Hip hop originated in the South Bronx in the early 1970s and has expanded to include many different genres and regions. Different regions have different hip hop movements. The South alone has Miami bass, bounce music, chopped and screwed and trap music. Beefs in the industry have torn the community apart like when Tupac and Biggie divided the West Coast against the East Coast. Before the industry became homogeneous, styles varied greatly with Californians donning chucks and flannel shirts while New Yorkers wore bubble vests and Timberlands. The debate of G.O.A.T, Greatest of All Time, has always included rappers from one of the fifty states. Many outsiders have tried but besides those who moved to the United States at a young age, making it and being international comes with many hurdles. So it raises the question, does hip hop have borders?
Hip hop can be found all over the world. Debates about whether Lil Wayne has reached his peak or if Kanye West is still great or just hyped can be heard in any country. World tours are only possible because of the vastness of the genre. Rappers are born in the United States but are heard throughout the world. Nicki Minaj and J. Cole were born outside of the United States but rarely do either rapper mention their birthplace. The struggles that these rappers endured are related to their childhood homes in Queens, NY and Fayetteville, NC, respectively.
The struggles in the United States are broadcasted throughout the world and when rappers state their cocaine connects and dealings with brutal cops, it does not sound farfetched after hearing reports about the War on Drugs and the surge in awareness of police brutality faced by minorities. The lyrics match the headlines.
Drake, a Toronto native, has rapped, “born in Toronto but sometimes I feel like Atlanta adopted us” on the remix of Migos’ track “Versace” and that statement holds truth. Canadian rappers have a tough time being taken seriously like any other foreign rappers. This is because the United States leads in the largest markets for recorded music worldwide with nearly five billion dollars in revenue. Making it in the United States is the crème de la crème but Americans are particular. The main selling point is the perception of rappers. Young Jeezy, Nas and Eminem have different perceptions about them but without the credibility of their rough backgrounds, their careers would be nonexistent. Atlanta, New York and Detroit will give you a bit of credibility. However, Canada is seen as a friendly country with free healthcare so what worthy everyday struggles could a Canadian have to share outside of running out of syrup. Another hurdle involves Americans liking American sounding music. OMI’s “Cheerleader” made it after Felix Jaehn, a German music producer and DJ, remixed it and gave it a universal sound at which point it became an international hit. The key point here is selling ability and universality.
Though having a cosigner does not hurt either. Drake was consigned by Lil Wayne and was paired with Nicki Minaj when he first stepped on the scene. Iggy Azalea was consigned by T.I. and her southern drawl accent hid her Australian decent well. Drake’s whole stint with Degrassi: The Next Generation and lack of street credibility has been completely brushed under the rug as his raps get more aggressive and have trap music elements with features with Migos, Future, and the Game. Azalea story involves cleaning houses in order to leave Australia, arriving in Miami at sixteen and struggling until she eventually found a permanent home on T.I.’s label, Grand Hustle. This has not stopped Azalea from accused of fakery for her rapping voice that. According to a linguist hired by Vice to analyze if she is faking her voice, her song “Fancy ” shows that “she obviously has a good ear and is a good mimic – her accent shifts in several directions, all US rap-influenced, especially in the last minute of the song.” She has been accused multiple times of using a ghostwriter and some speculated that Nicki Minaj was referring to her when Minaj stated “that when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it” during her acceptance speech for her fifth consecutive win for BET’s “Best Female Rap Artist.” Either you get a pass or you do not and you just go really pop. Nonetheless, Azalea had a great year in 2014 by becoming the female rapper with longest-leading number one single on the Billboard Hot 100.and breaking another record with Billboard by having ranking at number 1 and 2 simultaneously with her first two Hot 100 entries, a feat only done before by the Beatles.
Commercially, hip hop, any other genre, has boundaries. Without a few peers giving you a nod of approval and universality, being a foreigner can be a hard selling point in rap. Hip hop is full of different genres that touch base on different issues but on the radio, mostly bubblegum hip pop or strip club anthems raps are played with a few sprinkles of rap with some substance. It is no different from listening to the Top 40 that diminish the existent of more soulful, in-depth artists. The numerous charts that display the most critically acclaimed albums and mixtapes differ greatly from the Billboard Hip Hop/R&B Songs Airplay Chart. The genre itself does not even get a rounded perspective so coming in as an out-of-towner makes fitting in harder with choices being hip pop, party music or being underground for a good chunk of your career and all you have is New Zealand sorrows.
Chip, a British rapper who sounds like a British rapper, is also cosigned by T.I. and is still signed to Grand Hustle but has not established himself like Iggy Azelea has in the United States but he is quite big in the United Kingdom. The borders are dependent on perspective. Chip may very well be trying to get out of the UK and make it big in the US while Euroz is happy to have a fan base outside of Nevada. Hip hop came to be as a form of expression and later as a form of rebellion. Dances, struggle and call to actions have been communicated through the synergy of melody and rhyme. No one can limit expression and anyone who feels they can spit has the freedom to do so. In the end, borders are based entirely on perspective and getting out of that particular box is dependent on their specific circumstances. So yes, commercially hip hop borders revolve around the United States but personally, music has too much freedom to be constrained by frivolous lines.