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To quote Sun Ra (1973), ‘space is the place’, and there is no style of music more grounded in place than hip-hop. Hip-hop ‘takes the city and its multiple spaces as the foundation of its cultural production’, grounding the music geographically through a combination of place marks, vocabulary and aural composition (Forman, 2000: 67). As a result, there is a large amount of spatial data within hip-hop, which is often taken for granted aurally as just part of the music and the blueprint of the style. There is the potential, however, for this data to be extracted and analysed spatially, which could help provide some interesting insights not just into hip-hop and rappers but also into the locality from which they are from.

With a focus on London, this research looks at where rappers emerge within the city. This is often the most common form of spatial data to be heard in UK hip-hop and its even more locally defined offshoots such as grime, drill and road rap. Place and postcodes form an identifiable marker in a large proportion of this music as ‘MCs tend to make a big deal about their place of birth’ (Bradley, 2009: 126). In particular, the aim of this research is to examine the feasibility of extracting spatial data from hip-hop music and how it could be used. In order to test this, an analysis of the spatial distribution of rappers in the city will be attempted. This study will involve addressing a number of research questions:

  • Is it possible to map spatial information extracted from hip-hop music?
  • Has the spatial distribution of rappers in London changed over time?
  • In the context of London, can analysing rappers spatially confirm or disprove the theory within hip-hop studies that the majority of rappers tend to emerge from impoverished neighbourhoods?

Literature Review

Within hip-hop studies, there is a general consensus that the majority of rappers come from disadvantaged backgrounds (Rose, 1994a). The origins of hip-hop come out of the ghettoes of a bankrupt New York City at a time of extreme poverty and displacement in the 1970s. It was against a backdrop of abandoned lots, gang warfare and a crack epidemic that the founders of the style honed their skills and developed a sound that is now so prevalent (Chang, 2005). Even today, rapping or producing music are seen as ways to escape the poverty of the ghetto, reflecting that the origins of many rappers remain the same as they were forty years ago. Hip-hop in the UK has its origins in somewhat similar economic conditions. Emerging in the midst of Thatcherite neo-liberal economics, it was out of the high-rise council estates that many of the early practitioners hailed. Just as the ghetto has been a continual visual and aural presence in American hip-hop, the council estate has never been far away from its British equivalent. This has been epitomised by the likes of grime where the minimalist soundscape and jarring delivery of localised language echoed the tensions and bleakness of high-rise living in the early 2000s (Wheatley, 2010). In contrast, however, in some other European hip-hop scenes, the practitioners have tended to come from better-off middle-class backgrounds which perhaps suggests that the consensus within hip-hop studies does not necessarily apply to all hip-hop scenes (Mitchell, 2001; Oravcova, 2013).

Popular music ‘alters our understanding of the local’ but it also ‘augments our appreciation of place’ and the identities that can be developed out of it (Lipsitz, 1994: 3). The expansion of the internet and smart technologies, however, has allowed people to access ever-growing levels of information without leaving their homes. As a result, it could be argued that ‘the increasingly global nature of communication….has made the non-local community an increasingly common affair’, suggesting that the concept of a locality focused music style is somewhat obsolete. Nevertheless, geography and geographical theory play a key role within hip-hop where place is an important identifiable marker (Jeffries, 2011). It could perhaps be argued, that hip-hop is one of the few modern genres to still be grounded in place in this increasingly globalised world. Doreen Massey states that ‘places can be conceptualised in terms of the social interactions which they tie together’ (1994: 155), and this can be seen in hip-hop through the interactions between fans and artists as well as the continual visual, aural and lyrical references that point back to a particular place or locality. This focus on place can potentially be seen as ‘necessarily reactionary’ as it attempts to ground hip-hop in a location while technology and public rhetoric pushes a focus on the global (ibid: 147). By placing emphasis on the local through telling the stories of the ‘streets’, the music can give a voice to marginalised people that pushes those often silenced and demonised by the state and media into the purview of the public (Jeffries, 2011). At the same time, however, it is impossible to analyse hip-hop spatially without taking into account the external global influences that will have had an impact in exposing people to the genre and helping localised styles to develop.

