Impact of the Internet on Hip Hop

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The World Wide Web has changed the genre of hip hop. It has given hip-hop artists the ability to create and share music at incredible rates.[citation needed] Through the constant influx of new music being posted online by artists, new styles and genres of hip hop have been created.[1]

Hip hop before the Web[edit]

According to media analyst Kembrew McLeod, before hip-hop artists could upload music online to be shared with large audiences, they had to rely heavily on record labels, which agreed to sell an artist's music, under certain conditions which usually gave the record label more money from each sale than the artist.[2] To this day, hip-hop artists still make only a small percentage of profit from the royalties of record sales. In some cases, creating and selling an album leaves an artist in debt, because they are responsible for funding the recording of the album, as well as the production of the music videos that are used to promote these albums.[2] Some hip-hop artists end up only breaking even with record companies after they produce an album, because of all of the expenses that they pay to effectively market and produce their albums and the small percentage of royalties received.[2]

Impact of the Web on hip hop[edit]

Hip-hop artists' Web usage[edit]

At the beginning of the 21st century, record sales began to dip quickly, because of the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing.[3] In order to offset the revenue lost to illegal downloading, record companies began restructuring the traditional deals. As a result, fewer record deals were offered to hip-hop artists, and those that were offered were even more favorable to record companies. A common deal offered to artists was the "360 deal", which gave the record company complete artistic and business control over their artist's music.[4]

Hip hop started out as an underground genre, with very little support from the general public. Over the years, it garnered massive mainstream success; and hip-hop artists, like artists of all genres, began to depend heavily on the record companies to get their music out. The Web provided artists with a new way to sell music, without dealing with record companies. The do-it-yourself ethic propagated by the Web encouraged many artists to produce and sell music on their own or collaboratively with other artists.

Impact of digitally released mix tapes[edit]

With the ability to share music with large audiences across the web, hip-hop artists began creating and distributing mix tapes on the web. In 2007, rapper Lil Wayne rose to fame for releasing hundreds of original songs online to the public. The songs were free downloads in the form of mix tapes, on which he built songs from the beats of other artists. An example of this was his double-mix-tape release Da Drought 3.[5] All of his mix tapes were either unofficially leaked or posted on the Web. Although Lil Wayne did not profit directly from these free mix tapes he did benefit indirectly: the ideas and feedback that he collected while making the mix tapes helped him create his bestselling commercial album Tha Carter III.[5] Released in June 2008, Tha Carter III sold nearly three million copies, making it the top-selling recording of the year in the United States.[6] It also won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album that year.[7] Since then, hip-hop artists have followed in the same path as Lil Wayne, using freely released mix tapes to develop their skills and build popularity.

Impact of blogs[edit]

Modern-day hip hop has been greatly impacted by the availability of blogs on the Web. Various blogs, such as XXL, feature services for amateur artists to post their music to audiences on their website.[8] These services usually have a rating system or comment section for the amateur artists to receive feedback about their submitted music.

Record companies also rely on hip-hop blogs to promote the music of their artists, often leaking the songs off of their artist's albums in order to build momentum for their album releases.[9]

Impact of social media outlets[edit]

In order to promote their music, both independent and mainstream hip-hop artists have begun to utilize social-networking sites. Independent artists rely heavily on social networking sites as a medium to give their fans music, and to get instantaneous feedback on it. For example, the former-underground rap group Odd Future relied on the social networking site Tumblr to release free mixtapes to their fans.[10] Their Tumblr releases and mixtapes were met with such acclaim and positive feedback that they were able to start their own record label and go on a North American tour.[11][12] Twitter especially has become a platform for hip-hop artists. Unlike any time before, artists now have the ability to remain constantly in contact with their fans through continual updates and new content, and to further grow their initial fan base on a massive scale. According to a hip-hop panel at the music festival South by Southwest called "From the Blocks to the Blogs", Twitter can be "used as a tool to connect to fans but also as a way to prove to labels and tastemakers that they actually do have a following."[13] Major artists also used social-networking sites to promote their music. For example, in the summer of 2010, mainstream hip-hop artist Kanye West used his Twitter page to announce that he would be giving out free music to fans via the G.O.O.D. Fridays series that he created, as well as using it to announce release dates and details about his future commercial releases.[14][15]

Independent Web artists challenging old ideas[edit]

Hip-hop music blogs and e-communities brought about the creation of new subgenres and styles within hip hop. An example of a new style coming into existence because of the Web is rapper Lil B, who is known for his unconventional use of flow-and-rhyme scheme in his rap music. Lil B's music is very different from most mainstream hip-hop music. However, he built a solid following partially because of his extensive use of social media sites, and also due to the constant controversial and thought provoking music, which he makes available for free online.[16]

In 2011, Lil B decided to challenge the hegemonic attitudes that the hip-hop community has towards homosexuality when he announced that his next album would be entitled I'm Gay (I'm Happy). Lil B's album title garnered caused so much outrage in the hip-hop community that he began receiving death threats.[17][18] Once released, Lil B's album I'm Gay (I'm Happy) garnered positive feedback from critics and hip-hop artists alike. Successful mainstream rapper Lupe Fiasco went so far as to call the album "genius".[19]


  1. ^ Soderberg, Brandon. "SPIN Celebrates Hip-Hop's DIY Moment". Live from the New Underground. SPIN Media. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c McLeod, Kembrew (November 2005). "MP3s Are Killing Home Taping: The Rise of Web Distribution and Its Challenge to the Major Label Music Monopoly". Communication Studies Publication. Popular Music and Society 28 (1). 
  3. ^ Baym, Nancy K. (July 2010). "Rethinking the Music Industry". Communication & Mass Media Complete 8.3 (Popular Communication): 177–180. 
  4. ^ Mcgee, Alan (25 October 2007). "Recording contract? Rip-off, you mean". Music Blog (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Thibeault, Mathew D. (October 2010). "Hip-Hop, Digital Media, and the Changing Face of Music Education" (PDF). General Music Today 24 (1): 46–49. 
  6. ^ Hasty, K. "Taylor Swift reigns again on Billboard 200". Billboard Underground. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Parele, Jon (9 February 2009). "Full-Tilt Performances and Defiant Bravado". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  8. ^ "XXL Launches Reviews & The Break Sections". XXL News. XXL. Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  9. ^ Suddath, Claire (8 July 2010). "Album Leaks: A Nightmare, or Opportunity?". TIME Entertainment (Time). Retrieved 23 October 2011. 
  10. ^ Breihan, Tom. "Odd Future Mixtapes". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  11. ^ Kavner, Lucas (27 April 2011). "Odd Future: The Popular L.A. Hip-Hop Collective ‘Sign To Themselves'"., Inc. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  12. ^ Horowitz, Steven J. "Odd Future Announce North American Fall Tour". HipHopDX. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Stiernberg, Bonnie. "Kanye West Announces "Good Fridays" Song Giveaways". Paste Media Group. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  15. ^ Lipshutz, Jason. "Kanye West Announces 'Dark Twisted Fantasy' Title and Details". Billboard. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  16. ^ Noz, Andrew. "Lil B: Understanding Rap's New Rebel". NPR. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  17. ^ Iandoli, Kathy. "Lil B Titles New Album 'I’m Gay,' GLAAD Reacts". MTV. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  18. ^ Soderberg, Brandon. "The Debate About Rap, Misogyny, and Homophobia". SPIN Magazine. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  19. ^ Ramirez, Erika. "Lil B Releases 'I'm Gay' Album Without Warning, Lupe Fiasco Says Title Is 'Genius'". Billboard. Retrieved 5 December 2011.