When a new or alternative musical genre develops, it develops in the “underground” segment of our culture. The American musical underground thrives in small venues and with small, but loyal fan bases. If the genre is viable, it becomes popular enough for recording and for broader distribution. Some groups and performers work the “underground” circuit until they retire from music. Others work their way up the ladder to appeal to a broader segment of society, as headliners for major touring acts, with record releases of their own.
The original forms of the genre develop from rough, free expression as the artists come up with ideas and work out performances. If they are successful and can make enough of a living to continue, they use their fan response and the natural processes of experience to polish their work on their own, without excessive professional polish and marketing ploys.
At the point where there is an established fan base that supports the musicians financially, the “ownership factor” becomes established. Fans can claim a special status of having “been there” from the beginning as a part of their performer’s development and success. The rough forms of the music and the honesty of expression is highly honored and is a major element of the “ownership”.
When a new and unique musical genre or group hits the “big time”, which is the point where professional image consultants, experts get involved. These are professionals who know what sells, but who are not beholden to maintaining the integrity of the art. Marketing consultants who know what will appeal to a broader audience step in to modify virtually every aspect of the art, the performers and the performance until it is all greatly changed. The “ownership” base expands as the recordings go into broader release and the groups or performer go to major concert venues with full productions.
The original “owners” remain loyal if they find that the changes have improved, not destroyed, the original concept and expression of the art form.
With rap, the genre started with free form rythmic expression of street poetry, combined with musical components that were “sampled” or taken from already published recordings. Rap became one of the most powerful new genres in the history of music, as the only legitimized forum for the free expression of facts and stories about African American, urban, young, disaffected, street or even gang life.
Rap became a worldwide phenomenon, as youth from all over the world also found that the combination of rhythmic free verse and music, was a perfect way to express themselves. Most found that rap is in no way an easy form to master, which made it an even more desirable artistic goal to achieve. Again, the original loyalists had no trouble sharing their “ownership” of the genre until the genre became diluted into that which appeals to the mainstream.
The “mainstream effect” caused rap to be constructed with the maximum money that could be made as a goal, while the deeper and richer elements were replaced with more palatable pop elements that appealed to middle class, older, White, and European audiences. This caused a great revolt from the original “owners” of the genre, who had finally had enough of the dilution of the pure elements of the genre.
Mainstream status had the effect of creating the computer beat box quality of the rhythms, the bubble gum pop quality of the music and the shallow, unsubstantial lyrics. These changes combined to make the social acceptance of rap music possible, but partially at the cost of the support and respect of the underground oriented “owners” , who may still support the best of the more iconic performers, but who still remain active in supporting underground music, rather than the more profitable concert venues.
Rap music is now established as a genre of music that is undergoing worldwide variations, evolutions, and developments as a socially accepted entity. The social acceptance is now in the stages of recursive effect, where performers from around the world are making their own adaptations and are changing the structure and possibilities of rap.