Hip-hop is extremely geographical in its nature. Geography plays an important role in identity representation as well as helping to establish audience connection. Hip-hop music is commonly grounded around a place and this is often articulated through reference points such as the name or postcode of that locality or identifiable landmarks (Back, 1996). This focus by rappers on aspects of a specific location develops from a sense of ‘belonging’ that enforces a sense of place around their neighbourhood (Cresswell, 1996). There appears to be a need with performers to ‘speak the language of (their) own streets’ that allows rappers to align themselves within their communities and to address the question of ‘where am I?’ in relation to their surroundings (Du Noyer, 2010: 265; Bondi, 1993). This geographical representation can, in turn, shape those identities and potentially change the location itself, through stigmatisation or, conversely, popularisation resulting from the music (Hall, 1997). This can also be contested and challenged in hip-hop through changing that question into an assertion that ‘I am here’ which stems out of the braggadocio raps, but also the geographical markers being emphasised. Much has been written about the connection between place and hip-hop (Krims, 2007; Forman, 2000; Connell & Gibson, 2003). However, while there have been content and aural analyses assessing the role of place as a significant identifier, there has been little to no attempt so far in academia to represent this relationship spatially or to consider the possibilities of doing so.

In general, data relating to music is rarely associated with GIS. A cursory search through academic articles and books will mainly bring up results relating to American GIs and music on American military bases. There have, however, been some studies of music using GIS. Lund’s (2007) chapter gives a few examples of approaches that have been taken to analyse music data. Much of this, however, has tended to focus on infrastructure and physical aspects such as radio stations disseminating polka music (Sinton & Huber, 2007) or a proposed approach by Small (2005) to map the evolution of the guitar. Additionally, Taylor et al (2014) have used GIS to chart changes in the music scenes of Sydney and Melbourne through the dissemination of live music venues throughout those cities. ‘Examples of research that make maps of music are still something of a novelty’ and this is still very much the case when it comes to mapping musicians or performers (ibid: 1). The few that do marry the two mediums tend to focus more on mapping the personal memory of music scenes to musicians, creating their own hand-drawn maps of the city that could then potentially be transposed into GIS. Examples of this include Cohen’s (2012) and Lashua’s (2011) work on music in Liverpool focusing on rock and hip-hop performers.

Methodology

Artist Selection

An initial list of hip-hop artists needed to be collated in order for any analysis to be achieved. This was obtained through informal discussions with UK hip-hop fans and hip-hop studies academics, using this knowledge base to compile a list of rappers believed to be from London. A deliberate attempt was made to get a spread of performers from across the timeline of hip-hop in the UK, stretching from 1980-2017. As a result, the group consisted of a range of ages to ensure an even spread. However, it was not possible to compile a list with an even distribution of performers across all four decades due to the development and popularity of UK hip-hop music meaning that more artists emerged and were known from 2000 onwards. The decision was also taken to include, where appropriate, rappers both as individuals and as part of the group they also performed in. The reason for this was that in most cases, they were known as much for their solo work as they were for the releases made while in the group and solo careers often lasted longer than those of groups. In total, a list of 300 artists was compiled and used within this research (see Appendix A for full list).

Web Scraping for Place of Origin and Period Active

The compiled artist list was then utilised to attempt to identify the place of origin within London of each rapper. This involved using a Python script to perform automated web searches through the search engine DuckDuckGo using the keywords “Artist Name (i.e. Akala)”, “London”, “Rap” and “Hip-Hop”. The decision was taken to use these keywords due to the similarity of some rapper names to general words that have other connotations, for example Blade or Chip. By using these keywords only pages related to hip-hop and rap would appear meaning they would more likely be relevant to the rapper being searched. The URLs first page of results were then scraped for mentions of place names stored in a dictionary. This place data was obtained from a point dataset downloaded from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from which locations within London such as Hackney or Peckham were extracted (NGA, 2017). The frequency of these place names was counted with the place with the most occurrences being tagged to the artist as their point of origin.

As this research is also interested in changes in distribution over time, an additional search was required to obtain the years in which a rapper was active on the hip-hop scene. A performer’s activity was defined by their releases and so years were obtained for each release using the musician database Discogs or, for those not present, the music purchasing website Bandcamp. This Python script searched DuckDuckGo using the keywords “Artist Name”, “London”, “Rap”, “Discogs” and “Bandcamp” taking results relating to those websites and scraping the HTML for tags associated with releases. This text was then scanned for any dates between 1980 and 2017, which were then extracted and appended to the rapper being searched. The period active was taken as the time between the earliest and latest dates.

