HIP HOP WORD COUNT: Mapping things, one word at a time

As any architect can tell you, we *love* maps. They are wonderfully varied and can document all sorts of things: the visible, the invisible, the hot, the cold, the deep, the shallow, the high and the low. We spend hours making maps in illustrator, in autocad, in indesign, and on the rare occasion, in our sketchbooks. We are taught that they are objective truth, showing us the unmasked, which has been untangled from everything else.

Yet, you and I both know that maps are *completely biased.* (Which isn’t always a bad thing, as it turns out). In the same way that we craft space and form, architects are constantly crafting experience. A map, like a building, is one way to capture that experience and transfer it to someone else. When reading a map, we are taking a trip through history and space—experiencing not only the world around us, but also facts and data through the nooks and crannies of the cartographer’s mind.

Check out the Hip Hop Word Count: It was set up by Tahir Hemphill, a fellow at Harvard’s Hip Hop Archive. (And, no, I didn’t know about it either). Hemphill has created a database of fifty thousand rap songs (from 1979-present), which not only knows how many times a certain word has been used in rap lyrics, but also the date and song of its origin. It also can tell you what grade level a certain song is.

Cool enough on its own, but from last week’s New Yorker article:

Hemphill went on, “You can also trace the origin of words and the way they travel.” He entered the phrase “ ’bout it,” which is Southern, he said. “By tracking it, you can tell when it arrived in New York—1999.”

I’ve often used words to describe spaces and architectural design. This excerpt reminds me that words themselves can be spatial and volumetric.

Hemphill sees the Hip Hop Word Count as a resource for settling arguments. “There’s a lot of disputes in rap—who influenced whom—who came first,” he said. “Everybody is always asking, ‘Who is the GOAT rapper, the greatest of all time?’ Mostly, it’s settled by who has the loudest voice in the room, but now people will be able to put some metrics to it. Is it the guy with the most complicated lyrics, or the most innovative? The one with the densest words? You could even answer something like ‘Which sneaker is more hip-hop, Nike or Adidas?’ ”

The answer it turns out, is Nike. To find out why, here’s the  full article:

Other Links to Hip Hop Word count and Harvard’s Hip Hop Institute :

Hip Hop Word Count

Hip Hop Archive

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