Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Jay Z By the Numbers

By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

For some time now, Jay Z has been one of the world’s most prominent rappers. In the process of compiling and analyzing sets of information on his many productions, we’ve discovered and constantly been reminded that Jay Z’s music constitutes a fascinating data rich body of work.

Between 1996 and 2013, Jay Z produced 12 solo albums: Reasonable Doubt (1996); In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997); Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (1998); Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter (1999); The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2000); The Blueprint (2001); The Blueprint 2 (2002); The Black Album (2003); Kingdom Come (2006); American Gangster (2007); The Blueprint 3 (2009); Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013).

On those 12 albums, Jay Z has uttered a total of 74, 600 words (that does not include: hooks/choruses, and ad-libs, and words spoken by featured artists). Jay Z’s double-CD The Blueprint 2 contains his most words, with 10,179 and his last album Magna Carta Holy Grail contains the least amount of words with 4,326. Jay Z uses, on average, 1,700 word types on each of his albums.

The words “I’m,” “like,” and “got” are among Jay Z’s top 10 most frequently used words (not including “stop words” such as “and,” “but,” “I,” etc). The words “niggas” (391) and “nigga” (331) appear frequently throughout his work as well. We’ve written about the recurring use of “like” in Jay Z’s music.

"I" also accounted for one of the top 10 words when stop words were not applied to Jay Z's lyrics. The word “I” ranks second (2470), and “you” ranks third (1852). Rappers often directly address a presumed listener.

Across his 12 solo albums, Jay and his producers use 276 samples. At 39%, Jay Z’s most frequent samples come from hip hop music. Soul music, at 30%, constitutes his next most frequent source of samples.

Jay Z’s uses 91 samples from the 1990s, making the decade the most sampled across his 12 albums. He uses 85 samples from the 1970s, making that decade a close second as a source for samples.

Jay Z has worked with 165 producers and featured artists on his 12 solo albums. The vast majority of his collaborators were born during the 1970s, a decade that witnessed the birth of a tremendous generational cohort comprised of dozens of groundbreaking and prolific lyricists and producers associated with hip hop.

These by-the-number details help us to account for defining features of Jay Z’s albums. Our attention to these types of details has led to our ability to more accurately characterize individual albums by noting similarities and distinct differences. As a result, we learn more about his development as an artist over a 17-year span.

A Notebook on Jay Z

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