Hip-Hop Sameness In contemporary popular culture, hip-hop music Is as ubiquitous as Taylor Swift, the new teen pop sweetheart, or arguably more popular than the once-prevailing American genre, rock and roll music. However, although one can argue that a wide breadth of hip-hop pervades the airways, it would be very difficult to contend that a wide depth of the genre is played. In fact, the vast majority of mainstream hip-hop music focuses on money and buying things with that money be it cars, clothes, jewelry or women.
Hip-hop, once known for being a highly political social commentary has largely been reduced to music videos with half-naked dancing women, drawing scrutiny from media broadcasters such as Opera and Bill Reilly. Considering its activist roots, the question remains – why Is mainstream hip-hop focused on the glorification of money and power through possession? There are many possible explanations for the degeneration of music In the public sphere – that Is, why hip hop music that Is most-widely received on television, on the radio, and In magazines has a one-dimensional and superficial message.
This paper will argue that mainstream hip-hop lyrics primarily focus on obtaining and spending money for two reasons: the first being that rappers, who write their lyrics, become slaves to their possessions because of commodity fetishism. The second reason has a broader discourse: because this theme is highly lucrative, it is bolstered by music corporations, who rationalize and “Nationalized” (duplicate) music that will be successful, disregarding lyrical content. This paper will focus on the causes through three sociological lenses: Max Weeper’s theory of the rationalization of society, and
George Rioter’s contemporary addendum to this theory; the Nationalization of society. Weber and Relater’s theories will serve as a large-scale explanation for the ever-increasing sameness of pop music In general. Karl Mar’s theory of commodity fetishism, the unrealistic attachment of the masses to their possessions, will explicate how rappers, as exploits of capitalism, become fixated on their belongings. Karl Marks theory of commodity fetishism is a vital component to explaining why rappers so often write about money. The number one hip-hop song on the 2009 Billboard Charts, was “Live Your Life,” a song by rapper T. Featuring pop princess Iranian (Billboard Charts). The chorus repeats the importance of earning money to live a high life. The song was the De facto most widely played rap song on the radio, in nightclubs and other musical venues. There are endless possibilities of subjects rappers could be tiresomely obsessed with in our society – trite song fare like love, hate, life and death, war, or even sex. Why, of all things, must it be things? Owning things, buying things, spending money, enjoying things – essentially, taking full advantage of money and desperately needing money to fulfill this lifestyle.
The answer becomes all too clear when one understands how our economic system, capitalism, trickles down to affect all facets of life. Karl Marx was a radical communist, exploitative in which the working class, the laborers (proletariat) worked to live hand-to-mouth while the owning class, or the bourgeoisie became progressively richer. In capitalist society, the bourgeoisie economic minority dominates and exploits the proletariat working class majority through setting an unequal balance between the wages paid to the laborer and the amount of profits earned by the landowner.
This division of labor ultimately results in men being enslaved by their Morning conditions. “The division of labor offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as cleavage exists between particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as the activity is not totalitarian, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him” (Marx 42). Ere theory, which explains why rappers become indivisible from their earnings, is part of Mar’s theory of commodity fetishism.
According to Marx, commodity fetishism is a byproduct of capitalism that instills the belief that there is some inherent value in commodities instead of acknowledging the value as being instilled through human labor. To quote Marx: “A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labor.
The form of wood, for instance, is altered by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is Changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its Noodle brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to dance of its own accord” (Marx 62).
Marx aimed to critique how capitalist societies “fetishist” commodities, believing that these objects containing value and bestow upon the user an intrinsic worth. In this quotation, Marx impresses upon the reader that a table is simply wood altered into “hat we call “table”, transformed from human labor into something useful. However, there is a belief that once it is a commodity, once it is sold in stores and advertised to the consumer, it becomes “transcendent” and stands on its head, dancing. Suddenly it has qualities that make it super-human and therefore better than humanity.
According to Marx, this belief pervaded all of capitalism and became a reason that people needed to work to live to buy things, all necessary to keep the capitalist yester afloat (63). Mar’s theory can also be applied to this hip-hop monotony. When rappers write songs about living your life and “keep steady chasing that paper” as the All. Song dictates (Harris), they are projecting their obsession with their commodities and the beatification of these commodities. To use a more recent popular hip-hop track, the song “Say Ayah” by Trey Songs featuring rapper Fabulous is a prime example.
One verse : “We don’t buy no drinks at the bar/ we pop champagne cause En got that dough / pocket full of money / club going Jump / smelling like Dolce and ND is centrally about living a luxurious lifestyle that affords one the ability to drink top-shelf liquor at a night club (Billboard Charts). Marx would say that these rappers fetishist alcoholic beverages and believe that they are distilled with magical powers that foster having a more enjoyable time in a club setting. There is another level to explain why rappers so readily fetishist commodities, as opposed to Indies folk singers or neo-soul groups.
