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Economics grad-student Vikram Maheshri raps in the Metrics Gang's "99 Problems".

Money rocks (and raps) in economics grad students' music videos

| 13 July 2009

Practitioners of the dismal science — they just wanna have fun. Need convincing? Check out four online music videos by the Metrics Gang, a group of graduate students in the UC Berkeley Department of Economics who are rapping and singing the trials and tribulations of their doctoral quest.

three robotsHostile robots invade the Berkeley economics department in the Metrics Gang's "Stronger" remix.

First came "Nonparametric Estimation," morphing the Beastie Boys' Grammy-winning "Intergalactic" into a rap on statistical regression analysis. Next, "I Can't Write My Dissertation" — featuring faculty members Jim Powell and Paul Ruud on guitar and grad students standing in for Mick Jagger on vocals.

Doctoral student Vikram Maheshri — whose dissertation analyzes the role of special-interest money in politics and who is a rapper and sound editor for the group — says that Metrics Gang productions have grown in technical sophistication and are now a much-anticipated staple of the department's annual spring skit night. What's not to like about homeboy cameos: the eminent David Card following his life-sized cardboard cutout into the frame; Powell and Ruud felling malevolent robots with light sabers shooting from the headstocks of their guitars?

Stills from Metrics Gang music videoStills from Metrics Gang music video.
PhD candidate Owen Ozier, who specializes in developmental economics and pens lyrics for the music videos, says that once someone in the group has a "wave of inspiration about how to modify a popular song to describe econometrics, the lyrics mostly write themselves."

But the music videos have also gained a following beyond zip code 94720, as economists in other locales (and thousands of non-economists, too) discover the Metrics Gang on Vimeo and in the blogosphere. Ozier says he sometimes gets e-mail "from people whose econometrics classes showed one of our videos to illustrate an economic concept."

The Beatles had their White Album, the Metrics Gang its Eicker-White Album — named for a method of correcting statistical errors and featuring the single "Stronger." No, not that Kanye West version, but the one about mathematical methods and lead co-authors:

I feel that I've got to warn you
You'll never leave California
As long as Berkeley's got Romers
Your work here is never over.

Submit the paper right now!
Submit the paper right now!

The Gang's latest rap song takes the Jay-Z single "99 Problems" in a new and proudly nerdish direction, with locations in Evans Hall stairwells and downtown Berkeley landmarks, and rhymes celebrating the peculiar joys of a sometimes-maligned social science:

If you're having research problems I feel bad for you, son
I got 99 problems, econometrics ain't one. ...