“I told you we ain’t dead yet. We been livin’ thru your internet.”
Soul singer Erykah Badu affirmed that belief on her spirited single “The Healer.” The ode to hip hop song is off her 2008 CD “New Amerykah Part One (4th World War).”
The legendary songstress also addressed a major cultural transition taking place in music within the past few years. In this new digital age, anyone can share audio and video files within a matter of minutes. Rap music has rapidly exploded onto this limitless format.
Web companies such as YouTube, MySpace, and Apple’s iTunes website, have eagerly welcomed this new generation of artists. Along with dropping beats, these artists are networking, promoting and distributing their works through the internet. In doing so, they, rather than the traditional record companies, have more control over their music and how it’s represented.
Popular rapper Soulja Boy’s self-produced, No. 1 single “Crank That” was first introduced on the internet and went on to dominate the radio charts last year. His triumph was partially measured by a highly significant byproduct of music going digital. Fans are now able to purchase and download their favorite songs to their cell phone as a ring tone. This phenomenon has created a social trend with music lovers publicly declaring who’s on their “play list” as their phones blast their favorite songs.
Southern California-based rapper Turbo, 20, also stumbled onto similar success. “My intentions as an artist never included generating a fan base,” he said.
Recording and perfecting his craft since he was 12 years old, Turbo waited several years before uploading some of his songs to SoundClick.com, a music downloading website. Last year, Turbo began to attract a larger audience via YouTube for his video “Gigaton Punch,” a song that parodies the life of Balrog, a character from the popular Street Fighter video game series.
“Gigaton Punch wasn’t originally made as an attempt to generate interest,” Turbo admitted. “Though I had a feeling that some people would appreciate the video, I never imagined that thousands upon thousands would watch it.”
Since July 30, 2007-the day he ingenuously posted the video on YouTube-it has been viewed more than 83,000 times, according to the site’s web trafficking results; sparking a wildfire of interest in his unique brand of music.
In November 2007, the California rapper was ranked the 57th most viewed musician on YouTube. That same month, he had a chance meeting with trailblazing newcomer Lupe Fiasco. Turbo was surprised to find out that the Chicago rapper had seen his video and was a fan.
“When I met him he was real cool and seemed interested in what I had to say,” Turbo said. “Plus, he had heard of Gigaton Punch before-nice!”
The song is now an official theme for video game maker Capcom-creator of Street Fighter and the video can be seen on the company’s website.
After being so well-received, Turbo decided to capitalize on the buzz of “Gigaton Punch” and provided listeners with a series of mix tapes via the internet showcasing other songs that he felt were worthy enough to be heard.
“I realized that the internet really spread my music across the Earth upon receiving a crazy amount of e-mails from people from different states and countries who have expressed their appreciation for the music,” he said. “This is something that I can certainly appreciate, considering that I can probably count on one hand how many times people in the physical world have even acknowledged my work.”
Those steps continue to pay off for Turbo as his fans snatch up the song as a ring tone, and he’s set to drop another mix tape free for download in August.
“I’m really encouraged to increase focus on producing quality material for both the few who currently enjoy (my music) and for those who just may begin to do so,” he said.
And while many music reviewers credit Soulja Boy with advancing the lucrative ring tone market, old-school rappers, such as Ice-T, have recently criticized the teen rapper for “killing hip hop.” They argue that the rapper symbolizes this current fad of saturating the music market with one-hit wonders who serve up catchy, pointless music.
But that diss hasn’t stopped “Crank That” from becoming one of the most successful digital track downloads ever, racking up more than 3 million downloads and selling roughly the same amount in ring tones, according to SongFacts.com.
To date, his CD “souljaboytellem.com” has sold more than 850,000. Supporters note that Soulja Boy has set the bar for what’s possible in terms of breaking an artist online. His success also points to a continuing decline in brick-and-mortar store album sales.
Other artists taking advantage of the internet include New York artist NYOil and Sri Lankan female rapper M.I.A.-two socially-conscious artists pushing the envelope creatively and gaining huge followings online. Perennial hip hop and soul band The Roots have created their own web-based community, okayplayer.com.
As technology progresses and the playing field is made level for artists able to access more innovative tools, an entire global village of musicians is finding ways to breathe new life into hip hop with apparently endless possibilities.