Hip-Hop Lyrics as a Cultural Indicator

I’m one of those suburban kids who likes hip-hop and rap. Yeah. I’m a stereotype. But hey, I also really enjoy all times of music (except for songs that involve lots and lots of screaming…). I’ve always been drawn to the beats of hip-hop though – the melodies, the verses, just the entirety of the song.

Music takes on aspects of our culture that are popular, that are underground, that exist in between and melds it into this perfect little snippet for our ears to enjoy. Sometimes, they take on memes and spin it off into a whole new musical genre. For a light example, we can look at auto-tuning. Though popular in the mainstream to fix poor vocals, it is prominently used in videos on youtube such as auto tune the news and even lead to the now famous Bed Intruder song (he’s climbing in yo windows, he’s snatching yo people up…)

It would be interesting to see where memes will take music to in the future. In the article I link to below, a designer is creating a database of hip-hop lyrics that analyzes the lyrics of over 40,000 hip-hop songs. I think his words best describe this database, so I’ll just quote him:

“The Hip-Hop Word Count locks in a time and geographic location for every metaphor, simile, cultural reference, phrase, meme and socio-political idea used in the corpus of Hip-Hop.The Hip-Hop Word Count then converts this data into explorable visualisations which help us to comprehend this vast set of cultural data.
This data can be used to chart the migration of ideas and builds a geography of language and is the engine for a teaching curriculum.” – Tahir Hemphill

So, ultimately, this database will allow us to see the evolution of hip-hop, not just musically like the beats, but especially lyrically – we can see where/when it takes on certain memes, certain cultural ideas, and spits it back out to us with a good beat and nice flow. I’m pretty excited to see what kind of visualizations people will come up with using this data.

The Hip-Hop Word Count Counts on Language to Understand the Reality We Keep.

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