The ‘Hip Hop Word Count’ is a project aimed at creating a searchable rap almanac, with the goal to study hip-hop music. I was amazed at the opportunities this offers to really analyze hip-hop music. Let me quote from the project description:
“The Hip-Hop Word Count is a searchable ethnographic database built from the lyrics of over 40,000 Hip-Hop songs from 1979 to present day. The Hip-Hop Word Count describes the technical details of most of your favorite hip-hop songs. This data can then be used to not only figure out interesting stats about the songs themselves, but also describe the culture behind the music.”
This may still be a little abstract for you, but have a look at what is possible already with two examples. The first is that they have analyzed a number of rap songs and have designated them a ‘readability score’ on a scale from 0 (illiterate) to 20 (post-graduate degree). Sure, it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it’s informative nonetheless. Check out some examples here.
A second example is a search on the use of the word ‘champagne’ in hip-hop songs from 1979 till now. Not only can they tell you how often that word appeared in songs in every time period, but they can even break it down into brands of champagne. That way, you can see trends and even the influence of an event, like rapper Jay-Z boycotting Cristal, after which the brand was mentioned way less in hip-hop songs.
You may wonder what this has to do with youth ministry. Well, it doesn’t. At least not directly. But is does have to do with a phenomenal way to better research music and lyrics, thus helping us to research and define youth culture better.
The project is now for hip-hop songs and hopefully with enough funding it will open to the public. That means we can research things we’ve often ‘felt’, but couldn’t put into hard figures. We could see if hip-hop songs have indeed become more sexist over the years for instance, if sexual references have increased, if they have become more or less about money, power, or violence. These are trends we’ve been concerned about for years and this database would give us an opportunity to see if our concerns were realistic.
In time, this would be possible for all songs, as founder and artist Tahir Hemphill has explained himself. Just like Google has done this for books (see Google Ngram), this project could open up lyrics to statistic research. I for one am excited about the new knowledge this will bring us!