The term “Black Semantics” (Smitherman 2006) refers to a core of words and familiar expressions typical of African American culture. Many of these expressions have crossed boundaries of time, space, gender and social class, becoming linguistic property of all Americans and, in some cases, of the world, thanks to the global spread of Hip Hop music and the universality of its language. Starting from the assumption that phraseology is a means to analyze social events and human behavior, the present paper aims at investigating the diffusion of such phraseological units in a diachronic, diatopic and diastratic perspective, in an effort to reveal how Black formulaic language evolves and takes roots over time and space, and to highlight to what extent it permeates any register, from daily language to specialized discourse. In particular, the analysis will focus on the interplay of conventionality and creativity in Black Semantics. Conventionality encompasses the relationship between the individual and society, playing a crucial role in social cohesion. Proverb use, for instance, is an essential source of strategies to teach rapidly and in no uncertain terms about Black life and living. Quoted by parents to their children or to friends and siblings, proverbs represent the wisdom of Black people, a legacy that has enabled African Americans to keep their fundamental perceptions of reality and essential value orientations. Creativity, instead, involves what Toni Morrison, in her 1993 Noble Lecture, called “word-work”: Black folks are in love “with the saying of words, holding them on the tongue, experimenting with them, playing with them” (Alim and Smitherman, 2010: 175). Such “word-work” may be observed not only in the ever-evolving lexicon of Black language, but also in its numerous linguistic practices and cultural modes of discourse: signifying, playing the dozens, call and response, tonal semantics, freestyle. Here the interaction between conventionality and creativity has led to what has been named “Hip Hop Genius” (Seidel 2011), to describe the ability to cope with difficulties in a creative way. Black life and language are seen as a performance, and Hip Hop Genius is resourcefulness in the face of limited resources. Or, as it is usually said in the Hip Hop community, in a sort of metaphorical dance between conventionality and creativity, “flipping something outa nothing”.
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