As a hip-hop fan from the age of five, the only thing I know more about than watches is rap music. Then it hit me. What better venue than GMT Minus Five to bring to life any interests I have that intersect with horology?
I thought it would be fun to examine several rappers’ catalogues and determine which watch brands appeared in their lyrics most frequently. No, I didn’t do this by hand. Software development is another interest of mine, so I know how to write a few lines of code to do this for me. If you want to know more about how I did this and its limitations, then skip to the bottom of this post.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll continue to release installments of “Rappers Favorite Watches.” Honestly, even if you cannot stand the genre, some of them are really surprising.
Let’s get to it: JAY Z & Kanye West.
JAY Z might be the biggest watch connoisseur in the rap game. He was on the cover of WatchTime magazine in October 2005. We’ve seen the watches spotted on Jay’s wrist, ranging from Audemars Piguet to Jaeger LeCoultre, and his music tells the same story. His lyrics include references to some of the most respected names in haute horology, from Audemars Piguet to Richard Mille. Lyrically, however, his heart is with Rolex. Out of 15 total watch brand references over 13 albums, almost half of them have saluted the crown.
Kanye West is hip-hop’s most fashion-conscious rapper, but according to his lyrics he knows far more about thousand-dollar t-shirts than he does wristwatches. Based on five total watch references, Kanye’s also a big Rolex fan, but he gets serious bonus points for a stray Tudor reference on the Graduation album.
UPDATE: My original analysis of Kanye’s affinity for watch brands unfortunately neglected a few references. My script missed them for various reasons, but I made some updates that strengthens its “intelligence,” so above is an updated analysis that replaced the original. I ran it again for JAY Z and found a couple more references, so I updated that as well. Hopefully the improvements I made will pick up even more references for future artists featured in the series. Thanks to everyone who pointed out some references I was missing.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!
What follows is slightly technical, but if you have any professional programming experience you will quickly recognize that I, in fact, do not. Using a PHP script, I fetched the webpages the lyrics were on (all from rapgenius.com) and converted the entire webpage to a string of text. I removed the HTML tags and converted the entire string to lowercase text before I searched the text for a predetermined set of strings, like “rolex” or “audemars.” I even accounted for nicknames, like “rollie” for Rolex, and in some cases misspellings.
Why predetermined watch brands? Because I needed to ensure the context was correct. I thought about a lot of different watch brand names but just because “omega” appears in a rapper’s lyrics doesn’t mean he’s talking about watches (e.g. Rakim’s “No Omega”). It is quite possible that rappers do talk about that watch brand, but I can never be sure without using my own eyes to scan the lyrics for context, and that’s inefficient when you need to process an entire discography. But like I said, I know hip-hop music, and Omega doesn’t carry any caché with that community. There might be one or two references, but it’s going to be more noise than signal. Frankly, Omega just isn’t baller.
So when I came up with a set of brands that I would consider as being valid watch references, they had to pass two tests:
- Could the brand be mistaken for something other than a watch? If the answer is a definite yes, then pass, as in the Omega example above. Cartier interestingly falls somewhere in the middle. Yes, Cartier makes eyewear and jewelry in addition to watches, but Rick Ross isn’t going to rap about Cartier Love Bracelets. Although, he might enjoy a nice pair of sunglasses. In the end, I’m fine with Cartier references carrying a little margin of error.
- Does this brand carry bragging rights? TAG Heuer, for example, would unequivocally be a watch reference, but (just like Omega) TAG Heuer doesn’t carry enough prestige to warrant boasting of its ownership, so it’s unlikely to appear in the lyrics of more well-known emcees. Invicta might show up, and that would surely be a watch reference, but it wouldn’t be a positive reference and instead would probably be rendered as an insult. One rapper might suggest another is wearing an Invicta because he is poor, most likely due to his inability to sell records or, in some instances, his lack of talent as a drug dealer. Since I’m looking at rappers’ favorite watches, I’m interested in positive references.
When in doubt, I could search rapgenius.com and spot-check. I’m sure there are complicated ways to analyze context programmatically, thus opening up the consideration set of brands, but let’s leave that type of language processing to the professionals.
It’s not perfect. There are all kinds of reasons that the counts aren’t perfectly accurate, but having listened to most, if not all, of the music from the artists I’m going to feature in this series, I feel like I can vouch that the analysis is at least in the ballpark.
Try to enjoy it for what it is, folks. Good ol’ clean fun.