When Sounds Collide: How Music Became Genreless [Genius]

Started by RetiredAccount, Aug 12, 2020, in Music Add to Reading List

  1. RetiredAccount
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    RetiredAccount Big Time Stuntin Like My Daddy

    Aug 12, 2020
    Technology changed the way music is made and consumed, artists like Lil Nas X and Lil Uzi Vert have reaped the benefits.

    In late 2018, while living on his sister’s couch, struggling Georgia-born rapper Montero Hill bought a beat off YouTube from a young producer living in The Netherlands for $30. With no label or management, he recorded what he calls “loner cowboy” verses over it and uploaded a song titled “Old Town Road” online under the moniker Lil Nas X. By now, you probably know how the rest of the story goes: For months, you couldn’t drive to work, open up your phone, or turn on the TV without hearing Hill’s voice sing, “Can’t nobody tell me nothin’” to a tune that’s somehow country and trap—thanks to a Nine Inch Nails sample. The genre-bending hit spent a record-breaking 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in 10 other countries.

    Even if you didn’t know Lil Nas X’s story, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since the iPod dropped in 2001, technological advancements have slowly morphed music into a genreless landscape by reconstructing the process in which artists make records, the speed at which fans consume it, and the genre rules we’re willing to break as both creators and listeners.



    At the launch of the iPod, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs confidently predicted music would “never be the same again.” And he was right. The device, which provided ample storage space to keep your entire library in one place facilitated listening to music in a way that no Sony Walkman had done before. With the addition of the iPod’s new “shuffle” feature, album-centric music listening slowly began to fade to the background. You were no longer tethered to the 12 songs on an artist’s album. Now you could passively listen to your diverse inventory just by pressing play. With the proliferation of Auto-Tune around the corner, the lines we created to categorize music would continue to disappear.

    T-Pain’s “I’m Sprung” shook up the mainstream music game when it arrived in 2005. It was catchy like a pop song, smooth like R&B, and yet somehow hard like rap. To top it all off, his rap-sung vocals were so intentionally robotic. This is not to say Auto-Tune wasn’t around prior to T-Pain’s mid-2000s domination—you can hear the innovative technology on songs as early as Cher’s 1998 No. 1 hit “Believe”–but T-Pain’s heavy use of the pitch-correcting technology allowed a no-name rapper from Tallahhassee, Florida, to crossover into pop music. After that, most of your favorite MCs—Drake, Lil Wayne, Future—would take a page from T-Pain’s book at some point, prioritizing catchy pop-like melodies over hard-hitting verses and dissolving the boundary between rapping and singing.

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    PHOTO BY KEVIN WINTER/NBCUNIVERSAL/GETTY IMAGES

    Pretty soon, the technology became a mode of experimenting with all types of music. On Kid Cudi’s breakout hit “Day ‘n’ Nite,” the then-unknown artist used the sonic tool as a way to emulate sounds of his favorite electronic group. “It was a point in my time where I would, cop bud, listen to Rat-a-tat for hours on end, and just write songs by myself,” Cudi told KarmaLoopTV.

    Where Auto-Tune worked to open up doors for artists to crossover into different genres, an influx of internet platforms and streaming services, such as SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music, would give rise to a new wave of artists who freely mixed and matched these genres to form a more blended sound. One of SoundCloud’s greatest triumphs was introducing a new wave of rappers who appealed to their generation’s eclectic taste in music. Growing up in the iPod era, these artists were less inclined to let genre dictate their creative inspirations. And with tools like Auto-Tune at their fingertips, there were few limits to incorporating these inspirations into their work.

    Take Lil Uzi Vert, one rapper who’s garnered mainstream success through the platform. Uzi cites Paramore’s Hayley Williams and Marilyn Manson as influences, which is apparent in his emo-pop-laced hip-hop sound and his dark, Manson-esque visuals. That melding of genres has become the norm among his SoundCloud peers: Post Malone, who grew up listening to everything from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to 50 Cent, borrows from rock, pop, hip-hop, and sometimes even country. Lil Peep’s love of early 2000s punk and dream pop played a crucial role in forming his emo rap sound. And Ski Mask the Slump God is trap, heavy metal, and punk all rolled into one. “I listen to every genre: rap, rock, classical, heavy metal…I listen to Adele sometimes too,” he told Office magazine. While Soundcloud earned you cult fandoms and artistic freedom, there was one thing it’s streams couldn’t provide: mainstream chart success.

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    PHOTO BY TIM MOSENFELDER/GETTY IMAGES

    Enter: streaming services, which play an ever-increasing role in what music we see on today’s most popular charts. In 2017, Lil Uzi Vert’s first studio album, ‘Luv is Rage 2’ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 135,000 equivalent album units in its first week. Of those album units, 100,000 were rewarded due to streaming from platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal—that’s 74 percent of his total sales.

    As streaming services continue to expand into other countries, international artists and sounds are getting their chance to break into the mainstream as well. According to an analysis by MusicBusinessWorldwide, as of 2020, over 40,000 new songs are added each day to Spotify, a home to music from 13 countries since launching in 2008. On the flip side, music lovers are just as eager to discover new sounds; Spotify users’ daily listening habits include around 41 unique artists from all over the world. So it’s no coincidence elements of international genres like K-pop, U.K. drill, and reggaeton have permeated mainstream music exponentially in these last few years. Between 2017 and 2018 alone, Apple Music reported an 86 percent spike in K-pop streaming among U.S. users. And with fans’ music palettes expanding outside of their home countries, genre-melding is becoming more and more essential if you want to make it big.

    Even stars who were once successfully beholden to one single genre are being forced to expand their sonic horizons to stay relevant. In 2017, Justin Bieber dipped his toes into reggaeton on Latin star Luis Fonsi’s 2017 global smash, “Despacito.” A few years later, Lady Gaga hopped on the K-Pop bandwagon by linking up with girl group BLACKPINK for 2020’s “Sour Candy.” And Drake’s repeatedly rode the wave of U.K. drill by tapping producers and artists of the genre for his 2017 album ‘More Life’ and adopting the sound on songs like 2020’s “War.”



    So while technology’s ever-changing landscape has certainly created a few obstacles for the music industry, it has also transformed it into something bigger and better: a global genre melting pot—and one where artists have a little more autonomy over their craft. As Lil Nas X sums up his path to the top, “When I first started to do music, I was kind of doing what I thought people would want me to do. ‘Old Town Road’ was me doing what I wanted to do.”


    https://genius.com/a/when-sounds-collide-how-music-became-genreless
     
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