The Rap Research Lab is a community-based creative technology studio that empowers youth and educators to explore rap as a cultural indicator through educational, editorial, and creative interrogations. We are a cross-functional team of artists, radical educators, narrative designers, software developers and researchers who use rap as a lens through which we can better understand popular and youth culture, explore questions of social justice, and facilitate empowerment through community data projects. We explore rap music as a text that raises questions of identity, race, gender, class, place, and locality in our modern era. While prior decades are characterized by the collecting and publishing of information, our current age of “Big Data” is geared toward parsing, understanding, and engaging with torrents of textual and audiovisual content.
We design projects and ask questions, both collaboratively and individually, that challenge notions of ownership and agency in cultural spheres. We lead workshops for youth and adult educators to learn and teach media research skills, sociocultural inquiry, and data visualization through data drawn from the Hip-hop Word Count a research database containing the natural language processing analysis, and associated data (artist name, song title, release date, geolocation, lyric content, sentiment analyses and rhyme pattern), from hundreds of thousands of hip-hop songs from 1979 to the present day. In 2016, working in non-traditional learning spaces, the Rap Research Lab trained the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to implement our curriculum and toolkit in ten sites, over nine months, across New York City’s five boroughs.
The Rap Research Lab’s work is not bound by the scope of what we’ve described here, nor is it limited to the kind of work we’ve done in the past. We seek collaborators and clients of similar ilk. We like to ask big questions first and discuss the mechanics after. If you are an educator or organization seeking engaging, culturally resonant, and empowering curricular material for your middle or high school-aged students, we want to work with you. If you are a researcher looking to explore the broader impacts of hip hop culture exploring rap music as a text, we want to work with you. If you are an artist whose work considers race, gender, class, nationhood, culture, society, community development, or social justice to be central to its thrust, we want to work with you. If you get what we are about, and have an idea to explore with us, we probably want to work with you too.