VaNatta S. Ford

2017 Hellman Fellow

Assistant Professor of Africana Studies
Williams College

Project Title: Did They Really Say That? Analyzing Colorist Rhetoric in Rap Music

VaNatta Ford will use her Hellman Fellowship to support the completion of her book project, Tone DEF: Exploring Colorism in the Rhetoric of Rap Lyrics. Ford’s goal with Tone DEF is to bring to the forefront a rhetorical understanding of colorism (prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group) in rap music from the late 1980s to the present. The project also unearths the explicit and implicit instances of colorist rhetoric in rap music that have gone unnoticed and, for the most part, uninvestigated within the literature on colorism. Ford will travel to New Orleans, where she will conduct qualitative interviews with Black men, inquiring about their experience and practice of colorism, and their thoughts on the usage of colorist rhetoric in rap music (in particular, the music of rapper Lil Wayne). She will have these interviews transcribed, and she will work with an editor as she revises her manuscript. While in New Orleans, Ford will immerse herself in the culture and people of the city in order to better understand the complex history of colorism there. She will also attend concerts and empowerment workshops offered by the Essence Music Festival, an annual event in New Orleans.