The sound of capitalism

Prospect Magazine

The sound of capitalism

by
/ / 26 Comments

Hip hop music was blamed for the August riots. But behind the celebration of “bling” is a culture of entrepreneurship

Read Steve Yates’s rundown of the tracks that changed hip hop at our blog


The latest album by the twin titans of hip hop has been a record-breaking success. On its release, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne had the highest ever first week sales on iTunes of any new album. A total of 290,000 copies were downloaded that week, and when CDs are taken into account, the album’s sales approached the 450,000 mark. Hip hop is big business.

Watch The Throne is symbolic of the status that hip hop, or rap, has now reached. Originating in the South Bronx in New York City in the late 1970s, when performers began rapping over looped beats taken from soul and funk records, hip hop has since journeyed right into the heart of mainstream culture.

Jay-Z is married to Beyoncé Knowles, queen of R&B, and together they form the most influential power couple in global music. His wealth is estimated by Forbes at around $450m, and he has had 12 US number one albums (only the Beatles, with 19, have had more). Kanye West’s fortune is around $70m. Watch the Throne is thick with references to wealth—even the sleeve is designed by Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci: “Luxury rap, the Hermès of verses,” raps Kanye, giving the brand its French pronunciation, lest anyone should think he was mistaking the high-end goods manufacturer for a mythic Greek messenger.

But for its detractors, this materialism is one of rap’s three deadly sins, along with its violence and misogyny. Casual fans of hip hop often see its materialistic side as something either to be played down or embraced “ironically.” Some commentators judge it more harshly. When the riots broke out across Britain this summer, many saw hip hop’s celebration of materialism as one of the key causes. Paul Routledge, writing in the Mirror, summarised this view when he said, “I blame the pernicious culture of hatred around rap music, which glorifies violence and loathing of authority… [and] exalts trashy materialism.”

Routledge is not entirely wrong. The story of hip hop’s journey into the cultural mainstream is the story of its love affair with materialism, or, more accurately, capitalism. Its lead exponents, like Jay-Z and Kanye West, are brilliant entrepreneurs with vast fortunes (even if their music advocates a profligacy that is anathema to the savvy business operator). Hip hop’s rise has been, at root, a straightforward process of free-market enterprise: an excellent product has been pushed with great skill and new markets opened up with real dynamism and flair.

Unsurprisingly, corporate brands have been keen to get involved. Darren Wright, creative director of the Nike account at advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy explains the appeal: “With hip hop you’re buying more than music. It isn’t a genre—it’s a lifestyle, encompassing fashion, break dancing, the clothes or the jewels you wear… The lifestyle is worth its weight in gold because it’s not just about one rap song, it’s so much more.”

The view of hip hop as a genre concerned only with the basest forms of materialism is a serious oversimplification. It misunderstands the way that rap’s relationship with capitalism has fed its creativity and led to both its commercial and artistic success.

While modern hip hop is unashamedly materialistic, its  ancestors were different. As far back as the 1960s, artists such as The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron combined African-American music with spoken word poetry. But Scott-Heron, like others of that generation, was critical of the passive materialism that he saw working its way into black culture. As he intoned on “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”: “The revolution will not go better with Coke / The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath / The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.” This political consciousness was taken up in the 1980s by the extraordinary Public Enemy, a New York group that mixed incendiary politics with apocalyptic music, militaristic dress and cartoon humour. Gentler, but still political, takes on “Afrocentricity” were advanced by the brilliant Native Tongues collective including groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers.

But by the early 1990s, this “conscious” streak was being eclipsed by the giddy thrills of gangsta rap. Its motivation was pithily summarised by NWA (Niggaz With Attitude), the group who named and codified the subgenre, on their track “Gangsta Gangsta”—“life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money.” Despite this apparent nihilism, NWA embraced the American dream with relish. They set down the unapologetic “money-is-all” credo of the low-level street hustler, in which drug dealing, guns and the police swirl about in a ferocious urban storm. Like other popular representations of American gangsterism—The Godfather, Scarface—it was a vision of unfettered free market enterprise.

