Hip Hop News – Three Decades of Covering the Highest Bidder
Hip Hop: From Humble Beginnings
Even though it’s been with us for over forty years, Hip Hop is still a fairly recent development in American culture. It started in the seventies in New York in the wake of block parties that would feature funk and soul DJs whose work would be sampled as backbeats for rhythmic poetry and speech. It then evolved, with the work of DJs like Grandmaster Flash and MCs like Run-DMC pushing the genre into mainstream popularity. From there it’s branched out into many distinct genres: Gangsta Rap, West Coast Rap, East Coast Rap, Hardcore Rap, Underground Hip Hop and many more. As Hip Hop music started to spread across the country, radio stations were eager to ride this new wave as fast as they could. Rap proved to be a cultural phenomenon and a huge money-maker, with millions of records sold in its heyday. This was the time when exposure meant everything, and only certain people had sway overexposure, mainly radio stations.
Rising Up the Charts
This meant that a Hip Hop artist’s chart position was largely determined by how much exposure they received. Chart positions resulted in record sales, and the highest spots were fiercely competed for. However, when you have a record industry where the money is pouring in, but only to those in the top spots, you’re almost always certain to find people who want to cheat their way into those coveted positions, and it incentivized many dishonest practices in Hip Hop music.
One of these practices was called Payola. Payola is bribing those who control exposure – DJs and radio stations – to get a kickback of more plays, drowning out the competition. When payola made it’s way to Hip Hop , it was the creaking open of pandora’s box that would spell doom for many new artists and fill the scene with greed and corruption.
Follow the Money
When payola became the main headline of Hip Hop news, there emerged a competitive market of radio stations discreetly taking money from record companies who were now dueling with each other, vying for top spots on radio airplay. This meant that the power of popularity was no longer in the hands of the adoring public who were calling in and requesting their favorite songs, causing an honest rise in the charts; it was now part of crooked backdoor-dealing between the powerful entities of the media and record industry.
What Does This Mean for Hip Hop?
Mainstream Hip Hop music now can seem grim: not only were the voices of Hip Hop fans being overridden and drowned out but now, breakthrough acts had a much more difficult chance of being heard unless they were signed to the few large labels that were involved in this scheme. Hip Hop was no longer a staple of culture: it was a ruthless shark’s tank where only the fittest survived by exploiting the power of public popularity. In some cases, the radio station owners and DJs were themselves involved in the record industry, with some owning their own labels.
And the result is a form of monoculture: the same few songs are played over and over, artificially inflating their popularity, and the people lose variety by not being able to hear a multitude of fresh, interesting artists. And the big artists who are making Hip Hop music don’t let a scrap of airtime go to any label or artist, not in the circle.
Hip Hop Today.
Even though corporate interests still control mainstream media, it no longer holds a monopoly on exposure. Now, with the rise of affordable software and platforms like Bandcamp and SoundCloud, fresh talent can create their own accessibility. Of course, the tradeoff is that there is a crowding of the market, and once again, a select few are starting to dominate. Who knows what will make Hip Hop music tomorrow. Technology and communication are changing and innovating fast, and so is culture.