top of page
  • Writer's pictureAdmin

How Hip Hop Became Hit Pop

Welcome to Zeitgeist Radio. I'm Morgan Roe, founder of the Zeitgeist Academy. Every episode here on Zeitgeist Radio, I speak with someone from a unique musical subculture looking to understand their relationship with music. Zeitgeist means spirit of the times. Imagine all the things that make this moment feel different from other times.

The way people feel, what they like, the things they do together. That's what we call Zeitgeist. It's like a big invisible bubble that helps us understand the spirit or feeling of the time we're in. The idea here is that music may be universal, but each musical scene has its own mini zeitgeist. And that's what we're here to learn about on this podcast.

But before we begin, head over to zeitgeistacademy. com slash radio and put in your email address. I send a weekly newsletter with. Backgrounds and stories about our awesome guests, cool musical facts, and ways you can get involved if you love music and want to do more than just listen to a podcast.

That's Z E I T G E I S T Academy dot com.

My guest today is Amy Coddington, a professor of music at Amherst College and author of the new book, How Hip Hop Became Hit Pop.

Morgan: Amy, welcome to Zeitgeist Radio!

Amy: Thanks so much for having me. It's a blast to talk to you.

Morgan: I'm so excited. We were in college together and you've gone and done super cool things, so I'm here to pick your brain about what you've done. It's very cool. Can you start by just giving us an intro of who you are musically?

Amy: Sure. So I've been so I'm a professor of music at Amherst College. So that's sort of where I've ended up. And here I primarily don't play too much music. I mostly just teach about music. So I teach music theory and popular music history as well as some production classes as well. Musically like how I use music is I've been playing the piano since I was seven.

I played the upright bass for a while in middle school and high school and into college and then in college really got into singing. After college, I thought, well, for most of my life, I thought that I'd want to be a teacher. And so following college, that's what I did. And, you know, some dreams aren't made to be.

It turned out I really hated that. And so I went back to school to get a PhD in musicology and in particular popular music. And so I just finished writing and publishing this book about hip hop and its relationship to pop music more generally and to the radio industry. So now I really don't see myself so much as a musician as a, like a scholar who thinks about music.

I, I feel like I think and listen to music a lot more than I actually play it anymore, which. is funny because we met. I know you

Morgan: were constantly making music. You were playing piano, phenomenal piano player, phenomenal singer. And that's like all we did all in college was just make music.

Amy: Exactly. Like that was our friendship.

And so it's, it's it's a little weird to think that that's, I'm hoping to like start playing some music again soon. Once the book, the book is kind of the big thing for me. So now that it's done, I hopefully will have a little more time than I did. you know, a year ago when I was hustling through editing this book.


Morgan: yeah, yeah. Well, I'm so excited to talk about the book with you. It's called how hip hop became hip pop. And let's start with a kind of just setting some baselines because you and I are two white women and we are about to have an in depth conversation about hip hop and rap. As you were writing this.

How did your own gender and race play into your approach and kind of where do you see yourself in this story?

Amy: Sure. I mean, sometimes I describe this book as really a story that's, it's not really about me, but it's about people like me. So. You and I both grew up in Oregon which is an extremely white state.

I grew up in a white household in this like very white town in a very white state and learned about hip hop by listening to the radio. I my family didn't have a TV when I was growing up. And so my only access to popular culture writ large was through the radio. And so I really came to love hip hop.

by listening to it on the radio that didn't mean that like I had any sense of what the genre was or what the kind of larger or cultural movement that it's associated with was so I really distinctly remember like going to college and learning that hip hop was throughout the world and is right. It's a genre that's primarily thought of as expressing the voices of marginalized people across the globe.

It's a It's an incredible thing and I, you know, that That did not line up with the way that hip hop was introduced to me on the radio. And so for me, one of the things that I wanted to do in this book was really to think about how hip hop was sold to the American public and why it wasn't sold as the kind of revolutionary voices of, again, like marginalized people and why it was sold as like, Fun party music.

I, I mean, I'd love to hear like if you had a similar sense of,

Morgan: yeah, this is one thing I'm so excited to share with you about my experience reading this book. So I lived in Oregon for a long time, but I grew up in Montana. Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Yeah. So I had I mean, there were Basically like three or four main radio stations.

I also listened. I also didn't have TV and I also listened to the radio a lot, but it was classic rock, country, Christian, and then like new we'll get into that. But I could not believe when I was reading your book, I saw myself. And as in like the, the amount, okay, we'll get into this, but first, can you explain the relationship between radio and audience versus radio and advertisers?

Because I think that'll make where I'm coming at this a lot more clear because I did not listen to hip hop a lot. It was kind of sort of on the new, the new musics, the hit top hit station. Towards the end, like going into college, like late high school for me. But most of what I listened to was rock and roll.

Amy: Yes. Yeah, I can definitely. So I think the kind of major point that I really am trying to make in this book is about how the advertising industry influences what popular music is right. So what the top hits are, what artists are putting out, what radio programmers and DJs are playing, what record labels are doing, all of that is really influenced by the advertising industry.

