Yo! Hip Hop Power Glove

For many hip-hop lovers, Nas’ song “One Mic” is one of the genre’s greatest meditations on the art form. At least for me, the song conjures up a single image, Nas holding a mic to his mouth with his left hand while gesturing a single drawn out index finger with his right. One mic holding the attention of an entire stadium of adoring fans.

Hand gestures are synonymous with hip hop and hip hop performances. Whether to emphasise or dramatise the lyrics, hand signs are a part of every hip hop performer’s repertoire. Although often lauded for their creative genius in lyricism, the conventional hip-hop performer is often not associated with musicality. Rappers often perform with a DJ or an engineer that support the performance by providing a musical backdrop in the form of a beat or cued vocal effects. This kind of collaboration is fun and often necessary but it usually means hours of rehearsals and orchestration. Furthermore, a single performer has no easy way to control their own sound, making them completely reliant on a DJ.

An idea born out of my own frustrations as a rapper, the Hip Hop power glove uses my hand gestures, which are often only used decoratively, and turns them into a communicative mode of creative expression. The movement of every finger can be assigned to a specific sound effect, with contraction of the finger causing a sound effect to be triggered. With a little bit of programming in what is called a signal processing software, individual or combinations of finger movements can be used to create complex sounds like piano keys, bass sounds and everything you can expect from a synthesiser. The glove can also be used to control visuals and can act as a controller interface for a game. I still need to rehearse with the glove but I am granted full control over my sound and my performance. It is my plan to create more prototypes of the glove that suit the needs of different performers.

Norway Paris

In the summer of 2019 I won a scholarship to attend a Physical Computing course with the Berlin-based creative technology organisation School of Machines, Making and Make-Believe (SMMA). I had experience with physical computing from working at FABLAB Namibia (now defunct), but SMMA really helped to understand the power of technology in creative expression. The Hip Hop power glove was conceptualized and developed for my upcoming Cyber-punk-themed Hip Hop album Turbo Summation . The sound design (PureData patches) and composition for the glove were produced collaboratively with Andrew Hockey.

Technical explanation

The Hip Hop power glove belongs to a family of data generating wearable technologies called data gloves. A data glove is comprised of various sensors that create a series of data points. What sensors are used usually depends on the kind of data the designer wants to create but they usually involve capturing various measurements of hand movement. Common sensors on data gloves include but are not limited to: gyroscopes, accelerometers, flex resistors, and magnetometers. Values generated by the glove are typically serialized into different signals, which may then be relayed to a signal processing unit such as an Arduino or other such microcontroller. Once processed by the microcontroller, signals can be manipulated programmatically to suit a certain range, a process known as normalization. Normalized values can then be further used in a third-party software, usually involving the I2C protocol when dealing with the hugely popular Arduino platform. Third party signal processing is commonly used in generative synthesis; a process that algorithmically influences the state of sine waves or oscillators in order to produce different sounds or melodies. PureData, MAX/MSP, Supercollider, Unity, Processing, and OpenFrameworks are all examples of signal processing softwares that can be used to create astonishing experiences with data


At the end of my course with SMMA, along with other people in my course, I got to present the Hip Hop power glove to the Berlin art and creative technology community. I performed some spoken word and rap freestyles to illustrate how I was planning to use the glove, to my surprise the response from the audience was overwhelmingly positive. In fact the entire exhibition was quite impressive as other students with diverse backgrounds in illustration, philosophy, architecture, AI, anthropology also showcased their impressive projects.

In March 2020 I was invited to present my personal journey in hip hop and computer science to the design community at the Design Indaba simulcast in Windhoek, Namibia. The event was hosted by Nedbank Namibia. During the presentation I talked about the importance of creative technology in promoting creative expression and of course, as a more attractive path into computer science for young creative and cultural societies like Namibia.

With Prolific maker Helen Leigh at the Physical Computing 2019 SMMA exhibition, Berlin
Giving a talk at the Design Indaba 2020 Nedbank Simulcast event
Presenting the concept of creative computing and Hip Hop power glove to the president of Namibia, Dr. Hage Geingob.

You can see a video demo of how the glove works HERE. I am interested in connecting with DJs, product designers, creative fund reps, and other Hip Hop performers to fine-tune the power glove into something that is more market-ready or an educational aid for creative technology. If you are one of these people and the continued development of the glove interests you then please shoot me a mail.