Is rap a kind of alternative music

Subgenres How the music industry ignores the facets of rap


Many rap subgenres have emerged over the years, such as trap, cloudrap, grime, drill or crunk. Often, borders cannot be clearly defined. It would be all the more important for the music industry to address the complexity of rap.

From: Jan Limpert

Status: 07/08/2020 | archive

Isn't "Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)" by Kanye and Kid Cudi a rock song, strictly speaking? Is it even possible to consistently call Post Malone a rapper? Is Lil Nas X’s "Old Town Road" with Billy Ray Cyrus more country than trap?

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Hip-Hop's subgenre problem

In the music industry in particular, where categories are important in order to market artists and give consumers an overview, such questions should be discussed in advance - precisely because rap is becoming more and more complex and multifaceted. But the music industry doesn't seem to care.

Genres and artists are constantly evolving

Songwriting on the laptop, free software and streaming platforms: there are many ways to produce and publish music without spending huge sums of money as an artist - even without a record contract or label. For listeners this means: We can consume tons of songs, albums and genres for free.

In rap it has always been the norm to use other genres. Nothing has changed to this day. The number of sub-genres, i.e. the stylistic differences, is correspondingly large. As new genres evolve, they always raise new questions, says Dr. Sina Nitzsche, founder of the European HipHop Studies Network:

"Genres are products of the zeitgeist. From a cultural studies perspective, it is interesting to ask: why is a genre popular? What, for example, makes the Cloudrap a Cloudrap? Where is the Cloudrap different from, for example, the Trap. What makes a genre a genre? What social issues are taken up in genres and processed? What does a genre say about our time? "

Dr. Sina Nitzsche, European HipHop Studies Network

Unfortunately, the music industry does not deal with genre names in the same way as science does. Although genre names are important for orientation for fans, they also have serious disadvantages for artists. Especially when used superficially and carelessly.

"The danger of genres is also that an artist is put in a box. This is THE gangster rapper, this is THE conscious rapper, this is THE cloud rapper. And that it can be difficult for the artist and the artistic development to get out of this box again. "

Dr. Sina Nitzsche, European HipHop Studies Network.

The Grammys' genre straitjacket

At the Grammys, the nominees' music is grouped into broad categories: Rap, Pop, Latin, Alternative, Blues, Country, R’n’B, Gospel, Urban, Jazz. By this one can mean anything and everything. This greatly generalizes the diverse music of individual artists.

The fact that nuances and stylistic peculiarities of the nominated artists are largely ignored became clear at the 2020 Grammy Awards. Tyler The Creator received the Grammy in the "Best Rap Album" category for "IGOR", an album that is mainly sung and not rapped and that is audibly oriented towards soul, funk and R’n’B.

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IGOR'S TOPIC - Tyler, The Creator

The decision of the Grammy jury to call "IGOR" a "rap album" shows how one-dimensional artists are often viewed and how certain genre classifications get stuck, true to the motto: once rapper, always rapper.

After the award ceremony, Tyler The Creator criticized the Grammys for putting artists like him, who make cross-genre music, into the "Rap" or "Urban" categories because of their skin color - instead of putting them as pop artists see. For Tyler The Creator this has a bland aftertaste, because for him "Urban" is a supposedly politically correct description of music by black artists.

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Tyler, The Creator TV / Radio Room Interview | 2020 GRAMMYs

Unpredictable Spotify playlists

Modus Mio is "Germany's most important hip-hop playlist" according to Spotify. Artists who come in here can look forward to increasing numbers of clicks and streaming fame. Modus Mio became the catchphrase for "mainstream uniformity" and is also featured in rap tracks, for example by LGoony:

"Rappers change their sound for the algorithm,
Playlist racism,
if you are different then you are out
(Mode Mio) "

LGoony 'Alone Against All'

Here the reggaeton vibes of Capital Bra and Bozza's "I don't even know what it's called" line up with RIN's trap-heavy track "Das Rennen" and Dardan's song "FAVELA", which is strongly oriented towards electro and club sounds. Spotify doesn't care, the main thing is that the tracks are in German, generate clicks and the interpreters pass as rappers.

Instead of clumsy generalizations, detailed, musical differentiations would be appropriate. For example, how about curated sub-genre playlists that at least try to depict the musical diversity in rap - regardless of the hit potential and the popularity of the artists? But Spotify often cleverly circumvents this by choosing alternative, broad-meshed names, such as "UK Rap". There is no question that one can understand everything and nothing by this.

Major labels rely on names instead of genres

Which acts make which music exactly is hardly relevant for the big music labels. They leave discussions about genre boundaries and assignments to the fans, blogs and journalists. Major labels like Warner, Sony and Universal Music organize their acts on their websites in alphabetical order - rather than by genre. The three largest music labels in the world save themselves discussions about supposedly wrong categorizations, but sometimes create absurd images when, for example, the punk rock band Betontod follows Beyoncé.

One possible reason for leaving out genres could be the overwhelming demands of fans and record labels with the different sub-genres that do not only exist in rap.

"A disadvantage of this genre pluralism can be the clarity, that is, that the rap genre branches out too much into sub-currents. From the perspective of the music industry, this leads to even more niche markets that are still smaller. For the industry, it is more likely to be more difficult to take advantage of. "

Dr. Sina Nitzsche, European HipHop Studies Network.

What we can learn from science

In contrast to the music industry, science deals with genres in a more differentiated way, for example Dr. Stefan Meier, media scientist at the University of Koblenz / Landau:

"As a rule, you never use a genre term, you combine them in order to be able to describe the individual phenomenon. That is better than if there is only a rough genre classification and you have an awful lot of different phenomena that you actually don't even have can describe individually. "

Dr. Stefan Meier, University of Koblenz / Landau

The music industry could easily learn a bit from this approach, because black and white thinking is no longer appropriate in the music industry in 2020 either. You don't have to put the rap stamp on every track just because it's selling well. And at the end of the day, the most exciting are the songs that you can't put in a box straight away.

Broadcast: PULS on 07/07/2020 - from 7 p.m.