The Sounds of Science
May 3, 2006 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Who was the first hip-hop artist to "drop science"?

The concept of "science" as technically skilled, precise rhyming is interesting; as science, mathematics, and higher education in general are typically deprecated for African-American youths (moreso than their white counterparts, or so studies have shown). I'm interested in tracing the roots of this particular phenomenon, perhaps with a view towards implementing it in a pro-math and science general curriculum. I'd like as comprehensive as possible a discography of songs/artists who mention science positively. It's conceivable that playing a few of these songs in a classroom setting (if I can get away with that) will be useful in hyping the kids up at the start of the next term. If there are enough selections, I may be able to do "walking in" music before each class to get the kids pumped for their daily lesson (again, if my curriculum is approved).

Thanks in advance, and please go gently on me; this is my first AskMe.
posted by Kwanzaar to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can't think of the first, but we maybe help you with some that just do?
posted by k8t at 6:51 AM on May 3, 2006

sorry, don't know first, but i've always loved blackalicious, chemical calisthenics, and theres always mc hawking, though i assume you're already familiar with him
posted by killyb at 6:56 AM on May 3, 2006

As to roots, A quick google suggests that the term "drop science" is somehow related to The Temple of Moorish Science the early 20th century religious cult that was a forerunner of the Nation of Islam and the 5 percenters. Depending on whether the NOI has a presence in your community and what kind of presence it is, actively making use of related terminology may be unwise or disrespectful. But probably not.

This link suggests that the earliest usage may have been by Eric B. and Rakim.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:58 AM on May 3, 2006

I'm guessing that you already know about "The Sounds of Science" by the Beastie Boys, but I'm listing it for the sake of comprehensiveness.
posted by Prospero at 7:19 AM on May 3, 2006

I guess I'm somewhat unclear... as "droppin' science" doesn't necessarily have to mean technically precise rhyming, but just GOOD lyricism in general, which is how it's used now, typically.

So if you are looking for scientific-ish lyrics, there are plenty of songs out there.

On the other hand if you are looking for songs that use the phrase "droppin' science" you should definitely check out Marley Marl's song, "Droppin' Science"

Sounds like a cool concept for a class, btw.

Oh, and a pretty early reference I found was in the Run DMC track "Radio Station" :

Keep on rockin it, ain't no stoppin
My alliance droppin science on the radio poppin it

posted by dead_ at 7:29 AM on May 3, 2006

Early usages:
Eric B and Rakim - My Melody
Big Daddy Kane - Wrath of Kane
Craig G - Droppin' Science
Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo - Men at Work

Other notable uses of the phrase:
NWA - Express Yourself
Ol' Dirty Bastard - Brooklyn Zoo
Organized Konfusion - Prisoners of War
Last Emperor - Bums, CIA (Criminals in Action)

I think Eric B and Rakim is the earliest song on that list, but chances are excellent that some rapper I've never heard of predates Rakim's usage. In any case, PST is right about the Five Percent thing. (As an aside, Five-Percent ideology and phraseology absolutely permeates hip-hop--more than most folks would ever imagine.)

And dead_'s 'scientific-ish' makes a good point--if you're looking for the scientific method, and mathematics-not-in-the-Five-Percent-sense, in rap lyrics, you're going to be frequently disappointed.

And, lastly, here's some advice from someone who scheduled a showing of 'Hustle and Flow' at an inner-city public library--not to sound pessimistic, but you might as well start working on your backup plan.
posted by box at 7:42 AM on May 3, 2006

I can't speak to the accuracy, but this is a fascinating (so far) essay on Islam in American Hip Hop, with a lot of information on the Five Percenters (or The Nation of Gods and Earths) and their terminology. Moving towars a derail, but it does give some more background on the use of the terms "Science" and "mathematics" among others.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:50 AM on May 3, 2006

After rereading your question, I see that you are looking for "as comprehensive as possible a discography of songs/artists who mention science positively," so I'll try and come up with a few, though comprehensive would probably be impossible, considering how prevalent this form of scientific rapping has become.

A great guy to look at is Kool Keith, though I doubt that many of your students would be down with him. Specifically stuff off of his Dr. Octagon album, and the song Biology 101.

Check out KRS One, Boogie Down Productions, Blackalicious (as mentioned above), Jeru The Damaja's song Can't Stop the Prophet, Aesop Rock, El-P, Cannibal Ox (or pretty much anyone on the Def Jux label). I'm certain that the Wu-Tang Clan also talks extensively about scientific topics, with group member RZA having a particular interest. (Check out his album Digital Bullet, released under the psuedonym Bobby Digital.)

Not sure if this is what you're looking for but hopefully it helps a bit.

Oh, and this link is somewhat interesting (though not quite related): Teaching Science to the Beat of Hip-Hop Music.
posted by dead_ at 7:57 AM on May 3, 2006

For science positive hip-hop, my two favorites are Deltron 3030, a collaboration between Del the Funky Homosapien and Dan the Automator which has a cool science-fictiony feel, and Rip the Jacker by Canibus which name-checks Steven Jay Gould and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, among other scientific topics (lyrics).
posted by pombe at 8:04 AM on May 3, 2006

Ah! Deltron! That's what I had been thinking of that had escaped me! Thanks pombe.
posted by dead_ at 8:12 AM on May 3, 2006

And while stuff is popping into my head, check out Anti-Pop Consortium, for sure.
posted by dead_ at 8:14 AM on May 3, 2006

Science in this context initially refered to the lessons of the Nation of Gods and Earths (5 percenters). The lessons include astronomical facts, "actual facts," etc. Rakim was really the first to throw it into his songs.

