#Strangeloop: How sexist are rap lyrics?

jayI went to a computer conference to learn about how sexist rap lyrics are. What makes this all the more remarkable is that the session was given by a woman, Julie Lavoie here in St. Louis at the annual Strangeloop programming conference.

Actually, it kinda makes sense: the idea is to parse the entire corpus of lyrics (there is a site called rapgenius that has compiled this information for hundreds of songs) and do some natural language processing to see what is being said. It was very entertaining, even though I know almost nothing about rap music. (That is Jay Z above, BTW.)

As you can probably guess, the most common words mentioned in rap songs are cuss words, and other epithets that I hesitate to use here and run up my spam scores. But Lavoie started with an interesting hypothesis: what if she searched for a particular word that rhymes with witch and is used as a common term for women. Do the rappers who have a sexist rep use it more often in their songs? How about men vs. women rappers? What about rappers from different geographies or styles of music? (Yes, that was something I never knew.)

Well, she found out that things weren’t so simple: lots of rappers use this particular epithet, and many have far worse things to say about women that are hard for a Python script to process automatically. Do you look for the association of particular action verbs with particular nouns? The mind boggles.

Lavoie at one point had to temporarily stop her analysis, because it was getting her depressed seeing the negative words that were bubbling up to the top of most often used list. But she is a trooper (and also a big fan of rap music, which is why she started the project to begin with). The project got her thinking more about how to characterize sexist lyrics and gave her fuel for further explorations. Granted, she could have chosen French literature or modern poetry, but she likes rap so that is where she focused her efforts.

This is just the sort of thing that you can find at Strangeloop: interesting tech stuff, presented by people that you probably never heard of mixed with the leading lights of major programming languages and open source projects. If the show isn’t on your fall calendar, it should be. Plus, you can come visit me in St. Louis too!

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