Amalia Nickel


Rhymes, rhythms and meaning


Hip-hop culture carries a constant theme of renewal and reinvention. Rapping finds its origins in the ritual chanting of African verbal culture: this style of storytelling and linguistic exploration was reinvented in the ghettos of the South Bronx in the early seventies. Pioneers such as Afrika Baambaata and Grandmaster Flash practiced the ancient rituals in the streets, giving a voice to an oppressed demographic. Rhyming over mixed records and painting graffiti letters on the walls and trains allowed fresh dialogue within the community, as well as between the community and the dominant culture.
It has continued to evolve, and today underground hip-hop provides a forum for political, social and spiritual messages. Rappers often rhyme about rhyming itself: hip-hop is introspective, and critical of inauthentic practitioners. By performing classical literary criticism on a genre that is so logocentric, I hope to develop a greater understanding of the way in which metanarratives develop, and how oral storytelling tradition accompanies the cutting-edge nature of rapping. Examining mimetic, expressive, objective and affective interpretations of rap poetry will expose the inner workings of hip-hop culture to reveal its center, the word.


Amalia Nickel very recently completed her Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in English at Trinity Western University. Fascinated by the dynamics between the sacred and profane, her undergraduate thesis dealt with the secularization of religious text in Salman Rushdie's “The Satanic Verses.” Her work on the TWU student newspaper The Mars Hill has included a major spotlight feature on hip-hop, language and spirituality called "The Word Made Fresh" and an off-campus correspondent column.

Amalia grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, where her parents were Mennonite missionaries. This experience founded her interest in Islamic language and culture, as well as her Mennonite beliefs in simple living and unapologetic pacifism. Other interests include rapping, graffiti, and mysticism.

Amalia's love for hip-hop began in 2001 when she first heard the music of Blackalicious and Jurassic 5. She was amazed to discover the hybrid of spirituality, logocentrism and fresh beats that these groups had to offer; she has since explored hip-hop theory and its connections to the literary canon. Along with local hip-hop crews The Influents, The Free Thinkers Society and the Floor Filluhs, Amalia participates in the DoJo hip-hop training school at Timm's Community Center on Thursday nights.