Meet the coders who are hacking hip hop

In New York City, music meets technology at “The Monthly Music Hackathon,” where engineers and musicians join forces to confront a different theme or music genre. We go inside their first event exploring the intersection of hip hop, technology and education.


In New York City, music meets technology at what's called the Monthly Music Hackathon, where engineers, coders, and musicians join forces to confront a different theme or music genre.

We go inside their first event, exploring the intersection of hip-hop, technology, and education.

Let's take a look.

[ Hip-hop music plays, record spinning ]

That's hot.

With Monthly Music Hackathon, we take a little bit of a different approach.

We're not thinking so much about the end result.

We're thinking more about the process.

Right, but so this is where it starts.

You've heard of hackathons, collaborative forums that aim to solve business and social problems through technology.

But at this event, they're hacking something unconventional -- hip-hop music.

You hear it in the lyrics.

If it inspires you, go ahead and write, dude.

We want to go through the life cycle of a creative project, kind of all the way from scratch, all the way through to a presentation in a single day.

The hip-hop hackathon took place at Spotify's New York City offices and was co-hosted by Young Hackers, a group that unites high-school students from diverse backgrounds through technology.

We would always have rap battles and stuff at our other hackathons, so we said, 'Oh, you know, let's just have a straight hip-hop hackathon so then we can have everybody who likes hip-hop make something and show it off to everybody else.

The hackathon kicked off with a panel of expert programmers, educators, and music producers.

You should be learning hip-hop culture in high school, not only in history class.

You should be learning it in music class.

You should be learning it in phys ed.

Then it was time for like-minded hackers to form teams and get to work.

One of the things I try to do all the time is take hip-hop songs and make them into acoustic arrangements.

I want to find somebody who is really interested in development to see if maybe we can work on a database because we're kind of flying by the seat of our pants there and just starting the brainstorming process.

So, our idea -- we're calling it 'Hip-Hop Hacks Maps' -- is the idea that you can look up a song's lyrics, and then a map will appear with all the locations that the song mentions.

Especially with hip-hop, there's a lot of 'hyperlocatlity --' throwin' some terms -- of places and even specific addresses that can come up on the maps.

So that's us.

So, we're working on something called the Kimye Project, where basically it's Kanye's lyrics and songs that you can listen to on the website -- basically the way SoundCloud works, where you can add in your reaction at any point of the song.

It would be the same thing, except you just add 'Kim Kardashian gifts' as your reaction.

The teams are wrapping up for today, but they'll be back tomorrow to put the final touches on their projects.

[ Hip-hop music plays ] On day two, the groups continued, while also attending free workshops like DJ 101, Intro to JavaScript, and Songwriting.

♪ [ Rapping ] Just wanted to be successful, but this game is very stressful ♪ ♪ The devil is holding me back, like, how can I let you shine? ♪

Listening to hip-hop a lot more really has led me to understand, like, the richness of education and of knowledge in this, like, medium that is considered unconventional.

♪ [ Rapping ] Insect ligament, I'm the bee's knees ♪ ♪ Grammatically correct like question marks and apostrophes ♪ ♪ I'm allergic to failure, you could guess I never sneeze ♪ ♪ Me and rap go together like a pod and two peas ♪

While this month the focus was hip-hop, the Monthly Music Hackathon attracts coders and musicians from many different communities.

We spoke with deaf composer Jay Zimmerman, a hackathon regular whose closed-captioning and music-visualization software aims to make music more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.

I'm trying to bring wireless captioning so you can walk into any show and you get the captions on your phone and sit wherever you want.

And it works!

It works great, it works great.

We just have to convince people that we have this and that it's worth it to provide captions for everyone.

After two full days, the teams took to the stage to demo their work.

You visit our app, and when you search for a song, a search executes, and you can choose the song.

And, hey, we're looking at 'Hello Brooklyn.'

And it shows you Brooklyn!

[ Applause ] [ R&B music plays ]

As it starts, you can see that you have new GIFs coming in.

And you can choose which GIF you really want to like.

[ Rapping indistinctly ]

And the GIFs change as the music plays.

And of course, no music hackathon would be complete without a concert.

♪ [ Rapping ] I ride beats like Tyler Perry ride dresses ♪ ♪ Avoid stress like... avoid messes ♪ ♪ The young don, stay heavy, no question ♪ ♪ Can't nobody outweigh, this a blessin' ♪

I organize these events because I want to learn about different music subjects.

There's basically an infinite number of approaches to music represented here in New York City.

And if you're collaborating with people who have really different points of view than you do, you get a bunch of different, more diverse input, and so more options.

And I think more options means more likelihood for innovation, more likelihood to make some new art, new science, or new project of some kind.