Temporal Spatial Distribution Analysis

The first stage of analysis involved assessing the spatial distribution of rappers in London over time to see if there is evidence of any obvious clusters and centres of influence. For this, artists were filtered by the decade they emerged on the UK hip-hop scene based on the year of their first release. This data was converted to points using the coordinates of the place where the artist originated. The Points Displacement tool was then used in QGIS to redistribute stacked points within a distance of 100m, for instances where multiple artists came from the same place. Visualisations were produced for each decade and visual and cluster analysis was used to identify areas where clusters appeared and how they differed over time. Although choropleth maps are often criticised for their use of arbitrary administrative boundaries, the decision was taken to employ this technique for these visualisations (Armstrong & Xiao, 2018). The reason for this was that while much of identity politics can be argued to be fluid and static boundaries ignored; within hip-hop ‘postcodes and home territories matter’ and are often defined by the ‘invisible borders’ of postcode and borough extents, displayed by the common use of a postcode marker such as E3 as identifier on record (Massey, 1991; Cohen, 2012: 142).

Spatial Analysis with Unemployment Statistics

The second stage of analysis involved assessing the economic status of the boroughs where rappers emerged to investigate whether there was any correlation between low income areas and a proliferation of rappers. This analysis used unemployment statistics obtained from census information in each decade which were broken down by each London borough (ONS, 2018). Unemployment statistics were chosen due to these numbers providing a better example of the socio-economic status of the borough in comparison to income values, which can be distorted in boroughs such as Kensington and Chelsea that have areas of very low and very high income (Dorling, 1994). These statistics were joined spatially with boundary data for each borough and visualised with graduated colours based on the level of unemployment at each census collection. A further spatial join was then conducted with the artist points with the data summarised to provide a count of the number of rappers to emerge within that borough during the decade in question (see Tables 2, 4, 6 & 8).

Results

1980s

Image1

Figure 1: Heat map showing clusters of rappers in London in 1980s

Image2Figure 2: Rapper distribution and unemployment levels in 1980s

Place

Number of Rappers

Ladbroke Grove

5

Brixton

4

Islington

4

Lewisham

3

Battersea

2

Clapham

2

Harlesden

2

Tottenham

2

Acton

1

Hackney

1

Hammersmith

1

Kensington

1

Kingston upon Thames

1

Mile End

1

Peckham

1

Wood Green

1

Table 1: Number of rappers per place in London in 1980s

Borough

Number of Rappers

Unemployment Percentage

Kensington and Chelsea

6

8.2

Lambeth

6

10.6

Islington

4

10.5

Haringey

3

9.5

Lewisham

3

8.6

Brent

2

8.5

Wandsworth

2

8.1

Ealing

1

7.4

Hackney

1

13.1

Hammersmith and Fulham

1

9.2

Kingston upon Thames

1

4.5

Southwark

1

10.3

Tower Hamlets

1

12.8

Table 2: Number of rappers to emerge and unemployment percentage per borough in 1980s

1990s

Image3Figure 3: Heat map showing clusters of rappers in London in 1990s

Image4Figure 4: Rapper distribution and unemployment levels in 1990s

Place

Number of Rappers

Hackney

4

Leyton

4

Brixton

3

Finsbury Park

3

Canonbury

2

Clerkenwell

2

Croydon

2

Ladbroke Grove

2

New Cross

2

Battersea

1

Deptford

1

Forest Gate

1

Hammersmith

1

Highbury

1

Highgate

1

Kingston upon Thames

1

Lambeth

1

Lewisham

1

Notting Hill

1

Peckham

1

Southall

1

Stockwell

1

Stratford

1

Tottenham

1

Walthamstow

1

Willesden

1

Table 3: Number of rappers per place in London in 1990s

Borough

Number of Rappers

Unemployment Percentage

Islington

8

16.3

Lambeth

5

16.6

Waltham Forest

5

11.3

Hackney

4

21.4

Lewisham

4

12.8

Kensington and Chelsea

3

12.1

Croydon

2

7.7

Haringey

2

16.9

Newham

2

19

Brent

1

12.5

Ealing

1

10.3

Hammersmith and Fulham

1

12

Kingston upon Thames

1

5.6

Southwark

1

17.2

Wandsworth

1

11.2

Table 4: Number of rappers to emerge and unemployment percentage per borough in 1990s

