Rap Collaboration Networks

Glyph LLC is a serious business.  Definitely not one that would file the aliases of Wu-Tang members on their government-reviewed operating agreement.  I suppose it is that unwavering professional ethos that causes one to dive into a 10 month rabbit hole1 when his colleague wonders aloud “do you think rap collaborations would make for an interesting visualization?”  Yes, yes I do.  And so, what ensued was a labor born of deep love for rap2.  

Guest verses litter the dungeons of rap.  Sometimes features give clout to an artist’s debut album. Sometimes they make for epic anthems3.  Other times they help proliferate careers so that university students can be treated to pole dancers, money guns and profanity.4 

Whatever the reason, we thought that the web of rap collaborations would lend itself well to visualization via a network graph.  However, given that my education in graph theory is entirely provided by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, initial hopes of producing a connected network of all the rappers and all of their collaborating artists fell by the wayside.  Below you’ll find instead the collaboration networks of 16 prominent rappers spanning the last three decades.  The 16 main rappers are represented by colored circles placed around the outside of the U.S. map.  Every artist featured on each studio album of the main rappers are indicated by a small dot located at their home town5.  Curved lines connect main rappers to featured artists, with the line thickness signifying the numbers of songs collaborated on.  The visualization also embeds the average number of features per album (size of colored circles), years between first and last album (angular location of main rapper’s circle), and three most frequently collaborated-with cities (bottom network graph).

What immediately jumps out is that New York and L.A. are ubiquitous sources of featured artists. Unsurprisingly, regional ties abound as well (e.g., Lil Wayne/New Orleans, Outkast/Atlanta, The Roots/Philly, etc.).  More unexpected is the wide range in average number of featured artists per album.  On the high side, Snoop Dogg features an average of nearly 20 artists per album!  On the other extreme, J.Cole averages less than 3 features per album.  Incidentally, the only artist featured on Cole’s last album was kiLL Edward, who it seems is actually just J.Cole with a voice changer.  Below are a few other tidbits picked up in data mining:

  • There’s a curve on the network graph connecting Nas to Jay-Z (via the song Black Republican from Nas’ album Hip Hop is Dead). These two artists of course famously wrote scathing battle raps for one another6,7.
  • Lauryn Hill is the greatest musician to put out only one studio solo album. This is opinion, not fact8. Her exceptional album Everything is Everything had three monster features.
  • Can we call The Roots an indie rap group? They win the award for most features you’ve never heard of.
  • Snoop Dogg made a gospel album.
  • So did Kanye?
  • Outkast is my favorite rap group.
  • Beyonce single-handedly put Houston in Jay-Z’s top 3 most collaborated-with cities.
  • Snoop probably has the most eclectic collection of collaborators, including Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, Jamie Foxx and someone called Nine Inch Dix.

You might think that I would have better served humanity applying myself to epidemiological network modeling over the last many months, and you would be correct.  Therefore, the next article will discuss in great detail… the album sales of the choice rappers discussed herein.

  1. It would have taken longer if Netflix had kept Friends reruns on air to keep me company during data collection.
  2. “Hip-hop you the love of my life” from Act Too (Love of my life) by The Roots feat. Common
  3. e.g., Forever by Drake feat. Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem
  4. also, Kansas, did you think there was a version of a Snoop Dogg show that didn’t include pole dancers, a money gun and profanity?
  5. 526 featured artists in total. Only considered North American artists
  6. Takeover by Jay-Z
  7. Ether by Nas
  8. but also fact

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