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From B-Boys To Billionaires

With Dr Dre recently announcing himself as ‘hip-hops first billionaire’, we take a look at whether or not this is good for the genre. Take a look here to discover our view of capitalism’s relationship with hip-hop.

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Recently it emerged that Apple was in talks with headphone emperor Beats Electronic over a $3.2 billion takeover that would rank as the iPhone titans largest ever acquisition. Dr Dre appeared to confirm the purchase last Friday, stating in a video that the man from Compton had just become the “first billionaire in hip-hop”. Even though the deal has yet to be confirmed by either Beats or Apple, it appears that Beats co-founders Dre and Jimmy Lovine will take up executive roles at Apple after selling their company which controls 27 per cent of the $1.8 billion headphone market. Occasions when the terms ‘billionaire’ and ‘hip-hop’ have been mentioned in the same sentence except by rhymers themselves when amplifying their own stacks, has been seldom. Though, what does it mean for hip-hop as a medium and as an entirely identifiable culture that one of its founding members is becoming one of the richest people in the world? Is this something which will give the originally underground genre an accurate mainstream voice? Or will this simply be the final capitalist nail in hip-hop’s coffin?

However, the notion of big business infiltrating hip-hop, and rappers themselves loaning their characters and reputations to the concept of maximum profit is not exactly pioneering. The artist who clearly and indefinitely broke through this wall, amongst many others since, was Jay Z. He really is the standard in which musicians in general measure their resources and influences by, and at the turn of the century he began creating his ROC Empire. Money has always held its place within hip-hop, as it has in all music genres, with private investments, endorsements and sponsors, and governing record labels. Yet, once HOV established himself as a top cat in the game he started to govern himself, his own music and his own representative image. All of this formed like Voltron under Roc-A-Fella Records and the groundwork for becoming a business mogul was set. In the next decade he developed clothing lines, entertainment companies; he has become a sports agent, and invested in nightclubs, sports teams and real estate. The boy from Marcy is now worth $500 million. Since smashing through this wall, several mainstream hip-hop dignitaries have since followed through the hole.

Today, it is not just mainstream hip-hop which is defined by these affluent rappers; it has reached into our entire culture. Diddy, who has reinvented himself more times than a Pokémon, has either founded or acquired clothing lines, television networks, film companies, and alcohol brands. This CV is not dissimilar from the likes of 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Birdman or Rick Ross. Though, somebody who has extended their audience reach pass all of these is a man who has been working behind almost every scene for the last decade, Pharrell Williams. He may not be the richest, but his place within popular society maybe the most prominent. With his talent flourishing under hip-hop he has become part of the furniture in the reckless, interactive, innovative and acquisitive global community that is modern culture. Through two of the most popular hip-hop clothing lines on the market, Billionaire Boys Club and Ice cream, to reinventing pop music, to the production of mainstream hip-hop classics, to his indulgences in art, high fashion and even furniture design, Skateboard P is the ultimate example of capitalist activities from a hip-hop artist that are also infiltrating our domain. The use of the word ‘capitalism’ brings with it a lot of negative connotations; yet, how Pharrell and some of his compatriots have approached their ventures has led to some positive artistic impressions on our universal network.

Though, what does all of this mean for hip-hop culture? By hip-hop culture, we mean the constantly evolving spirit and consciousness of urban youth that keeps recreating itself in a never-ending cycle. These reinventions include graffiti, djing, breakdancing (b-boying), mcing, and beatboxing. This distinguishable spirit is the same as reggae, jazz and the blues; it is a vessel of every imaginable emotion. Surely then, to keep these emotions true no matter what artistic expression they take, capitalist aspects such as greed and consumerism should not be allowed to blemish them? Capitalism at all levels is centred on the idea that the means of production is controlled by private owners with the chief goal of making profits. Therefore, in whatever field and through whatever medium it concerns, a capitalist ideology will lead to standardised and similar outcomes, because these outcomes produce the highest profits. Unfortunately, with the help of Jigga and his associates this is now the norm for mainstream hip-hop. When looking through it today whether it is East-coast, West-coast, Southern or Midwest rap, the once clear extensive variation of approaches, styles, beats and stories is much reduced. Mainstream hip-hop has lost its catchy title of ‘demonstrator to the world of music what hip-hop is really about’.

Of course, mainstream hip-hop is not the totality of the genre, the true and raw artistic expressions of this culture have just gone into hiding slightly. They are underground but they are still there. You just have to look harder. There are young and old artists alike dedicating their lives and talents to expressing the hip-hop culture. The fact that Mr N.W.A. has become “the first billionaire in hip-hop” is not a devastatingly big development for real hip-hop. The affiliation of capitalist ideologies and rap music is something which has been in full advancement for over a decade and because of this mainstream hip-hop has lost its once accurate voice, but at the same time the process has contributed numerous positive aspects to our modern culture. We hope you did not find this article too deliberately abstract, we just believe it’s important to keep you updated on movements that undeniably affect your culture and the music you love. Don’t think that any of this is important? Take some time to consider some of this yourself and let us know what you think.

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