2000s

Image5Figure 5: Heat map showing clusters of rappers in London in 2000s

Image6Figure 6: Rapper distribution and unemployment levels in 2000s

Place

Number of Rappers

Brixton

12

Bow

11

Tottenham

10

Hackney

9

Forest Gate

8

Walthamstow

7

Battersea

5

Camden Town

4

Croydon

4

New Cross

4

Peckham

4

Archway

2

Brockley

2

Edmonton

2

Finsbury Park

2

Hammersmith

2

Harlesden

2

Holloway

2

Hornsey

2

Ladbroke Grove

2

Lewisham

2

Leytonstone

2

Plaistow

2

Wembley

2

Barnet

1

Bethnal Green

1

Chiswick

1

Clerkenwell

1

Dagenham

1

Deptford

1

East Ham

1

Edgware

1

Enfield

1

Forest Hill

1

Fulham

1

Greenwich

1

Highbury

1

Hounslow

1

Ilford

1

Islington

1

Kilburn

1

North Harrow

1

Norwood

1

Plumstead

1

Stoke Newington

1

Stratford

1

Streatham

1

Thornton Heath

1

Wandsworth

1

Whitechapel

1

Table 5: Number of rappers per place in London in 2000s

Borough

Number of Rappers

Unemployment Percentage

Lambeth

14

6

Tower Hamlets

13

6.6

Haringey

12

5.8

Newham

12

6.7

Hackney

10

6.9

Lewisham

10

5.6

Islington

9

5.8

Waltham Forest

9

5

Wandsworth

6

3.8

Camden

5

4.9

Croydon

5

3.8

Brent

4

5

Southwark

4

6.2

Enfield

3

4.1

Hammersmith and Fulham

3

5

Barnet

2

3.4

Greenwich

2

5.4

Hounslow

2

3.3

Kensington and Chelsea

2

4.7

Barking and Dagenham

1

4.5

Harrow

1

3.1

Redbridge

1

3.6

Table 6: Number of rappers to emerge and unemployment percentage per borough in 2000s

2010s

Image7Figure 7: Heat map showing clusters of rappers in London in 2010s

Image8Figure 8: Rapper distribution and unemployment levels in 2010s

Place

Number of Rappers

Croydon

9

Tottenham

5

Brixton

3

Canning Town

3

Lewisham

3

Stoke Newington

2

Walthamstow

2

Camberwell

1

Camden Town

1

East Ham

1

Finsbury Park

1

Hackney

1

Harlesden

1

Holloway

1

Hoxton

1

Islington

1

Ladbroke Grove

1

Lambeth

1

Mitcham

1

Neasden

1

Peckham

1

Perivale

1

Stratford

1

Streatham

1

Woolwich

1

Table 7: Number of rappers per place in London in 2010’s

Borough

Number of Rappers

Unemployment Percentage

Croydon

9

5.5

Haringey

5

6

Lambeth

5

6

Newham

5

6.9

Islington

4

5.4

Hackney

3

7

Lewisham

3

6.2

Brent

2

5.8

Southwark

2

6

Waltham Forest

2

6.1

Camden

1

4.5

Ealing

1

5.2

Greenwich

1

6.2

Kensington and Chelsea

1

4.3

Merton

1

4.1

Table 8: Number of rappers to emerge and unemployment percentage per borough in 2010s

