Actual Fact: Visualizing Hiphop Lyrics As Cultural Indicator

For a few years I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with my art & technology colleagues concerning the need for an approach to teaching data visualization that also considers ethics and bias. As the rap data domain expert, I decided to create that very class and teach it at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). ITP is a two-year graduate program located in NYU Tisch School of the Arts whose mission is to explore the imaginative use of communications technologies.

It was an awesome semester!

Hiphop is the framework and it always provided fresh material for us to engage with. Big Up to my students for their prolonged intellectual engagement, cultural analysis and for sharing their artistic processes & personal biases with me as we worked our way through this year’s news cycle.

It Was Lit Fam!

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting excerpts from my syllabus at @RapResearchLab.

While the last decade can be characterized by collecting and publishing information, this decade has been focused on engaging with, editing and understanding the current torrent of available information. But in order to tell a story, data needs memory – which allows it to then be anchored with first hand experience. Working collaboratively, students will create projects that pair data visualization with critical scholarship, investigating the relationships between Hiphop data and society.

Actual Fact responds to global changes in science, technology, society, history and culture by transforming information into final projects that viewers can relate to and interact with. As a result, Actual Fact addresses the cultural implications of society’s current focus on big data, and cautions against obscuring narratives of Hiphop through the “objective” use of data. Visualizing Hiphop’s data allows us to listen to Hiphop in a new way; this new way of listening produces new ways of understanding Hiphop culture and in turn, new ways of understanding ourselves.

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STCR Update: Summer 2016 — Bury the Lead aka Humblebrag aka TL;DR

Happy Strawberry Moon on this First Day of Summer. It’s been a year since my last confession so I’m super-amped to share these overdue studio updates below.

As the 2016 Media Artist in Resident at Spotify I’ve been given access to all of their data and I’m using it to make art! After 3 months of meeting teammates, attending in-house lectures (& concerts), wrangling data and bartering hack hours, I’ve completed the first stage of my project which investigates virtuality and looks at the playlist as repository of listener aspirations seen through song lyrics. Expect a Winter launch.

This Tuesday I’ll be a guest on the panel Black Music: Sound + Culture + Identity which is a part of the Spotify Black Music Month celebration.

I’m Super Felice to be in residence this Summer at The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center on the shore of Lake Como in northern Italy during the thematic month on human behavior.

Upon my return, I’ll start a position as an ITP Something In Residence at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and teaching the course Actual Fact: Visualizing Hiphop Lyrics as Cultural Indicator. I’m honored, their alumni list is bonkers!

Since the beginning of the year my team of Rap Research Lab Fellows and I have been providing professional development to the NYC Parks Department. We are training NYC Parks how to implement the Rap Research Lab curriculum in 10 Computer Resource Centers throughout NYC.

Provoked and inspired by my inquiry and output, the staff, board and curators of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts have selected me as a member of this year’s YBCA 100.

Creative Capital produced this cool mini-documentary on some of the work I’ve been doing at the Rap Research Lab

The Knight Foundation Library Challenge selected the Rap Research Lab as a finalist! Our answer to the question: How might libraries serve 21st century information needs? uses Hip-hop lyrics as a discovery tool for library collections (natch). Check out our proposal here.

I just sent out the first set of Hip-hop Word Count beta tester invites to my Kickstarter backers. The project was included in the recent celebration of The First 100,000 Funded Kickstarter Projects in 100 Numbers.

We recently launched the call for entries for Actual Fact at Eyeo 2016 in Minneapolis. Actual Fact is an exhibition of data visualisation & critical writing created from rap lyric data. Actual Fact collaborators set the aesthetic, ethical & intellectual bar for projects involving Hip-hop x Big Data. Sign up here to get involved:

Big up to The Black Lunchtable for creating a space for this to happen:

The Rap Research Lab is supported by Creative Capital, Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust, Eyebeam Art + Technology Center, The Hiphop Archive & Research Institute at Harvard University, The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University and NEW INC.

Peace to those who have suffered during the recent tragedy in Orlando.

That is all for now. Thanks for your eyeballs. Forward widely. Unsubscribe wildly.

Be Well,


Creative Director, Creative Strategist
twitter: @rapresearchlab
instagram: @rapresearchlab
medium: @rapresearchlab

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STCR Update: Summer 2015 — Rap Research Lab / Bronx Museum of Art

Happy End of Summer. Happy Eclipse. Happy First Week of School. Happy Roshashana. Happy Adis Amet.

A lot has happened in the past 10 months. A lot has happened in the past 10 months. A lot has happened in the past 10 months.

I have a few updates below:

Rap Research Lab
I’m happy to announce that we’ve received a grant from HIVE and The New York Community Trust Digital Media Learning Fund to scale & spread our program!

For the remainder of 2015 I will be working with my team to synthesize the Rap Research Lab’s process, tools and curriculum into a toolkit that will reach a greater number of students, teachers and organizations throughout NYC. Visit our project website here.

Over the Summer we held a recruitment workshop at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls where students content coded and visualised the reoccurring themes they found in the lyrics of female rapper’s.

Our second Summer workshop was held at the NYC Parks Department McCarren Park Computer Resource Center, where students mapped their research data using carto.db.

Armed with the stats and lived experience to support their arguments, both sessions culminated in great conversations about the influence that Hiphop has on their lives and world culture.


This weekend we are hosting a Design Sprint that will facilitate receiving feedback from educators on our current lesson plans and ultimately helping us develop a more effective curriculum.

If you can think of a organization or educator that would be into what we’re doing here at the Rap Research Lab, connect us. Visit the project website here.

We have a few openings on the standby list for our free after-school program. Applications are here.


Bronx Calling: The Third AIM Biennial
If you haven’t visited yet, my work in the Bronx Museum of Art AIM35 group show will be on the wall until September 20th. It really is a good looking exhibition.

There’s more to come.

Be well, Tahir

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STCR Update: Autumn 2014 — The Rap Research Lab.

This recent Summer I didn’t have time for a much of a vacation because from April to August, I’d been playing the roles of facilities manager, director of technology, principal and teacher.

I recently graduated my first cohort from the Rap Research Lab, a school that I started in the South Bronx focussed on teaching art, design, cultural analysis, media criticism, data mining and data visualization to teens using my project based curriculum that visualizes Hip Hop as a cultural indicator.

Student research projects included: a rapper net worth calculator, a comparison of actual crime rates versus the rate of crime appearing in lyrics, 8 types of definitions found in rap of the “N-word” and the comparison of the sentiment analysis of lyrics from Brooklyn and Compton.

The link to the student research Tumblr with final projects is here.

The assessment of the pilot program is complete and I’m now formalizing what I taught while forming partnerships with organizations that will help make the classroom workflow a more seamless and enriching experience. Next steps are to implement the Rap Research Lab this Spring as a 10 week after school program with an additional instructor in order to begin the process of teacher training. I’m doing all of this with the goal of scaling up and rolling out the curriculum to other institutions.

I’m looking to be connected with people that are receptive to the work I’m doing based at institutions that can provide support.

The student projects were covered on Gawker.

Let me know what you think.


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Picasso Baby.

Picasso Baby!

I’ve just finished a new network graph that visualises the connections between rappers and the modern & contemporary painters they name drop in their rhymes.

Spanning 1979 – 2014 the graph gives a glimpse of the historical relationship that rappers have to the artistic mastery of Pablo Picasso, the perceived archetypal divisiveness of Yoko Ono, the ever present Jay-Z factor and the recent increasing popularity of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The interactive version of the graph is here

Rap Geeks submit a correction here

Rap Fans pre-order the poster here

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Staple Crops Update: Spring 2014 — Stay Chiseled.

Hi Fam.

It has been a while since my last confession. I should probably make these updates more frequent but I don’t because SPAM.

For someone who lives in The Bronx I spend way too much time in The Brooklyn – center of my social life since my teenage years.

To my Brooklyn fam who complain about the effect of gentrification on the city of New York may I suggest that you take an afternoon and visit The Bronx — a county in many ways still firmly set in 1992.


Since my return, The Bronx has been a perfect place to Stay Chiseled.

I’ve opened the doors to the Rap Research Lab — which serves as a studio for the production of creative technology projects and a lab for teaching art, design, data analysis and datavis to students using my project based curriculum that visualizes Hip Hop as a cultural indicator.

(Those iMacs you see in the photo were donated by3rd Ward !!! #GiveThanks)

Basically, I got fed up with waiting for the perfect combination of resources and decided to use my own with experience from teaching at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, Harvard University, Pratt Institute, Benjamin Banneker High School, Edenwald Community Houses and the Queens Museum of Art to build a One Room School House. Contact me to find out how you can back this DOPE ASS project. #WuTangIsForTheChildren

Over the past year I’ve been in academic fellowship / mad scientist / creative research mode. Now that I’m back in these streets I could use some fresh eyes to look at all the new assets I’ve had developed. Especially in relation to business development. #SipAndChat

I donated a serigraph from my Video Music Box Shout Out Series to The Horticultural Society of New Yorkfor the June 11th Block Party. I’m happy to be in the company of such great artists — all to benefit the greenhouse program on Riker’s Island. Get your tickets here:

On June 13th I’ll be presenting project updates to world class developers, data scientists and infographic designers in Minneapolis at the Eyeo Festival.

My light sculpture project (warmly renamed by the internets as Mapper’s Delight) was recently included in the MIT DOCUbase.

Grant McCracken wrote an interesting piece about my project a couple of months ago read it here.

That is all for now. Thanks for your eyeballs. Forward widely.

Be Well,


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STCR Update: Winter 2013 — Maximum Distance. Minimum Displacement.

This year began with a fellowship at Harvard, closed with one at Carnegie Mellon and after 14 months on the road I’m back in NYC, living in the South Bronx.

The funny thing about NYC is that a lot of people didn’t even realize that I was gone. A combination of social media, international press (#humblebrag) and popping in for the right party will pretty much keep you in “Where’ve you been? I haven’t seen you out in a while. You must be super busy.” status with super busy New Yorkers.

While living in Cambridge and Pittsburgh I was able to let go of that part of the NYC Edge that’s unuseful anywhere outside of NYC. But after a few weeks I feel it slowly seeping back into my flesh.

“She asked how come I don’t smile. I said, everything’s fine, but I’m in a New York state of mind.” -Rakim

My Fellowship at The STUDIO For Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University was super productive. The many modular successes culminated in an art project involving rap, robots and long exposure light drawings that plot a rapper’s mentions of geographic locations:

I’m still working on getting all of these new cool features wrapped up and deployed into a public online version that will see light of day very soon.
#InProduction #ModularityInDesign

My South Bronx residency has started nicely with a new printmaking series of Video Music Box shout-outs. The first group are transcribed from the holiday shout outs in this unearthed director’s cut:

Be well,


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Maximum Distance. Minimum Displacement.

Missy Elliot

Inspired by Pablo Picasso’s light pen drawings Maximum Distance. Minimum Displacement. uses abstracted semantic rap data to create sculptural forms with light. The forms represent the distance travelled by the lyrics in each song.

(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.

More documentation to come.

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STCR Update: Summer 2013 — Vagrancy.

My Peoples.

In the past 20 days I’ve attended a family BBQ in Atlanta. Moved my apartment from Cambridge into a Brooklyn storage facility. Caught a bus to Washington, DC to present at the Art of Social Change Hiphop Education conference. Flew from DC to Pittsburgh to setup my fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University. Then back to NYC to catch a train to Williamstown, MA to participate in the artist-genius-marathon also known as the Creative Capital Retreat. Then back to NYC for 2 days rest with a necessary trip to the Russian Bath House. And now I’m back in Pittsburgh where I’ll be living for the rest of the Summer. Tahero’s East Coast Tour.

Maximum Distance. Minimum Displacement.

And irony is that I did this to myself. The logical completion — to make color coded appointments fit efficiently in iCal triggers my brain’s reward circuitry but the actual physical completion of the tasks is another. separate. thing.

The tension between the digital and the physical is a marker of this Gypset Lifestyle that I’m glad to have the opportunity to experience and take notes on.


While in Cambridge, in addition to working on the Hiphop Word Count as a Research Fellow at The Du Bois Institute at Harvard (btw all songs are now tagged for gender), I co-taught the course AAAS 143: Representing Blackness: Media, Technology, and Power in Hip-Hop Culture.

After teaching the origin story of how the database came into existence, the technology used to build it, how the database could be used for research and the philosophical and ethical questions inherent in the task of visualizing Hiphop as a cultural indicator; we then workshopped each student’s research topic. & they rocked their final papers.

As a followup the Hiphop Archive at Harvard has asked me to use my database to produce an educational tool — one of many satellite projects of the Hip Hop Word Count that I’ve been eager to get started.

I am now in Pittsburgh as a fellow at The Frank-Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. I’ll be here working for the Summer in the fabrication labs with 3D printers, CNC router cutters and laser cutters creating sculptural representations of the Hiphop Word Count data — another HHWC satellite project that I’ve been eager to get started.

I suppose my Fall Update will cover adventures in The ‘Burgh.

This happened. #TalkSlowThinkFast


I made this mixtape called Bright Moments. It’s nice. It’s all about #LoveShit


Deuces // Holler // Get at me, Tahir

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