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So Now Bling Means Blink, Drake? How Hip-Hop Pushes Linguistic Evolution


Artists Future and Drake perform in Inglewood, California, in November 2015. Leon Bennett/Getty Images
Artists Future and Drake perform in Inglewood, California, in November 2015. Leon Bennett/Getty Images

If you want to know what's hot on social media and in the streets, the first thing you might want to do is stop saying "hot" and start saying "on fleek." There's a teenager somewhere in Chicago who often gets the credit for first using the phrase to describe all things fly and sleek, but it wasn't until performers like Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Ariana Grande got "on fleek" that the term really became a part of the national conversation.

When one breakfast chain went full fleek to sell pancakes, it was either a sign that the apocalypse is near or that the expression's popular wave is already cresting. The only thing we know for sure is that the on fleek experience is just the latest example of how much music — and urban tunes in particular — has to say about the way we talk.

"It's absolutely true that hip hop has had an impact on the culture of not only the United States, but the entire world and has created or influenced new modes of communication," says Northeastern University music professor Dr. Emmett G. Price III. "It has inspired this kind of renaissance of new approaches to communication."

Price is the former chair of Northeastern's African American Studies department and the author of two books on hip-hop culture. He calls the music's impact on language a "renaissance" because it follows a long line of artistic expression that's shaped the way we talk, from jazz and bebop to classic '70s soul. "Hip hop is just another manifestation of this cultural continuum that's coming out of the black experience in the United States," Price says.

Gangsta rap was still little more than a gleam in Eazy-E's eye in 1987 when NWA released "Boyz-n-the-Hood," a little ditty about a day in the life young man in Compton. The track helped put NWA on the map, and director John Singleton borrowed the title for his Oscar-nominated urban youth drama a few years later. The song's lasting impact, however, may be that it helped cement the term "hood" into the national lexicon.

Sure, folks were using the word as short hand for "hoodlum" and certain low-income "neighborhoods" well before Eazy, Dre, Ice Cube and MC Ren came on the scene. But the song and the movie helped bring the "hood" to the center of artistic expression about urban life. Today, the term — which can be used as an adjective or noun and has spawned progeny like "hood rat" and "hood rich" — is so ubiquitous that it can be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Our conversations are teeming with words that either have their origin in or were made popular by hip hop and other types of music. And it's been noted that teens, especially teen girls, are on the cutting edge of linguistic innovation.

So whether you're finna chill, rocking some bling or rolling out to get some booty, you don't even need to be a hardcore hip-hop head to find some of these terms working their way into your everyday manner of speech. But when you start to sound like an IHOP ad, you might want to freshen up your playlist.