Though rap may embody the struggle of people striving to leave a difficult station in life, it’s no secret that the geographical strivings of most rappers are anything but humble. From staking out significant territory in tiny corners of their neighborhoods to dreaming of international cities like London and Paris, the geography of rap music, especially the geography of the language itself, is a rich topic for analysis. Tahir Hemphill is an authority in this area, having compiled semantic data of over 40,000 hip-hop songs from 1979 to the present day as part of his Kickstarter-funded Hip-Hop Word Count Project. Since then, aside from creating the almanac, he’s made all kinds of discoveries about the geographic origins of certain terms and found some fantastic ways to display the data, including text correlation, Google Maps, and more.
His newest project, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s light paintings, finds physical beauty in the disparateness of rappers’ geographical origins and ambitions and integrates them into a unique practice. Maximum Distance. Minimum Displacement uses information from the complete bodies of work of 12 rappers to track the distance traveled by their imaginations.
(Brief) Methodology: I used the Hip Hop Word Count’s new semantic analysis results to extract all geographic mentions from the complete bodies of work of 12 rappers. These locations were translated into geo coordinates which were then made into points that plotted the robot arm’s movements. The robot arm drew each path while holding a light pen.
The project was completed at the Frank-Ratche STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. See the unique light-pen signatures of eight different artists below.