Slowly, the early political message was replaced by this focus on accumulation, both in the lyrics and also the business practice of those who were running the scene. One of hip hop’s key entrepreneurs was Percy “Master P” Miller, who grew his No Limit empire from an LA record shop into a record label and then into a conglomerate. Miller spearheaded a new wave of hip-hop business by entering into joint ventures with music companies. He chose Priority, which was independent of the major record labels, and which had made a packet out of NWA and other leading artists. His deal brought all the benefits of working for major labels, such as distribution and marketing muscle, without the drawbacks—Master P was able to retain copyright control over the music and release records to his own schedule.

But not content with music, he diversified wildly: clothing, property, Master P dolls—even telephone sex lines. His debut film, the low-budget, straight-to-video I’m Bout It (1997) raked in sales that would have satisfied major studios. In 1998, Miller’s companies grossed $160m.

In New York, the business interests of Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs developed along parallel lines: music, restaurants, a magazine, the inevitable clothing line, all name-stamped in a manner that led the consumer back to the man himself. Dan Charnas, in his masterful book The Big Payback: The History Of The Business Of Hip-Hop, describes Miller and Combs as “the embodiment of the superpowered artist, two one-man brands, the fulfilment of [the] vision of self-determination and ownership—not just for hip-hop artists, not just for black artists, but for all American artists.” Having turned their art into business, they turned their business back into art. According to Charnas, their success “would mark the beginning of an unprecedented spike in black American entrepreneurship.”

So while hip hop started off as an underground, and often political movement, it has for many years pursued an increasingly intimate relationship with business. Hip hop now has a materialist, acquisitive streak hard-wired into its identity. It is this embrace of capitalism that has taken hip hop from outsider status right to America’s core. This ascent was neatly symbolised when Barack Obama, on the nomination campaign trail in 2008, dismissed criticisms from the Clinton camp by mimicking Jay-Z’s famous “dirt off my shoulder” gesture. Asked which rappers were on his iPod, there was only one candidate.

***

British variants of rap music have been growing in success, too. Yet the contrast with America is marked. Maybe the conflicting attitudes are born of economic realism: the market is much smaller, and British hip hop has a limited international audience. That was perhaps why British rap’s flirtation with outlandish “bling” materialism was comparatively short-lived. In the early 2000s, the south London group So Solid Crew (far right) emerged at the forefront of the “garage” scene. Its members imitated the flow, though not the accents, of American rap superstars over electronic dance rhythms that successfully merged influences ranging from American house and hip hop, to Jamaican dancehall and British drum ‘n’ bass. Instantly, they became the sound of young black London. “Proper [rap] songs started with So Solid,” says Elijah Butterz, a 24-year-old DJ and label owner, over a pint of Guinness in a Walthamstow pub. “When they hit, eeeeveryone was into them. If you listened to garage you were cool. If you didn’t you weren’t.”

So Solid, along with other British garage acts, brought American-style bling culture to Britain’s clubs. Smart dress, diamonds and champagne became dancefloor staples. But this quickly generated a backlash. Wretch 32 (right) is a 26-year-old from Tottenham who found fame this year with two number one singles and a top five album. He feels that the norms of American hip hop do not always translate well in Britain: “I think because of our culture, people don’t go for stuff like that—someone making them feel like they’re less of a person for having less money.”

In response, east London rapidly developed its own sound, called grime—a rap-dominated genre with a harsh, electronic edge, and lyrics that sounded like a fight in a fried chicken shop. Chantelle Fiddy, 30, a journalist and label consultant, agrees: “Grime was the middle finger to [garage]. It was for those people who were either not old enough or didn’t have the money to go to the [garage] raves. Someone like me, who came up through jungle and just danced like a dick in trainers, I never felt comfortable with garage.”

Grime has had its triumphs. Dizzee Rascal scored a significant success with his 2003 debut Boy In Da Corner. Others, such as Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah and now Wretch 32 have followed in Dizzee’s wake, increasingly adapting the sound for the mainstream. But inflated claims of riches don’t really fly. “In grime you can’t really lie about it,” says Sian Anderson, a 20-year-old writer, label consultant, PR and DJ for the influential radio station Rinse FM. “If you’re talking about popping champagne and then you go out on [the] road and you haven’t got an amazing car and you don’t look that great, then everyone knows you’re a liar and your music’s not real, so you’re back to square one.”