Discussion

Temporal Spatial Distribution Analysis

1980s

At first glance, when looking at the spatial distribution of the 32 rappers that emerged in London between 1980 and 1989 there appears to be quite an ad-hoc dissemination across the city (Figure 3). There is no clear pattern or obvious centre of influence that could be determined from the placement of points around the map. This is quite indicative of hip-hop in London at the time, where there were a series of sporadic hip-hop scenes distributed around the city. During this period, the epicentre of hip-hop in London was focused predominantly on the Africa Centre in Covent Garden and the club Spats in Soho, much more centrally located focal points where performers and fans could congregate (Thomas, 2012; McNally, 2009). When these two venues are added to the map (Figure 10) it becomes clearer that the majority of rappers are based within close proximity of this epicentre of UK hip-hop, showing much more of a centre of influence than was perhaps initially obvious. There are also a few clear groupings of a handful of rappers during this time, particularly in Ladbroke Grove to the west, Brixton to the south and Islington to the north. Ladbroke Grove is the most represented with five rappers emerging from that location (Figure 2 and Table 1). This becomes especially interesting when looked at from a chronological perspective as the first three rappers with recordings to appear on the scene (Dizzi Heights, Newtrament and MC Sir Drew) are all from Ladbroke Grove. This may have something to do with Ladbroke Grove having a well-established Afro-Caribbean sound system network since the 1950s (Bradley, 2000). This is a similar situation with the Islington and South London (Brixton, Clapham and Lewisham) clusters where the Jah Shaka and Saxon International sound systems were especially dominant, and many rappers would have honed their talents performing on such systems (Wood, 2009).

Image9Figure 9: Distribution of rappers in 1980s shown with key venues Africa Centre and Spats and clusters of artists

1990s

The first thing that is noticeable when looking at the 41 rappers that emerged between 1990 and 1999 is the clear migration from the north west to the north east of London (Figure 5). There is a much higher concentration of rappers in the north and north east of London during this period, while the south of London is also still well represented during this time. The 1990s was a significant time for hip-hop in the UK with peaks in popularity at either end of the decade but a big decline during the mid-1990s when many rappers abandoned the scene for other styles or simply stopped rapping (Batey, 2008). As a result, it is almost worth looking at the 1990s as two separate periods; the height of hardcore rap between 1990 and 1994 (Figure 11) and then the recovery period between 1995 and 1999 (Figure 12). When looked at separately, there is a distinct difference in the distribution of rappers during the two time periods. Between 1990 and 1994 there is quite a sparse distribution of a small number of performers (15). Nevertheless, there is still a strong concentration in north London with a notable cluster around Leyton, which appears to be the area where hardcore performers are generally congregated (Figure 4 and Table 3). This is interesting given that one of the originators of this style, and arguably the most successful at it, Hijack, are based in Brixton in south London. This suggests that by the early-1990s styles were spreading across the city, possibly due to increased radio play during this time (Wood, 2009). By the mid-1990s, however, much of the support network had gone with radio stations and record labels abandoning UK hip-hop and this is possibly the reason why there are many more marked instances of clustering and a much less sparse distribution of rappers. North and south London are still largely represented in the latter half of the decade despite the downturn, possibly due to those who had been before and the informal networks that had been established (Back, 1996). The borough of Islington is particularly well represented as is Hackney with a clear cluster of rappers (Figure 4 and Table 3), and this may be due to the rise in open mic sessions and DIY hip-hop venues that emerged in the area helping to develop a new generation of talent (Kwaku, 1999).

Image10Figure 10: Distribution of rappers between 1990 and 1994

Image11Figure 11: Distribution of rappers between 1995 and 1999

2000s

The first thing to notice in Figure 7 is the clear increase in the number of rappers that emerged between 2000 and 2009 (130). Given that this is the most commercially successful period for UK hip-hop with the rise of grime at the beginning of the decade and the globally successful hip-pop style at the end, the fact that so many rappers appeared at this point is understandable. The decade is also significant for the emergence of a number of styles of music that are very geographically centred, in particular grime focused around Bow and surrounding east London, road rap in Peckham and the post-garage style that appeared around Brixton. In the early years of each of these styles, they very much relied on pirate radio to disseminate the music with most stations only powerful enough to broadcast as far as the borough boundary (Sturges, 2005). As a result, there are clear groupings that relate to these styles of music with Brixton and Bow heavily represented as well as Hackney, Forest Gate, Tottenham and Walthamstow where grime also reached (Table 5 and Figure 13). The fact that rappers are not just concentrated in these areas but also emerged elsewhere with a number of outliers to the west and far north and south, displays the influence of another phenomenon whose usage grew vastly during this period. The rise of the internet and the advances in technology mean that it is now much easier to create, distribute and publicise music (Blake, 2007). This has led to a vast increase in the number of rappers emerging, particularly those who have been active in releasing music, which the focus of this research. This has also meant that it is much easier for fans and other rappers to find out what else is going on around the city musically, hence explaining why those performing a style associated with a specific geographical area can be found on the other side of the city by the end of the decade.

