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The Rise of Hipster-Hop

The Rise of Hipster-Hop

by Larry Day (Google+), 17 July 2013

It used to be true back in the early 00s and before, that your music taste dictated your place in the hierarchy of high school. You had kids who liked rap or hip-hop all banding together developing faux-limps, the metalheads all grew their hair for the first time and wore a lot of studded leather, emos got their lips pierced, hair chemically straightened and pumped out MCR (R.I.P.). The 80s had goths. 70s had punks and the advent of the mohican.

Back in the 60s you had mods and rockers fighting over music. You go further back, you've got greasers rockin' out to the oldies. It's always been true that music has been at the forefront of cultural revolution, paving the way for fashion and creating almost every subculture under the sun - every clique has their signature sound. As the world gets smaller and the Internet absorbs us all, anyone can get their paws on anything.

Subcultures still exist, obviously, and you still have die-hard pallid goths and rap fiends, but for casual listeners of music, that form of social group is dying. Music is no longer the dominant force behind cultural change - the World Wide Web is. The Internet has had a profound effect on music, with artists able to collaborate across the globe and bands able to reach potential fans across the world. With this kind of revolutionary technological advancement comes a change in music. People are able to share sounds at the click of a mouse. Music has become even more about experimentation than ever, with subgenres rising and falling faster than you can say 'seapunk'. Chillwave and witch-house are twogenres that were particularly short-lived.

Nowadays, we have genres melding together faster than music journalists can invent them. Country-metal, folktronica and pop-punk have all invaded the airwaves and begun a rapid ascent through the charts. Ellie Goulding and Fall Out Boy are behemoths of crossbred music, and it's only going to get more prevalent - soon we'll have dub-wub-funk-punk, bubblegum popcore (which actually sounds kind of delicious) and discotronica.

Some are craptacular tripe, some are rotting piles of fetid faeces. Others fare much better, like Hipster-hop. Smooshing hip-hop and indie together, it's a celebration of nerd-dom; where hip-hop has a central theme of ego, rappers like Childish Gambino celebrate their relationship foibles, quirky outsider-ness and passion for TV. Self-aggrandising pomp still features prominently, but it's sidled along with a hefty portion of insecurity and flippant pop culture nods.

Hipster-hop is what happened when hip-hop and indie/electro got hammered one night at some Vice-powered party off Patrón and Red Stripe. They cosied up real snug and banged a while. It was awkward. Then, 'cause they're ditzy wangs and forgot protection, hip-hop got pregnant and shat out hipster-hop. Now we have Odd Future, we have Iggy Azalea (who samples Foster The People and Sleigh Bells), Lil B and Angel Haze. Azealia Banks is the genre's outspoken spokesperson we all love to hate. There's an abundance of fresh talent, invigorating a new wave of rap-led music. Hipster-hop is in the vanguard. With the DIY aesthetic that bedroom producers bring, the focus has become about the words and sounds once again, rather than just which rapper is most marketable.

This evolution is fantastic, especially in terms of the advancement of hip-hop's views. Gender bias and sexual orientation prejudices have been unjustly clear-cut since the late 80s - gay rappers just weren't around, at least openly, and female rappers were few and far between. But with the dawn of hipster-hop, the playing field has levelled - Frank Ocean (technically more like indie-R&B) came out last year, and the style is almost dominated by women. Viva equalité! Kreayshawn, for example, takes on all comers in 'Gucci Gucci', claiming authority 'cause she's "got the swag, and it's pumping out [her] ovaries!"

It's a genre of irony, of razor wit and hedonism. There's a youthful vigour in the flows of rappers and it's bloody offensive: if you've heard '212' you'll know never to let your grandparents have an earful. There's still a lingering sense of arrogance in some artists - but it's delivered in an irreverent way that's filled with humour - and a fuzzy synth-haze aftertaste with crisp beats in others. Hipster-hop is very good at being relatable and personal (perhaps not all of the diss tracks and overloaded self-esteem), using humanity to sell themselves rather than epic budgets and glamorising misogyny and violence.

On Wolf Tyler, The Creator's most recent LP, there may be a few moments of attention whoring, but it's mostly a record focused on father issues and existential crises. The genre is often home to skewed electro synth lines that gurgle and chirrup underneath introspective vitriol; it's an immensely de rigueur style bound by the zeitgeist, which when it changes, will make many references obsolete - in a sense it's more disposable, like 'pop-up' rap, which will only be relevant for a short period.

In terms of sound, it probably lends more to hip-hop than indie or electronica. There are synth riffs that would be unheard of in old-school rap, but the beats are distinctly reminiscent of the mother genre, and the vocal delivery is rarely sung. It's an offshoot of hip-hop more than anything, but it does pay homage to some elements of indie. There's a lot of lo-fi production, for example. The impact that comes from indie is more in tone, aesthetic and subject matter than actual timbre. Do Kitty and Danny Brown look like your typical rappers? Hell no. But they are, and between them, they sample Britney Spears and discuss panic attacks.

Technically, it's not a particularly new style - it's just been reappropriated and tinkered with. Hipster-hop has roots in Nu-metal, which combined rap and chugging chords for the first time in a serious way. Ignore Run DMC/Aerosmith for a second (that was just a gimmick), there's a pretty good case for Linkin Park, Korn or Limp Bizkit founding the genre that's so prevalent today, paving the way for hip-hop's mergers with other genres. It's sad to think that Fred Durst did have a meaningful impact after all.

Maybe the genre conglomerates aren't ideal; they may pick and choose the best parts, but often the original meanings are lost - there's no punk fury in pop-punk, there's little folk fragility in folk-rock. But from a societal and humanitarian standpoint, the weakening of outdated morals in hipster-hop couldn't be better. Music does have to evolve, it always has, and this evolution sure isn't terrible; after all, there are some tunes being churned out and spectacular talent being found: without the blending of styles, Earl Sweatshirt wouldn't be on the cusp of domination and Azealia Banks wouldn't have brought the rap beef back.

It's becoming such a prominent force that even Drake has taken to the style, recruiting Sampha for his upcoming releases. However, hipster-hop does have a far more polarising little sister on the way. Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourself, Tumblrwave is coming.

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