Road rap is south London’s counterpart to the east end’s grime. Slower and meaner than grime, and with a closer resemblance to US gangsta rap, it’s shown little interest in winning mainstream acceptability. Its biggest name, Giggs, has served time on weapons charges—he started in the music business when he got out. But his career has been dogged by police interference. His shows have frequently been cancelled and contract talks with a major record company were curtailed, reputedly after a call to the label from Operation Trident, the unit in the Metropolitan Police dealing with black-on-black gun crime. Then came Form 696, a risk-assessment form requiring London promoters to submit extensive details about themselves, their performers and even, in the original version, the probable ethnic make-up of the audience. After this, grime and road rap often struggled to get live bookings. Although the Met denied racial profiling, senior music industry figures complained to the Equality and Human Rights Commission about this stringent requirement.

Denied a live platform, they’ve found a new one online, notably on SB.TV, now confidently billed as Britain’s biggest youth media channel. But not everyone cares about chasing the music mainstream anyway. “I don’t want to be part of it,” says Elijah Butterz. “Apart from Rinse, there’s nothing there doing what I want to do. Everyone expects you to dig into the music industry, but as long as I can make money from bookings and merchandising, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing.” For Elijah, that means running the eponymous Butterz label, one of very few to still release vinyl records, DJing (for free) on Rinse and living off his DJ club bookings.

This quiet determination seems a long way from the hardheaded ambitions of American hip hop, whose outlook has always been more expansive. “There’s no protocol to the things I’m selling because I’m selling my culture,” Jay-Z’s partner Damon Dash, told me in 2003. Dash was the driving force behind the growth of Roc-A-Fella, their jointly-owned music business, whose name is an explicit reference to the capitalist heights they sought to scale.

The relationship between American hip hop and leading brands has always been strong. Adidas sales spiked after Run-DMC’s 1986 track “My Adidas”; Tommy Hilfiger went from obscurity to being the highest-traded clothing company on Wall Street in 1996 after steady name-dropping by hip-hop artists from 1992. Courvoisier reportedly received a 30 per cent sales boost in the US after Busta Rhymes released “Pass The Courvoisier”—the largest single rise since Napoleon III named it the official cognac of the imperial court. Its rival, Hennessy, the most popular brandy in hip hop, estimates that the majority of its customers are young black males.

British rappers are learning this lesson. Dizzee Rascal has had two Nike trainers of his own—an invaluable tie-in—and now owns his own label, Dirtee Stank. Tinie Tempah has a clothing range with Disturbing London, while Tinchy Stryder’s Star In The Hood line looks a more durable bet than his records.

***

But this is still a far cry from the US, where rappers get to hobnob with the president. On Watch The Throne’s emblematic “Murder To Excellence,” Kanye and Jay-Z contrast the black-on-black murder of American ghettoes with their lives of luxury. “Black tie, black Maybachs/Black excellence, opulence, decadence/Tuxes next to the President, I’m present,” raps Jay-Z, before bemoaning how few black faces he sees at the pinnacle and calling on more to join him.

When critics zero in on hip hop’s materialism, as they did this summer, they see just a fraction of the story—the fraction that talks about money, cars and glamour. But fixating on this element of hip hop ignores its limited appeal in Britain, where rappers have largely ditched the “bling” posturing of the early 2000s. When Wiley, the most influential man in grime after Dizzee Rascal, called his recent album 100% Publishing, he was celebrating his bargaining power. It’s a similar sentiment expressed by Margate rapper Mic Righteous, who, contrasting his homeless past with his present, raps, “I used to cherish every pound I got, now I cherish every pound I earn.”