Image12Figure 12: Distribution of rappers in 2000s with approximate spheres of influence of geographically significant styles

2010s

In comparison with the 2000s, it appears that a much smaller number of rappers have emerged since 2010 (45). However, there is still a significant presence for observations to be made, despite the decade being only eight years in. The most striking reflection from Figure 9 is the lack of any obvious pattern or clustering of rappers across the city. In a similar vein to Figures 2 and 3 which show the 1980s, there appears to be a much more ad-hoc spatial distribution with only a few locations where more than two rappers emerged. Unlike in the 1980’s, however, this is not due to a sporadic scene built around a central focal point, but more to do with the role the internet has played in the dissemination of music. As a result, it is no longer so significant for rappers to be part of a locally grounded scene or support network, as ‘the internet enables a sense of online “imagined community”’ that can include the whole city or further afield (Kruse, 2009: 210). This is not to say that geography is no longer significant in UK hip-hop, as lyrical identification to a geographic location is still present in lyrics and there are still some locally clustered rappers evident. There are clear and well represented clusters in Tottenham and Croydon (Table 7 and Figure 14). Croydon in particular is proving to be the focal point for drill rap in the UK, showing that geographically centred styles are still present. UK drill is very much focused on the almost hyper local focal point, with many groups named after the estate on which they grew up such as 150 or 67. However, unlike grime and road rap, drill originated in Chicago showing the influence of the internet age, while at the same time the music has been transformed into an extremely localised London sound (Beaumont-Thomas, 2018).

Image13Figure 13: Distribution of rapper between 2010 and 2017

Overall Observations

It is clear that over time the concentration of rappers in London has developed and changed as new styles have emerged and others have disappeared as tastes change. The representation of the likes of Ladbroke Grove and the west of London in general has gradually tailed off since the 1980s in reflection of where these new styles have emerged. In contrast, places such as Islington, Brixton and Hackney have had a large and constant population of rappers throughout the 35 years that UK hip-hop has been present in the city (Tables 1, 3, 5 and 7). Overall, however, with the exception of the move away from west London there has been very little significant change in the spatial distribution of rappers over the period being researched in London. Different localities have fluctuated in numbers over this time as clusters have ebbed and flowed, but generally the same places continue to return in each decade. It could be argued that this is because the areas being represented by the most rappers are those with traditionally the lowest income and the greatest social deprivation, which is what the next section will aim to assess.

Spatial Analysis with Unemployment Statistics

When looking at the choropleth maps visualising unemployment percentages across London (Figures 3, 5, 7 and 9) it becomes clear that there are some boroughs that continually have the highest levels of unemployment in the city. These boroughs, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, are situated to the east of the city and are traditionally acknowledged to be some of the poorest locations in the UK (Khan, 2018). In an almost mirror image, there are boroughs to the south west (Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames) that continually have some of the lowest unemployment rates and traditionally contain many of the highest earners in the city (Direct Line Group, 2014). It is also clear that the number of boroughs that have some of the highest levels of unemployment has increased greatly over time, particularly since the most recent census count in 2011. This is likely due to the global financial crisis that occurred around the same time, however percentages are still far lower than those recorded in the 1991 census after a decade of Thatcherite neo-liberal economics and a diminishing youth labour market (Furlong & Cartmel, 2006).

When looking at these percentages in the context of the origin of rappers, it becomes clear that there are some interesting statistics coming out. While a relatively large proportion (28.6%) of the 248 come from boroughs with a greater level of unemployment (based on the decade in which they emerged), over half of the rappers analysed (55.2%) are from boroughs in the upper middle percentile group for unemployment. This trend tends to be the case for each decade except for the 2010s, when the number of boroughs with the greatest levels of unemployment increases significantly (Table 9). What is also interesting is that in the 1990s, the larger representation of rappers (16) emerge out of boroughs with a lower middle percentage for unemployment. However, with unemployment levels still between 9-12% in those boroughs during this decade, this can possibly be seen as more of an anomaly due to the extreme economic situation when the census was recorded in 1991. A further anomaly can be seen in that in the 1980s and 1990s, a small number of rappers emerged from boroughs with low unemployment levels. Interestingly, two of these artists (Mark B and SL Troopers) came from one of the wealthiest boroughs, Kingston upon Thames.

