With guest verses, producer-rappers, loosely organized groups, and sporadic beefs, hip-hop can be something of a layered labyrinth to explore. But the interaction between artists is a main driver of what makes the genre so damn fascinating. Rappers aren’t just familiar with each other because they tour together every once in a while. The amount of collaboration within the hip-hop community is as impressive as it is common. That’s what made Jessi Brattengeier’s passion project of tracking 35 years of hip-hop so flooring—not only in its execution but its concept to begin with.
To rewind it back, Brattengeier is a Jr. Art Director at Manhattan-based design and strategy studio Sub Rosa. The studio empowers its employees with a biannual publication called La Petite Mort, which receives a small print run of 5,000 and serves as an extracurricular creative outlet.
With the latest issue‘s theme of “Metamorphosis,” Brattengeier felt inspired to devote herself to better understanding hip-hop as a fan and ultimately transform more than three decades of hip-hop music into a detailed magazine spread with data viz.
“I was equally driven by my innate desire as a designer to develop some sort of system—in this case, a comprehensive infographic—to understand more about a complex cultural movement. I wanted to use my organizational skills to clarify and better comprehend the greater picture. Regardless of my unique insight as a designer, though, the piece is still simply a representation of an outsider perspective and only scratches the surface of the content.”
Hip-hop’s breadth of details makes it a lucrative source of data, as we’ve seen in like-minded projects, such as The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop by Matt Daniels and The Hip Hop Word Count by Tahir Hemphill. Brattengeier agrees the genre lends itself extremely well to exploration, beyond just the music, moving into the community as a whole.
“Hip-hop has such a rich and robust historical library and it’s way more than simply a genre of music. The complex etymology and geographical, cultural, and political sub-movements within hip-hop provide more than enough content to become engulfed by and explore relationships within.”
Brattengeier’s work paid off, but it was by no means an easy task, even for a devoted fan.
“The process was definitely an undertaking. So much time spent tracing the origins of specific albums, researching relationships between sub-genres, listening, and re-listening, asking questions, getting a diverse range of opinions, and cross checking. The design process was intuitive—really just figuring out the most compelling way to represent the massive scope of information through a process of writing in content, editing out content, organizing content, and then experimenting with the supporting visuals as much as possible while being careful not to overwhelm the spread.”
The resulting chart is a thing of beauty, covering everything from Bounce to Trap, offering West Coast on the left page and East Coast on the right. It dives into larger ideas, such as the birth of rap mysticism, while getting into specific scenes, like Houston’s chopped and screwed technique. It’s just killer, the whole thing.
But still, the best question to ask of anyone with a pop culture passion project is about the lesser known. So the final question had to be, Who is the most underrated rapper of all time? Brattengeier was of course ready (and humble).
“I’m certainly not an expert on this, but off the top of my head some underrated rappers are Z-Ro, as overall southern rap just doesn’t get as much appreciation as it deserves for all of its stylistic contributions; Big Pun, who was worshipped while alive within the Puerto Rican community but in my opinion never quite achieved the post-mortem fame that he deserved; Mick Jenkins, and the Pro Era crew.”
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