In the past 30-or-so years, hip hop has tried politics and it has tried gangsterism. But in the end it settled for capitalism, which energised it and brought it to a position of global dominance. American rappers like Puff Daddy and Master P, men who fought their way into the big time, did so by selling a vision of independence, empowerment and material success. That vision is also found, if less vividly, in Britain’s rap music. And though hip hop retains unpleasant features, the core message, that people can have better lives, is incontestably a good one.


On our blog: Steve Yates chooses his top five tracks and explains how they changed hip hop

  1. October 11, 2011

    Douglas Haddow

    And by focusing on a few popular artists who’ve parlayed their music into small business empires, you’ve neglected the entire purpose of the genre, which is to provide an accessible medium of communication to those neighbourhoods whose realities are neglected by existing media, journalism and literature.

    Which is especially pertinent in the UK, where grime was born from pirated radio frequencies.

    • April 26, 2013

      rubin turner

      I don’t think anyone who has ever had a single made ever neglected it. today’s hip hop doesn’t need to sound like 80s or 90s hip hop. the buyer needs to simply revisit the past and listen to that. most of the intelligence you heard back then can still be applicable today so how did anyone slip on communication if you’re ears are listening to the right artist?

  2. October 11, 2011

    Sam Page

    As Scroobius Pip said, “Thou shalt remember that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements and never will be.”

    Also, the reading of NWA would suggest you wouldn’t give much credo to the Chuck D assertion as Hip Hop (w)as “the black CNN.” Ice Cube’s “protege” was female, and his 1st solo album was produced by the people behind Public Enemy. Also, you’ve got your chronology wrong – A Tribe Called Quest’s first album came out in 1990s – the “alternative hip-hop” thing was not simply an ’80s thing.

    You don’t talk about the responsibility of the media or the record labels in any of this, or the commercialisation, etc, etc. What it broke big with, etc. Frankly, the history section of this is too inaccurate, too brief, and too selective.

    In other words, Douglas Haddow’s right.

  3. October 11, 2011

    Steve Yates

    @Sam
    I didn’t say “alternative hip hop” (not a tag I’d ever apply to ATCQ anyway) was a purely 80s thing, just that it began in the 80s and was eclipsed by gangsta rap in the early 90s.

    And I don’t see how Ice Cube producing Yo Yo negates the misogyny of much of his work, any more than the Bomb Squad producing his debut . There was much that was political about Cube’s work, but the dominant strain that came out of NWA was ultimately the gangstaism – Chronic and Doggy Style sold yards more than Death Certificate and established a template that proved successful for the next 5 years.

  4. October 15, 2011

    rapiscrap

    Rap is stupid

  5. October 15, 2011

    Ted Fontenot

    Claiming misogyny is not arguing it.

  6. October 15, 2011

    Andrea D. Merciless

    “Like other popular representations of American gangsterism—The Godfather, Scarface—it was a vision of unfettered free market enterprise.”

    GODFATHER is NOT about unfettered free market enterprise. The mafia live by a certain code which demand honor and even sacrifice among its members. Profit is NOT everything. The family and clan loyalty count for more. In the end, it’s not just ‘business’. After all, Michael avenges his father for personal reasons.

    Also, GODFATHER is not a brazen celebration of money but a cautionary tale of how a man may gain the world but lose his soul. There is nothing in Gangsta Rap that is reflective, self-critical, or beyond the me-me-me.
    Though Michael does ‘lose his soul’, recall that he was being ‘strong for the family’. Family or the larger group isn’t even the issue in rap. Even the politically inclined Public Enemy was less about ‘we blacks’ than ‘I, Chuck D, know everything, so shut up and listen, mofo’.

    SCARFACE is more of a crazy celebration of money, dazzle, and power, but even it has an element of cautionary tale. And though Tony Montana is fun, we are not supposed to see him as a hero but a deranged nut.

    Btw, American capitalism and dream are not simply about money, money, money. It’s about succeeding according to rules and doing some good for society. Only a fool would say Steve Jobs and heroin dealers are part of the same American Dream. Jobs was about the American Dream. Heroin dealers are about the American Nightmare. Also, real entrepreneurs play by the rules. They win with superior products but bow out when their competitors come up with better things. IBM didn’t send goons to kill Bill Gates. But, gangsterism isn’t about meritocracy or fair play. Gangsters will use whatever means–often violent and brutal–to secure advantages over others. It’s simply about us vs them or me vs you. (To be sure, people on Wall Street can be regarded as dirty gangsters in light of what happened since 2008, but then finance capitalism with crony ties to government was always a shadier enterprise.)

