In the Internet Era, Geography Loses Influence, but Collaboration Still Holds Strong Sway in Shaping Hip-Hop and Dance Music Styles

A new study analyzing drum sampling among artists in online communities suggests digital technology has changed the nature, but not weakened the importance, of collaboration
NEW YORK, February 22, 2019 – Two decades ago, hip-hop music’s disparate sonic identities were defined by the geography of its architects. There was New York City’s Native Tongues (e.g., A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah), Atlanta’s Dungeon Family (e.g., Outkast, Goodie Mob, Organized Noize), New Orleans’ Cash Money Crew (e.g., Lil Wayne, Juvenile, Hot Boys), and Los Angeles’ G-Funk artists (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Yo-Yo) to name a few.
The rise of internet-based artistic communities has prompted music scholars and critics to speculate about the fate of the kind of collaborative musicmaking that birthed such distinctive sounds. A recently published study in the journal PLOS One provides some clarity on how this seminal technology is affecting collaboration, shaping the selection of music samples, and influencing musicians’ sonic footprints.  
“The internet has been a big disruptor of the way people share information and influence trends, and the pop-music world is no exception,” said study author Mason Youngblood, a Ph.D. student studying cultural evolution in the psychology department at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. “We really wanted to understand the effect of this technology on the way artists culturally transmit and craft elements of their sounds. We looked at a number of data points before and after 2000, and we found that collaboration is still very active and a major influencer of artists’ sounds, but now it’s much more global in nature. Instead of hanging out in physical studios and sharing samples, today’s artists are sharing beats online and collaborating across states, countries and continents. The collective sonic influences are still there, but they are much less defined by geography.”

Youngblood noticed other shifts in cultural transmission practices as well. Female artists, for example, collaborate more across gender lines today than they did in the past, which other research suggests may be indicative of reduced gender disparity in the music industry.
Data was collected from several online databases and used to construct a social network of artists. Demographic data points were applied to each individual, and modeling methods were then used to track cultural transmission of various drum samples through that network. This allowed Youngblood to determine whether and how the internet has restructured artist communities.

Caption: This graphic illustrates the process of music samples diffusing through the network of musical collaborators. Blue nodes indicate that the artist used the sample previously. Red nodes indicate that the artist used the sample more recently.

On its own, Youngblood’s study offers a relevant and interesting window onto the evolution of popular music. More broadly, however, the study provides behavioral scientists with a better understanding of how the internet is affecting and changing the way information is shared and diffused through populations.

Submitted on: FEB 26, 2019

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