ThoughtStorms Wiki

Something I want to write a bit more about but here's the quick and dirty intuition ...

The modern star system (TheCultOfCelebrity) can be argued to start with EnricoCaruso. But something I'm increasing disturbed by is the world according to HipHop. It's the most explicit, self-aware picture of a world dominated ruthelessly by TheAttentionEconomy. The major theme of rap today is narrowly restricted to discussions of fame and success itself; of the money, sex and power that popularity brings; of the (jealous) haters and doubters that had to be overcome, and the spongers who have been and will have to be excluded from the social network of the artist. Now we see the online media evolving a PowerLaw distribution of attention. Will we some of the same other traits appearing?

It's not that previous generations of rock-stars didn't live the playa lifestyle. It's just that it wasn't the major theme of 95% of their lyrics. Interesting to speculate whether this obsession, in a music still coming largely from the black-community, is a product of the disempowerment of blacks in the US.

Compare HackingIsASickMachoCulture which also discusses an attention culture arising among people are systematically disparaged. Wow! And maybe blogger / online writing culture is like this too?

I think this heralds (in the Noise sense). If we get real and total NetoCracy / TheAttentionEconomy / NetworkSociety, the world will be organized like a rap video. :-(

PhilipBall on rappers' social networks :

Where the rap network differs from these others, however, is in a property called assortativity. This is a measure of how mixed the collaborations are between highly connected and less connected people. In assortative networks, well-connected individuals tend to prefer to make links with others similar to themselves. "This is a pattern we've seen in most social networks", says Mark Newman, a physicist at the University of Michigan who has studied scientific collaboration networks.

There seems to be no such pattern for rappers. Smith suggests that this might be partly due to commercial competition between successful artists, who are reluctant to lend their cachet to a rival.

What seems more plausible to me, is that a lot of rap collaborations are based on the aesthetic of contrasting styles and voices : commonly gruff rapper and sweet-voiced R'n'B singer.

Comment on GlobalGuerrillas :

''For a case study on how communities can resiliently respond to decay, read the chapter "All Aboard the Night Train: Flow, Layering, and Rupture in Postindustrial New York" in Tricia Rose's Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America*

According to Rose, New York City had, by the 1970's, evolved from a middle class, blue collar city to one that featured an urban underclass, on the one hand, and a white collar elite, on the other.

The South Bronx, from when hip hop emerged, was particularly disrupted.

She states: "Hip hop culture emerged as a source for youth of alternative identity and social status in a community whose older local support institutions had been all but demolished along with large sectors of its built environment. Alternative local identities were forged in fashions and language, street names, and most important, in establishing neighborhood crews or posses."

The entire chapter expands on this theme.

Hip hop therefore may be a model or at least a source of inspiration for other forms of resiliency.


A kind of NeoFeudalism / NeoMedievalism?

See also :

Quora Answer : Is much rap music the best of modern poetry?

Sep 12, 2019

"Best" might be contentious and hard to justify.

But I think it would be fair to say that rap is the most vibrant and important current of modern poetry.

Almost every other branch of modern poetry is a very narrow niche with a few fans.

In those other niches you might find poetic geniuses that go far beyond the best rappers, in terms of word-play and imagery and variety of metre etc.

But ... almost no-one is reading or listening to them.

Whereas as rap is a very popular, living tradition of poetry that is inspiring millions who want to copy it and participate in that culture.

Almost certainly, rap is what our age will be recognised for by future generations.

And that more or less guarantees that future generations, apart from a few erudite scholars, will focus on studying the best rappers more than the best of the other genres of poetry.

Quora Answer : How well does the career success of Lil Nas X reflect how modern artists influence music and culture?

May 23, 2019

It's not entirely clear what this question is getting at.

But I think there's some interesting threads to be pulled out of it.

What seems to be true is that Lil Nas X is someone who has come out of social media. And was aiming to be a social media presence / "star". Rather than a musician.

His Wikipedia page casually states he decided to try making music in 2018 ... mere months before having his first massive hit. As though music is just one dimension of his talent. An offshoot of his real art.

Now ... you can have two views on this.

One the one hand there's a lot of criticism of people like this. Both, accusations of being "industry plants" ie. "manufactured pop stars" or of having conned the industry into thinking that social media antics and followers on Instagram translate into genuine popularity and success.

Look at this "expos\xc3\xa9" of Lil Pump which alleges that he simply doesn't have the sales and earnings that his alleged "fame" would seem to suggest because social media doesn't translate into real listens on the music streamers.

That's one perspective.

And I think it's obvious that once Old Town Road started blowing up, someone came along and threw a LOT of money and resources to make it a mainstream hit. Bringing in Billy Ray Cyrus. The video. Etc. This might have started as an organic hit, but it's quickly become something that IS organized.

OTOH, one of the defining characteristics of hip-hop as an art form is that it has always been a "multimedia" art form. Ever since graffiti writing was given equal billing to DJing, MCing and beatboxing as one of the "five elements". And Public Enemy's "media assassin" Harry Allen described hip-hop as "Black CNN"

Hip-hop is an art of self-expression that sees all contemporary media as its playground. From rappers putting comedy skits on their albums, to creating fashion labels, shoes and jewellery. Contemporary hip-hop is as much a genre of cinema - with sumptuous videos mixing in elements from horror movies, soft-porn, adverts for luxury goods, cop shows and cartoons, often all at the same time - as it is a genre of audio.

While I will defend the idea that hip-hop is definitely "music". It kind of is "music" in a very broad "expanded field" notion of music.

Rap is an art form that's all about "representing". Your self. Your friends. Your borough. Your community. Etc.