    Rap has been hyped and sold by the legitimate capitalist industries, but its values are not those of Protestant Work Ethic, the sort of thing that drove Edison or Ford. It is capitalism corrupting itself by feeding the worst impulses–lack of discipline, egocentrism, savagery, thuggery, etc–to young people whose attitude then becomes, “I know best because… well, I’m a thug who can kick butt.” There is a certain logic to it. It’s the logic of consumerist-hedonistic capitalism. Once society dispenses with all its inhibitions and values, all that’s left is animal drives, appetites, and lusts. Without a culture of shame, people munch of junk food and grow fat. Without a culture of shame, people judge human worth on their raw power and raw sexuality. Rap panders to the sub-Nietzschean thug and pimp/ho in every human soul that has dispensed with all values and restraints. It leads to animalization.

    Traditionally, American Enterprise was balanced between the profit motive and moral values. The West was never as purely capitalist or self-interested as Soviet Union or Maoist China was monomaniacally communist or collectivist. American culture was pluralistic, balanced between self-gain/individualism and community values/common good–as well as spiritual principles.

    But that balance has been lost since the ‘liberation’ in the late 60s and 70s. Rap’s counterpart in visual media is porn. Both are infectious and irresistible to many people because they serve up what has the most primal and basic appeal to animal instincts: sex and power. Porn is instant orgasm and rap is instant power, which is why both have so many addicts. Indeed, pop music has become more pornographic, with grind-dances and sluts-in-videos while porn has become more interracial, with black males and white females.
    Even so, the irony is the rap industry is possible because most of it’s run by people outside rap. Jay Z and Kanye West wouldn’t have amounted to much in dysfunctional African nations. They’ve succeeded in the US because the vast and sophisticated media/technology complex are owned and operated by Harvard grads. The irony is the best and the brightest working in culture now peddle the worst and the basest. This isn’t to say rap has no musical value. Its use of rhymes and rhythms can be creative and expressive, but its emotional core is utter trash. It’s not Soul music but Hole-in-the-Soul music. Compare Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ with 50 cents.

    Is this all good for society? It’s good for instant thrills, but as far as longterm values are concerned, it’s not good for schools, not good for families, not good for social attitudes, not good for social values. It is less capitalism than debasement of capitalism by mindless consumerism that is akin to pushing drugs.

    It is to culture what sugary junk food is to culinaryism. Sugary foods may give instant pleasure, but it undermines capitalism by overloading society with obese people with serious health problems. Rap and porn may be fun, but they are degrading and vulgarizing, creating members of society who will fail in school, fail in forming stable families, and fail at work; then, they’ll be dependent on government and welfare, burdening the productive sector of society. But since all they know is egocentrism they picked up from rap culture, they will never be self-critical or take responsibility but just blame it on SOCIETY for all the problems. Thus, the irony of rap is that hardcore rap fans say, “I wanna do my own shit” but when their ‘shit’ leads to failure, they demand that OTHERS provide them with their needs, for which they feel zero gratitude. It’s like they’re entitled to free everything–even free TV and bling–since they are so cool and hip and badass.
    Rap, like punk, is different from Rock and blues. Rap is a distilled and purified form of pop where all that’s left is the refined sugar or cocaine. Blues has an element of danger and risque but it also has roughage and fiber and maturity. Rap, though it’s often brutal and violent, has nothing but the beat and attitude, and the attitude is “I’m a badass thug, and you’re the ho.” It is regressive infantilism, a reversionary form of devolution back to primitive mental attitudes.

