Hip Hop Word Count: Linguistic Researcher Tahir Hemphill Talks Data And Lossless Communication

PSFK talks to Tahir Hemphill, a creative strategist working to understand the development of language and linguistics in contemporary lyrics.


Hip Hop Word Count is a project working to understand the development of language and linguistics in contemporary lyrics. The project uses a series of rubrics and linguistic algorithms to determine the education level needed to understand various rhymes, employing analytics of metaphors, similes, cultural references and other measures of sophistication. Hip Hop Word Count is being developed at Eyebeam by resident artist Tahir Hemphill, who shares his insights with us below:

What projects or ideas are currently inspiring your work?

I have been focused on the Organic Mechanics: cognition through distributed knowledge, data visualization of complex data sets, open source, real-time data feeds, cultures of recession, sentiment tracking, theoretical physics, quantitative & qualitative ethnographic research, profane/profound, maths and the ubiquity of Jamaica Avenue, Nostrand Avenue & Fordham Road, stuff like that.

What has been the most surprising response to or use of the Hip-Hop Word Count?

In May I launched the first Rap Data Pack™. It includes the raw data from Jay-Z’s complete body of work: word count, readability, release dates, geo codes, etc… I uploaded the file to both Google Spreadsheet & Many Eyes and allowed public access. This open source approach to giving away for free something I spent many hours of labor making is antithetical to my advertising background and definitely an influence of the Eyebeam philosophy, where I currently have an artist residency.

And the response has been incredible, at last count 2,500+ people have accessed/downloaded the Rap Data Pack™. I’ve received quite a few mentions from data visualization artists, academics and Hip-Hop enthusiasts who I’ve been wanting to collaborate with, Harvard’s Hip-Hop Archive being one of them. The Hip-Hop Word Count Kickstarter project page is also seeing some interest. So I’ll be releasing a new Rap Data Pack every month until Labor Day.

What is something you look forward to being able to accomplish with emerging technologies?

I’m looking forward to seeing this semantic web stuff in action. The definition covers a lot, but for the most part it has to do with declaring what is being described in HTML. I’m excited about the microformat approach especially after seeing its role in HTML5 and the speculated effect it will have on Flash.

What is your insight on how technology is shaping the study of linguistics and its applications?

From the LOL-speak of instant messaging and txt msg abbreviations to micro blogging, these technologies have forced many people to economize their words and organize their thoughts for optimum lossless communication. This new brevity leaves a lot of gaps to be filled in and I believe those involved are moving toward telepathy. Saying is as doing says.

I am very excited about using computational linguistics dictionaries and Google’s Prediction API for the semantic phase of the Hip-Hop Word Count.

Thanks Tahir!

Hip Hop Word Count

Rap Data Pack

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