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Analyzing Sonic Similarity in Hip-Hop through Critical Listening and Music Theory

The notion of a musical artist’s or genre’s sound is frequently evoked, but what sonic parameters define this sound? We address this question through an in-depth corpus analysis of 100 critically and commercially acclaimed hip-hop tracks from the genre’s golden age that we define as 1986–1996. We operationalize the term sound as the sum of both musical and production parameters. The practices of music theory and critical listening are brought together to analyze each track across 75 musical and production parameters in 9 categories. Through statistical analysis of our data set, we demonstrate that from these parameters we are capable of assembling groups of songs that sound alike. These groups are then compared against pre-existing groupings such as geographical location and recording label.

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