    In the late 19th century, the obsessive admiration of German music blinded many people to the darker aspects of German culture. All this worship of black musical forms is also blinding people to the dark side of black culture.
    A society where young people define their lives by nothing but macho thuggery and slutty whoredom cannot be good. And though a few rappers have made gazillions, the community from which that stuff sprang is mired in poverty. Why? Because too many black kids are into the rap culture, attitude, life-style, etc. For white kids, it’s a product to enjoy. For black kids, it is a philosophy, and a deadly one at that. But as this garbage spreads as an all-consuming lifestyle among white kids, they too will suffer. Many white kids into rap are completely oblivious to their own heritage, culture, and tradition. Also, the hip-hop beats makes for the culture of impatience, a kind of cultural attention deficit disorder. Kids raised on that find everything else too boring, just like kids addicted to videogames and Hollywood blockbusters don’t have the curiosity and attention span to sit through older movies, b/w movies, or art films.

    Real power and success is about self-control and working toward something important. Rap culture says you should and indeed must have it all right now, and if you can’t have it–sex and power–, it’s society’s fault.

  7. October 15, 2011

    joe bloggs

    “…the core (capitalist) message, that people can have better lives, (by exploiting others), is a good (???) one.”

  8. October 15, 2011

    brian warden

    Decent article, but several problems. Rap has always been about having $$$. Rappers Delight is full of materialistic bragging. Chuck D himself was boasting about his 98 in “You’re Gonna Get Yours” back in ’87. Same goes for the violence: KRS One, who is amazingly absent from this article, was talking about “listen to my 9 mm go bang” way back in the day. Current “hip-pop” has simply taken these things to an extreme, and the PE/BDP/Jungle Brothers sub genre of rap was never very popular via radio/singles/Mtv/etc., mostly sold by the album. I’m on the other side of the pond, been down since day one, so I just thought I’d put my two cents in.

  9. October 16, 2011

    Don Macmillan

    Andrea D. Merciless, well said. One can argue the musical merits of rap, but the negative cultural implications of the lyrics and lifestyles should be evident to all.

  10. October 16, 2011

    BDL

    “Form 696″, “Operation Trident” – much cooler-sounding phrases than “Murder to Excellence”.

  11. October 16, 2011

    vikram kumar

    Hip hop music was blamed for the August riots. But behind the celebration of “bling” is a culture of entrepreneurship ” that’s so true.. Reason being Most of these Hip Hop Guys Previously were Crack or Drug Dealers … and They would have HUGE Networks and Find their way in to hustle from One City to another City constantly Getting New Clients and Dealing with High Profile but Shady People & Then came in a trend where many of them wanted out .. So they started to apply The same Buisness Model Into shipping their Demo Cd’s and the one’s who had Musical Talent made it BIG!

  12. October 16, 2011

    gpo

    “With hip hop you’re buying more than music. It isn’t a genre—it’s a lifestyle, encompassing fashion, break dancing, the clothes or the jewels you wear… The lifestyle is worth its weight in gold ”

    This guy says it all

    if you like hip-hop music fine

    as always the aggressive guys will take over

    expect the same with Google and the Internet

  13. October 16, 2011

    Will

    Wow, some dickhead comments on here today! Chuck D/Public Enemy were arguably the most consciousness raising Hip Hop crew around, argueing against violence in communities and against the shows of gold jewelery. & KRS-1 started the Stop the Violence movement! So rap wasn’t always about $$$. When record companies realised suburban kids wanted to ‘be’ black they marketed ganagster rap to the extreme & found white rappers they could big up (& get some successful black MCs & producers to stand next to him to add cred to his image) that’s when the rot set in. From the mid-90′s money & bitches took the place of any edutainment that had existed before. Record companies are the ones that destroyed Hip Hop.

  14. October 16, 2011

    Steve Yates

    @Brian Yeah, materialism was present from the start, and violent lyrics can be dated back to Schoolly D even before 9mm Goes Bang, but my point was that both became more prevalent over time.

    It’s an odd and regrettable fact that KRS (certainly one of my favourite rappers) gets written out of overviews of rap history – probably because he had more influence on its underground culture than the rap mainstream. I hope I’ve made some amends for that here http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2011/10/the-sound-of-capitalism-my-top-tracks/

  15. October 17, 2011

    elena balabanova

    Bravo, Andrea Merciless!!

