Hip hop in itself started as a subculture and an underground community in resistance to oppression. Rap, then, evolved from that very foundation and blossomed into what it is now, in 2017 (Sullivan,605). Not only is it a form of art, expression, resistance, advocacy and music outlet, it is also an overwhelmingly profitable entity. Brands, ideas, and agendas can all be pushed upon the masses through the advertisement and marketing of artists through this genre. It can sometimes be hardly detectable by the masses. In an American society overflowing with rappers in the hopes of reaching high level and success, few often to the big leagues but it would be a lengthy process to analyze all of them, let alone compare them. For this reason, there will only be one man in emphasis here…
Kendrick Lamar is an artist with an incredibly strong sense of a narrative. He has a coming of age, rags to riches story, growing up in the notorious Section 80 government subsidies. His journey is an inspirational one but that is not to say he reached success by pure luck and marketing. His talent supersedes so many in the game with the proof in his bars and one-liners. While laden with melody and a raspy voice, Kendrick has never been shy on speaking out about racial inequality and issues surrounding social justice.That being said, Kendrick Lamar has fallen victim to deviated from his original standpoint of speaking his mind. He is in himself a (extremely successful) marketing tool (Lochner, 1) however, he has found himself diluting his original brand by associating with pop stars in order to reach a new audience. That audience being the mainstream masses that rely on the radio for their main source of music and exposure to artists. Sullivan argues that “it is possible that rap’s white fans may see it in a different light. They may also avoid listening to rap that involves a more explicit critique on racism” (606). With this in mind, the forces of authority that pump out mind numbing hit after hit that always seem to land itself in high rankings of many music charts, definitely know this and manipulate hip-hop artists alike to conform to more mass-marketable tunes. They also hope to tap into a whole other spectrum of fans by collaborating two completely different musicians.
With a verse on a song (Control by Big Sean) in which he was only featured on, had an influence on the audience, whether that be good or bad. Even artists in which he was demeaning in the verse gained Twitter traction. From this analysis, we can deem Kendrick Lamar as a marketable entity with influence over groups of people. This will help to articulate how the argument that his involvement with mainstream pop artists deviates from his usual content but is a strategic tactic. Although he is an artist, his moves are calculated; his words, tools of the trade.
Below is data in which I charted, collected from the Billboard Top 100 Peak Rankings collective. Note that many of Kendrick Lamar’s tracks have not even graced these charts whatsoever. If we compare highest feature to the lowest we can infer what the difference climbing 95 ranking spots-Taylor Swift.
Briefly comparing lyrics from Institutionalized by Kendrick Lamar and Bad Blood by Taylor Swift Ft. Kendrick Lamar.
The sheer lack of substance of Taylor Swift incredibly popular pop song compared to a politically charged Kendrick Lamar song is significant and present. Although he may be a highly successful rap artist, it is important to view him and his specific collaborations as strategic and conforming to mainstream binaries. By doing these features on radio superstars songs, he is inherently white-washing himself in order to appease the ears of many rather than stay true to himself. Is Kendrick an advocate for racial equality anymore? Is he just a money making marketing puppet now? That may be a matter of opinion, however the pressure to appeal to a wide audience is proven true in his case. Concluding, it is important to acknowledge when analyzing the music industry and a entity of power and societal control.
- “Why Every Marketer Should Know the Story of Kendrick Lamar.” Why Every Marketer Should Know The Story Of Kendrick Lamar. Deep Advantage, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
- Sullivan, Rachel E. “Rap and Race: It’s Got a Nice Beat, but What about the Message?” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 33, no. 5, 2003, pp. 605–622., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180978.