Madhavi Itti Menon is Making Colorful, Pixelated Hip-Hop Linguistics Lessons

100 Days is an annual project at New York City’s School of Visual Arts that was founded by Michael Bierut. Each year, the students of the school’s Master’s in Branding Program spend 100 days documenting their process with a chosen creative endeavor. This year, we’re showcasing each student in the program by providing a peek into ten days of their project. You can keep an eye on everyone’s work on our SVA 100 Days page.

Madhavi has been hooked on hip-hop ever since she heard it on her father’s iPod at age 11. Today, hip-hop is the most consumed genre of music around the world, and reflects the zeitgeist through rhythm and poetry. For 100 days, Madhavi investigates hip-hop’s themes, impact on culture, brands, and the vernacular. She brings her fascination to life through linguistic exploration, illustrated by vivid 2D pixel animations.

You can follow the project on Instagram at @100daysofminingmusic or see more of her work at @mittimenon. For further inquiries, please contact her at mittimenon@gmail.com.

“Money Trees” by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick asks listeners to “pick a poison”: one is the life of worldly pleasure and vice (the Hollywood equivalent to his life) and the other is the spiritual, enlightened side.

By rhyming “Halle Berry” with “Hallelujah”, he pits a polarity to the listener, and through his wordplay, he is reviving a centuries-old question between “Good and Evil” and making it relevant by name-dropping a cultural icon.

“Lemonade” by Internet Money feat. Gunna, Don Toliver

On the track “Lemonade,” the artists mention ice, and in the rap vernacular, “ice” means diamonds. They use various analogies to water and reflection— “icey,” “iced up,” and “drip” all refer to bling or expensive jewelry that are often used to brag about wealth and status.

“Venom” by Little Simz

In “Venom,” Little Simz uses haunting backing vocals and beats to speedily recite her views on mental health and inequality.

This track went viral in 2021, as people began making reels on social media about moments of frustrations and anger that ended in this hard-hitting section.

It’s interesting that venom is usually contained within the body of the animal, but can only do others harm, so the word perfectly captures outward emotion.

“Mile High” by James Blake feat. Travis Scott

“Lasting like Duracell.” When brands infiltrate language and become synonymous with high energy and longevity, Travis Scott and James Blake feature them in their track, “Mile High.”

They could be talking about their firm place in the music industry or sexual stamina, following the line with the biblical mention of 40 days and 40 nights, the period between the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

“Vegas” by Doja Cat

The title track “Vegas” from the movie Elvis features vocals by Doja Cat and a sample from Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 song “Hound Dog.”

Though Elvis popularized the song with his cover a few years later, it’s interesting that Doja Cat used the original artist’s version to credit her contribution. In recent years, crediting and acknowledging the original artists of widely loved music has gained steam. Social media conversations have aided the discourse on the work of Black artists being appropriated and “popularized” by more mainstream stars.

“Snake” by Lil Keed

Lil Keed is warning listeners about the snakes in their lives.

“Snake,” in today’s vernacular, is not too far off from its perception in the Hebrew Bible and Old Testament: a creature of deception, tricking Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Snakes are the people who go behind your back, betray you, or spill your secrets.

Next time you feel this, know that it also applies as the slang verb to “snake you.”

“My Money Don’t Jiggle” by Louis Theroux, remixed by Duke and Jones

“My money don’t Jiggle Jiggle / It folds”

The track was hard to miss after it went viral, when British journalist Louis Theroux appeared on an episode of the webseries The Chicken Shop Date with Amelia Dimoldenberg.

The filmmaker reflected on an original rap song he wrote during an episode of his docuseries, Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends, and a remixed version of this verse spread like wildfire. While you may consider this to be novelty or amateur rap, the song could be considered a valid contribution to hip-hop for the way its simple flow has resonated and inspired goofy dances and smiles.

“Humble” by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick compares drinking Du’ssé (a high-end cognac ) to Kool-Aid, a highly accessible sweet drink.

“Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a phrase that is references the Jonestown Massacre of 1978, where 909 members of a cult drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid at the command of their leader.

In the vernacular today, it refers to blindly accepting or adopting a detrimental thought or lifestyle. Kendrick refers to his materialistic life in the hip-hop community through this phrasing.

“Gandhi Money” by Divine

Divine is one of the most prominent Indian hip-hop artists, belonging to the Gully Gang collective. In this Hindi track, he speaks of the peace (Shanti) you can feel when there is “Gandhi” money in your pocket.

The global figure of non-violent protest M.K. Gandhi features on all Indian currency notes, hence leading Divine to call it Gandhi Money. Nicknaming currency is also common in the American hip-hop landscape.

Both Hindi words Shanti and Gandhi are words that have been popularized and adopted within western languages.

“First Class” by Jack Harlow

Jack Harlow revives the lyrics to “Glamorous” by Fergie and uses them as a kind of acronym: G-L-AM.

“I’ve been a (G)”: a G is a Gangster, a good one; if you’ve been described as a G, it would be by a friend, not a foe.

“Throw up the (L)”: the L is a hand sign shaped like a L representing the Louisville Cardinals, a reference to Jack’s hometown in Louisville, Kentucky.

Then Jack candidly describes sex in the (AM), Following up with the rest of the original sample in Fergie’s voice: “O-R-O-U-S.”

Music doesn’t end. Wordplay will never end. Rhythm only multiplies.

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