And so to kind of get there, let me start from the The listener perspective. So if I'm listening to a radio, if I'm like sitting in my car, tuning into the dial, which I definitely still do I'm listening to the radio to listen to music. The radio station is doing something where they are interested in me and my ears that they can sell and my attention that they can sell to advertisers who want to advertise on the station to people who like music.

Or like the music that they're playing. So stations are targeting certain audiences by playing certain music. So if you're looking for white women in their 30s and 40s, you're playing kind of like soft rock and pop. If you're, if you're looking for other demographics, you're going to play different music.

And that's because radio stations are subsidized through advertising sales. If this sounds at all familiar, it's basically because this is the way the internet writ large is also, it also works. So I think we're much more used to thinking about this when we think about, you know, Facebook or we think about what we see on the internet.

And we're less kind of used to thinking about it when it comes, when we think about music, but because radio for most of the 20th century was the primary promotional vehicle of the music industry, meaning that like record labels, if they wanted to sell music, needed to get placed on radio stations because radio stations have this relationship with the advertising industry that also affects what music is actually being put out by labels and then what music becomes popular because it gets played on these hit music stations.

And then again, that's influences what we hear. So now we're sort of back out at the listener perspective.

Morgan: Yeah. And then from me, like me reading this, I. I felt pretty uncomfortable because I'm like, music, certain songs and the music again, like when you're listening to stuff, especially as a teenager, when I listened to the radio a lot, that's like me, like that is.

The songs you like are so core to your identity and the reason you like them is Like you think you have a choice in this

My entire musical like we all have like, you know, like our main thing and then you know Maybe we'll listen to other stuff too but like we always go back and there's certain musics that feel like home to us and I realized that I had virtually no say In what that music is, that feels like home to me because I got it mostly from the radio and it was all decided by these overall, like white, older, conservative men with telling, you know, the DJ is what

Amy: they could and could not play.

Yeah. And I mean, I tell a story in my book and I don't really go into this too much, but you know, when I was in middle school, sort of just figuring out who I was as a person, one of the big defining questions. Like that we got, we talked about in middle school was like, do you like the Backstreet Boys or Blackstreet better?

Right? And like that determines sort of who's, you know, who you were sitting with at the lunch table and who you became friends with. Exactly. And so, I mean, to me, the idea that we were asking that question at all. Shows a really strong by right. So this would be the late nineties, early two thousands shows the way that hip hop has become kind of what I call in the book hit pop, which is mostly just top 40 music.

But and so the fact that we're even having that discussion means that these two genres are really linked by that point. But it also shows that, you know, as exactly what you're saying, the real influence that musical taste has on us as musicians. Developing people. Yeah.

Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. Can we, can you describe, cause it's going to be a key element here in our conversation.

What is crossover? I had not heard that term

Amy: before I read your book. Sure. Yeah. So this is a term. It's a pretty industry specific term in many ways. So, okay, so we just talked about how radio stations are playing music that they aim towards particular audiences and because we live in the United States, which is a station or a sorry, a country that has been Segregated from its very origins, right, where like race is one of the defining qualities of people within the United States the, the majority of radio stations are either aimed towards black or white audiences.

typically not both. And this has been the case since the very first programming aimed at black audiences, which is goes back to the 1920s, but, and then even the radio stations aimed at black audiences, which are sort of part of the rock and roll era. Where these are because advertisers think about white and black consumers as pretty specific groups that advertisers don't necessarily want to target at the same time, although they might be

Morgan: interested in targeting both.

I could not believe some of those. Yes. Like pizza. The pizza. Yeah.

Amy: Yeah. So advertisers for most of the 20th century have a very, very reductive idea of what black and white consumers. are interested in consuming and many, many products throughout the 20th century did not want their many companies did not want their products associated with audiences of color writ large.

And so because the advertising agency has to sort of write as, as we, you know, when a company says, well, we want to target, you know, white women, then when they go to the radio Because race is such a dividing line in the advertising industry, it thus becomes a dividing line in the radio industry, which also influences how records are sold in the US.

So since the beginning of the recording industry, which this goes back to the very beginning of the 20th century most record companies have divided their offerings by race, right? So we have, there's certain genres that are primarily performed by white artists. This includes country, pop, and later rock and genres that are primarily performed by black artists.

And record companies really, and there's a lot of research that's been done about this, about how record companies really try and fit artists and genres. into these boxes that are divided by race. Okay, so if we have this system where you know, black artists make certain styles of music that is then sold to black consumers at the most reductive level, and white artists make styles of music that are for white audiences at again at the most and we're being really reductive here because this is the kind of reductive logic of the record and radio industries.

if That's the case, then there's some artists that appeal across racial lines. We know about these artists. These are some of like the biggest superstars, I'd say. Probably the most famous of these is an artist like Prince Michael Jackson. Lionel Richie, Tina Turner, artists like that, who in the 80s crossed over, and this is getting to the term crossover, from one audience to another, right, that they sort of had their, what was described oftentimes as their base audience.

