Student Research Projects

Follow the Mainstream Road: The Relationship among Label Ownership, Commodification and the Commercialization of Hip-Hop and Rap Music

Student Audrey Thames, '16
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Communication
Course Communication 331: Mass Communication Research Methods


Very few studies have shown how certain market characteristics, organizational policies and program practices of radio promote music standardization in today\'s industry. After the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the influence of major corporations on the music industry grew significantly. Legislators removed the cap on spectrum ownership, which in turn reduced competition and diversity within music, specifically radio. Since its inception in 1984, Billboard stands as the leader among trade journals focusing on the popular music industry, making it a universal ranking system. In order to receive airplay, artists are required to fit the themes strongly influenced by the Billboard charts, ultimately only benefiting the Big Four music industry companies: Universal Music Group, Sony, Warner Music Group and EMI. As artists fall under corporate pressure, they stifle artistic expression and limit the organic growth of the hip-hop culture. One genre that is extremely harmed by this trend is hip-hop, as it begins to sound more and more like pop in order to crossover. The purpose of this research is to examine the relationship among label ownership, commodification and the commercialization of hip-hop and rap music. This study considers the major themes present in rap radio songs by doing a content analysis of the top twenty-five radio airplay songs for the 2014 and 2015 Billboard Year-End charts as well as the top fifty rap songs from 1990-1994, which is deemed hip-hop\'s \"Golden Era.\" Songs were coded according to the artist, gender, sub-genre/style of rap, songs topics, whether there were any featured artists and the degree of brand/label mentions. Exploring twenty years of rap songs allows the research to consider whether or not hip-hop has been influenced by commercialization, more specifically, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Results contribute to an understanding of whether major hip-hop themes and lyrics are a reflection of a homogenization of the music industry following the major legislative action of the Act. Top radio rap songs of 2014 and 2014 including themes of materialism, drugs/alcohol, sex/misogyny, partying and violence, while top rap songs of the early 1990s spoke of love, community, self-expression, religion and politics. As hip-hop has evolved, the research shows a shift from music that once served as the voice of communities as it challenged various social, political and economic issues in the most artistic manner, to a sound that underlines the materialistic lifestyle attained by mainstream standards. It no longer serves as an art that challenges dominant forms of culture.