University of the Arts London journalism student, James Childs, is exploring some of the ways in which digital technologies have impacted upon, and are influencing, the practices of the Hip Hop community. He is doing so in order to explore what digital literacy means in an holistic sense, what are the different forms of digital literacy that a creative community displays and how might their experience help other artistic communities to understand their own evolving relationships with digital technologies? What does it mean to be digitally literate in the world of Hip Hop?
For his first article James spoke with Fatawu Issah, a Hip Hop enthusiast and fan.Fatawu aged 25 has been listening to Hip Hop since the 90s and has witnessed a change in the culture that has been influenced by the impact of digital technology and social media.
Asking the question, how has digital technology impacted Hip Hop, Fatawu replies “It has changed how many people can be involved. Currently there are so many people within Hip Hop who have made it through their own buzz, without signing to a major record label. Before, using a professional studio would cost a lot of money but now with technology there are apps and programs were you can create music without an instrument.” He then gave an example of an artist who had done this.
DJ/MC Coolout, made an entire eight song album ‘The Rise’ through the use of 16 apps on his smartphone using the Android mobile platform – Coolout described the process, “There were no outside instruments used and I tried to stay away from standard plug-ins. It was hard resisting the temptation, but I wanted to represent the sound of Android as much as possible.” Kirn (2011). Listening to the album you can hear the Android sound in the music, but the putting together of the project is very organised and creative, making it an excellent and stand out piece of music. Fatawu continued saying “He was quite big and made money from it, his hype came from social media and it was also on iTunes, he didn’t need a record label. Digital technology changes how it is made but not the sound, because the sound is a reflection of the artist.”
Asking whether the impact of digital technology was good or bad, Fatawu explained “It is good because you can make money and a fan-base without needing a record label. But it can be very costly. Also music has become so diluted due to the fact that everyone is doing it, and I think people are taking it less serious. For me to find a good artist I have to look through 10 to 15 bad artists before finding a good one.” I then asked him has this increased diversity among the artists in Hip Hop. “Yes, but in terms of culture, it has always been culturally diverse. The music has now become accessible to everyone. Hip Hop is no longer catered towards urban black youth, but is aimed at a much larger audience. The message in Hip Hop has changed, in the beginning artists were like journalists reporting what was in their area, but the message has changed to be more entertainment based. It’s become more commercialised, everything has been inspired by Hip Hop. Even films that have nothing to do with Hip Hop feature Hip Hop music, it’s now more entertainment than message centred.”
Fatawu then began to explore the idea that although the music is important, there are other factors which have become just as important, or in some cases more so. “It’s about your business and how well you can join that with your music. Artists have become more business aware and are venturing in to other areas, for example the creation of Beats Electronics by US producer Dr. Dre and Interscope Records. Dr. Dre is no doubt a legend and although he hasn’t released an album since 1999, the popularity of Beats By Dre (Beats Electronics most popular device) has increased his presence in the music game.”
Another example is Jay-Z’s latest album ‘Magna Carter Holy Grail’, where his record label Roc Nation made a deal with Samsung, in which he gave away his album for free to the first million purchasers of the latest Samsung Galaxy range. He was able to change Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) rules allowing his album to go Platinum before even hitting stores and being officially released. Although many fans have not placed the album as high as his previous efforts, it still is recognised as a great move in Hip Hop and music as a whole. It could be argued that some fans respect the business deal but would prefer more creativity within the music. These two instances exemplify the use of digital technology to creating new grounds and rules for artists.
Fatawu also spoke about how it has impacted the production in relation to an artist, “The use of technology has also allowed artist to rely on production rather than their rapping ability, meaning an artist sounds nicer over a beat than Acapella and this is very bad. I would use Tine Tempah as an example – I’m not saying his songs are bad but they heavily rely on elaborate and Grande instrumentals, rather than actually having content. But someone like Kanye West who also makes elaborate beats does not let the production overshadow his creativity as a rapper.” To conclude Fatawu said “Artists need to focus more on their music and sound rather than relying on exterior tools, it is not bad but at the end of the day we respect an artist for their music, not how good their beat sounds or how many business deals they can make, everything comes back to the creativity within the music”.
In his second article James meets Hip Hop producer Richie Fingaz and reflects upon the ways in which digital technology and social media have impacted upon his work.