One can draw a correlation between these artists growing up poor and black, desperately seeking a way out of urban decay and seizing hip-hop music as that opportunity. Sociologist James Peterson believes that through observing the former social location of most hip-hop artists, it becomes easy to discern why this particular genre has cornered the market on materialism. In Dead Presence: Money and Mortal themes in Hip Hop Culture, Peterson argues that the intersection of poverty and blackness leads hip-hop artists who come from destitute roots to become fixated on the idea of having money.
Because these artists grew up Introit luxuries like name brands and gratuitous amenities, the ascension to a level of corpulent wealth enables the desire to buy commodities and wield them as if they eave transformed the buyer into someone else. Peterson says that the vernacular ‘dead presidents” developed a socio-linguistic conception for “money’ in poor, urban areas because of the tacit presence of untimely death through gang activity (897). In turn, possessing “dead presidents” is a way to vindicate a lack of success in obtaining the “American Dream” denied to black men because of racism, poverty, and imprisonment.
Peterson defines the American dream as the symbol of American living that excludes poor black men – a well-paying Job, nice house, and happy family 1895). For these men, the President of the United States is the personification of the American Dream and if he can not advocate for disenfranchised black men while living, then it is poetic Justice to own him while he is dead (895). Peterson makes a broad connection to Mar’s theory commodity fetishism in his discursive about these once-impoverished black men obtaining monetary wealth and needing their new- found success to develop self-worth. [Rapper] Racism contemplates his transition from being a “stick-up kid” (robbing people for money) to the CEO of a record label No eats caviar… ND the financial success that keeps him rapping to prevent ever going back to that hopeless past” (Peterson 895). Peterson analysis of rappers ‘indication of their past wrongdoings through continuous earnings of “dead presidents” explores the personal dimension of commodity fetishism and its effect on artistry.
Men who grew up with nothing, men who become some of the most prolific hip hop artists in the mainstream, take the painful memories of their past and transform them into the positive – a boastful braggadocio about the things they do have, what they can afford and how it has affected their lives. This is reflected in their song lyrics and music videos. In example, rapper T. L. Grew up in a ghetto of Atlanta and started selling drugs at the age of 13. Somehow he garnered attention as a rapper and got a record contract at 19 (Wisped).
Fast-forward ten years and his most popular sing is a song entitled “Whatever U Like”, which was number one on the Billboard Charts. The song literally entices a potential female by telling her she can have whatever she likes – clothing, Jewelry, vacations, cars. Essentially, any commodity that money can buy that somehow transforms the female into super- re compelled by commodity fetishism to boost their images and present to the listener an enviable lifestyle. As Marx would say, the commodity fetishism present in the lyrics of hip-hop artist is indicative of the worker’s enslavement to capitalism and the daily-grind.
There is another explanation for why the hip-hop music that is Model broadcasted seems to be focused on money and all that one can buy with money – Max Weeper’s theory on rationalization of modern society. This theory is a key component to this seeming obsession with possession, that our entire society is predicated on the rationalization and bureaucratically. According to Weber, in order to increase efficiency every methodological way of proceeding or getting anything done, has turned into a highly bureaucratic process that ensures predictability. In steering the course of societal development, values, traditions, and emotions were being displaced in favor or formal and impersonal practices. While such practices may breed greater efficiency in obtaining designated ends, they also lead to the disenchantment of the world, where there are no mysterious and incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by ululation” (Weber 146). Ere surety of this predictability comes at the expense of spontaneity, surprise, and thus, excitement.
Those affected by this “rationalization” are everyday citizens who slowly become disenchanted by day-to-day living, as there is very little that we cannot control or alter. As a result, Weber believed that rather than increasing freedom and autonomy, rationalization makes a slavish adherence to the rules of the modern bureaucracy and ultimately imprisons the individual within the iron cage of rationalized institutions, organizations, and activities. In “Max Weber and the Sociology of Music”, Alan Turtle expounds upon how the music industry is affected by the rationalization process. Musicians are certainly influenced by their social, spatial, economic, and cultural environment, but these are not the primary issues for a musician’s production of music. Yet, if one were to rely on Weeper’s theory alone, economic rationale would have to be the bases for musical production and consumption” (634). Thus, Turtle believes that while musicians are inspired by their lives for lyrical content, the primary reason for the music that we hear today is not he artists themselves. Instead, rappers are not so much the artists of their music, as the conveyers of a product from corporations.
George Rioter’s extension of this Inebriate idea, the theory of the “Nationalization” of society further explores why hip-hop is increasingly rationalized, and increasingly more of the same talk of money and possessions. Ritzier, like Weber, believes that all facets of social life are slowly conforming to the same criteria of rationalization, as defined by the businesses and corporations with advertising power. “Rationalization involves the increasing effort to ensure predictability from one time or place to another.