And that with enough success, they could cross across this kind of racial divide into and find that find audiences of other demographics. And so throughout the 1980s, there's a huge push in the record industry for black artists to crossover record executives have the. incorrect assumption that the black buying, the black record buying market is not big enough to subsidize the sort of productions that an artist like Prince, Lionel Richie is interested in.

And so they say, well, sure, you can make this. High powered album, but you need to try and sell, you need tracks on there that are going to sell more widely. And those are tracks that are called crossover tracks. And for the most part, those are songs that are like a mix between pop and R& B or a mix between pop and funk.

Maybe if you're Lionel Richie, you might have a country band sing with you because that sort of aids in the crossover. What one scholar calls the ultimate crossover record is this exceedingly both funny and banal record called We Are the World, which was a charity record from the mid 1980s where artists of all stripes all get together and sing and Right to sort of appeal, and they're sort of take each of the each of these artists is taking their core audience and combining it with everyone else's.

And this was a huge, huge success in the 1980s. For the most part, rap was not a part of this crossover movement because record and radio industry personnel did not think I think that it had the same wide appeal as a ballad singer like Lionel Richie did. Yeah. That

Morgan: was the other thing I felt really called out on, actually, Amy was ballads.

I love myself a sappy ballad and I'm like, Oh, I was told to love this. Are ballads the whitest music? No, no, no, no, no ballads. I

Amy: mean, and I say this in the book at some point, there's, there's. There's a long, long tradition of ballads being used as this kind of crossover vehicle. This goes back to the 60s where black artists would you know, they would perform ballads because that was oftentimes seen as both a more neutral musical space, right?

So it didn't have the same sort of genre characteristics that you might hear in, like, a rock song or a rap song. But also because, yeah, it is a pretty easy way to gain white audiences. So, it's both, it's both like, the ballads are like the whitest thing ever, but they're also Not, right? Because they've always been sung by non white artists.

Yeah, it was

Morgan: like, I think you phrased it as I think, I don't know the exact I should have written down the quote, but it's basically the safest music for white women. Well,

Amy: I mean, and this isn't, these are not words that I want to be clear that a lot of the language that I'm using to describe music in this book and the music industry writ large in this book is coming out of the mouths of the people who were actually in charge of choosing songs for white women.

Right, right, right. Yeah. Not your wife. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No, no, no. And, and for me, so put some quotes around safest for sure. But, but for me, it's really important to sort of let these people speak, right. To say you're on record as saying. Hip hop isn't right because white women won't like it, or, you know, you need ballads because they're safe or because they're comfortable, though, that language.

I mean, I think it reads to our 21st century eyes as pretty racially inflected, and it was in the 80s as well. And so I think it's important to kind of let the people who are making the decisions have their decision, right, have their kind of rationales exposed. And so one of the things that I'm trying to do in this book is let these programmers speak a little bit, like show, show what their rationales were.

Morgan: Well, and to show the conversation, real conversations that were happening, you had like screenshots of people like drawing graphics of like, like not screenshots. Images, you know yeah, figures, I guess you call them in an academic setting.

Amy: No, I think some of them are screenshots.

Amy is a force of nature. All through college, watching her play music, whether it was piano or singing, or she'd do arranging and teaching for our acapella group, everything that she did with music was very kinesthetic. She has this way of thinking as if there's movement behind it. She's fascinating. And I go into more detail in my newsletter, head over to zeitgeistacademy.

com slash radio.

Have you ever wanted to learn to play the blues? Join us in February 2024 for a hands on journey through the music that shaped America, taught by me and performer and teacher Ed Kopp, who you can also hear on Zeitgeist Radio in Episode 7. Discover the history, heart, and styles of blues music and learn to play in our immersive six week virtual course.

This course is appropriate for any instrument. Learn to jam and solo while also immersing in the rich blues history and a great soundtrack. Learn more at zeitgeistacademy. org. Transcripts provided

Morgan: So in the midst of all of this, and now we kind of have an understanding of crossover, there was one really powerful player that seemed to like it drove kind of a lot of the rest of the country in getting hip hop and rap more widely accepted.

Can you talk about Power 106

just a little bit?

Amy: Sure. Yeah. So I want to be like a little, okay, I'll Here, what I oftentimes think about Power 106 as a station that created a different economic model for how radio stations worked, which then allowed on other stations, rap to be played across the country.

So here's sort of what the story is in the mid 1980s, amidst all of this crossover music, right? Music that was to appeal across racial demographics. The radio various members, people in the radio industry start experimenting with, and this sounds like Just honestly, the most common sense approach, but this is a big deal in the radio industry.

They start experimenting with stations that appeal to more one race, more than one racial demographics. So some of these stations are stations primarily aimed at black audiences that are trying to get white audiences. These are what are called urban contemporary stations. And some of them are primarily white.

oriented stations that are trying to get both Black and what they're calling at this time, Hispanic audiences. And this is what is called in my book. It's called a crossover station. Now it's a little bit more often called a rhythmic or a rhythmic contemporary station, but I really like the term crossover because it helps us understand exactly what these stations were intending to do, which was play music that crossed over.

