In Search of the Golden Age Hip-Hop Sound (1986–1996)


  • Ben Duinker McGill University
  • Denis Martin McGill University



corpus study, sound, Golden Age hip-hop, music production, empirical musicology


The notion of a musical repertoire's "sound" is frequently evoked in journalism and scholarship, but what parameters comprise such a sound? This question is addressed through a statistically-driven corpus analysis of hip-hop music released during the genre's Golden Age era. The first part of the paper presents a methodology for developing, transcribing, and analyzing a corpus of 100 hip-hop tracks released during the Golden Age. Eight categories of aurally salient musical and production parameters are analyzed: tempo, orchestration and texture, harmony, form, vocal and lyric profiles, global and local production effects, vocal doubling and backing, and loudness and compression. The second part of the paper organizes the analysis data into three trend categories: trends of change (parameters that change over time), trends of prevalence (parameters that remain generally constant across the corpus), and trends of similarity (parameters that are similar from song to song). These trends form a generalized model of the Golden Age hip-hop sound which considers both global (the whole corpus) and local (unique songs within the corpus) contexts. By operationalizing "sound" as the sum of musical and production parameters, aspects of popular music that are resistant to traditional music-analytical methods can be considered.


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