People want to know what to expect in all settings at all times” (58). Ritzier is saying that the fast food industry and the complete McDonald’s empire of “rationalized” – fast, convenient, easy – food is one example of controlling consumers. Big corporations are also “Nationalizing” other mediums of public consumption, and hip-hop music is that medium, in this argument. Because the hip hop industry makes $2 billion annually in music sales has an effective formula, and big conglomerates see no need to alter what is still Morning (Micrometer 96).
The result of this is music on the airways that glorifies money and whatever money can buy. Peterson makes a conjecture that music corporations are aware of the impact of rappers bragging about their “ice” and take full advantage of that. “With the popularity of rap since the early ass, the linkage of corporate strategies and marketing techniques has undeniably altered the trajectory of hip hop” (899). Peterson further explains how corporations capitalized on the showing off of hip hop artists.
Coming from places where money was tight, possessing luxury items are a sign of status for rappers. Rappers are highly influential, and wearing thousands of dollars of ice around their necks not only affected their audience, but also their state-of-mind. Being sponsored to wear Nikkei Air Force Ones sneakers or even top-shelf liquor like Couriers was a way for rappers to display their status and prestige – and corporations made a nice profit from the fans of rap music who desperately sought the same lifestyle (900).
Therefore, hip hop music is further rationalized and “Nationalized” because the music corporations have a vested interest in making a profit from hip hop fans. If en from this perspective, it is no wonder that hip hop music sends a message loud and clear: access to money is supreme, money and what you can buy with it. In a sense, the rationalization of hip-hop music is more attributed to the record companies than the artists themselves because of the influence of the corporations.
In “Music, Corporate Power, and Unending War,” Martin Schrodinger makes a strong argument about how corporations own and thereby control the culture industry, specifically music. Schrodinger cites Max Herkimer and Theodore Adorns theory about all cultural activities being increasingly controlled by “corporate chicanery’ (Schrodinger 24). “Due to the extreme concentration of ownership of the mass media, the music industry has become a major site of centralized power; AOL rime Warner owns magazines, publishing houses, retail stores, production companies, libraries, sports teams, and radios.
Thus, musical production has become forced to succumb to the marketing and styling of narrow, profit-driven criteria” (26). Specifically relating to the rationalization of pop music, Schrodinger outlines how mass-produced music has a tendency to hegemonic stereotypical ideas for the sake f quantity and therefore quality or message of music suffers. These corporate strategies provide ever more ways of rationalizing and monitoring the activities of producers and consumers alike, as a means of increasing profits (45). The bottom line is that the music is profitable.
Therefore, while T. L. ‘s single “Hell of a Life” may detail how lavish his lifestyle is, and is thematically no different than “Whatever U Like”, it has a good beat and subject matter that will entice and entertain consumers. Schrodinger suggests that artists ultimately have little control surrounding the work they produce, beyond their genre. Therefore, hip hop artists are being encouraged to produce music that mentions name brands and opulence because that in turn encourages consumers (or listeners) to buy things that corporations are selling.
This theory looks at the rationalization of hip-hop as merely one of many genres being micro-managed, and rappers themselves are supplanted to regurgitate messages of said lifestyle per a capitalistic scheme. Mar’s theory of commodity fetishism and but can be pooled to find a common ground. Commercial hip-hop, the music that is played on the radio, is controlled by conglomerate whose aim is to target consumers ND have them purchase more of the music or the commodities mentioned in the lyrics.
Hip-hop is a particularly profitable sector to rationalize because of the social location of both its performers, and some listeners. Many popular rap artists who grew up in poverty relish rapping about the money and things that they have gained n their careers, because psychologically they are fixated on the commodities that they believe make them more important than who they used to be. This is a perfect match for record labels who can make a profit exploiting the hip-hop listeners who re still impoverished themselves, and use hip-hop music as a sort of refuge from everyday life.
To put it simply, hip-hop artists are obsessed with things they have now because it is a signifier of their newly gained status, and companies rationalize this music because it succeeds. Hip-hop is oft-talked about and popularized in the public sphere. The consistent question is aimed at the negative impacts of hip-hop on [Out. Seen from the perspective of how the rationalization of hip-hop, via commodity fetishism and Nationalization of music, is affecting contemporary progeny, the implications are numerous. The young people who are listening to hip- hop and retaining the messages from it are impacted.
In a 2003 research study done on adolescents’ feelings toward rap music, 90% of black youth surveyed stated that they felt rap was a truthful reflection of society (Sullivan 616). That is, that what rappers say about important and relevant to the adolescents’ lives – the message that IS being sent to these youth is one that glorifies consumerism, materialism, and essentially buying happiness through this commodity fetishism. This is problematic because it instills an unrealistic view of what one can attain monetarily and cultural ales to pass on to the next generation.