Morgan: I was very interested in the, the impact of the Hispanic culture on this as well. I didn't see this conversation growing up and, and, and it was, you know, kind of before. So I, I had no idea that they were so impactful in getting rap elevated.

Amy: Yeah. Yeah. So, so I think one of the things that was the most surprising to me?

And I actually just got asked this question earlier this week, was like, what was the most surprising thing to you about writing this book? And I actually said exactly what you're saying, that so when these crossover stations started appearing in major metropolitan areas across the country, they, required a not just a kind of like black, white demographic, but what they called a tri ethnic audience.

And and also, I mean, even more expansive than that. So if you think about big cities across the US, it's not just that, like, they're not just made up of white, black and Hispanic people. Obviously, it's much more complicated than that. The radio industry is really thinking about those three demographics as combining.

to create an audience for these crossover stations. And in particular, the thing that made these crossover stations unique is that they were aimed towards a young audience. So most radio stations radio formats, so like a country station, or rock radio, or Adult Contemporary in particular, these are all stations that are aimed at more older audiences.

And so Crossover Stations found this kind of sweet spot of aiming their music for this multi ethnic and multi racial group of people in their, like, early 20s or maybe, like, early to mid 20s. And that in particular, right, being able to play music for young people, many of them people of color, that actually created a perfect space for rap to fit into.

And so to me, I think the, the, the real there's sort of two parts of this Transformation that I describe in the book where rap goes from not being played on the radio to being played a lot on the radio, and one of the pieces of that transformation is the development of this crossover station model where stations didn't have to worry about like appealing to older audiences.

They could really just play what young people wanted to hear. The other part of that, of course, is that artists had to start making music for For these types of stations. And so I think the cool one of the cool things and one of the real lines of common threads that comes out throughout my research is so hip hop was developed in the South Bronx, right?

It comes out of this neighborhood that at the time is primarily black and Puerto Rican and We always think about hip hop being black culture, but actually at its origins, it wasn't just black culture, right? It was black and Puerto Rican and a number of other, right, races, ethnicities, people of different backgrounds.

And so if we and and for many, many years in the 1980s. Hip hop was really associated with the style of music called freestyle, which is how people typically sort of refer to it as like, well, hip hop is kind of like it's, you know, it's just like the sister or the kind of next door neighbor of it. And these stations, the crossover stations that came around about, I don't know, five to 10 years after hip hop is really, burgeoning, they they started playing freestyle and hip hop kind of side by side, just like you would imagine lit, you know, driving around in the South Bronx and hearing people playing stuff out of their boombox you might have heard.

And so the common thread of Black and Hispanic Like the common thread of hip hop being born from black and hispanic neighborhoods I think you really see that in these crossover stations as

Morgan: well Yeah, and like you said this seems obvious to us now, but your book I really outlines. This was weird and Advertisers the this, you know the creation of power 106.

It was like this won't work. You're never gonna get money You're never gonna get funding. No one wants to make this kind of music. It was People they even they started a whole new categorization system, right? Like how do you quantify what does well? It's I mean, it completely changed the way we look at music today.

Amy: Yeah, and it I mean it for the radio. The radio industry is just extremely stodgy and extremely old and extremely white. And so, there, I mean, and I feel like in my book, I actually highlight the sort of stodgiest people, right? So Power 106, the guy who's in charge of programming it for most of its existence, hated rap, right?

He really didn't like it very much and didn't think that it was a profitable music to play on his station. And yet, even given that, his station was still responsible for sort of creating this economic model that other stations that were far more interested in playing rap, they could use. And so it, it's a kind of, it's a remarkable change because in some ways it's not, it's not about, oh, let's bring, you know, like it's, it's not a, it's not really an optimistic tale in some ways.

It's like, it's not that like people are like trying to make social change. It's that. They were forced to make social change because the country is far was changing, right? The demographics of the US were rapidly diversifying. And the radio industry had to come to terms with that. And I think we see that, especially if we think about the music industry today.

How So, simply like the globalization of the music economy has meant that we have to pay, right? The music industry is paying far more attention to music that's coming out of different parts of the country. K pop, Afrobeats in particular because they have to, right? They're being forced to. And so in some ways, I think the story I tell isn't so much about like people pushing for righteousness or anything like that.

It's actually about, it's about conservative forces being sort of pushed along. Mhm. Yeah,

Morgan: yeah. And on that note, so moving along to gated communities. I didn't expect gated communities to make a make an appearance, but turns out they were, they were kind of part of a movement too, cause as wraps and these crossover stations.

gained in popularity, there was this what you call it, politics of

Amy: respectability, right? Yeah, there, I mean, there's a, there's a huge backlash to the popularization of rap. Yeah. Across and so one of the ways that I, so basically what happens in the radio industry is as soon as rap becomes, starts becoming popular among young and You know, maybe audiences age to like, I'm just going to say up to 35, right, not the oldest demographics, but definitely people in their 20s.