Why wouldn't Instagram stardom just be the next twist in the evolution of that art form?

In a sense, it seems to me obvious that hip-hop was just kind of pre-configuring the world we have now on social media. Pop and rock stars were the first draft of this. Then rappers refined the formula. And now social media is the purest realization of it.

Hip-hop got to social media early. And embraced it fully. Allowing social media to fully reshape what hip-hop is. In a way that other musical genres are still failing to catch up with. (So many rock and pop acts wish we were still in the days of television or MTV.)

So ... backtrack slightly. Let's take someone who is obviously the genuine article. A bona fide genius of this multimedia world : Tyler, the Creator :

Tyler is Exhibit A in the case for "kids goofing off on the internet are the important artists of our generation"

I think it's interesting that Tyler conceived Odd Future originally as a magazine. With himself as editor. It's clear that one of Tyler's strengths is his curatorial role, of bringing together other extremely talented individuals. He's an excellent networker / collaborator.

That's a hip-hop thing. I suspect that success in hip-hop has always been partly about the networkers, the people who turn gangs into creative units : Afrika Bambaataa, RZA etc.

Tyler is a great artist of this genre because he's an enthusiast who dives into his enthusiasms, networks with others who have them, shares them with the world, turns them into "products" or "conversations" etc. The skills of our contemporary social media age.

This is another fascinating conversation to glimpse that personality :

So let's take the two examples : Tyler as the genuine example of a successful modern artist influencing music and culture. And Lil Pump as, possibly, an attempt to fabricate this out of basic social media.

Where does Lil Nas X fall? I suspect, having given a quick listen to his other 2018 tracks NASARATI that he's not a genius in the Tyler mould. He seems a competent rapper. And comes off as a likeable chap in the OTR video. But there's no spark. People could see the spark and personality in early OFWGKTA. Even if you didn't like them much, you thought there was something there.

To be honest, I think Old Town Road is this year's Gangnam Style. A novelty record and Lil Nas X is going to be a "one hit wonder" (Obviously PSY actually had a long career as a rapper before Gangnam Style, but the hype in the West was manufactured) OTR is great. But it IS manufactured.

No disrespect, I hope Lil Nas X makes a tonne of money from it and can go off and do other projects. But I don't bet on him growing into a bigger rap artist.

But is he representative of the pop music industry? Hell, yeah. There's always been people with one great song hyped into one-hit wonders by the pop industry.

OTOH, he's not a Tyler style artist who is driving the hip-hop culture / industry forward.

Quora Answer : How do rappers and artists make so much money?

Feb 12, 2020

As everyone points out, they don't make as much as they claim.

But why do they claim to?

Last year there was interesting YouTube phenomenon where a bunch of hip-hop fan YouTubers mailed out to a bunch of currently trendy rappers to ask how much they charged for a feature.

Here's an example :

And a lot of other people started doing the same thing.

What's interesting here is that hip-hop today is all about "features" (rappers providing guest bars on the tracks of other rappers.)

This makes hip-hop into a kind of "network" or "web" art-form.

But this network is also very monetized. It's effectively an "attention economy" where hot new artists are charging between $15,000 and $100,000 dollars for appearing on someone else's record.

That's a sizeable chunk of cash. And it's not being paid for "artistic" reasons. It's being paid by newer, less well known but ambitious artists, who are buying the extra attention that the more established rapper will bring to their project by providing a feature on it.

If you manage to grab some attention and fame (which seems to be called "clout" in the industry), then the features market is a way to monetize that. By selling yourself as a guest (and dispensing some of your attention) on other rappers' tracks.

But of course, now ask yourself why all the rappers are FAKING being rich in their videos. Isn't it just a tired clich\xc3\xa9 by now? The cars and mansions and girls and gold and diamonds and expensive bubbly wine? Everyone knows it's not true. That these are rented props.

You probably wonder why the hell today's young people are so moronically consumerist and obsessed by material wealth; when, traditionally, young people have always had a certain amount of healthy disdain for such things. Don't any of these smart, talented rappers (and even in the age of mumble rap, you don't get to be a successful rapper if you aren't smart) have ideals and independent thoughts?

Well, the answer might be more logical than you imagined. Hip-hop is not just a ruthlessly monetized attention economy, it's an attention fuelled pyramid scheme.

Rappers are earning their money not from streaming or selling albums. These pay almost nothing. They are getting their income from the next tier of the pyramid down, the n00bs who are desperate to buy their way into and up the pyramid.

And if that's the case, it's obvious why there's so much formulaic ostentation and bragging in rap videos and lyrics. When you look rich in your video, you are signalling to potential customers (ie. the next generation of rappers) how successful you are. Which can raise the perceived value of a feature from you.

Even if the next generation of rappers knows that it's all a game and largely faked. They can still assume that there's some handicap principle at work, keeping the signalling somewhat honest. After all, even renting cars and jewellery costs something.

And it's likely that if you have been picked up as a promising young rapper by a label or management company, they have already invested in you by buying features from the better known rappers. So now, you are going to need to boost your own apparent value, and earn back that money, by pimping yourself out on a bunch of features to the next tier, before you stop being so hot and lose your clout.

Beyond a pyramid scheme, it could well be an investment bubble. As wannabe management companies are pouring money in, to buy their artists attention to boost them up the pyramid.

And THAT would explain why rappers seem to be making so much money.

Firstly money is fuelling their rise up the attention pyramid. But like all pyramid schemes, the moment people decided to stop believing in it, the whole thing collapses and the bubble bursts.

So rappers are pretending to be earning even more money than they are, because this is the only thing that keeps the bubble expanding rather than collapsing.