This Woman Made The Most Extensive Map Of Hip-Hop's History

Jessi Brattengeier knows East Coast rap. Since she's from Houston, she has a pretty good handle on chopped and screwed, that drowsy, glutinous style of rhyming made famous in her hometown. She's also a huge Future fan, so she knows her share of trap music, too.

Brattengeier — a junior art director at a design and strategy studio called Sub Rosa — mapped out hip-hop's 37-year history. Sub Rosa prints a biannual publication, La Petite Mort, which features Brattengeier's extensive study of how rappers connect with movements and how cities intersect with subgenres.

Brattengeier spoke with Refinery29 about crafting the classifications and why Jay Z isn't as essential to hip-hop history as we might think.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sub Rosa.
How did you get started on this project?
"There’s a theme for every issue, and 'Metamorphosis' is the current theme. I came up with the idea for the map, because I'm interested in music. 'Interested in' is different than knowing all, of course. Hip-hop is a cultural phenomenon, so this is more of a pop culture history piece than an exhaustive encyclopedia. Once I started doing the research, I was interested in how I could map the history visually."

What was important in mapping all of this out on paper?
"It was based off of my understanding of visual hierarchy, working in branding and design. I wanted a central typeface that’s unique and unified. It was important to keep gradients, keep linear details, etc. I really just played along with what worked and shared it with people to get their feedback."

What is your own taste in hip-hop like? Where are your favorites on the map?
"Unfortunately, I think it’s obvious when you look at the map that I know more about the East Coast. As for my own taste, I’m really into Future. I love Wu-Tang, Cam'ron, a lot of the Yonkers rappers."

Men tend to think they know more about hip-hop and think that, as women, we can't understand it or know more about it, because it’s 'specifically geared' to them.

Jessi Brattengeier
The map's elements are organized by subgenres — “Backpack Rap,” “Skater Rap,” the “Golden Age,” etc. How did you decide on these classifications?
"It was difficult, because I wanted to give enough of an overview, but the subgenres and subcultural movements are really rich. Initially, I narrowed down the list based on location and the movements created outside of specific areas.

"As I did more research, I realized that the way artists were collaborating with other artists across time made my job more about trying to understand movements, not just individuals and geographic regions. The subgenres, I decided, were really cultural generalizations I'd seen a lot."

How did you research the artists and their influences? When did it begin to take shape?
"I took history music classes in college, so I started with what I knew. I had no idea it would be such a huge project.

"First, I started based on geography. I’m from Houston, which is known for this specific style of chopped and screwed. I went from there, based on what I knew, and got input from friends and professors. Then, I cross-referenced and cross-checked to see how everything connected."
Photo: Courtesy of Sub Rosa.
It can be hard as a woman who obviously knows so much about hip-hop. Male rap fans are often quick to mansplain. How do you respond to this?
"Hip-hop is misogynistic industry. Even artists like Lil' Kim — she was incredible and so talented, she rapped alongside Biggie — had to rely on her sexuality to get respect.

"Because it’s so misogynistic, [men] tend to think they know more about it and think that as women we can't understand it or know more about it, because it’s 'specifically geared' to them."

Why did you decide to include a specific pop-out of trap’s history?
"I remember when UGK and Three 6 Mafia first came up. It was such a new thing for hip-hop. Trap is such an obvious reflection of our culture's priorities.

"And, selfishly, Future is just good. I read the Rolling Stone feature on him and he’s a lot more profound and powerful than people think he is."

As a huge Future fan, what do you think of Desiigner?
"Desiigner is a Future rip-off! [Laughs] No, he’s like 19 and super-talented. He’s similar to Joey Badass — hip-hop artists are getting younger and younger, and making incredible work. But 'Panda' is still overplayed. Future is always innovating and DS2 will always be a solid album."

In workshopping the map with your friends and professors, what was their feedback?
"Well, I didn’t want to include Jay Z in a big bubble. I think he’s a kind of filter through which other rappers can connect and kind of prosper."

Were there other tricky choices you had to make visually?
"I really wanted to put everything hardcore in big bubbles: Big L should have been a big bubble, Mobb Deep, Ghostface Killah (even though he was kind of a big bubble with Wu-Tang). But it would have really gotten crowded if I’d included everyone I wanted to so prominently."
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