RAP AND THE COMMODITIZATION OF ATTITUDE
The advent of the baby boomer generation saw a radical change in human history. While there has always been generational conflict, the baby boomers added a significant intensifier to that conflict: for the first time in history, adolescents had become a market segment. Never before had adolescents controlled enough disposable income to make them a target of marketers.
There were two salient features about this new adolescent market segment. Music was the lead-in, and attitude was the hook. A peculiarity of attitude, in this regard, is that once an attitude becomes acceptable through market overexposure, it can no longer serve as the hook into the market. Over time, attitudes had to become increasingly outrageous to continue as an effective hook. In the late 50’s, Elvis’ gyrating hips were sufficiently “in-your-face” to shock the adult world and serve as a hook into the new adolescent market segment. Today, obscenity is hardly enough.
There has always been a tension in popular music since the 50’s between the music itself, and attitude. With some notable exceptions in the 1960s, as attitude waxed, the music waned. Rap represents an extreme step in this direction. In rap, the music has been almost entirely emptied out, and all that remains is pure attitude. In rap, attitude is no longer merely the hook; it is the commodity being sold. The product itself is simply packaging, dark doggerel chanted to a backbeat with naïve rhymes and insistent rhythms, resembling nothing so much as a nightmare nursery rhyme.
There are three components to rap: 1) bad boy attitude, which, to remain a saleable commodity in its market, must always threaten to teeter over the edge into criminality; 2) the extreme objectification of women, which spills over into violent misogyny; and 3) the hyperconsumerism of bling. In order to maintain his marketability, a rapper has to have “street cred,” which requires keeping his ties to a criminal element, or even an occasional murder.
Some might argue that there is an honesty to the edginess. If so, it is an honesty minus content, as rap reduces even honesty to an attitude in the service of commodity fetishism.