Hip-Hop and Hyper-Commercialism

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Hip-Hop and Hyper-commercialism
Simple beat, simple rhyme scheme, strong message. "Vans don't cost G's, real niggaz wear these – Vans," says a member of The Pack in the music video aptly titled "Vans." You may be asking yourself, "So, what's the big deal?" The big, highly lucrative deal is the marriage between big name corporations and their partnership with hip-hop. It's nothing new: Run-DMC had "My adiddas", LL Cool J wore Kangol hats, and even Jay-Z incorporated drinking Cristal into his lyrics for a long period of time. With that being said, the new hip-hop generation of today faces many adversities from years and years of subliminal marketing within their own sub-culture. The effects of hyper-commercialism are evident in American culture in general, but especially noticeable within popular rap music and urban associated culture. As an avid listener and creator of hip hop music, I have noticed a growing trend in the bay area: rap about what brands you wear. Whether it be Nike, Vans, Bape, or Dickies, the message seems clear: you are what you wear. Even the term "bling, bling" is so deeply associated with hip-hop that you can't say it without an image of a big, gaudy necklace popping into your head. And immediately after that, you think, "that's something a rapper would wear." It's no secret why. The hip-hop culture has been portraying a certain image since it's birth in the late 1970's and has been exploited by big name companies since then. The music industry invests in what sells; companies and corporations sponsor artists who sell and are marketable to a wide, general audience. In the PBS documentary, Merchants of Cool, Naomi Klein states, "Quite simply, every company with a powerful brand is attempting to develop a relationship with consumers that resonates so completely with their sense of self that they will aspire, or at least consent, to be serfs under these feudal brandlords." With this being said, the question of why the hip-hop image is so much different than that of rock music has always bothered me. Take the band Coldplay for example. The first adjectives that come to mind when thinking of the band are soft, emotional, and uplifting. And even though the band does not have that rebel edge, they managed to win Grammy's and sell millions of records without having brand names within their lyrics. Now examine a hip-hop artist equivalent with huge success in America, 50 Cent. His breakthrough album is entitled Get Rich or Die Tryin', appropriate for the philosophy behind the image of mainstream hip-hop. After listening to the first minute of the first single "In Da Club", it's a given that Bacardi and Mercedez Benz increased their sales for that year. He follows that formula of selling your own culture plus helping a company sell a product equals big checks and big success. Not only did he sell over ten million records with his Get Rich or Die Tryin' album, but he let the big name companies know – he means business. And this is precisely the problem. Not only do I see advertisements everywhere else in American culture, but now I have to sit and listen to catch phrase commercials within the music I know and love. This affect has made me question everything about myself. I've been obsessed with the genre music since TLC's release of Crazy Sexy Cool, and since then I've become what many call a "Hip-Hop Head." At the time, I was 8 years old and highly susceptible to any message that came my way. Thankfully, TLC was one of those groups that wasn't caught up in the over excessive marketing campaign that targeted young music listeners like myself. So my foundation for quality, meaningful hip-hop music was always there. But as I grew into my teenage years, I found myself often imitating to the rappers I listened to on a subconscious level. I started wearing brand name clothing that was "acceptable" and even though I was too young to know anything about alcohol, I thought Hennessey and Bacardi...
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