Detroit vs. Everybody: Hip Hop Map of the Motor City

By: Brian D. Smith

I started making hip-hop themed maps because there are tons of geographic references in rap music to map: emcees often call out to streets and neighborhoods they’re from, as well as the places they go. The Detroit map came out of homesickness; I recently relocated to Texas and was missing home. Also, I had never done a city map; my maps prior focused on one artist or one song.

I set the goal to try to find unique geographic references from Detroit emcees: one place for each artist. I studied the lyrics of songs from artists I grew up listening to (Blade Icewood, D-12, Slum Village), Detroit’s new class of emcees (Kash Doll, Payroll Giovanni, Sada Baby), and everyone in between. I went to websites like The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive and Genius for a little help, but for the most part I listened to the music and deconstructed the lyrics myself. All in all I found a total of 37 unique references from 36 emcees: 16 streets/highways, 17 places, and 4 neighborhoods. I added Saint Andrews Hall/The Shelter because of its history as one of the premiere venues for rap battles in the 90s.

I built the map using shapefiles downloaded from the City of Detroit’s data portal as a foundation, and created the place features from scratch. To add extra sauce to the symbology I used colors from Detroit sports teams: Honolulu blue streets (Lions), teal neighborhoods (90s Pistons), red places (Red Wings). I found little tidbits of information along the way, like the fact everyone is from 7 Mile Road, EVERYONE. 7 Mile was the most mentioned street by far across all emcees. Blade Icewood, Royce da 5’9”, Guilty Simpson, D-12, Esham, Black Milk and more all talk about 7 Mile. This was a fun project, I revisited favorite songs and discovered new hits to add to my playlists.

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