Transmedia Entertainment keeps getting more and more buzz these days -- and so over the next handful of installments, I am going to be sharing with you a range of different perspectives on the concept.
Today, I am running the first of two installments showcasing the work of Marguerite de Bourgoing, one of the USC students who took my transmedia entertainment class last fall. de Bourgoing has been developing a grassroots media franchise, LAstereo.tv, which deploys YouTube and social network sites to showcase the Los Angeles hip hop scene. de Bourgoing represents the Trojan spirit at its best -- a social and cultural entrepreneur who is taking what she's learned as a media maker and deploying it to serve her larger community. de Bourgoing shared some of this work with us during the class and I've wanted her to talk about it for my blog since. In this account which follows, she both shares some of the videos she's been producing and also talks about the way LA Hip Hop artists are using new media to expand the community around their live performances. It's a perspective on transmedia we don't hear very often here and further helps us think about the impact of media convergence on our culture.
Hip Hop Goes Transmedia: Seven Laws
by Marguerite de Bourgoing
Hip hop by essence is a fertile terrain for transmedia; born from the practice of sampling (borrowing a beat and reusing it in a different context), it also incorporates dancing and graffiti. As those aspects evolved they have become more independent, but contemporary hip hop trends like jerkin (from L.A) remind us how intricate style, music and dance still are.
With LA Stereo we document the current LA scene characterized by a strong rise of independent artists. Up and coming artists are using digital means to communicate directly with their fans, taking in hand their own marketing, using that power to leverage distribution deals or cut out the middle man. In parallel the independent practice of the arts is flourishing around that movement leading to what some are calling an "L.A renaissance". New digital means of expression enable the genre to multiply itself and evolve across different platforms. LA Stereo is a translation of that broader movement broadcasting everything hip hop in L.A. The team is made of a DJ (Val the Vandle), the tastemaker, a photographer (Kasey Stokes), the eye, a rapper (Belvi), the lyricist and thinking head, a journalist (Rebecca Haithcoat), and a filmmaker (myself) also the producer.
Here are the seven practices of transmedia inspired by my observation of this movement in the past year or so.
1. Spread your brand: Open Mic
Hip hop today feeds from both an active online and offline presence that contaminate each other. A good performance generates new fans who in return will follow you online to know what you are up to. Similarly a well-presented project with a good backing from blogs and other artists will generate a strong online buzz that in turn should translate in a greater attendance. In any case both online and offline are crucial to get the word of mouth going. In hip hop every artist is its own brand (for lack of a better word) with an active online presence that started with MySpace a few years ago and today culminates with Twitter. Twitter more than Facebook is a fertile terrain for transactions of all sorts: business, artists to artists, fans to artists, artists retweeting other fans. It's used for promotion, casual conversations, to express opinions, and indicate what the artists are up to. Independent artists control that aspect of their communication. Many artist are avid experimenters using gimmicks such as bubble tweet, twitpic, but also tumblr, blog and other devices. That online presence extends itself to file sharing. The music is now available online, often for free, as artists generate mixtapes or leak tracks as part of their process of reaching to fans. The bigger music labels have recuperated this practice as they also "leak" songs of established artists before the albums drop. Music videos have been re-apropriated by the independent artists as a strong visual support for the music. Many are made independently and often demonstrate more creativity than the mainstream ones. (Here's a making of Basicali's "Nobody Cares" music video that was shot in a Mac store and edited in 24 hours).
2. Keeping it real: be authentic yet marketable
Classically, hip hop feeds from an aesthetic of authenticity and yet isn't adverse to being commercialized, even for underground hip hop. Hip hop artists are pioneers in the way they have marketed themselves to brands and have used that to be successful. Run DMC years ago sported the Adidas look and Adidas ending up creating a special pair of sneaker for them. Today the LA independent rappers sport clothing brands such as Diamonds, and Crooks and Castle. The owners recognize their artistic potential and influence within the community and the artists are proud of that association. Style plays a big role in hip hop therefore it's natural that clothing brands are amongst the first to sponsor hip hop artists. Young rapper Skeme for instance is developing his own hat with Nicky Diamond. This association often stems from the artist's originality as they express their own individuality. Taking it all the way, some artists develop their own merchandise, like group U-N-I who despite being courted by record labels have so far decided to go independent, and created a line of hats, that they promote in turn by wearing them on the cover of their album.
