Scar Tissue - The deep scar tissue of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rap is an art form that expresses one's own self, full of creativity and originality. Hip-hop has dominated pop music longer than any genre before it. Rap is pop. Modern pop shows devastating things drastically than ever before and therefore focuses on the genre. And the reasons for this lie not only in the formulas of Spotify and TikTok sound, but also spring directly from human psychology. It is not enough to pass on the sole responsibility to the calculation of the local machinery of modern technology companies, because as so often, this begins directly with ourselves. An analysis.
Hot beats, whimsical samples, aggressive slang: in the early 1990s, today's hip-hop luminaries put an exclamation point on pop. Until 1991, it was common practice in the American Billboard charts to manipulate sales figures in order to strengthen their own label growths; corruption in its purest form. Back then, Billboard had few ways to measure how many records actually crossed the counter. The company relied on the honesty of influential record stores and DJ's who could subjectively report which genre, band, musician or album was the current hot thing. Thus, for decades, this manipulation painted a distorted picture of American musical taste. A successful placement on the charts always encouraged potential listeners to buy and thus significantly increased the popularity of artists. In 1991, everything changed.
The structure of the Billboard charts changed from a political issue to a statistical register. For the first time in the history of the American music charts, they reflected the real listening habits of Americans. Virtually overnight, hip-hop spanned the entire Billboard Hot 100 chart. Since then, the genre has continued to produce brilliance and change pop music history forever. With intelligent lyrical and musical composition, rap became the most measurably influential genre of all to this day. The instrumentality has always been boundary-crossing and original, and the momentum is a result of a genre that has always drawn its original power from within itself. If you look at the status quo of rap, there is little of this energy left.
Catchy beats, profane compositions, uninspired lyrics: nowadays rap raises questions rather than setting exclamation points. The claim to be innovative seems to be lost. Diversity, quality and richness of sound seem antiquated. Oversimplified, a repetitive contentless artificial sound, are status quo. Much of what is perceived as mainstream hip-hop today does not demand raw talent, nor originality from performers, but sophisticated market calculations. The interconnections between the music industry and the now-tested recommendation algorithms of Spotify and TikTok are obviously here to stay, and clearly contribute to today's conditions.
Art suffers from a music industry that betrayed itself years ago and became complicit with a construct that has degenerated music into a disposable product. The demands on artists and labels to even achieve a viable business model and thus notoriety are so systematized that the spirit for raw and genuine art has been driven out. The music industry profits from dumbed-down rap music that everyone likes. It is factory-produced, received, and spit out again in a new, popular song. Originality in music is risky because it may not bring profit if listeners don't hear it.
Comprehensively, however, this circumstance is not solely responsible for what is heard. It is our own demand on rap and music in general itself, which allows the companies with their artificial mechanisms and we urgently need to question. We have become so accustomed to a condition which modern psychology calls the mere-exposure effect. The average listener finds the mainstream pleasurable, based on a physiological phenomenon by which people develop a preference for things they see and hear often. For example, the more we hear continuous sounds, the more we like them.
This is a psychological law that other industries, such as the film industry, also take advantage of in order to generate the most profitable sales possible. Short attention spans and low appreciation for rap music robs the art of creativity and originality and is something only we can change with our own aspirations for art. Music, regardless of genre, is complex. If more is demanded of it, an attitude taken, the quality will inevitably change. (Pop)Rap music is designed to sell well, not so much to inspire. However, it is meant to challenge, to innovate, and to be less of a forgettable commodity. If we consider these dynamics, they do not justify the collective lack of ambition. The genius of musicians and the understanding of their fandom have been forgotten and need to return to their essence.
Originally published on January 18, 2023, updated on January 18, 2023