All of a sudden there is an enormous amount of backlash that comes from various And, Parties, so advertisers not interested in having their advertisements played on a station that's playing rap cultural conservatives, right? So definitely people on Capitol Hill record companies who are worried about the increase who are worried about.

Rap's influence on young people across the U. S. Notice this is very, very race baiting language. Yeah, well, the

Morgan: whole image of the, of the gangster is like synonymous with rap. And again, Like, I have that in my head. I didn't put it that there. Somebody

Amy: put that in my head. Yeah, Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it's totally wrong.

Yeah. And so, and, and, and, I mean, and also, I mean, I will say, what radio programmers say is that they're getting a lot of pushback from their audiences about rap. I don't think this is true. I think that's absolutely false. If you look at record sales in the early 90s, rap artists are selling like Hotcakes.

I mean, this is the era of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice vying over the number one and number two spots on the album chart for longer than anyone since the album chart started existing. Right. So this is, these are huge artists that are selling millions and millions, millions of copies of their albums. And just as rap sort of hits this surge in popularity, which we can argue maybe isn't great that Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer are the face of that.

That's fine. We can say that. But certainly as this is happening, there's a huge backlash to rap across any, like, a variety of media. So and on the radio, what this ends up looking like are radio stations that very overtly celebrate or herald their Unwillingness to play rap. So these would be like a top 40 station that says, but we don't play any of that rap stuff or a rock radio station that says on all the other stations in town, you might hear that rap shit, but here we don't, we don't play that.

Or even a, a top 40 countdown where they decide that they need to like cut all the rap songs extremely short so that, so that listeners aren't hearing a lot of them. So all of this, I sort of think about as a backlash to the rise in. black culture becoming much more popular in the US. And to me, one of the easiest corollaries that we think about when we talk about kind of you know, trying to sort of wrestle apart.

Trying to sort of stop an influx of culture as we think about a wall, right? And so I started thinking about gated communities in particular, which are becoming extremely popular in the 1980s and through the 1990s in large part due to very, very similar language that's being used about the threat of and the crime in urban cities.

This, again, sounds really similar to what we're hearing today. Yeah. And so this concurrent rise, I don't say they're the same. I don't say they're like I say they are related, but I think one of the things that's interesting for me is to think about the way that gated communities are really sold based on an idea of like, well, we want to put everyone of the same income into this nice quote, unquote, nice space, right?

You need to buy in to listen to the radio. You're not buying in in the same way, but I think that the what radio stations are still doing is similarly working, thinking about economics, right? And so I think to me, the reason why this comparison, like I, why I like it and why I included it is because it helps us think about how radio stations decisions to play certain genres.

Is really an economic issue rather than just a, well, we're worried about what, what, you know, like what's MC Hammer going to say in his next song, you know,

Morgan: right. Yeah. Talk about the, the threat to the values of mainstream America. Well, it's not mainstream, it's these people who can afford these homes and who choose to live in these communities have, according to the advertisers are, you know, have the money to spend on their products.

Yes, exactly. But, but, but you also are clear on the juxtaposition there. Like if you are you know, on the one hand they're promoting politics of respectability, but then that only makes sense, like if there is, it's called, you're calling it a shameful other. Yes. Yeah. You can't have something that's respectable without having something that's shameful.

Exactly. Yes. So interesting. And then kind of Walk This Way happened, which is very much a song that I have heard on actually that's a little bit earlier, but I wanted to point that one out specifically. Can you talk about Walk This Way?

Amy: Sure. Yeah. So Walk This Way, I think has often been, there's a, there's a whole book about it that got published about how like Walk This Way is this world defining song that it like changed a mirror.

It changed like music forever. And so oftentimes when we think about rap becoming popular, raps crossover, oftentimes raps crossover is described as, Oh, it's walk that walk this way. Right. That like, Oh, Aerosmith. Like. Literally punches, right? We're like punching through a wall between a record studio and an onstage performance.

And all of a sudden Aerosmith and Randy MC like start performing together. And it's this joyful, you know, look, we've done this crossover progressive thing. To me, Walk This Way is a great instance of crossover. And I love, I love thinking about it. Unfortunately, I don't think that it tells the whole story because I think there's, it's important to think about the fact that, so Walk This Way is like a hard rock.

with combining forces with the rap group, creating music that's largely for dudes. Yeah. And the radio industry is really interested in music for women white women in particular. And so to me, Walk This Way, it's sort of like creates a, a formula for how rap artists It's a mic crossover, but it doesn't quite do the entire thing that needs to happen.

And so I think about Drake, for example, in, in relationship to this, that I think Drake kind of like solves the puzzle that Walk This Way started, which is like how to make music that's melodic, but also rapping. Right. And you're sort of threading the needle between those two things. Drake, Drake's success is because he like is beloved by women.

