Hip-hop gained mainstream interest and popularity since the nineties when the MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice music albums topped the Billboard pop charts. The ever-expanding audience of the hip-hop culture has raised the question of the authentic rap music that is available in the market. Some believe that the authentic hip-hop music is associated with the artist’s experience and roots in the oral traditions that bear witness to the oppressions on the lives of people.
One of authentication of a true rap artists is his/her association with the downtrodden, the neglected class. The issue of authenticity makes the hip-hop culture face a limbo since its association with the Afro-American culture even though it has attained a global face (Hess 372). Hence, the relation between commercial success of an authentic rap artist and the commercial success of the label is largely contradictory.
So, what is the outcome of the hip-hop artists who does not belong to the Afro-American racial group? Does that affect the popularity and the success of the artist? Peter Rosenberg believes that innovation is key to the success of a rap artist however, criticizes rampant commercialization of a culture based on poetics and “old-school craftsmanship” (Marantz 21).
In this paper, I argue that the advent of the twenty-first century has altered the dominant discourse of authenticity of hip-hop and has introduced white rap artists like Eminem, who have created a white-identity within the black dominated hip-hop culture. For this purpose, the paper will study the rising popularity of white middle class hip-hop artists like Eminem and understand their strategy for success in the sect of the conservative Afro-American musical culture.
Mass Marketing of Popular Culture
The advent of the commercial market of popular culture has introduced cultural objects that manage the culture discourse through mass marketing.
According to the study conducted by Bielby and Bielby on the factors influecning the content of prime-time television demosntrate that commercial viability of a production is important for beign aired in the prime time, the degree of comemrcial success of the cultrual objective of the decision makers, and the degreee of centralised social arrangement that creates a network between the artist, television network, and the audience (1310).
Commercialization of the popular culture entails a carefully crafted “discourse to frame how their actions are appraised” (Bielby and Bielby 1287). Thus, the study points to one aspect of commercialization of popular culture i.e. the relation between the artist and the business corporation that has a strong influence in steering the course of the culture. Hence, industry structure and commercial interference has a strong influence in constructing the architecture of a mass-marketed popular culture (Bielby and Bielby 1311).
Peterson and Anand argues that the mass marketing of the popular cultrue industry would ensure two things – first, “destabilization and reorganization in the entire production nexus” and second, configuration of the production facet” towards three possible trends such as oligopistic market where unimaginative art is created, highly competitive and turbulent indsutry, or oligopolistic competition that nurtures innovation (318).
They too believe that the production system or the corporate influence on art has a strong influence over the cultural invention (Peterson and Anand 318).
Both the research articles discussed above point to two main facets of dissemination of popular culture – first, influence of the corporations in mass marketing of the cultural art-form, and second, creation of cultural discourse that adheres to the strategic intent of the cultural business.
Hip-hop in 2004 and 2014
The evolution of hip-hop from a subculture dominated by the Afro-American youth has changed considerably with the advent of the rap artists belonging to the privileged white society. Initially, the marketing of Vanilla Ice by the SBK Records was by projecting Ice as a white singer who maintained a credible position in the black community and successfully turned the niche position of Ice as a white rap artist to productive marketability.
The then prevalent image of a hip-hop artist is black angry young man/woman who associated with the darker alleys of poverty, gang involvement, and urban-ghetto upbringing (Hess 373). Thus, to befit the image of the delinquency, Ice claimed to have a decorated criminal background. On the contrary, he grew up in a wealthy suburban environment away from felonious infestation. The false claim of Ice was the reason behind the downfall of the artist.
The reason being the lyrics of hip-hop are often autobiographical rooted in the black singer’s personal experience of systematic discrimination. Hip-hop flourished as a predominantly black American culture rooted in the African discourse and ideals.
However, there arose a clash between the white American music executives and the black singers who belonged to almost two different worlds and the former struggling to capture the latter’s music emerged prominently in the late nineties (Hess 376). Thus, the era of separation of the whiteness from hip-hop ended with the advent of the twenty-first century.
The genre of the hip-hop of the white artist found a new space with Eminem, he brought in a music that stressed on his life and his whiteness. He established a place for himself as a white outsider in a black dominated culture. Strategically, Eminem has shown immense innovation in his lyrics where he shows discrimination against him as a white rap artist in the early stages of his career: “He describes his whiteness, like his poverty, as an obstacle to overcome on his path to acceptance in hip-hop” (Hess 385).
Eminem has become increasingly successful since 2000 and has been able to create authenticity for his music through the creation of the “white trash” identity of post-industrial white masculinity (White 75). His songs deal with issues such as white urban poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, rape, infidelity, and most importantly dysfunctional families (White 76).
The creation of the ‘white trash’ identity by Eminem has made him a credible rap artist: “his identity as ‘white trash’ has given him the authority to access a form, which is strongly identified with urban working-class African Americans” (White 77).
Dawkins points out another reason for the success of Eminem was his indifference to the anti-white rhetoric abundantly found in the lyrics of black rap artists (497). Instead, he created and utilized the white stereotypes of a “crazyass and a hard working man” who was simultaneously “gross and innocuous” (Dawkins 497).
Thus, Eminem created a new white rap artist who made a place in the traditional African-American hip-hop culture with the advent of the twenty-first century. The hip-hop culture has changed continually with the advent of the new artists, especially from a different racial background that created a problem of identification of the black and the white singers. However, with evolution in the music industry, and the change in the oligopolistic structure of the industry, a space was created for the white talents.
Bielby, William T. and Denise D. Bielby. “”All Hits Are Flukes”: Institutionalized Decision Making and the Rhetoric of Network Prime-Time Program Development.” American Journal of Sociology 99.5 (1994): 1287-1313. Print.
Dawkins, Marcia Alesan. “Close to the edge: The representational tactics of Eminem.” The Journal of Popular Culture 43.3 (2010): 463-485. Print.
Hess, Mickey. “(2005) Hip-hop Realness and the White Performer.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 22.5 (2005): 372-389. Print.
Marantz, Andrew. “Old School.” The New Yorker 7 April 2014: 24-30. Print.
Peterson, Richard A. and N. Anand. “The Production of Culture Perspective.” Annual Review of Sociology 30 (2004): 311-334. Print.
White, Russell. “Behind the mask: Eminem and postindustrial minstrelsy.” European Journal of American Culture 25.1 (2005): 65-79. Print.