011 album “The Dreamer, The
• Describes the conditions in Common’s hometown
of Chicago
• Makes extensive use of allusion to describe the
• Listen to the song and read along with the lyrics.
Where do you find examples of allusion in the
lyrics? Why do you think Common chose these
specific allusions?