As an art student something that regularly comes up during tutorials and lectures is the concept of originality. As something that many creatives value it’s sadly ironic that originality is now a lost idea. Even when one tries their hardest it is rare in the art sphere to be in any way original. Anything that you do has almost certainly been done countless of times before. Something that really stuck with me however, is when during a lecture in first year one of my tutors said that ‘hip hop was the last original art form’.
Admittedly I did slightly question what he meant by this in the moment but after having a minute to process the statement I realised that there is a lot of truth behind this. The sampling culture that hip hop was based on, scratching and looping records to make new tracks was unlike anything seen before in the history of music. Of course to this day it is still met with controversy, ‘the original version is better’ is a phrase that constantly rings in my head. However coming from disco, which featured full bands with members each playing different instruments in sync, the idea of simply taking a record, looping it and creating a new track, without any sort of backing musicians was completely foreign.
Of course with hip hop also came the birth of MCing, breakdancing, streetwear and a multitude of other creative movements that had a groundbreaking effect on culture even beyond music. However people often forget that hip hop itself started with beats. While rappers today are often the focus, originally MCs were only used to hype up the crowd during tracks.
Admittedly it only took a couple years for rappers themselves to take the spotlight, Even during the 80s MCs such as Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J were taking the spotlight in hip hop culture. But what people often forget is the influence that hip hop had on music production to this day. Sampling, while being groundbreaking at the time is now a basic element in almost every pop song to a greater or lesser degree. Of course some might put this down to the fact that hip hop itself has in the past five years overtaken rock as the most popular worldwide genre, (although how someone can actually measure what the most popular genre of music is globally I have no idea), however much of the time it becomes easy to overlook the production on tracks when one is so focused in the rappers themselves.
But with the birth of what Netflix’s hip hop evolution described as the ‘superproducers’ in the early 2000s such as Pharrel, Timbaland and of course Kanye West, hip hop’s effect not only on music production, but the role of the producer itself was undeniable. No longer was the producer taking a backseat. With Timbaland producing entire albums for mainstream pop artists, such as Justin Timberlake’s Future Sex Love Sounds, it was clear that the producer was destined to take a far more important role not only in the music industry but in mainstream culture.
What Timbaland, Pharell and especially Kanye showed was not only that one didn’t have to be a rapper to be successful in hip hop, but with brand identities just as solid as the artists they were producing for, they demonstrated that producers no longer had to take a backseat. In many ways this goes back to hip hop’s roots where MCs were originally just a secondary to the beat, however it is undeniable that this changed not only the landscape of hip hop but the landscape of popular music since.