October 27, 2013

GORDON | The Trill, Turnt-Up Trends of Rap

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Did you know Dartmouth is the least rapped-about Ivy?  Or that references to sushi in hip-hop songs have increased by 500 percent in the last decade?  If not, there’s a website out there for you called Rap Genius.  Along with explanations for the layman on the meaning of hip-hop lyrics, the site provides the visitor with “stats” on every hip-hop song in their massive database, which stretches back to 1988.  Type in a word or phrase and the database will show you in colorful graph form the number of times, by year, the word or phrase has been mentioned in songs.

Bringing a Moneyball mindset to the industry of Young Money isn’t the sexiest endeavor.  Hip-hop is sonnets set to a beat. Boiling sonnets into statistics could be a bore. But by examining the trends of the hip-hop lexicon over the past 25 years, one can gain insight into where the genre has been and where hip-hop and our wider culture is headed.

Trending Down: Homophobia

Pride and culture have long been the central tenants of hip-hop.  Oh, and homophobia.  Pride, culture and homophobia.  Thankfully the “show no love to homo thug” days of DMX might be behind us.  The use of the f-word has decreased by 50 percent since 1988.  The last few years have seen Macklemore’s “Same Love” and the coming out of Frank Ocean.  The slur’s downward trend has sunk even sharper since 2011. Coincidence perhaps — or progress.

Trending Up: Molly

In the past four years, molly mentions have increased by 950 percent, signaling the stimulant’s notoriety in today’s society. Since 2009, the molly line graph on Rap Genius resembles Mt. Everest.  Good rapping often requires the rapper to take on a world-beater persona. Molly gives the user that persona. Weed is still the most mentioned drug (and by quite a margin), but the ascendance of molly to drug-of the-moment shouldn’t be overlooked.

Trending down: Coastal rivalries

The bicoastal rivalry that spanned much of the ’90s has subsided since the deaths of Tupac and Biggie in ’96-’97.  The years leading up to their murders saw the highest mentions of “east coast” and “west coast” in history.  Since then, the mentions of the two coasts has decreased by around 300 percent. References to the bloods and crips have decreased accordingly as well. So the fact that you can neatly position your fingers to spell out “blood” is much less useful now. I’m sorry.

Rivalries haven’t gone away.  The local ones remain.  “East side” and “West side” references have jumped considerably since 2000.  As have the references to the intra-city rivalries Kendrick Lamar speaks of throughout GKMC (“’eff who you know, where you from?”).  References to “Chiraq”, the nickname given to the areas of Chicago where the violence leaves a body count on par with Iraq, have risen since the term was first coined five years ago.

Trending Up:  Luxury

Bashfulness was never a stable of the rap genre. Rappers like telling you they started from the bottom and are now in the stratosphere. They do this by name-dropping the tenets of a high roller lifestyle. A roll of the aforementioned sushi is a few luxury steps above a can of tuna. Once mentioned as often as the acknowledgedly unhip Canada, France, with its reputation for luxury villas, chateaus and Monaco, has rocketed to become the most cited foreign country in hip-hop.

As do-rags and grillz have gone by the wayside, the hip-hop fashion trend of choice is another luxury totem: Versace.  The Italian fashion company gets mentioned more than Obama.  Drake repeats it 18 times for the hook to Migos’ single “Versace.” It’s a clear departure from the ’90s golden era of gansta rap.  Whereas NWA drew anger from police discrimination, the frustration Kanye West exhibits in “Yeezus” stems from fashion executives not taking his ideas for clothing lines seriously.

It’s noteworthy that hip-hop songs have moved from being made up of lyrics that mirror the urban poverty many of the artists grew up in to being about the “glam” lifestyle. References to guns, crime and welfare have all declined since the turn of the century.  For a listener living in poverty, the genre has shifted a bit from being a reflective art to a form of escapism.

Trending Down: Trill

The sum of True + Real = has decreased by 50 percent since its peak prevalence in 2008.

Trending Up: Turnt

Trending Up: Swag

Practically non-existent pre-2005, turnt and turnt-up have exploded. My financial advice is to buy more turnt stock. However, as far as popularity goes, swag makes turnt look like trill (that sentence was really fun to write).  Purple Swag, Pretty Boy Swag, Cali Swag District; the stats back it up.  In terms of references, 2008 saw “swagger” outpace “swag” by a hundred thousand trillion. The tables have since turned dramatically. Swag is now the teacher.

Trending down: Obama

Trending up: Reagan

From 2005 to 2008, the frequency of Obama’s name in rap songs saw a molly-like meteoric rise. Since 2010 however, the POTUS is being cited 23 percent less often. Perhaps this demonstrates a minor disappointment amongst hip-hop artists in Obama’s tenure, or simply just their general disinterest in a sluggish political system.

Killer Mike’s recent track “Reagan,” compares the late Conservative darling to Satan. The cause of the 40th President’s rising popularity in rap lyrics is likely backlash from liberal artists who take issue with the pedestal Republicans have put Reagan on in the years since his death and Obama’s elections.

Trending up: Love

Trending down: Hate

Across all hip-hop songs, “love” is used five times more than “hate,” and the gap is getting wider.

Trending flat: Benedict Cumberbatch

The skilled screen actor has been referenced in exactly zero percent of rap songs since 1988. But consider all of the possibilities.