Sure, any moderately dedicated hip-hop fan can tell you Lost Boyz sideman Freaky Tah was shot dead outside a party in Queens, but it takes a true head to know it went down at geocoordinates 40 N, 73 W. Or a total geek. And yeah, I know, what’s the difference, right? But nerdy or not, Google Earth user Popenyc’s painstaking compilation of satellite-mapped “Hip Hop Places” does its subject justice, echoing the music’s long-standing obsessions with streets and ‘hoods. Load this database into Google Earth and your screen becomes a God’s-eye-view atlas of hip-hop history: Zoom in on “Big Daddy Kane old crib” (a blunt, gray projects tower on Myrtle Avenue), then follow your cursor out to “Kanye West Mom’s New House” in the far Chicago suburbs. Admire the small lake in the backyard but wonder if it doesn’t look a little lonely compared to the Wests’ old place on the South Side.
And if all that televoyeurism feels too intimate, you’re not alone. Google Earth location taggers like Popenyc have been scouring with an attentiveness that’s making some national governments uneasy (South Korea officially griped to the U.S. about Google Earth pics of its military sites). And with Microsoft’s newly revamped Windows Live Local adding low-flight “Bird’s Eye” close-ups to the mix, it’s hard not to fear for the future of backyard nude croquet. But despite privacy concerns raised by Google Earth and its progeny, their wide-open user accessibility points toward ever more interesting applications. “Hip Hop Places” is itself one example, but nothing’s stopping anybody from folding it into a mash-up that, for instance, highlights the concentration of toxic-waste dumps in African American neighborhoods. Wouldn’t take but an hour, G, and what? You got something better to do with your Christmas vacation?