Check out some highlights from “Eight Things That Hip-Hop Taught America”, an interesting panel discussion that went down at SXSW in Austin, Texas…(CNN)–Technically, the SXSW panel was called “Eight Things That Hip-hop Taught America” but Dan Charnas, author of “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-hop,” Elliott Wilson, chief executive of Rap Radar and former XXL editor, and Rob Stone, the founder and co-president of Cornerstone promotion had a hard time getting to it all. For a relatively new musical movement, there’s a lot of history to talk about.
So, here are five points from the presentation:
Chart-topping work by black artists
In the 1950s, The Crew-Cuts remade “Earth Angel,” a song originally done by The Penguins. The Crew-Cuts version went higher the charts. In the 1980s, Robert Palmer remade “I didn’t mean to turn you on,” a song first performed by Cherelle. His version was more successful. In both ages, Charnas argued, radio and TV stations rarely played music by black and white artists. As hip-hop began to get radio play, its success exploded – no no “translation” needed, as Charnas put it. “It can’t just be the biggest thing in black culture,” Wilson said. “It has to be the biggest thing in pop culture.”
All this viral marketing we’ve seen down at SXSW, all the stickers, fliers, street teams and semi-secret events – they all came from hip-hop, Charnas contends. Early on, rappers couldn’t get their music on labels, on radio or TV, so they had to promote it themselves. It worked, in a big, big way. “Suddenly, there was a whole industry built around this stuff,” Charnas said. There’s something to think about for all those folks handing out USB drives full of indie rock or stickers for hard-core bands.
Super-empowered artist moguls
Once upon a time, artists would approach labels and ask for branding that would give them a larger audience, even as it sacrificed their control over their work. Enter Wu Tang Clan and a deal that allowed them to sign as a group while all nine members could continue to create solo work. “Instead of artists looking to be branded by the label, labels were looking to be branding by the artists,” Charnas said. That led to bigger and better deals, and hip-hop leaders commanding their own business.
Hip-hop in the corporate world
Charnas played a commercial that will probably appear in my nightmares for the next few weeks: Rapping chicken nuggets. As he explained, “It was a big joke, a big joke to corporate America, this rap stuff.” But it didn’t take long for corporations to notice there was a serious and growing audience for hip-hop, and they couldn’t treat it as a fad, or approach it with rhyming puppet nuggets.
President Barack Obama
The president wasn’t elected only by rap stars, but panelists argued that a generation familiar with hip-hop had to happen before Obama could’ve won.
“He’s a great orator. He gives great speeches. He’s not a rapper. He’s a little bit older, but we look at this guy, and he kind of understands this stuff…he’s gonna keep our point of view in the politics of the world,” Wilson said.
Stone took it a step further: “This is hip-hop’s America. That’s the America I live in, and the America I want to live in. Very diverse. The vote for Obama was a vote for this vision of America.”