His success

Morgan: is bananas and I think it's like everyone talks about Beyonce and Rihanna and then Drake is, I mean, he's huge. Like, I don't know.

Amy: Yeah, yeah, no, yeah, yeah, yeah. And it's, and it's because he's, it's because he makes songs like Hotline Bling, right? Which is like, and so That, that raps crossover.

And this is again, a little bit of me trying to put me in this story that or trying to see, see where my own, definitely where like my own biases fit into this is like, of course, this is the type of rap that I knew, which is like rap that's aimed towards women. That's the stuff that's played on the radio.

And so I did want to it. I wanted to both find a way to tell the story of that style of hip hop, but also to think about you know, why that's not the, why that, why that's not the only story, certainly.

Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. So as the 90s progressed. I certainly remember this happening. The, the idea of more pop songs, adding raps kind of in the middle and there's this whole idea of rent a rapper that I thought was like such a great phrase.

Can you explain what that is?

Amy: I mean, you just explained it. It's basically, I think the best example of a, of a rent a rapper track, and I talk about this a lot when I talk about my work, is when Justin Bieber his first single, Baby, when he's like becoming, he, you know, he sort of needs to switch from being like a tween YouTuber into a pop star.

And so he gets Ludacris to rap on his song, right? And the song's great. It sounds awesome. But it's also this sense that like rappers both, I mean, now I think certainly they lend a sense of credibility to pop artists. I think in the eighties and nineties, they also helped. Pop artists and rap artists, again, this is all about the idea of crossover, gain new audiences and, you know, if you, if you're a hardcore rapper and you get on a pop song, all of a sudden you might make a lot of money and if you're if you're a pop star that has a hardcore rapper on your song, all of a sudden you have a new audience as well, right?

So it,

Morgan: It works both ways. Yeah, it seemed a little definitely weighted towards, it's still weighted towards the white performers. Because they already had a much easier time finding success without using rap. And the rappers, you know, they, they still had trouble breaking through. And this was one way where they could, like you said, they could gain some success, but that doesn't necessarily mean that That it was an even exchange.

Amy: Yeah, certainly, and I mean, I, I, a good example of that, I think, that's a little more contemporary, is, like, Kendrick appearing on the Taylor Swift song, right? That it's like, Taylor Swift needs Kendrick, but Ken, and, you know, like, it's sort of, it's definitely an unequal power play that's happening there.

Yeah. They both need each other for different reasons, I think. Yeah.

Morgan: Yeah. How closely did the Top 40, I guess the internet age was starting to come and you talk about Top 40 kind of becoming obsolete.

Amy: Can you go into that? Sure. So one of the things that happens as rap becomes more and more popular and as all of these other stations, you know, start saying, well, we don't really want to play that on our station.

What happens is that the idea of the Top 40 as this kind of consensus. space where the top 40 means that, you know, 40 most popular songs in the country, but that everybody who's listening might want like that. There's people who want to listen to all of those songs. And that's what those stations would play.

And this to me gets to the idea of thinking about what it means if we talk about a popular music mainstream. To me that, that term is incredibly loaded. Oftentimes what we're thinking about is what white people, right, it's usually a white mainstream. But the top 40 in the, in the, as soon as rap becomes popular, basically that sense of consensus starts.

Being wedged apart. And whether this is due to audiences not liking the same thing, given their increasing media options, so like, when you don't just have to listen to Top 40 radio all the time, and you can listen to MTV, VH1, and increasingly more and more There's more and more places to get your music and the internet, of course, just like rapidly expands this.

Is it, is it because of that or is it because radio programmers just think, well, not all my listeners like rap, so I'm not going to play rap anymore. So then people don't get exposed to new styles of music and you can insert rap in there, but you can put any other genre in there as well. Right. Grunge you know, other genres that.

that become popular in the nineties as well. So this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, and I'm not interested in necessarily litigating it, you know, but I, I think what's important is that as just as rap sort of has the potential to really change, change the face of popular music, which it has It's, it's like world making ability gets wrestled away from it, right?

Because this idea of the consensus just starts to disintegrate. And by, you know, by the, you know, certainly now top 40 stations in most of the country are aimed at women in their 20s, like 25 to 35, which is not. It's not a, it's not a demographic that is interested in new music for the most part or music that is challenging or anything like that.

And so I think that, right, the idea of the top 40 as being this kind of consensus space dies in the 90s.

Morgan: Yeah, that's interesting that you say taking the power away as well. Because that references back to what you said at the beginning, which is that at its, at its heart, rap and hip hop are the music of, you know, the oppressed, the underprivileged.

Amy: Exactly. And I think this is, to me one of the things that I really wanted to get at in my book, which is a sense of, It's that hip hop has this incredible potential to speak truth to power. That's like the very hackneyed phrase, but I think to give voice to communities all over the world. And if you look at hip hop outside of the U.

