It’s aspirational. We’ve all put on headphones and thought to ourselves, “I don’t care what anyone says. I’m not going to med school in the Caribbean, and I am trying contact lenses.” Everyone can tap into that. And today, hip-hop is bigger than ever.
Nielsen, according to Forbes last year, finally says that rap has overtaken rock as the most consumed music genre in the country. I spoke with several experts in the music industry. They say they’re really not surprised.
It’s just fresher, hipper and more exciting than rock. Of Nielsen’s top ten albums for 2018, eight of them were hip-hop. This small thing that started in the Bronx has touched every corner of the world. Mexico, Brazil, England, Israel, Spain, France, Nigeria, Japan.
It even reached the Upper East Side. Isn’t that mind-blowing? Hip-hop had to go all the way around the world and get repackaged as a history lesson by a theater nerd… just so it could be accepted. That’s what it took for old white people to embrace rap.
They needed a concert where people would sit in complete silence. Streaming has helped make hip-hop a global phenomenon. But when most people talk about music streaming, they’re focusing on one thing. The music industry has seen a resurgence in the last few years thanks to the proliferation of streaming music.
It looks as though music streaming is starting to be a cash cow for these music companies. Yeah, Spotify and Apple Music have revived an industry that many had left for dead, even just a year or two ago. By focusing on the economics of streaming, they’re actually missing the bigger picture. Streaming has changed the sound, the reach and the impact of hip-hop.
Now, when it comes to the sound, these days, I don’t know what the fuck I’m listening to. Have you guys heard “Gucci Gang”? Okay, if you haven’t, I just gave away 90% of the song. -[hip-hop music playing] -♪ Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang ♪ ♪ Gucci gang, Gucci gang ♪ -♪ Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang ♪ -[man] ♪ Gucci gang!
♪ ♪ Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang ♪ -[man] ♪ Gucci gang! ♪ -♪ Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang ♪ ♪ Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang… ♪ Okay, that guy, who looks like Lenny Kravitz fucked a Christmas tree, is Lil Pump, okay? He is the current face of SoundCloud rap. SoundCloud is a free streaming service, where you can see hip-hop changing and mutating almost in real time. Last year, only three recording artists around the world had songs that got over one billion streams, and two of them got their start on SoundCloud.
And what’s kind of amazing is that SoundCloud, a German company that’s basically making no money, has become a huge launching pad for new rappers. The success of “Gucci Gang” got Lil Pump a reported $8 million record deal. Yeah, he embodies the SoundCloud Rapper Starter Kit. Face tats, colorful dreads and rainbow grills. Look at Post Malone, he looks like the guy who’s dating your drug dealer’s mom.
Or Lil Xan, Lil Xan looks like the guy who dating your drug dealer’s daughter. This is hip-hop today. I’m only 33, but I feel so old. Look, this is the XXL Freshman cover. I don’t know if these are rap names or Wi-Fi networks. Like, I’m walking into a Coffee Bean, I’m like, “Hey, what’s the password for “Smokepurpp”?
It’s with two P’s. How about Juice Wrld with no “O”? This is the new era of rap, and this is what we’re dealing with now.
-♪ Versace, Versace, Versace ♪ -[man] ♪ Versace, Versace! ♪ -♪ Versace, Versace ♪ -[man] ♪ Versace! ♪ -♪ Versace, Versace, Versace ♪ -[man] ♪ Versace!
♪ -Whoo! -♪ Versace, Versace ♪ -[man] ♪ Versace! Versace! ♪ -♪ Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace ♪ When do they start rapping?
It’s like they were running out of time on a test, and they just put “Versace” all the way down the Scantron. “Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace.” Pencils down, Migos.
They’re like, “Oh, one more Versace!” And this new flow is upsetting experts. That’s what’s wrong right now, everybody’s trying to rap the same style. I don’t know who created it, if it was Future or Migos, but all them niggas sound the same. [imitating hip-hop rhythm] [man] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
[imitating hip-hop] [laughing] It’s addictive. This shit, it get you. You hear that shit everywhere, man. Martha Stewart’s best friend is right. But the biggest change in the songs, it’s not the repetitiveness.
It’s the length. “Gucci Gang” is just two minutes and four seconds long. That’s it, 124 seconds.
124 seconds into a Kendrick song, he’s still reading a haiku about the water crisis in Flint. This is the shortest song to enter the Billboard Top 10 in over 40 years. Now, one reason songs have gotten shorter is because of the new incentive structure of streaming. Streaming platforms, like Spotify, pay by the stream. So shorter tracks mean more streams and more money.
