Like the Rap Genius blog has shown, there is value and entertainment in projects like Tahir Hemphill’s latest data-driven rap analysis, but just like the short-comings of the Rap Anthology (NB: Harvard’s Hip Hop Archive is involved here, as well), parsing rap lyrics comes at the price of viewing the genre myopically. For example (Wired writer’s words):
The idea is so that important questions can be answered, like who was the first to mention “haters,” or which is the most popular champagne/sneakers/porn star to rap about? The database can also be used to determine the answers to more complex questions, such as which rapper has the smartest songs, or which city spawns the most monosyllabic rap?
These are not “important” questions. They are questions that seemingly do nothing more than reinforce vapid stereotypes of rap music in popular culture, and create unecessary fodder for those who insist “real hip hop” (read: hip hop that is not “killing the genre”) requires an artist to be “lyrically lyrical, yo.”
Granted I’m biased, because I’ve never been the rap stan who can recite verses of my favorite songs verbatim (or even really care to try — obviously, with repetition of tracks I love this does happen, though), and often I find myself more drawn to the beats and composition of a record than how many polysyallabic stanzas the emcee is spitting — aka, the reason I’ll throw on UGK before AZ almost any day of the week.
Look, I’m all for data driven (or really ANY scholarly) analysis of the music I love, but I don’t want it to come at the expense of viewing a diverse and complex genre narrowly. I just want researchers to be holistic about providing “answers by charting the culture described within Hip-Hop music.”
It is, after all, *music* and not spoken word. Don’t get the shit twisted.