S., you see this everywhere. Hip hop inside the U. S. has suffered for a variety of reasons. And I think one of them, I mean, not like there's still great hip hop out there, but I don't think it sort of has the same liberatory. Sensibilities all the time as it used to. And I think one of the reasons for those is because it's it's Potential was stifled in the nineties.

And radio had a big part to play in that part of why I wrote about this is to, is, is to sort of show the, the pressure that artists are under as they're trying to make money in an incredibly, incredibly difficult field, right? You know if you sign a record contract in the eighties or nineties, there is no guarantee that you are getting out of that record contract in 25 years.

There's no guarantee you will make money from that record contract. And so artists are really doing what they can. And I think without thinking about the financial trade offs of of what's happening in the, without kind of getting into the financial nitty gritties, it's hard for us to understand those trade offs that artists are making.

Morgan: Yeah. I have a, an example of that. Do you know Chapel

Amy: Heart? I don't think so.

Morgan: They are a trio of sisters who absolutely slayed America's Got Talent, got the golden buzzer and they, they sing country, they sing tight harmonies. They're fabulous and they're black. And, They have been going through, they had kind of a very public video they did, in, I think, November of 2023 where they just kind of laid it raw. They went Facebook live for like an hour about some of the challenges that they've had. One of the, the, they mentioned going to the CMAs and every single person in that room knew who they were. They were making tracks. They were performing everywhere.

Everyone knew who Chapel Heart was, which was great, but they still don't have a record deal. They still don't have a publishing deal. They still don't have sponsorships. They're out there trying to perform on the road. And they're, they're facing so much of, they're just finding it so hard. And then these, you know, these, these white people who they just, it seems like they waltz in and they just get these labels they get

Amy: on a label.

Yeah, I have a, I have a good friend who is writing a book about the kind of long standing anti blackness in the country music industry. Her name's Amanda Marie Martinez and you can, she, she talks, she writes for NPR, she does a lot of kind of media appearances. And it, I mean, it's absolutely just a reality of the music industry, and I think without understanding that it's very, very hard to be in solidarity with artists and to actually I mean, to me, I think one of the things I was really trying to do is to say, is, is to give us as like critics of music, and I really think of myself here as like someone who I make a living criticizing the music industry, right?

That is my job. And right, but like for us as critics of music and of the music industry, to give ourselves a chance to be kinder, right? To sort of give a space for understanding that artists are in difficult positions and artists are working against you know, organizations that are not, or that are set up to largely make them fail.

And so that I think is, is an important, like, it's not really part of the content of the book, but it's really where I, my intellectual perspective, where I find myself having written this book. Yeah.

Morgan: See, see guys why Amy is cool.


So let's talk you used a great phrase that radio acted as a social adherent in forging communities. And streaming has kind of changed that, hasn't it? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Amy: Yeah, so so, I, I'm like a lifelong lover of the radio and I think one of the things I really love about it is its potential to bring together these broad, multi demographic audiences who are all like, you know, we're all in our like houses listening, right?

Or like with our headphones on, but at least we're all listening to the same

Morgan: thing. Like we can go to our high school reunions and Backstreet Boys will drop and we'll all scream and run out on the floor and they'll know every single

Amy: word. Exactly. And what streaming has done, and I think this is, this is research that's sort of like you know, that's And I think that's most of what I talk about in the book in regards to streaming is really like indebted to the work of other scholars who know much more about this than me.

So I should preface with that. But they, but streaming instead of, I mean, basically the idea of our contemporary media ecosystem. If you're on the internet, what the internet is trying to do is sort of track your every move through the internet and give you ads that are. Individualized for you, right?

So the idea is that they're really monetizing either. Individuals or even like little component parts of you, right? So like me when I get on Facebook, I probably don't want to see an ad for like, I don't know, like going, being at the gym. Instead I want an ad for like cat litter, right? Because I like in my moment of like peace and serenity, I'm just sort of like scrolling through my phone.

I might want an ad for the gym, however, if I'm like driving to the gym in my car and have Spotify playing, right? So something like that. And so the way that individuals get monetized in our big data, right? You know, sort of surveillance economy. I'm using surveillance here loosely, but you know, we are being followed around the internet at all times by computers.

And so the way that we get monetized has just shifted from a sense of like, okay, we're in the radio era audiences were being monetized these large, bringing together groups of people. And now there's just less of that. And so, and this has been very, very clear from studies that have been done on.

People's social media, right? So if you, you know, if your social media page points you one direction, you sort of go down this rabbit hole. Those ideas certainly influenced my ideas on this, but also I think are just another, it's another manifestation of this. Yeah, I found

Morgan: that interesting. It's just, it's a note at the end and the siloing of.

Of, of music, you know, genres and, and I don't know, all of this siloing that's happened as I have kind of come out of college, I, I see this actually a lot bigger because it's something that I, honestly, this is what I want the Zeitgeist Academy to be and Zeitgeist Radio to be I come from one of the white estates in the country.

I listened like to rock and roll. And I played classical music, and that's, and I, like, that's what I know. And it's been an active journey on my part to explore new genres, and try out new styles of playing, and try to learn how to read a lead sheet, which caused me a lot of anxiety in college, because I could read sheet music, but I couldn't jam.

