In the 70s, Hip-Hop was mainly bumping in the dark streets of the Bronx in New York City. Back then no one could have ever predicted that half a century later, Mainstream music would be this heavily influenced by Hip-Hop. Would it be true that also your Spotify-playlist contains several Hip-Hop songs? Viral phenomena like the infamous ‘Gucci Gang’ by Lil Pump have sparked a persistent wave of commercial Hip-Hop that doesn’t fail to celebrate mainstream success. As this sound keeps dominating the charts, a pattern has become noticeable.

We call it the Mainstream Hip-Hop Formula. Let’s break it down.

The Vocals

Modern Hip-Hop artists have a strong tendency to reuse the same kind of word flow. The most common might be the so-called Triplet Flow, in which three syllables equal one rhythmic beat and therefor create the typical Trap sound. Adding the word aye at the end of every line is another popular flow alongside many, making a large amount of songs sound very similar. Furthermore some artists are labelled as mumblerappers simply due to their habit of unclear articulation.

At the same time it is the lyrics that often attract the greatest amount of criticism. Although there are plenty of creative songwriters, it can be argued the vast majority prefers to rap about Money, Fame, Loose girls or the heavy use of various substances. Consequently Hip-Hop can sometimes seem quite repetitive and superficial. Finally the heavy use of Auto-Tune completes the template for mainstream Hip-Hop vocals.

The Instrumental

Another important piece of the puzzle is the instrumental – in Hip-Hop more frequently referred to as the beat. Thanks to the digitalization of musicproduction, many beatmakers are getting their samples and sounds online, feeding into a growing industry of drum kits and sample-libraries. As a consequence, beatmakers often use similar sounds instead of creating their own. The most defining feature of these beats is the 808, named after the famous drum machine Roland TR-808. This booming sub bass sound has become the genre’s centerpiece.

Regarding drum rhythms and use of instruments, today’s beatmakers usually rely on the established approach. Utilizing the same arrangement of kicks and snares while recycling the same kind of instruments, many instrumentals of popular Hip-Hop songs are interchangeable and lack individuality.

The Artist

Even for artists themselves a pattern is apparent. In recent years there has been a major trend of getting face tattoos, possibly to increase credibility, which in Hip-Hop still plays a big role. Additionally artists are trying to stand out by getting colorful dreadlocks, wearing clothes or expensive accessories that everyday people would probably consider weird. This trend is reinforced by an audience, fixated on superficial aspects like the artist’s appearance or the songs’ vibes rather than paying attention to the lyrics’ message.

The Verdict

The main answer for the question why so many Hip-Hop songs are so similar and simple, might be found on the financial side of things. Hip-Hop artists and their labels are making good money. The way the industry works, beatmakers and artists are also often working separate from each other. The beatmaker mainly wants to get paid for the instrumental. After purchasing the rights to the instrumental, the artist records their vocals, essentially with the same goal in mind: Profit.

On a more positive note it is crucial to remember that similarity has always been strong for Mainstream songs and even more importantly should not necessarily be considered as something negative. In fact, most of the renowned classics in music history have had major impact in the Mainstream.

Nevertheless it would be pleasant to see more Hip-Hop songs climbing the charts that deviate from the formula and are unique enough to stand the test of time.

Photos by Joni Kuusisto