About Kanye West's influence or non-influence on the American and German hip hop marketsMartin_Canine I just read an article about Kanye West... and I had no idea how huge this guy's impact was. I knew that he was acknowledged for his artistic, experimental and musically advanced production and the intensity of his performances (for which I truly love his work), but I didn’t know he turned the American hip hop world upside down. I did not know that the race between 50 Cent and West decided the future of hip hop. Reading through the article was like reading about a historical event, how a visionary man changed the entire pop culture overnight. But… how comes that I didn’t really know that dimension?
That made me think. Mostly about the reason why German hip hop sounds so different from US hip hop now and so little rappers from the US are successful over here anymore while they were all over TV and radio in the mid-2000s. In 2007, “Curtis” hit at number 2 and “Graduation” by the then relatively unknown West at number 10 - which up to this date is his highest chart position in Germany. We weren’t ready yet for that change of sound. Still, gangsta rap dominates our hip hop by far. Although trap is on the rise, but such trends need a couple of years to evolve.
I think if he had a more frequent output and better promotion, 50 Cent still was a big thing over here, because he fits our idea of hip hop. Now, most of the current American rappers are more liked by non-hip hop heads, and don’t really fit onto the market.
The impact that Kanye West's commercial breakthrough had on the US - the radical change of image, moving it away from the streets, reducing the showoff of masculinity, using more melodious flows and creating harmonic, non-conventionally structured instrumentals - all that never happened in Germany. 50 Cent had another smash hit, and that guy who just happens to have a hit song with “Stronger” entered the top ten. Kanye West is known over here, but he is not an A-list celebrity. Hip hop fans know him, and “Stronger”, “No Church in the Wild” or “Power” were used in commercials. He’s mostly on the news for his wife. People know he is a rapper, but he is not THE rapper. Also not THE US rapper. That’s still Eminem, or 50.
You must see that German hip hop developed differently.
In the 90s, we had pop rappers (Die Fantastischen Vier, Tic Tac Toe, Sabrina Setlur, Absolute Beginner,...). They were middle class white guy who sort of rapped songs about pop topics over catchy, funky beats - these are our great classics, the original German hip hop. Then around the turn of the millennium, Kool Savas had some success. He was Turkish and he was more inspired by US hip hop, having RnB influences and battle rap-esque lyrics - he is now often called the greatest German rapper. In 2003, Bushido released the most influential and important German hip hop album of all time: “Vom Bordstein bis zur Skyline”. It was a street album by a Tunisian migrant who would later grow to be the most successful German rapper ever. It was a collection of dark and movie-like sounding tales from an overly aggressive, gritty and violent subculture in the dangerous night streets of Berlin. The sound was characterized by violin samples in minor scale, ridiculously hard kicks and snares and gun sound effects. Then, German hip hop took off - and this sound became the basis for every German hip hop artist afterwards.
So, since we just started with gangsta rap in 2003 when Bushido hit the stage, we didn’t need a change soon, especially because Germany is not as fast paced and short lived with trends. Things evolve and gain their meaning over years (VBBZS wasn’t even such a commercial that he blew it away, it was just immediately copied and raised interest), and it is not until know that artists like Cro dare to interpolate such diverse and experimental musicality into their hip hop to huge commercial success (with his 2017 album “tru.”), which is the norm in American hip hop for years.
Now, back in the 90s and 2000s, American rappers were also very successful over here. Apart from 50 Cent, also P. Diddy, Coolio, Run DMC and of course Eminem were a thing, and actually sold better than German rappers. But apparently, with Kanye West’s success, American hip hop adapted his style. Rappers became less thug-ish, changed their clothing style, got less masculine, used more melodious beats. But… this was not what Germany was hyped for. So the sales of American rappers got less, and they moved from the mainstream to a niche. In the meantime, the different subgenres of German hip hop evolved out of Bushido’s fundament. Kollegah added the quality lyricism to it, Sido added humor and pop appeal, and later on, Fler mixed it with trap. So naturally, this was far more like what German hip hop fans wanted to hear, and naturally, it took over the blank space American rappers left in the mainstream. Since the lyrics were now in German instead of English, and people could understand them better, of course not without protests (also note that horrorcore levels of violence are common in German hip hop).
Right now we are at a point where songs that dominate the US charts right now are not only obscure over here, their artists are only known to those with a further interest in music or their respective genre.
Actually, it’s not just hip hop’s “problem”. Many artists grow more experimental and artsy these days, probably due to Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” having had such a sophisticated and ambitious musical outfit. But only the more conventional ends of this art pop movement can be found on our popular radio stations. Some of the modern day US pop songs started to sound intentionally weird compared to what was trending in the 2000s. Just listen to each Beyoncé album over the years to hear the change. There was a time, it was until the mid to late 2000s, that the German mainstream music market was largely the US market with a few extra national artists. But right now, they are completely out of sync, with only a handful of artists (Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars,...) being superstars over here as well. And little rappers other than Eminem.
So, this is what happens when you remove Kanye West’s impact from the modern music history. The development towards experimenting and artfulness in pop music never happened. Looking at all that, Kanye West really is visionary. I thought of his albums as genius works before, but this still raised my opinion of him as a music artist.