Puzzle2: I [heart] hip hop

Dr_dre_1Hip hop has dominated contemporary music with astonishing power and thoroughness.  It has captured and refashioned taste in music, film, clothing to say nothing of patterns of speech and non verbal communication.

But ours is a dynamic culture and we know better than to suppose that any cultural phenomenon has installed itself in our hearts forever.  Hip hop reigns triumphant, but this is what culture always does: persuades us that the present terms of reference are the only terms of reference.  A decade later we shake our heads, and wonder to ourselves "what was I thinking?"

A couple of days ago, I was in a mall in Connecticut and I saw a 10 year old girl, the very picture of suburban privilege, whistle past in an "I [heart] hip hop" t-shirt.  There is an ad on TV that is "targeted" at kids in Junior High that uses a hip hop voice over. 

For many trends, this is the kiss of death.  Any cultural development that claims a certain street cred, a certain outlaw menace, cannot survive this kind of company.  Ten year old girls are supposed to recoil from hip hop, not proclaim their affection for it.  The classic diffusion model says that  early adopters drop things the moment these things are embraced by late adopters.  In this case, the meanings of the brand are erased by some of the consumers who adopt it.  This is the tragic condition of many brands.  Expansion is the beginning of the end.

The experts are divided.  The Times has been arguing in the last several weeks that hip hop may have peaked.   (Yeah, I know, I can’t quite believe I am using the Times  as a cultural indicator, either.  I really should get out more.)    But I just had lunch with a highly placed executive at a Santa Monica label and she said she’s not worried.  Her label has made a prince’s ransom from hip hop and she believes it will continue to do so for the forseeable future. 

And who knows she may be right.  We know that the fragmentation of the marketplace has actually (and ironically) been very good for some brands in the mainstream.  As plenitude  creates lots of little brands, the very large ones have taken on a certain anthemic significance.  As everyone pursues many minor enthusiams, they are sometimes inclined to keep a large brand in their preference portfolio, the better to stay in touch with a larger community.  This could be very good for hip hop. 

It is also true that the hip hop community in general and Dr. Dre (as pictured)  in particular, have been ecumenical in their approach to things (and late adopters).  Unlike the alternative music of the 1990s, hip hop has been open to diverse audiences and unexpected musical partners.   Naturally, there must be limits to this patience and the new segments may have tested these limits.  In general, though, if it’s ok with Dr. Dre, it’s ok with the rest of us.

Alright then.

Please do not open the booklet or pick up your pencil until told to do so.

You may begin.

1.  Hip hop as a mass phenomenon and the magnetic north of contemporary culture

a. has already peaked
b. is good for another year
c. is good for another three years
d. is good for another five years
e. is here for the duration

2.  Please explain.

8 thoughts on “Puzzle2: I [heart] hip hop

  1. Michelle


    I think that hip hop is here for the duration, or least, it’s here for as long as Black America wants it to be. The Black culture in America dictates a lot of trends, and will continue to do so because their trends don’t surface to high up to the point that they are an actual threat to dominating white, mainstream American culture. It’s seems to be cycling at this perfect rate, at the perfect height. I think this has been happening for years and I don’t see it changing in the foreseeable future.

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  3. Charlie Cocharne

    This depends on what you mean by hip-hop. If we are just talking black american hip-hop, it’s arguable we’re just getting lots more of the same: it may have lost much of its initial impact, shockpower and magnetism, novelty, newsworthiness etc. But then hip-hop is being wonderfully globalised and transmuted into strange and different forms. Now there’s great french north african hip hop, funky Cuban hip hop (Orishas), even some good UK hip-hop. As long as it’s evolving, I recklon it’s alive and kicking.

  4. LK

    7 words:

    snoop does car commercial with lee iacocca

    and now some more words from the chicago sun times:

    Aug 6/05:

    Former Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca and Snoop Dogg appear together in Chrysler’s latest ads for its employee-pricing program, a duo guaranteed to raise some eyebrows.

    The 80-year-old Iacocca and Snoop Dogg, who made his name rapping about sex and marijuana, appear as golf buddies in the ad, scheduled to begin airing today.

    At the end of the TV spot, Snoop Dogg says: ”If the ride is more fly, then you must buy.” Iacocca responds: ”That’s what I hear.”


    if this isn’t a turning point i don’t know what is. (i think snoop calls lee “ia-kizzle” in the spot too); it doesn’t seem to be airing in canada but you south of the 49th parallel types have probably seen it already.

  5. CMOM

    This is a good thinkpiece and a fine read. That said, anyone who can answer the question, “When has [X-trend] peaked?” – before said peaking – is either a billionaire or Madonna. (And, in the last half-decade, even Madonna’s fallen off her ability to make such predictions.)

    It’s always hard to know when something has truly peaked, and often only possible in hindsight. Grunge stayed on the radio for two-three years after Cobain’s death, but only later did we realize that boomlet peaked in 1993 and thoroughly died after 1994. Alternatively, sometimes movements are proclaimed dead too early: disco was supposed to have been “killed” at Comiskey Park in 1979, but tell that to Donna Summer and Blondie, still scoring thumping, four-on-the-floor hits until 1982 or so. (Hell, tell it to New Order in 1983. Or Madonna, for that matter.)

    Hip-hop should’ve peaked about 10 times by now. Wasn’t it already “too popular” back in ’97, when Puffy exploded with all those cheesy, ’80s-sampling hits? What about when Lauryn Hill won her (deserved, but still) Album of the Year Grammy in 1999? Or when Fitty had the biggest-selling debut album ever back in 2003? The mainstreaming of Eminem; the abandonment of rap by André 3000 for alt-pop and Hollywood; the multiple retirements of Jay-Z; the entire career of Nelly – there’ve been many, many Signs Of Rap’s Apocalypse, going all the way back to the 1990 one-two punch of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, and still the music perseveres.

    For the record, I think 2005 has been the weakest year for hip-hop, bar none, commercially and artistically, since about 1995. But I would be a fool to predict a direct downward slope for hip-hop; more like a plateau.

  6. Olivia

    Hip hop is here for the duration. Other trends of “outlaw menace” and a credentialed system have wilted under the spotlight of success because they were built on ideals that rejected status, were lead by one or two key figures, or depended on the presumed isolation of the anti-star [see punk, grunge, Korn]. If any of those are fundamentally changed, there’s not much left to support the movement.

    Hip hop, however, while formed as a tool to illustrate the inequities of our society, did not inherently reject the trappings of success. Calling Snoop a sell-out does not render him impotent within his scene, as it would with more traditional punk bands; rather, he’s proof that success is attainable. Furthermore, Snoop is not THE doyen of hip hop. Dr. Dre has moved from the mic to the boards, creating protégé’s with legacies of their own. Russell Simmons runs a hip hop media empire that came out of breaking his brother’s group, Run DMC; twenty years after the fact, Joseph Simmons is, among other things, an author. Hip hop allows its participants to mature, and therefore mature itself. A finer point and a flip side is the accessability of the form and the numerous inroads available due to the inherent flexibility of the genre.

    If any sort of formal recognition of staying power over trend is still necessary, please look to the continued existence of hip hop-specific Grammy and Billboard categories.

  7. lucy

    pliz send me more information about the back american and the influence of black american to the song especially in hip-hop and R&B. thanks…

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