You know, like, it's a whole journey there. And I've, I've put such an active focus on learning how to appreciate other styles of music that I just straight up wasn't exposed to. And The way that you do that is to plug into the Zeitgeist that created it. That is how you learn to, even if you don't love new music or different styles of music, that's how you learn to appreciate it.

At least from my experience, it's how you learn to appreciate it. So that little bit at the end about, you know, siloing and what has happened, and it's so easy to get stuck in these echo chambers if you don't. Actively try to break yourselves out of them. So that's my little rant.

Amy: For you. Yeah, yeah, no, I think you're spot on.

I mean, I think one of the things, like, yeah, the idea that, like, music really, it both, like, It helps us become different, right? It helps us change as people. I can certainly say this for my own life, like music has been this incredible force in who I am and why I do what I do. And it's why I like love coming to work every day and like teaching about, you know, triads.

It's it's like a real joy. It's but it also really reflects what we do. And I think that if we are reflects who we are. And so I think that thinking about it. You know, whatever, whatever, whatever mechanism we have for expanding our musical worlds, I think is a good thing. Regardless of kind of like what it actually, what it feels like, what it does to us on the surface, I think that just, right, taking in new information of all sorts, but you know, I'm, music is kind of my thing, so

Morgan: I'm just going to go with that.

Well, and we went to a college where one of the, like, catchphrases was global citizen. Exactly. Becoming a musical global citizen. Yeah. I just want to read a note that you put, kind of a note of caution at the end of the book. I'm going to read a Slightly shortened quote here Because I think it's important.

Rap becoming more commodifiable on its own should not be mistaken for changing racial attitudes. The financial imperatives of the music industry dictate the terms of the conversations these songs can invite. We've spoken to this already, but I just think that's a really beautiful sentence. Yeah.

Amy: Thanks.

Yeah. And I mean, this This gets to exactly what you're saying that right that the idea of just like, Oh, like if I start listening to rap, I'm going to all of a sudden become like a less, I'm going to become a more anti racist person. That's not what this is about, right? What this, what this is about is really cluing into.

The idea that music can change you, it don't, it wasn't, it's not necessarily going to, right? But like, if I turn on a song, it, you know, anything could happen. But I think by cluing, by really thinking about the possibility of music as changing who we are, that that's actually, to me, where the, the kind of joy of this is.


Morgan: So, tying all this together, I have one last question. So, that moment when you are, when you turn on a song and it does kind of change you. Or when you plug into the, you know, the Zeitgeist. Just, everyone, we know the moment where it just, you're listening to something and it just comes alive and you're moved.

I've been calling that a Zeitgeist moment. What was a, a Either a recent or a memorable zeitgeist moment for you.

Amy: Oh man. I mean, this one's easy because I mean, I'm just going to say the easiest one for me, which is going to the Beyonce concert, because it's like literally I saw her this summer in Boston and I went with my partner who like.

Got me tickets for my birthday and is not like the world's greatest biggest Beyonce fan And but he walked in and you know She comes on stage and everybody just like loses their absolute shit And I just look at him and he's like completely stuck, right? I'm losing my shit, but like he is just like blown away And so being able to both like be in that moment the guys the zeitgeist moment But also see someone experience it too.

I think that was really quite Extraordinary. That's awesome.

Morgan: Awesome. I'll share one of mine. Just one that pertains to this conversation. And it actually is, I don't usually watch like America's Got Talent or, or any of those game show. I find them, but But somehow it came across the, the Chapel Hill perform er, Chapel Heart performance where they got their golden buzzer.

It was of a, a song they did You Can Have Him, Jolene and Dolly Parton has given them the full stamp of approval and everything. And that was the first time I had ever seen country music done in that way. And they brought this, like, this fire and vibrancy and just that black woman power to this country sound that I was familiar with and honestly, eh.

You know, on country, but it was awesome. And I was, yeah, I was moved.

Amy: Also amazing that you can be moved. I mean, I find it like. You know, watching TV doesn't usually move me, so I love that. No, yeah,

Morgan: well, yeah, it can be big stuff, it can be little stuff. We're, we're moved. There's a thousand million moments a day that can shape us into who we are. So yeah, Amy, thank you so much for being on my podcast.

I will put links to Amy's book. Please go get it. Please go read it. It's amazing. I should

Amy: say it's available open access, so you don't even have to buy it. You can just download it. And that's hopefully to get more people to read it. So thanks, Morgan, for letting me do this.

Morgan: Yeah, thank you so much.

It's a real blast. Yes.

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Zeitgeist Radio. If you'd like to take the next step in your musical journey, head over to zeitgeistacademy. com slash radio to join my newsletter. It's fun and informative, and I never spam or sell your information. That's zeitgeistacademy. com slash radio.

Music for this episode was created by Ian Boswell. Please hit that subscribe button and tell all your friends you found a cool new podcast. See you next time.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page