3. Be the change you want to see
After the Obama election: the biggest transmedia movement to date, arguably any successful transmedia franchise is a movement. For an artist/group to be successful it is important to strike your audience's imagination with something bigger than yourself. The idea of unity has always been a strong theme in hip hop. Today a movement is emerging in California dubbed the "New West" or the "LA Renaissance". Many of the current artists or groups endorse that idea of movement whether it is consciously or not. This translates in the names choices from Pac Dic (Pacific Division), to U-N-I ( you and I), or even El Prez (short for el president). They promote a new kind of cool as revealed by "Mayor" the new LA anthem "Just another day out in sunny LA there's dealers in the streets and the coppers don't play, got my 501 jeans, my crew neck sweater saggin in my pants cuz i don't know better (....) feelin so good i think i might run for mayor".(Pac Div) It's in response to what the LA hip hop - west coast- was known for: inventing the very successful gansgta rap franchise. Well today the new generation, who was mostly under ten during the LA riots, has swapped this image for a more chilled and hedonistic approach. Instead the LA rappers are some of the biggest spokespersons for the "Cali lifestyle". It's part of what the LAX Paper Boys recently called the "just be cool" (JBC) attitude and that they were able to show when they organized in a very short amount of time, a benefit concert for Haiti with all the actors on the LA hip hop scene.
While hip hop is notoriously an individualistic expression, the collaborations give depth to what is otherwise an individualistic expression, and independent rappers are no exception. They need to support each other to attain their common goal. Collaborations often have the strategy of reaching out to each other's followers. Beefs (verbal fights) are equally standard and entertaining in hip hop but fans also like to see artists united and collaborating. This goes back to the idea of movement. The idea of collaboration is exemplified in the rapport producers have with artists (who make the beats and often the arrangements for the songs). The DJ is also often the third element to the association, Producers in hip hop are mainly their own persons, and while many producers have a special relationship with one or several artists, it is by no means exclusive. All hip hop albums with hardly any exception, feature other artists.
El Prez in one of the interviews he gave us, was comparing the scene to superheroes in comic books, aware that the fans like to see the artists get together. Indeed to push the comparison there are different factions of superheroes that also interact with each other more or less loosely. For a fan spotting the cameos in the music videos is part of the construction of this mythology. Watching the video of an up and coming rapper artist like Fashawn (who chose his name because he wanted it to sound like a superhero), it is fun to spot how many artists briefly appear, showing the wide backing he has amongst the hip hop community.
5. It ain't hard to tell
Rappers are great storytellers, therefore they already have the gift of word, inherited from a great oral tradition of storytelling. It's how you build that story that makes it effective on a transmedia level. Stevie Crooks (named after the brand Crooks and Castle) wears a ski mass during some of his performances and affects a kind of robin hood persona "in the eyes of crooks the industry has fell in this category fueling him to steal hiphop back and bring the Essense, love ,passion, and pure soul that we once knew". The infamous Speak is very vocal about his Jewish Mexican origins and has a provocative flow "I like to play shows and amaze the crowd with fantastic raps and pelvic thrusting. I enjoy balloons, confetti, dancing, bubbles, chaos and hood rat girls with English accents and pro nails." U-N-I (you and I ) emphasis their relationship with their fans, by posting or retwweting the pics they send them of them with their merchandise. El Prez dropped his latest mixtape of President's day. Enigmatic rapper Blu who's first album was a critical success names himself on twitter @herfavcolor and tweets that way: "Only5%OfTheTwittsInMyBrain MakeItToThePage", "AnyBodyRememberWhenkubrickTookItToJupiter, OhBoyIsInThatCrazyRoom, Boom,InsertLadyGagaVidsRightThere, Climactik!", "LatePass..IActuallyWantedToMeetKanyeTilIJustDiscoveredAmberRose,Wow,HeHasNoReasonToSayAWordtoAnyOneElse,BravoBravoBravo!"
