Reporting and technical writing. Tuesday - Sep 21, 2021

Rap Research Group #4

Mallie Mickens, left, makes a point, with Malik Singleton, right, listening at the Rap Research Group roundtable in January 2011. Photo by Raafi Rivero

Roundtable discussion connected to Tahir Hemphill’s Hip-Hop Word Count project.

I shot this brief video clip during a lively session put on recently by my friend Tahir Hemphill to discuss topics connected to his project The Hip-Hop Word Count. The Rap Research Group was a series of focus group discussions designed to add qualitative perspectives to Tahir’s largely quantitative work.

Tahir describes his Hip-Hop Word Count system as an “ethnographic database” of what Hip-Hop produces more of than anything else — lyrics. He saw published lyrics as a vast load of data because to a data manager, lyrics are just volumes and volumes of searchable and filterable text. So he began developing a project that analyzes everything that Hip-Hop has ever had to say by organizing every lyric in one huge database.

But he couldn’t treat lyrics as just data because language has context and meaning that computational analysis can’t fathom. So to make his project appeal to real people he gathered real people to discuss the human and cultural things that the data miss in these roundtables. At the table were people who Tahir describes as “Rap enthusiasts, historians, creative technologists, cultural critics, linguists, teachers, MC’s and academics.” The topic of session #4 was The (Im)Possibility of Quantifying Art & Metaphor in Rap, at least that’s where the conversation began.

This clip is from somewhere well beyond that. I’m sure that somewhere someone else has clips of me expressing my ideas but here in this clip I captured a moment during which Ken Montgomery, Mallie Mickens and General Steele dominated the conversation.