Overall, however, it can be seen that in the context of London the majority of rappers have generally come from areas with greater unemployment (83.8%). However, those with the uppermost levels of unemployment are not as highly represented as those in the upper middle percentile group; suggesting that while the hip-hop studies consensus may be correct to an extent in London, it is not as marked as is possibly the case in cities in the United States.

Percentage Range

1980s

1990s

2000s

2010s

High

2

7

39

23

Upper Middle

28

15

74

20

Lower Middle

1

16

17

2

Low

1

3

0

0

Table 9: Rapper numbers per decade based on borough unemployment percentile group

Limitations of Research

There are a few limitations to the research undertaken within this thesis. While an analysis on 248 artists has provided some interesting insights into the spatial distribution of rappers in London over the period being studied and helped to approach the question of whether rappers come from poorer locations, it is perhaps still rather a small number to garner in depth results. There is also a clear disparity in numbers between the decades being studied that could be improved. While some of this is down to the fact that many more rappers have appeared since 2000, there is still an evident gap in the knowledge base that needs to be filled through additional research to enhance the results further.

The availability of unemployment statistics only at the borough scale is another limitation to the research, as having more granular data could have provided more detailed insights into the correlation between a rapper’s origin and poverty. However, there is a confidentiality reason behind this as any more locality focused data could potentially lead individuals or clusters of certain groups to be easily identified meaning ONS only chooses to make census data available to the borough scale. As a result, the statistic numbers can be distorted by other localities in the borough, meaning the results are not as accurate as they possibly could be.

Conclusions

‘Increasingly, it is argued, geography doesn’t matter’ within music and music scenes (Kruse, 2009: 210). However, hip-hop still maintains a strong connection to place that is both explicit and implicit. Hip-hop in the UK has been proven to place a particularly strong emphasis on location, especially with the heavily geographical styles that have emerged out of London such as grime, road rap and UK drill. This research has shown that it is possible to perform analysis based on spatial data extracted from hip-hop, focusing specifically on rappers coming out of London.

Based on this research, it can be seen that there has been some semblance of change in the spatial distribution of rappers in London over the course of the period being studied between 1980 and 2017. From this can be identified clusters of performers that emerge from the same locality, displaying the potential presence of geographically located local scenes. Some of these are well known, such as that of grime in Bow and surrounding areas, while others may be less well documented or acknowledged but still significant to the development of hip-hop in London and the UK as a whole.

Poverty and hip-hop performers are often spoken about in the same sentence in hip-hop studies, especially in the context of the United States, and this research has attempted to assess this connection in London. While the results are not as detailed as perhaps would be desired due to the granularity of the data being used, they still show that in general there is some correlation between where rappers emerge in the city and the levels of unemployment in that borough although it is clearly not as extreme as is often suggested in American contexts (Rose, 1994b).

The intention of this research is to show what can be done with spatial data related to hip-hop. To approach hip-hop in terms of place is an often-discussed topic, but there has been no attempt so far in academic circles to involve spatial analysis within this kind of study. While this investigation merely touches the surface of what could be achieved, there is the hope that it can potentially encourage other studies and contribute to the limited research so far completed on UK hip-hop.

Future Research Suggestions

It would be interesting to see how the approach in this research could be applied to other cities, not just in the UK but elsewhere, as well to develop a potentially different and spatially focused understanding of hip-hop around the world. Additionally, analysing alternative demographic statistics could provide some fascinating insights into the relationship between the music, the performers and the sociological and political environment around them. While this has been discussed from an aural and textual perspective, a spatial approach could produce a new angle to the hip-hop debate. Another potential focus could be to map hip-hop from the perspective of lyric analysis to plot the localities that rappers mention in their songs and possibly see if there is a correlation between that and where they are from. Additionally, speaking to rappers and getting their understanding of place and how they identify with it, in a similar vein to Cohen (2012), could be a novel approach.

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