Updates from the team

‘Hip Hop and the Internet’ special issue of Global Hip Hop Studies

We’re delighted to support a call for papers for a special issue of Global Hip Hop Studies on hip hop and the internet, co-edited by CIPHER team member Steve (and Raquel Campos). The blurb for the call is as follows:


Special Issue: ‘It’s Where You’re @: Hip Hop and the Internet’


Internet technologies have become intertwined with almost every aspect of daily Western life, as demonstrated by the mass online migration of work, leisure and cultural activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three decades earlier, the Rakim lyric emphasizing ‘where you’re at’ coincided with the development of the first modern web browser (circa 1990). Now, with the emergence of virtual ciphers, online beat battles and hip hop chat rooms, where we are all @ is online.

This special issue of GHHS is targeted at exploring the relationship between hip hop and the internet, offering new perspectives on digital communication technologies and their impact on hip hop culture, as well as analysing the impact of hip hop culture on global online life, especially in non-Western contexts. We are particularly interested in research that reflects on the political, economic and social dynamics of hip hop culture as they intersect with internet technologies.

With examples spanning from DatPiff to TikTok, internet technologies have considerably altered the development and production of hip hop culture, creating new spaces and forms of mediation. Although digital technology and hip hop are no strangers to one another, elements of hip hop culture – especially from the global North – have appeared at the forefront of digital popular culture (for instance Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ meme template or the viral power of Lizzo’s flute-twerking). Hip hop accounted for more than one in every three pieces of music played across on-demand streaming services, according to a 2018 Nielsen Music report. Creative communities inhabit online platforms from Twitch to Discord. Rap critics on YouTube and Genius rake in millions of views. Evidently, there is a vast online community engaging with hip hop in various forms.

However, the online public sphere also disrupts many of the art form’s analogue foundations – vinyl, block/house parties and spray paint – unsettling and reconfiguring critical aspects of locality, authenticity and identity through digital assemblages of mediation, corporatization and commercialization. How are notions and relationships of locality, visibility and anonymity in hip hop scenes altered by online tools? How do digital avatars act and become understood as creative participants and how are they linked to offline practices in the genre’s production of scenes? How does all of this operate in the shadows – or even the spotlight – of corporate big-data mining and oligopolization? We encourage researchers to reflect both on the opportunities and challenges of hip hop in online spaces.

Disciplinary focus may include, but is not limited to hip hop studies, internet studies, popular music studies, digital anthropology, digital sociology, communication studies, media studies, cultural studies, fan studies, human-computer interaction, social computing, education and psychology.

Please read the full list of suggested submission topics and formats here.


The deadline is for abstracts is 12 July 2021.

We’re hiring!

We’re looking for talented computer scientists! Here’s the formal job ad:


University College Cork invites applications for two Research Support Officers in the areas of Data Science, Web Engineering, and User Experience Design to co-lead the computational side of a high impact 5-year European Research Council project (final three years: 2021-2024). The two positions are in the areas of Computer Science and/or Digital Humanities, and are available at the Department of Music in the School of Film, Music, and Theatre at University College Cork. The positions are funded by the ERC and are associated with the research project CIPHER: Hip Hop Interpellation. This study of global hip hop knowledge flows will synergize computational and ethnographic methods to examine how hip hop “unlocks the global through the local.”  The principal investigator of the project is Professor J. Griffith Rollefson.


The successful candidates will develop a web application as part of a research project in global hip hop studies that combines cultural data analytics (crowdsourcing, NLP, machine learning, semantic web, stylometry) with ethnographic and cultural studies methods. The researchers will work closely with the PI and a diverse, world-leading team of ethnographic researchers, with computational support from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics.


The successful candidates must be able to design and engineer a user-friendly interactive web-based world map complete with search functions, user submissions, and moderation.  They will show an ability to manage the data analytics and visualization side of the project and work collaboratively with the PI and a team of cultural specialists. In the Application Letter, candidates are expected to outline how their interests and skills align with the CIPHER project – namely, how they might attend to the particular challenges that websites like Genius.com, Shazam.com, WhoSampled.com, and others have approached in the last decade—and how they might further develop and extend those solutions.  Essential skills include web app design, semantic web, API development, and potentially sonic analysis.


The successful candidates are expected to live in Cork, Ireland and become part of the research environment/network of the university and contribute to its development. The computer scientists are expected to develop computational solutions and produce web-based outputs as well as potentially collaborating with the CIPHER team in published results and otherwise contributing to popular dissemination of the research results.


In the evaluation of the applications, emphasis will be placed on:
  • The applicant’s web app development skills and experience
  • Demonstrated knowledge of computer science, data analytics, and/or digital humanities
  • The applicant’s estimated academic and personal ability to carry out the project within the allotted time frame and contribute to the research project CIPHER
  • Good co-operative skills, and the ability to successfully join in academic collaboration within and across disciplines.


Supplementary Information on the CIPHER project and the post is available at the following URL: http://www.ucc.ie/cipher.
University College Cork is an equal opportunities employer actively working towards full equality of opportunity in all aspects of University life. The CIPHER Project strongly encourages applications from underrepresented groups as part of its core mission to promote global justice and equality of access.


It is envisaged that the posts will start between August and October 2021 and run for three years.


Project Title: CIPHER: Hip Hop Interpellation


Post Duration: 3 years


Salary: €40,000 p.a. (Personal Rate)


For an information package including further details of the post see https://ore.ucc.ie/.


Informal enquiries can be made in confidence to J. Griffith Rollefson, Professor of Music, Email: cipher@ucc.ie, Telephone: +353 (0)21 490 4931.


Applications must be submitted online via the University College Cork vacancy portal (https://ore.ucc.ie/). Queries relating to the online application process should be referred to recruitment@ucc.ie, quoting the job-title and project name.


Applicants must submit the electronic application with the following attachments:
  • Application Letter (max 2 pages single spaced) describing the applicant’s qualifications and motivation for the position
  • Resume/Curriculum Vitae (complete list of education, positions, and other qualifying activities)
  • Project proposal (max 2 pages single spaced). The proposal should address the following questions: (1) What computational methods will you employ to design and engineer a user-friendly interactive web-based world map complete with search functions, user submissions, and moderation? Further, what data analytics methods (NLP, Semantic Tagging, Machine Learning, Stylometry, etc) will you employ to analyse the lyrical (and potentially sonic) data as proposed in the CIPHER proposal?; (2) How will you draw upon your own technical experience when working on the project?  How will that background benefit the project?; and (3) what will be the advantages of your methodological approach, and how will you deal with potential practical and ethical challenges?


Please note that all documents must be in English.


Candidates should apply, in confidence, before 12 noon (Irish Local Time) on Friday, 30 July 2021. No late applications will be accepted.

How do rap lyrics address the internet? (Digital Flows)

Hip-hop artists get a bad rap for writing about the same old things. Often, criticism is levelled at lyrics associated with materialism, consumerism, misogyny, drugs, and violence. Although these themes – and the racial, gendered, and class-based judgements involved in commentary on them – are important, complex topics of study, I want to draw attention to some under-examined but prevalent lyrical territory. Specifically, I am interested in how rappers address the internet. Of course, what with the intrusion of the internet into so many aspects of daily life, ways of writing about the web are diverse, but they can be divided into specific themes for analysis. Some of these are more enthusiastic about the effects of the internet on how we experience social lives, while others dismiss or outright disavow aspects of web-based activity. In any case, such analysis provides detailed insights into the aesthetics and politics of contemporary hip-hop, as well as revealing how popular musicians understand and negotiate articulations of digital culture…

Read Steve’s full article over at our project partner website, Digital Flows.

How Music Empowers: Listening to Modern Rap and Metal

We’re pleased to announce the publication of How Music Empowers, a new book by CIPHER team member Dr. Steven Gamble. Steve’s research for this book, mostly undertaken prior to the CIPHER project, is impactful and important for hip hop audiences, especially people who are into contemporary rap. Artists including Little Simz, Drake, Missy Elliott, Brockhampton, and Chance the Rapper are discussed – and a bunch of metal artists too! The book is great reading for anyone excited by how the listening process works (what happens in the mind and body), and how music affects emotions, alters behaviour, and incites action.

Here’s the blurb:

How Music Empowers argues that empowerment is the key to unlocking the long-standing mystery of how music moves us. Drawing upon cutting-edge research in embodied cognitive science, psychology, and cultural studies, the book provides a new way of understanding how music affects listeners. The argument develops from our latest conceptions of what it is to be human, investigating experiences of listening to popular music in everyday life. Through listening, individuals have the potential to redefine themselves, gain resilience, connect with other people, and make a difference in society.


Applying a groundbreaking theoretical framework to postmillennial rap and metal, the book uncovers why vast numbers of listeners engage with music typically regarded as ‘social problems’ or dismissed as ‘extreme’. In the first ever comparative analytical treatment of rap and metal music, twenty songs are analysed as case studies that reveal the empowering potential of listening. The book details how individuals interact with rap and metal communities in a self-perpetuating process which keeps these thriving music cultures – and the listeners themselves – alive and well. Can music really change the world? How Music Empowers answers: yes, because it changes us.


How Music Empowers will interest scholars and researchers of popular music, ethnomusicology, music psychology, music therapy, and music education.

The book’s pricing with academic publisher Routledge is very steep, but Steve is happy to receive requests for free review copies: just get in touch here. A cheaper paperback will be available down the line. For more info, head to howmusicempowers.com!

© Routledge

Lo-fi hip-hop during COVID-19

There’s a two-part blog post now up at our associated project Digital Flows, looking at online hip-hop. In these posts Steve uses a comment scraping method to analyse how lo-fi commentary has changed – and how it hasn’t – during the quarantine/lockdown measures imposed by COVID-19 (March to December 2020).

Illustration by Juan Pablo Machado

The first post explains how the research was undertaken and examines changes that directly address the pandemic. It goes on to discuss a trend of studying and working: lo-fi’s large student audience often comment about their studying habits during this period (a relatively common thing to post about even before COVID-19!).

The second post reflects on lofi hip-hop as a genre then details additional results: themes of identity, aesthetic, cultural references, conversational aspects, and emotional expression.

Steve would be glad to hear feedback on this work-in-progress. Stay tuned into the Digital Flows project!

Hip Hop Interpellation: Rethinking Autochthony and Appropriation in Irish Rap

Griff has published a new chapter in Made in Ireland (Routledge, 2020) edited by Áine Mangaoang, John O’Flynn, Lonán Ó Briain. In it, he tells a history of hip hop in Ireland and posits the “hip hop interpolation” thesis: the ways that this irreducibly Black American art form has been appropriated globally and the ways that “entrenched oral traditions of storytelling and poetry stretching back thousands of years have incorporated hip hop into their cultures” (Pennycook and Mitchell 2009).

Global Hip Hop Studies Issue 1

We’re delighted to announce the inaugural issue of the CIPHER-associated journal Global Hip Hop Studies, published by Intellect Books (UK). Here’s the lowdown on the journal:

Global Hip Hop Studies (GHHS) is a peer-reviewed, rigorous and community-responsive academic journal that publishes research on contemporary as well as historical issues and debates surrounding hip hop music and culture around the world, twice annually.

Intellect Books, courtesy of Marc Canonizado (@gfbsshaveparlor, Instagram) and Garrett Tartt (@findyourplayground, Instagram)

We’re grateful to all our scholars, artists, and editors for their amazing contributions. The first issue is completely free to read and download.

Ya boy! RTÉ News Segment

Here’s an early report on the CIPHER project conducted by Ireland’s public broadcast service RTÉ News. Griff and Cork artist Spekulativ Fiktion briefly describe how CIPHER got off the ground and plans for the future: