Updates from the team

How Music Empowers: Listening to Modern Rap and Metal

We’re pleased to announce the publication of How Music Empowers, a new book by CIPHER team member Dr. Steven Gamble. Steve’s research for this book, mostly undertaken prior to the CIPHER project, is impactful and important for hip hop audiences, especially people who are into contemporary rap. Artists including Little Simz, Drake, Missy Elliott, Brockhampton, and Chance the Rapper are discussed – and a bunch of metal artists too! The book is great reading for anyone excited by how the listening process works (what happens in the mind and body), and how music affects emotions, alters behaviour, and incites action.

Here’s the blurb:

How Music Empowers argues that empowerment is the key to unlocking the long-standing mystery of how music moves us. Drawing upon cutting-edge research in embodied cognitive science, psychology, and cultural studies, the book provides a new way of understanding how music affects listeners. The argument develops from our latest conceptions of what it is to be human, investigating experiences of listening to popular music in everyday life. Through listening, individuals have the potential to redefine themselves, gain resilience, connect with other people, and make a difference in society.


Applying a groundbreaking theoretical framework to postmillennial rap and metal, the book uncovers why vast numbers of listeners engage with music typically regarded as ‘social problems’ or dismissed as ‘extreme’. In the first ever comparative analytical treatment of rap and metal music, twenty songs are analysed as case studies that reveal the empowering potential of listening. The book details how individuals interact with rap and metal communities in a self-perpetuating process which keeps these thriving music cultures – and the listeners themselves – alive and well. Can music really change the world? How Music Empowers answers: yes, because it changes us.


How Music Empowers will interest scholars and researchers of popular music, ethnomusicology, music psychology, music therapy, and music education.

The book’s pricing with academic publisher Routledge is very steep, but Steve is happy to receive requests for free review copies: just get in touch here. A cheaper paperback will be available down the line. For more info, head to howmusicempowers.com!

© Routledge

0phelia – ‘The Enlightenment of the Tree’

In this video 0phelia spits an acapella rap verse (‘Eagniocht and chrann’) in her native language Gaelige, demonstrating the hip-hop wisdom that can be found in nature. The captions provided in English are a loose translation of the original.

Lo-fi hip-hop during COVID-19

There’s a two-part blog post now up at our associated project Digital Flows, looking at online hip-hop. In these posts Steve uses a comment scraping method to analyse how lo-fi commentary has changed – and how it hasn’t – during the quarantine/lockdown measures imposed by COVID-19 (March to December 2020).

Illustration by Juan Pablo Machado

The first post explains how the research was undertaken and examines changes that directly address the pandemic. It goes on to discuss a trend of studying and working: lo-fi’s large student audience often comment about their studying habits during this period (a relatively common thing to post about even before COVID-19!).

The second post reflects on lofi hip-hop as a genre then details additional results: themes of identity, aesthetic, cultural references, conversational aspects, and emotional expression.

Steve would be glad to hear feedback on this work-in-progress. Stay tuned into the Digital Flows project!

Hip Hop Interpellation: Rethinking Autochthony and Appropriation in Irish Rap

Griff has published a new chapter in Made in Ireland (Routledge, 2020) edited by Áine Mangaoang, John O’Flynn, Lonán Ó Briain. In it, he tells a history of hip hop in Ireland and posits the “hip hop interpolation” thesis: the ways that this irreducibly Black American art form has been appropriated globally and the ways that “entrenched oral traditions of storytelling and poetry stretching back thousands of years have incorporated hip hop into their cultures” (Pennycook and Mitchell 2009).

Global Hip Hop Studies Issue 1

We’re delighted to announce the inaugural issue of the CIPHER-associated journal Global Hip Hop Studies, published by Intellect Books (UK). Here’s the lowdown on the journal:

Global Hip Hop Studies (GHHS) is a peer-reviewed, rigorous and community-responsive academic journal that publishes research on contemporary as well as historical issues and debates surrounding hip hop music and culture around the world, twice annually.

Intellect Books, courtesy of Marc Canonizado (@gfbsshaveparlor, Instagram) and Garrett Tartt (@findyourplayground, Instagram)

We’re grateful to all our scholars, artists, and editors for their amazing contributions. The first issue is completely free to read and download.

Ya boy! RTÉ News Segment

Here’s an early report on the CIPHER project conducted by Ireland’s public broadcast service RTÉ News. Griff and Cork artist Spekulativ Fiktion briefly describe how CIPHER got off the ground and plans for the future: