STCR Update Winter 2018: Rapbot Lives!


Happy Holidays! New Year! Black History Month!

I started writing this message in November while wrapping up my Autodesk Pier 9 Residency in San Francisco. With a self-imposed, 14 hour/day 7 day/week schedule a group of us went full feral artist.


There’s something intoxicating about having 24 access, the full run of both traditional & digital manufacturing shops, an industrial test kitchen and an unlimited* budget. Actually, the first feeling after realizing this wasn’t intoxicating—I was stuck! Some sort of constraint has been a constant element in my creative practice and the idea of having it lifted took some getting used to—I got used to it.

During the residency I conducted creative research that resulted in new friends and new projects. Both will inform the direction of my critical making for years to come.

Printed Rap Geometries

Enjoy these photos of the data sculpture featured in my exhibition at CCA.


While on residency I finally received my copy of Hennessy: A Toast to the World’s Preeminent Spirit, authored by Glenn O’Brien.

Fab 5 Freddy introduced Glenn and I. This led to conversations about rap data and the cultural connections between Hiphop Culture and Hennessy. I gave Glenn access to the Hip-Hop Word Count so he could conduct his own research. In return, I asked him to credit me somewhere in the book. Needless to say how shocked and proud I was to see a whole chapter on your’s truly in a coffee table book that explores the brand’s 250+ year legacy, featuring interviews with cultural luminaries.

Glenn O’Brien first editor of Interview Magazine, member of Warhol’s Factory, writer of Downtown 81, host of TV Party+ R.I.P.

This Real Rap, No Mumbles

Rapbot Lives! Rapbot is a Raspberry Pi powered robot that produces rap lyrics in response to user input and then prints out receipts of the interaction. Rapbot creates lyrics out of the sample made by training neural network language models over large vocabularies of rap (approximately 200,000 songs).

So far the outcome is pretty trippy. At first glance, Rapbot’s lyrics resemble obscure, hermetic poetry with hints of profound, abstract gibberish. According to Moore’s Law it will probably only get better. With Rapbot I’m exploring the social, cultural and political implications of technological choices made with artificial intelligence.

Language as Technology

In August the Rap Research Lab was awarded a production grant from Engadget to create a virtual reality execution of the Hiphop Word Count. On November 14th we premiered Mapper’s Delight VR, our interactive/ rap lyric/ musical instrument/ data-visualization/ experience at the Engadget VR conference in L.A. The response was overwhelmingly good. We were scheduled for 20 participants and because of demand we led over 100 visitors through the experience.

Following our premiere, we received additional support from the Mozilla Hive NYC Leadership Fund to establish a model for implementing Mapper’s Delight as a classroom learning tool.

Mining The Archive

In January I started my position at the Library of Congress as the Papamarkou Chair in Education at the John W. Kluge Center. My work will focus on the Library’s role in the interaction between electronic and traditional artifactual knowledge.

The daily operation is to become intimate with the world’s largest library and to apply my creative approach to showcasing the many ways the collections relate to us, the American people. During this process I expect to push against the notion of the Library as a neutral space, complicating its role as a public monument and holder of public memory. I’ll be posting what I find via @RapResearchLab.

Amped! (& Syced!) to see what else this year has to reveal.



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