Alex Muck recently sent a really awesome link that analyzes Hip-Hop vocabulary, and she has some incredible ideas for how to implement it across content areas. Her ideas are unique, and I’ve been given permission to share them here. Check ’em out and share how you would use this resource in your classroom.
“1. Curiosity projects—have students do a similar analysis of a data set they find compelling and interesting. Work on asking mathy questions of the world, and then finding answers.
2. Look for correlations—do rappers with larger vocabularies tend to win more awards? Sell more albums? Produce songs at a greater rate, or a lower one?
3. Ask questions of the existing data—for instance, what does it say that the artists from the 2010’s era don’t hit the top three brackets for most unique words used, while artists from the 90’s and 00’s do? Does it say anything, or was it perhaps a result of the selections of artists and not of a decline in overall vocabulary size?
4. Ask about aesthetics—what is it about this data that is visually compelling? What makes us care about it? What makes it easy to process? What could be improved? Does it show up as well on different platforms? Are there any different assumptions we might make depending on the formatting of the data?
5. Ask about methodology—if students were doing the study, would they use the same strategy as the author? From the essay: “I used a research methodology called token analysis to determine each artist’s vocabulary. Each word is counted once, so pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words.”
6. Connect to linguistics—some people make comments that rap’s language is uneducated or even unethical. There are two main schools of linguistic thought—prescriptive (“let me tell you the proper way to talk and write”) and descriptive (“this is how normal humans talk and write, let’s learn from the diversity we see rather than acting like it’s something we need to fix.” Maybe talk some about this as it relates to sociolinguistics, which is absolutely fascinating and uses some of these same tricks to study and analyze data about really fascinating trends in society and speech. I saw that you’re interested in conversations about race and justice, and there are some hugely important and fascinating ones going on in the world of sociolinguistics. Potential intro resource here, and let me know if you’re interested in more. I took some linguistics courses in college and love the subject.
7. The role of updates and inclusion in data sets—the data was first published in 2014, and has been updated for the past 5 years. The essay mentions how different online communities, such as Reddit, lobbied for the inclusion of favorite artists in the data set. There might be an interesting discussion here about canon formation. My original training is in Literary Studies, and while we worship “the classics” there’s also a sense that new “classics” are being made every year, written or translated and published into anthologies, and that women and minorities from the past ought to be “rediscovered” and incorporated into the canon. Maybe there’s a discussion about how including someone or something in a data set for analysis cements its existence and legitimacy. Social justice crossover might be with the fact that there are no questions about LGBT issues on the upcoming census, and there are worries that if LGBT people aren’t tallied, there won’t be accurate data to support programs that would serve them. Article here that might be helpful.
8. The cross genre comparison—the article shows country and rock having much lower quantities of unique words compared to Hip Hop. Maybe an interested student or students could create (and even submit to this site/author!) additional genre comparisons for music they love. For instance, I’d imagine that electronic music, though I enjoy it quite a bit, would feature very small vocabularies in the songs, with their repetitive structures and focus on beats and melodies prioritized over lyrics.
9. This is another fascinating article on the same website that might resonate with students. Many similar questions could be asked of this data, plus plenty of additional ones.
10. Another person invested in technology and education that might be of interest to you is Cathy Davidson. This is kind of unrelated, but here’s one of her articles that is posted on a pretty neat educational platform called HASTAC where I predict you might find some kindred spirits. It’s more focused on higher ed, but there are some great ideas available there!”