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Ever wondered why JAY-Z, NAS and 50 CENT don't rap like SNOOP, GAME and NIPSEY?

—It’s because they don’t speak the same.

Our #HipHopLinguistics research on this is out now in Language and Speech (doi.org/10.1177/002383…)!

And here's a thread with the abridged version.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie Any hip-hop fan can tell you West Coast and East Coast hip-hop sound different. There’s lots of reasons for this, but an important one is how rappers from these regions actually rap: their #flow.

Flow can be defined as the #rhythm and #melody of rap.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie Hip-hop is closely linked to the language variety of African-American English (AAE). We know that West Coast AAE and East Coast AAE don’t sound the same, but we don’t really know how they differ regarding #prosody.

Prosody is defined as the #rhythm and #melody of speech.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie Seeing as #prosody and #flow both deal with rhythm and pitch, could it be that the two are connected?

In other words, do the rhythmic and melodic characteristics of rappers’ flows reflect the rhythms and melodies of their speech?

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie To find out if such a language-music connection exists for AAE and rap, we analyzed speech and rap recordings of 16 West and East Coast rappers (8 per coast).

One problem, though: no method to quantify rap microtiming existed yet, so we had to invent one (it uses #MIDI)!

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie First up: #MELODY.

West Coasters used more pitch variation than East Coasters in speech *and* in rap (only Kendrick did something weird; see full article).

You can see/hear examples of this in the video (the more erratic the graphs’ lines, the more pitch variation).

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie Next up: #RHYTHM.

We measured the temporal distance from each syllable to the next both in speech and rap. West Coasters varied their rhythms much more than East Coasters, whose speech had a steadier pulse. In rap, we found the same pattern.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie The rap rhythm #heat_maps we can create using our MIDI-based method show which (64th) beats the rappers in our sample used most often on average (darker = more frequent).

West Coasters rarely use the 4th count of a bar, while East Coasters tend to ‘hit’ every 8th note.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie We can also use our new method to show subtle microtiming differences between rappers.

Consider these Nas and Nipsey bars. In traditional musical notation, they seem nearly identical. But when you look at the *actual* timing of the two performances…

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie To conclude:

We found evidence of a language-music connection: West/East Coast variation in rap flows follows the same pattern as West/East Coast variation in AAE speech prosody.

In other words: JAY-Z and SNOOP don't flow the same because they don't speak the same.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie So that’s the gist of it!

Make sure to check out the full article in Language and Speech (doi.org/10.1177/002383…) for all the details, statistics, and nuance that didn’t fit in 280-character tweets!

Data and materials can be found here: osf.io/dzc3s/

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie But before I end this thread, I want to thank a few people for their help.

First of all, I’d like to thank my wonderful co-authors @nienke_hoeksema, Kees de Bot, and @wanderlowie for helping me figure out all of this stuff.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie Moreover, I want to thank Dicky Gilbers and @stevenfrancis86 for helping me prove the effectiveness of the new MIDI-based method for analyzing rap microtiming.


@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie @stevenfrancis86 Special thanks go out to amazing people like @HSamyAlim, @ReneeBlake1313, @cecebrooklyn, Lisa Green, @Joe_Pater, Walter Sistrunk and Murray Forman for inviting me to talk about this research in the US and for their feedback when it was still a work in progress!

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie @stevenfrancis86 @HSamyAlim @ReneeBlake1313 @cecebrooklyn @Joe_Pater I’d also like to thank @abmindprof, @urihoresh, @sarahlinguist, @NUS_Linguistics, @mixedlinguist, @languagejones, @linguistopher, @noramorikawa and many more who came out to see me talk about this project all over the world.

Check out their stuff too! Really dope work.

@nienke_hoeksema @wanderlowie @stevenfrancis86 @HSamyAlim @ReneeBlake1313 @cecebrooklyn @Joe_Pater @abmindprof @urihoresh @sarahlinguist @mixedlinguist @languagejones @linguistopher @noramorikawa Finally, s/o to my people studying hip-hop: @zachdiazmusic, @martinconnorrap, @howtorapbook, @jwilli7, Kyle Adams, @SameOldShawn and many more are doing amazing work. Without them kicking knowledge, this study wouldn’t have been possible.

You are appreciated!

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