6. It's a man's world but it would be nothing without a woman
One of the problems today in hip hop is the lack of good female rappers. Regularly I read tweets asking where Lauryn Hill is. Murs famously said "women can't rap". The hip hop audience has a higher level of male and it is an overall male dominated world. However, don't underestimate the power of women. At LA Stereo we featured a few female emcees like Sirah.
Some of the female fans are the most vocal, and while some artists have specifically a more male audience, for an artist to succeed he needs to appeal cross genre. With a few exceptions for a story to be truly transmedia it should to be embraced by men and women. Despite the numerous mention of "ho's", there is an overall strong percentage of strong and intelligent women acting on the LA hip hop scene. Yeah you know if you've made it if you feature on the 2DopeBoyz ( a blog run by two guys who are very vocal about their tastes and distates) but in LA you still haven't quite made it if you haven't been endorsed by Devi Dev. A radio personality, she's like a friend with a motherly approach to the artists. As a proper journalist she masters the art of the tweet evolving effortlessly between compte-rendu of concerts, anodyne facts and conversations with the artists. She's able to tell off up and coming Nipssey Hussle about throwing gansta signs on stage. She's the voice of reason commenting on why there are too many rappers, why it's not recommended to date a rapper, and she has a wide public appeal without ever falling into demagogy.(On that chapter lets not to forget that LA Stereo was started by two women Kristin Guillory and myself).
7. We were scholars before colleges
Hip hop is an art form that exists in a society with a strong written tradition yet it is an art form that travels mainly orally (many of the artists we interview tell us they don't write their rhymes down). This explains how it embraces easily a visual aesthetic and some of the other aspects described above, as it isn't assigned to a rigid structure. It's a reminder how oral cultures manifest themselves in ways that aren't just verbal. Hip hop is an art form that has developed its own mythology, world, and prophets within contemporary society. It is an art form that constantly references itself as well as the previous eras as expressed with the practice of sampling. Most of what enables it to exist and survive within society is its own rebellious attitude, contradictions that it has to deal with, overall characterized by a "... don't give a f*** attitude". Therefore it is fluid form that references itself and follows its own evolution, inhabited by its own doubts, certitudes and celebrations. In a very Nietschean way, Nas a more introspective rapper announced that hip hop was dead, while jay-z epitomizes the Renaissance man in hip hop who has everything (you can check his impressive resume here). All the rappers in the world are emulating both attitudes. Hip hop has a backbone yet is fluid in its manifestations. However, to exist in hip hop you ultimately have to be embraced by the community of rappers, made of the pioneers, the golden era, etc. It's actually remarkable how that older community is still active. On Twitter one can follower rev from Run DMC who gives spiritual words of advice or legend rapper and producer QTip.
To conclude hip hop is still a vital genre that is making the most of the digital revolution we are going through as it shows its constant capacity of adaptation, innovation and creativity.
Marguerite graduated from Oxford University and the Sorbonne Paris IV, with an M.A. in Art History and in Philosophy. She then worked for two years at the Cinémathèque française in Paris where she developed a passion for cinema. During this time she assisted Marc Riboud, a photographer from Magnum, with whom she explored the language of documentary. She moved to London where she lived for six years, working as a Production Coordinator on factual programs, before joining Discovery UK in the programming department. Recently Marguerite moved to L.A and completed the Annenberg Online Communities Program MA at USC to define and develop new audiences online, particularly for documentaries. She's currently developing her own franchise LA Stereo.tv with the help of her team: documenting the rise of the independant hip hop scene, and urbansalt.com with former classmates: curating the LA street style.