Abstract Hip Hop

Abstract hip hop is a sub-genre of hip hop that eschews many of the conventions associated with the genre. This style has become a fixture in underground hip hop since the early 2000s and is often characterized by lyrics and concepts that focus on more abstract ideas rather than braggadocio or everyday problems.

Artists who adopt this style tend to rely on more extensive metaphors and symbolic word choice than typical rappers. Their beats also resemble more avant-garde elements from experimental hip hop.

‘Sample-based production’

While sampling has been an important aspect of music technologies in general, it is one arena of practice that, when used in hip hop, evokes a distinct ethos and social context for the genre (Rose 1994). By encoding and appropriating a wide variety of sound sources to produce their own musical sonic worlds, producers and artists in hip hop resolutely break the rules of music production that have long been regarded as ‘rules of the game.’

‘Intertextual priorities’

Unlike the deejays and emcees to whom the aural antecedent of hip hop is generally associated, hip hop recording artists embrace an emphasis on locality, which may very well be a direct result of its origins in New York City where boroughs were tightly clustered together and often vied for control over the thriving local entertainment industry (Forman 2002). In such a context, local references and shoutouts can be a means to communicate their own sense of belonging to and pride in that particular borough to other members of their community (see Scott 1990).

As such, this emphasis on intertextuality is not only a potent form of expression but also a powerful cultural force, providing marginalized groups with opportunities to convey coded meaning through language, performance, and/or what James Scott calls “hidden transcripts”–discourses that take place off stage and beyond direct observation by powerholders. Such practices have led to controversies over the use of sample-based music production practices, such as those relating to copyrights and plagiarism (Schumacher 1995).

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