It’s why we’re seeing a lot of albums with a lot of tracks and short songs. Lil Yachty’s second album had 17 tracks, nearly half of them are under three minutes. The sound of hip-hop may be different, but the most significant thing streaming has changed is its reach, and the streaming platform that reaches the most people isn’t SoundCloud, Spotify or Apple Music. It’s Tidal.
Just kidding. [laughs] You guys were like, “What, it is?” The way you were like… [stammers] No, come on. Tidal is something Jay-Z’s cousins pretend to use on Thanksgiving. [woman] YouTube wasn’t created as a streaming music service, but it is the world’s most used website to listen to music legally. Around 1.3 billion people use the site just for music.
Wait, I don’t use YouTube to stream music. I use YouTube to convince myself that the Earth is flat. YouTube has 1.9 billion users. In 2018, one survey found that YouTube accounted for 47% of music streaming worldwide, and hip-hop has been a huge beneficiary of this. Now, look, everyone knows that YouTube is huge, but the spread of hip-hop on YouTube is impacting geopolitics in unexpected ways.
Dictators are getting in on the rap game. I’m serious, last year the autocratic leader of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow used his country’s YouTube channel to spit hot fire. [rock music playing] [singing in foreign language] ♪ Wonderful Abaza is a beautiful place ♪ ♪ Caspian waves have an exciting melody ♪ ♪ Going towards a brighter future ♪ ♪ Go ahead, go ahead Beloved Turkmenistan ♪ ♪ Turkmenistan, Turkmenistan ♪ I don’t know exactly what that is, but I’m pretty sure it’s what the Black Eyed Peas are aiming for.
Somewhere will.i.am is like, “Dude, I need to sign this dude in the red jumpsuit. He’s the next Fergie.” Now my question is, why is he rapping? Dictators already live like rappers. He doesn’t need to get into the booth. He races cars.
He flexes with gold. He’s got guns. He even hoops. [man speaking foreign language] Wait!
No, no, no. Play that back. That shit was gonna hit the backboard. Look, that’s how you know you’re a dictator, when you’re like, “No, no, no, just fix it in post.”
Hey, look, I’m not trying to clown him, all right? I know how that feels. [man] Hasan Minhaj is gonna pull it back and fire a three. Tell you what. I’d have taken my chances with Nicki Minaj on that one.
-[man] MVP! -That’s what I’m talking about. You know what, Mark Jones, it was the Ruffles Celebrity All-Star game at Bojangles Coliseum.
What do you expect? You know what, man? I’m not above pulling a Gurbanguly. [Mark Jones] Hasan Minhaj is gonna pull it back and fire a three. It’s a two-point game, with 10.6 to go. That’s what I’m talking about.
After the game , people were coming up to me. They were like, “Hasan, who taught you to shoot?” And I was like, “The president of Turkmenistan.”
Unfortunately, not every strongman is as down with hip-hop as Gurbanguly. All around the world, rap is becoming a dominant form of dissent against repressive regimes. And those regimes have responded by arresting rappers. In Turkey, Tanzania, Angola, Iran, Malaysia, Morocco and even Spain. Yes, you heard me.
Spain. [man] Rights groups, like Amnesty International say freedom of expression is under attack in Spain. Even tweets and jokes posted online could get you arrested. It seems any form of dissent can be treated as a criminal activity.
In Spain, joking about terrorism can land you in prison. Just ask some of the country’s musicians, artists and journalists who have been sentenced under Article 578. What are you doing, Spain? You can’t be arresting musicians. You’re a study abroad destination. Half of your population is NYU sophomores.
Your GDP is measured in transfer credits. You can’t be fucking around with the money. Now, Amnesty International says that since 2016 Spain has convicted 74 people under this vague law, Article 578. In 2017, Spain arrested 12 rappers for their lyrics. [man] The rapper Joseph Miguel Arenas, better known as Valtònyc, has taken refuge in Belgium.
In Spain, he’s been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for threats, glorification of terrorism and insults to the crown. Threats, glorification of terrorism and insults to the crown? That sounds like every review this show gets on Reddit. Look, the Spanish rappers say that the issue isn’t terrorism, it’s free speech.
[rapping in Spanish] As artists, our only weapon is our words. Eminem, the most famous rapper in the world, has a song called “We As Americans,” where he says that he wants to see the president dead. Snoop Dogg has a music video where he shoots at Trump. Ice-T has a song called cop killer. In Spain today, they would be convicted for these songs. For much less, we are going to jail.
Did you see that? They’re pulling up American rap on YouTube. They’re getting inspiration from Eminem, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T. The Spanish government is arresting rappers to send a message.