Eventually dropping science morphed into saying something intelligent. But initially it refered to the 120 degree lessons of the Nation of Gods and Earths.

The Mathematics referenced really refers to the Supreme Mathematics. Each number has a concept attached to it. 1 = knowledge etc. 17 would be knowledge god, etc.

Supreme Mathematics

is the accumulation of facts thru observing, learning, and respecting. Knowledge is the foundation of all in existence, for it must be "known" in order to make it manifest. Knowledge is the "light" given off by our SUN, which is the foundation of our Solar system. Also the Original Man whom is the foundation of Allah's family. KNOWLEDGE=SUN=ORIGINAL MAN.

is wise-words being spoken, or to speak Knowledge(wise-dome meaning a wise-mind), and act according to it. Wisdom is WATER, or the vital building block of life. Wisdom is the Original Woman because thru her Cipher(womb) life is continued. It is also a reflection of one's Knowledge, and is shown and proven by the Moon being a reflection of the Sun's light(knowledge). Knowledge+the reflection of Knowledge=Wisdom(1+1=2). WISDOM=MOON=ORIGINAL WOMAN.

is that which shows and proves the completion of Knowledge and Wisdom(Man, Woman, Child). Understanding is a clear mental comprehension. It is the Original child which is the star. The highest form of Understanding is Love, the bond between Man and Woman, or Knowledge and Wisdom. UNDERSTANDING=STAR=ORIGINAL CHILD.

Culture is one's way of living. Meaning one's language(wisdom), and customs(ways and actions). Freedom, is to have a 'free-dome', or to lack restraints. The Original Man's culture is Islam(freedom, justice, and equality), which is peace.

Power is force or creative energy. To Refine is to perfect. Power is the truth which is Allah's mathematics. To Knowledge the Culture of Islam is to have Power.

is the state, or quality of being Equal. Meaning to deal equally with all in existence. Equality is achieved by teaching others Knowledge and Wisdom, making it Understood thru Understanding.

Allah is GOD. The Supreme being, Black man who is the Original, is god, Allah, lord of all the worlds, supreme ruler of the universe which is everything, sun, moon, and stars(god is the sun in the solar system, woman is moon, child is star).

To build is to elevate the mentality of self, and others around self. To add-on positive energy to Allahs nation. To Destroy is to ruin by allowing negativity to outweigh the positive.

is the completion of all in existence. To manifest from Knowledge to Born, which is the law of mathematics. To be complete in itself.

is a whole. 360 degrees of KNOWLEDGE(120) WISDOM(120) & UNDERSTANDING(120). All in existence pertains to a cipher.<
posted by milarepa at 8:14 AM on May 3, 2006 [2 favorites]

Something else to condider (?) is without science and technology, primarily a crossfader and more recently an Akai MPC, there would not really be any hip hop.

Analog heart became digital.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 8:15 AM on May 3, 2006

don't forget nas
posted by milarepa at 8:17 AM on May 3, 2006

MC Paul Barman incorporates his science/math fascinations into his rhymes.
posted by zonkout at 8:24 AM on May 3, 2006

Milarepa is 100% right on all counts.

Dropping science comes from the Cipher, which is how you Knowledge 120 in The Nation of Gods & Earths.

When you see a group of guys all standing around rapping, free styling etc it's called a Cipher even though most people don't relate it with 5 Percenters anymore.

When you are a 5 Percenter you are quizzed on the 120 questions by people who already know them. Usually this is done in a circle, which represents the (0) which is a Cipher.

Answering the questions, many of which are based in fact (how far is the sun from the earth, etc..) is the actual act of dropping science.

The RZA's book "The Wu Manual" is not only a good book but an excellent resource on the 5 percent nation.

Where were all the people who pulled 5% nation out of their hats when I was trying to Knowledge 120 myself?
posted by thefinned1 at 9:40 AM on May 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Where were all the people who pulled 5% nation out of their hats when I was trying to Knowledge 120 myself?

Heh. That thread was actually the first time I heard about them.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:47 AM on May 3, 2006

PST, thanks for the essay linked above. Made my lunch. Now I just have to find my old Poor Righteous Teachers casettes. And somewhere to play them.
posted by yerfatma at 10:02 AM on May 3, 2006

So are those numbers Method Man spouts off in the refrain of "Judgement Day" Supreme Mathematics?
posted by Captaintripps at 11:35 AM on May 3, 2006

see also:
MF Doom/Viktor Vaughn
though its a bit more Sci-Fi, theres some good scientific stuff on Vaudeville Villain.

Kool Keith's Dr. Octagon album has some good science/medicinal references. He also mentions it occasionally on his other work.

for more 5 Percenter science (as mentioned above is the origin of the phrase) see:
Brand Nubian
Show & AG
Poor Righteous Teachers

Main Source had an album called Breaking Atoms but it really has nothing to do with science.

and lest we forget Philly's own Grand Hank, the rapping science teacher.
posted by fidgets at 12:03 PM on May 3, 2006

Sir Menelik used to rap about all kinds of crazy scientific shit (hip-hop's "human computer", apparently). Sample lyrics (from a guest appearance on Dr. Octagon):
Slice head halves, let's probe the subconcious lobe
Mathematical parabola, ACT test and just ex-plorating
the creative arctic regions, or isolating cockpit
A regular pitstop monitoring with enough fuel to fly a small dirigible
To a place an oasis in a nebula, Earth
Universal charting unseen atmosphere
posted by influx at 12:21 PM on May 3, 2006

Digable Planets have a lot of scientific and 5% references, particularly the album Blowout Comb.
posted by modofo at 1:47 PM on May 3, 2006

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