SoundCloud, Sampling and Sonic Experimentation: Knowledge Transmission in Hip-Hop’s Underground

Gouly, Daniel (2020). SoundCloud, Sampling and Sonic Experimentation: Knowledge Transmission in Hip-Hop’s Underground. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

This thesis examines the roles of human and nonhuman actors in the transmission of knowledge in experimental hip-hop. What I call ‘experimental hip-hop’ emerged with a number of musical innovators, mostly based in Los Angeles, and has since spread globally, including to London, the main site of my investigations. The musicians who make this music are usually termed ‘producers’ or ‘beatmakers’, and they employ their laptops along with other instruments and music technologies to create their compositions, usually in bedroom studios. While this style has much in common with more traditional forms of hip-hop, producers have increasingly released instrumental pieces as compositions in their own right (rather than as backing tracks for rappers and MCs), and focused on creating different kinds of musical complexity. Producers deploy an array of innovative practices alongside more traditional ones, such as sampling. Drawing on a richly varied methodology, including long-form semi-structured interviews, participant observation of studio practices, and an examination of the creation of pre-composed musical materials, I analyse the role of human and non- human actors in the ways knowledge is transmitted. It is worth noting at this point that this thesis is a study of musical and technical knowledge rather than a number of forms of knowledge examined in Afrodiasporic and post-colonial scholarship. Throughout I argue that producers learn from both technologies and their peers, and that this approach to learning seems distinct from the kinds of formal and informal teacher- student relationships that exist in other forms of music making. This means that the musicians I study must not only be formidable autodidacts, but also able to build strong bonds with other producers to help them to help them vie for distinction in a musical landscape in which particular forms of compositional complexity are highly valued.

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