The Lexicon Of Hip-Hop

by Brendan James

Artist Tahir Hemphill plugged American hip hop records into a database that tracks the words spawned by rap and how they evolve:

“Murk,” which means “to murder,” or “to defeat,” didn’t start out meaning that. It first appears in 1994, ambiguously, in “Real Circus,” by Saafir, in Oakland: “I submerged like a / Murk on the Mental.” It then appears in New York, conventionally, in 1998, in “Treat$,” by the Beatnuts, from Queens: “They try to prosecute me but I murk they only witness.” It also appears in 2005, in “Gangsta Shit,” by Lil Eazy-E, who is from Compton, in Los Angeles: “Fiends need another fix so they chirped again / Keep a murk in him.”

Hemphill sees the Hip Hop Word Count as a resource for settling arguments. “There’s a lot of disputes in rap—who influenced whom—who came first,” he said. “Everybody is always asking, ‘Who is the GOAT rapper, the greatest of all time?’ Mostly, it’s settled by who has the loudest voice in the room, but now people will be able to put some metrics to it.