Date of Completion


Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors



First Advisor

Alex Stewart


live instruments, hip-hop, the roots, kendrick lamar


Traditional live instruments have played an important role in hip­-hop production in various capacities since the earliest stages of the genre’s development. The dominant historical narrative often omits the frequency with which live instruments have been used in hip­-hop. The authenticity of their use has been a point of contention in the discourse of hip-­hop producers, consumers, critics and scholars. When used in accordance with hip-­hop’s aesthetic sensibilities, however, they become a vehicle for innovative and authentic hip­-hop. Tasteful use of live instruments opens up a range of possibilities in the realms of arrangement techniques and compositional freedom. The opportunities and challenges inherent in live-­instrumental hip-­hop are relevant in both studio and live settings.

Live instruments are an alternative production technology that can coexist with sampling. Through analysis of the work of hip-­hop artists (including The Roots, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and Chance the Rapper) who have used live instruments in various capacities, this paper will present the cultural and musical implications of live-­instrumental hip­-hop. There is a dearth of scholarship on the topic of live-­instrumental hip­-hop, and the work that exists tends to deal with this method of production as an afterthought compared to sampling techniques. This paper seeks to fill a gap in scholarship by presenting the merits and challenges of live instruments as a discrete topic worthy of academic attention.