  16. October 17, 2011

    brian

    i love how you focus on materialism, how about extreme degradation of women? i’m a teacher in a predominantly white suburb and this is what my 10 year old student got caught rapping in the hallway, “my p***y so wet it’s better than yers”.

    thanks rap music and your “capitalism”. trash trash trash. there’s no redeeming quality to rap. capitalism is only the vehicle, and it’s not to blame. rap is the drunk cokehead driving right for your 10year old kid.

  17. October 18, 2011

    John Poole

    I’m not sure “mainstream” is a relevant term in 2011. Pop music may not be able to keep building on the vaudeville ethos. Narcissistic exhibitionism may be close to having played itself out. The swagger thing -whether it be Led Zep’s swagger or current rap swagger just seems juvenile and forced. Sinatra’s swagger lite seemed much healthier and culturally beneficial.

  18. October 18, 2011

    micelhood

    In response, east London rapidly developed its own sound, called grime—a rap-dominated genre with a harsh, electronic edge, and lyrics that sounded like a fight in a fried chicken shop. Chantalle Fiddly, 3

  19. October 18, 2011

    Graeme Thiessen

    Whatever. Anything that can be cashed in on will be cashed in on by someone. It’s not the least bit surprising that hip hop has “sold out” as well. Thing is, the underground element that was there from the start has always and will always be present. There are plenty of North American hip hop artists that just do it for the love of it and speak with intelligence about social issues – and many big names amongst them, both during the 90′s and today. Del and Jeru were pretty vocal about just these issues and there are many groups who today are equally as political as Public Enemy ever were (Immortal Techique, for example).

    Mainstream is mainstream, whatever form it may take. Hip hop is still what it once was, but if you’re looking (for it) in the toilet, you shouldn’t be surprised to find crap in it.

  20. October 19, 2011

    Serge

    “When critics zero in on hip hop’s materialism, as they did this summer, they see just a fraction of the story—the fraction that talks about money, cars and glamour.”

    That fraction is probably close to 100% in rap, since the decline of positive and socially-conscious hip-hop.

    (Exceptions exist, of course, like some work by the Roots).

    - Serge

  21. October 20, 2011

    John Poole

    Most of the rap I’m aware of is aimed right at the groin. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that aim but it is usually the secondary not the primal crosshair focus. The primal target of anyone who writes with compassion in their heart is the empathy cluster within our brains. With much of rap the secondary target is the trigger finger or maybe the reflex brain cluster to pull a hidden gun out from your belt line.

  22. October 23, 2011

    Gary

    Drug dealers selling crack in also capitalism.

    “..an excellent product has been pushed with great skill and new markets opened up with real dynamism and flair.”

  23. October 27, 2011

    Cool_Raoul

    London kids are nihilistic because zero social mobility and the inherent racism of Britain (see the Met) means the society they live in is absolutely fucked. Believing in nothing is not the same as not believing in anything, and kids who are treated as though they’re nothing, thankfully, believe in nothing. The materialism of US rap is another thing. It comes from the economic disenfranchisement of a bunch of people, for whom gaining wealth is much more than economic empowerment. A Guardian review of a Sean Combs record once said something like “An interest in luxury cars and clothes does not make a worldview.” Like fuck it doesn’t. Finally, rappers are capitalists now, wherever they are, because capitalism is all there is now. Everyone wants to “do well”.

Leave a comment

  1. Macklemore – “Thrift Shop” : On The 7th Day Of Hip Hop10-14-12
  2. A Eulogy for The Ghost of Tom (Geode) Pt.1 | Anti Social Media01-13-14


Author



Share this







Most Read






Prospect Buzz

  • Prospect's masterful crossword setter Didymus gets a shout-out in the Guardian
  • The Telegraph reports on Nigel Farage's article on Lords reform
  • Prospect writer Mark Kitto is profiled in the New York Times


Prospect Reads

  • Do China’s youth care about politics? asks Alec Ash
  • Joanna Biggs on Facebook and feminism
  • Boris Berezosky was a brilliant man, says Keith Gessen—but he nearly destroyed Russia