The objective of repression in any field is to take a scapegoat and make others be afraid. So they stop mobilizing, stop going to demonstrations, stop striking, stop singing. That’s the real objective. More than attack against me, it’s an attack against the whole population.
But the crackdown only made rap bigger. After the first 12 rappers were arrested, other rappers uploaded a new protest song on YouTube in solidarity, and it went viral. In it’s first 24 hours, it got a million views. Trying to suppress rap is obviously oppression 1.0. Co-opting rap is oppression 2.0.
[man] At a meeting of cultural advisers, he said, “Rap music should be controlled instead of banned.” If it is impossible to stop, then we must lead it and direct it properly. It’s insane to me that Putin, a man who gets off on poisoning dissidents and invading Ukraine, heard rap and was like,”Fuck, I cannot destroy this.
It’s not an American election.” No, Putin sees the power of rap, and he plans to use it to his advantage. [woman] That’s Putin attempting to wave his hand around at a rap and hip-hop contest. Putin’s approval ratings have dropped recently, so he’s been making a lot of appearances. -[man] Wow! Reaching out.
-There you go. That ought to get him re-elect– Wait he doesn’t run for office anymore. [laughs] So what does he need a popularity contest for? I guess he wants to reach out to his people. That’s right, his peeps. -His peeps– -That’s the Russian word for it.
[laughs] I’m just saying that. [laughs] “Yay! We have fun here on Eyewitness News, don’t we? Word play, cool. Slang, tan suits.
The peeps in the streets would say, “We’re lit. Let’s go to weather.” While Russia is trying to figure out how to co-opt rap, China is one step ahead of them. [man rapping in Chinese] ♪ Take a look At the deepening reform group ♪ ♪ In the year 2015 ♪ ♪ Building the economy, creating wealth Optimizing services… ♪ [woman] This isn’t just any Chinese rap song, it’s from the Communist Party’s propaganda machine.
It has lyrics that tackle air pollution, remind people to trust the government and has voice clips from Xi Jinping, saying punish every corrupt official. [man] ♪ Punish every corrupt official And fight every corrupt phenomenon ♪ Yeah, we all know those iconic pro-government rap anthems. Right? Remember when DMX rapped about reporting for jury duty? He’s like, “Hey!
Yo, dawg. Show up at nine.” [barks] That doesn’t happen.
Just a week ago, at the prominent “two sessions” conference, the regime went CCP 2 Chainz and dropped a new track. Now, brace yourselves, this shit gets intense. ♪ I got elation from inspiration Writing a compliment song for the nation ♪ ♪ While I’m talking about “two sessions” ♪ ♪ Development ♪ ♪ Science! The air bears the weight of desire ♪ ♪ You see we’ve attained landing On the dark side of the moon ♪ ♪ Fastest supercomputer in the world ♪ ♪ I guess nobody might deny ♪ [rapping in Chinese] ♪ Cloned macaques Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua ♪ ♪ New life is demonstrating It’s cute and congruous ♪ [in English] ♪ Monkey King to the west Legendary dragon to the sky ♪ ♪ Y’all know it’s time For a Chinese miracle ♪ Now, I know some of you are watching this like, “Co-opting hip-hop for power?
I thought that was Ariana Grande’s move.” It is. Now look, I get why totalitarian governments are trying to harness the power of hip-hop. Hip-hop is direct. It’s got battles, punch lines, diss records. It was made for confrontation.
When the Sex Pistols went after Queen Elizabeth, she didn’t start a punk band, okay? You know what’s weird? She kind of looks like what Ozzy Osbourne does now. Rap just gets the job done. Remember “Hit ‘Em Up” by Tupac? Tupac’s last verse was, “Fuck Mobb Deep, fuck Biggie, fuck Bad Boy as a staff, record label and as a motherfucking crew.”
Tupac gets right to the thesis statement. Right? He does not like Mobb Deep. He doesn’t appreciate Bad Boy, and it’s safe to say he does not care for Biggie. One of the best examples of rap directly going at an autocratic regime is happening in Thailand, where a military junta has been in power since 2014.
[man] It’s hugely popular on YouTube, and the Thai military government doesn’t want anyone to see it. [man rapping in foreign language] [man] The video condemning the nation’s leadership, made by a group called Rap Against Dictatorship, has had more than 20 million views in just two weeks. [rapping] This video by Rap Against Dictatorship was a huge deal.
