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Are mainstream rappers copying style from the underground?

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One of my favorite characteristics of underground rappers is their opportunity and freedom to experiment with alternative ideas; as an underground artist, you aren’t constricted by the need to appeal to a wide audience and conform to the general status quo. Your goal is to freestyle, to experiment, to gain attention and fans by any means necessary.

This leads to a creative explosion of styles, some of which are significant enough to inspire mainstream artists. If you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), they might even copy your style and display it to their mainstream audience.

Here are three examples of mainstream rappers borrowing creative ideas from the underground, along with a verdict: copy or not.

EXAMPLE 1:

2 Chainz “If I Didn’t Rap” vs. $teven Cannon x Aris Ray “Water”

$teven Cannon and Aris Ray are two Cincinnati rappers on the rise who joined together in a dope visual for the song “Water.” The video primarily features inverted coloration, with Aris Ray rapping while wading through a pool.

The same visual effects are the core creative element in the 2 Chainz video for “If I Didn’t Rap.” The visual similarities are very noticeable, including a scene from 2 Chainz in a pool. Consider the following comparison;

The 2 Chainz video was released about two weeks after the video with $teven Cannon and Aris Ray, which is honestly a pretty short time frame to pull off creative theft. However, I think this is actually the perfect time frame for such a thing, given the circumstances. Keep in mind this is an editing effect — the 2 Chainz video was probably being edited, oh I don’t know, maybe 2 weeks before it was published?! Perhaps the video editor saw the video with Aris Ray around the time it was released and then borrowed the effect.

What isn’t directly explainable in this time frame is the fact that 2 Chainz is also wading through a pool in the video. In fact, that may just be coincidence since pools are a common theme in music videos; however, inverting the color scheme is not.

VERDICT

These videos are eerily similar, but the connection is explainable. This original video is most likely just an editing inspiration and not explicitly copied.

EXAMPLE 2:

Wacka Flocka Flame x Ben G “Activist” vs. Sam King “Highlights”

On March 5th, 2012, Sam King (formerly known as SK4MC) released his video for the song “Highlights” on the YouTube channel TheBuffNerds. Check it out here;

The video features Sam King liberally coated with some kind of neon paint in a room with ultraviolet light, illuminating the vibrant colors in a scene that is both colorful and emotional. The song is upbeat, hype even, and has dark heavy tones, giving the video vibes of a demonic rave, like an acid trip in hell.

In the music video for “Activist,” Wacka Flocka uses similar visual elements, cut between scenes of a typical house party. The song itself is much more low-key, emanating more chill vibes, but the visual resemblance is undeniable;

Unlike the first example, which was mostly just an editing effect, these two videos share a core concept at the time of filming: vibrant neon colored paint illuminated by ultraviolet light.

Given that the Waka Flocka video was published more than a year after the one from Sam King (during which it gained a significant amount of exposure, over 300K views on YouTube), it’s reasonable to conclude that the Waka Flocka video is a repeat.

VERDICT

This one seems like a direct copy of the core video concept. To be fair, Waka Flocka’s video also features scenes outside the ultraviolet room (whereas the Sam King video does not), but these scenes seem more like generic music video filler rather than actual artistic development.

EXAMPLE 3:

Schoolboy Q “Man of the Year” vs. Deniro Farrar “Fears”

The third example I have to show is not a visual one, rather it is an example of a mainstream artist sampling the same song as an underground artist.

The sample in question is “Cherry” by Chromatics;

Some of you will immediately recognize this as the underlying tune to Schoolboy Q’s “Man of the Year.” However, there is another artist who sampled the track long before Schoolboy Q did: Deniro Farrar, an underground rapper from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Check out Deniro Farrar’s song “Fears”, which uses a modified version of the sample;

 

Deniro Farrar’s song was released on March 20th, 2013, while “Man of the Year” was originally released much later in the same year on November 23rd, 2013 (with the music video for the song being published in early 2014).

It’s no secret that Schoolboy Q used the same sample much later, in fact the most popular comment on the “Fears” music video is from YouTuber user FixedChamp who notes this:

“damn, he did sample this before schoolboy”

Re-sampling a track is kind of like hooking up with your best friend’s ex; it’s not against the rules, it’s just a sleazy move.

So did Schoolboy Q re-sample the song that Deniro Farrar used for “Fears”, or did he simply discover the song himself? It’s tough to say. At this point in his career, Schoolboy Q was mainstream enough that he probably had a large team of people working on his music. In that sense, he may not necessarily know where every song and sample comes from — maybe he just shows up to the studio and spits bars. So we can’t necessarily fault him for the similar audio, but there’s no denying that Deniro Farrar was the original artist to rap over the beat.

VERDICT

This one might not be a direct copy, but it’s plausible that “Man of the Year” was inspired by Deniro Farrar’s sampling of the same underlying track.

For more rap music research, follow me on social media: @PackOsiris

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Pack Osiris
Pack Osiris is a rap music fanatic, mathematician and former data scientist. He grew up in North Carolina and, after attending school at NC State University, lived in various cities across the country in pursuit of his career, ultimately settling in the northern Kentucky / Cincinnati area. Now he spends his time studying rap music from an analytical standpoint and is working on his flagship product known only as "RapRundown".

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