In just a few weeks, Thailand is going to have their first democratic election since the coup in 2014. The government doesn’t want millennials seeing this right before the vote. A lot of younger people now will be voting for the first time, they’ll be eligible. Close to 10% of the electorate, and this is the new voices that I think that I’ve been activated, socialized through the new media technology. Now, I’ll be honest, you guys, I had no idea Thailand was having an election. The Thai election isn’t getting that much coverage.
If they want to get coverage, you know what they gotta do? They gotta form a soccer team, get stranded in a Thai cave, and then get Elon Musk to send a submarine to save the election. It’s the only way to save democracy. Since taking power, the military has enforced some very strict censorship laws and made speaking out against the government very dangerous.
[man] The military leaders have imposed strict laws over political gatherings and muzzled dissent. [woman] Beatings, arbitrary detentions, all accusations that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have made against the government. Even when people protest in some pretty tame ways, the government cracks down. Thai citizens have been locked up for using the three-finger Hunger Games salute, reading the book 1984 in public and eating sandwiches. That last one is true.
The Thai military started locking up people for staging pro-democracy picnics. Picnics. Do the juntas show up and they’re like, “Hands up, step away from the PB and J sandwich, otherwise I’m taking you and that seven-layer dip downtown.” That’s why I dropping this rap video was such a ballsy move. Rap Against Dictatorship held nothing back.
This song absolutely blasted the government with lyrics that are Pusha T level savage. The lyrics go, “This is a country whose minister’s watch belongs to a corpse, whose parliament is the playground of its soldiers, in which a gun is pointed at your throat in which you are told that you are free, even though you’re deprived of your right to vote.” Remember, Thailand is a country that banned picnics. We haven’t even gotten to my favorite line. “This is a country whose prime minister is kinda annoying.” Kinda annoying!
You dropped the whole song. We checked two different translations, and they both say, “Kinda annoying.” That last part is so petty. The entire song is like, “Yo, fuck you, you’re war criminals, you’re corrupt thugs. You ruined our country and one more thing, you’ll never get a date to prom.” This video is so powerful because of its symbolism.
This video is shot in one take, and it recreates an infamous 1976 photo. We’re not showing the photo because it’s really graphic, but in it, a pro-government mob attacks the body of a student protester hanging from a tree. It was part of the Thammasat military massacre, where government forces killed at least 46 students. It was basically Thailand’s Tiananmen Square.
The government doesn’t want you to remember it, and they’ve even erased it from schoolbooks. And if you’re seeing all of this, and you’re thinking, “Okay, a rap video critical the country, shot in one take, that uses a lot of symbolic imagery from massacres. Where have I seen that?” -[hip-hop music playing] -♪ This is America ♪ ♪ Don’t catch you slippin’ up ♪ ♪ Don’t catch you slippin’ up ♪ ♪ Look what I’m whippin’ up ♪ ♪ This is America ♪ That’s “This is America” by Childish Gambino, which came out in spring of 2018 and according to members of Rap Against Dictatorship, their video, which now has almost 60 million views on YouTube, was heavily inspired by “This is America.” This video got so big, so fast, the government just gave up trying to censor it. And much like Russia and China, the Thai government is now co-opting rap.
Not the kind of thing we’ve ever reported on before. The government and some of its critics online are now slugging it out in, have I got this right, a rap battle? Has he never heard of a rap battle? He’s like, “A dual of rhymes between lyrical poets. Is that right? Rap battle?”
That guy’s name is Richard Gizbert, which sounds like the active ingredient in “lean.” So how did the Thai government respond to the video? Initially, there was some tough talk from police and Thailand’s computer crime unit, but then the unit changed tack and released its own rap, “Thailand 4.0.” ♪ One, two, three, let’s go ♪ [rapping in foreign language] [woman] The online blowback has not been kind. About a thousand likes to 20,000 dislikes.
Here’s one comment. “So lame, the beats are so out-of-date. Don’t make more songs like this.” You know what?
I really respect that YouTube comment. They left the racism at home and just came straight with the constructive criticism. They’re like, “Stop rapping.” It’s impossible to know if this will change the election, but the fact that the government has to address this movement shows the power of hip-hop and streaming.
We think that anyone can use the phrase “what my country’s got,” the title of the song to speak out about whatever’s on their mind, what they think is the matter with our country. We hope that people will start being more critical when it comes to politics. It’s sort of a voice for teenagers, for young adults who can think but can’t act. That’s insane to me. A genre invented at house parties in the Bronx is affecting political sentiment internationally. Because of streaming, hip-hop is helping to galvanize movements around the world.
The same music that gave me the confidence to get contact lenses and gave birth to Lil Pump is now helping people call brutal dictators “kinda annoying.” And if you’re a brutal dictator, that must be kinda annoying.