It’s been a great season for cricket music1, and I am sad to write this after an unfortunate end to the Pakistan Super League.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the rise of hip-hop, not just in Pakistan but globally as well. Maanu & Rozeo’s Googly, for the HBL PSL Taranay album2, is perfect for this moment. Part of what makes hip-hop work today is that hip-hop is the genre for the meme age.
Rock music, the reigning global pop music genre before hip-hop’s recent dominance, is structured around a slow build up, eventually releasing a burst of emotion in a vocal crescendo or a guitar solo. It is a collective experience of epic sentiment. As such rock makes sense in concerts, in arenas, and in stadiums. In the first age of the internet, the connection of people across demos distributed over peer-to-peer networks and later streaming services, allowed the decentralized experience of this collective crescendo of feeling with other people. This was the same age of the internet that allowed Barack Obama to use a hopeful campaign promise to unite individual donors and volunteers across the internet behind a broad, yet ordinary message that previously seemed impossible without the connections offered by new network technology.
The world, and the internet however, has changed. As more people have joined the internet, and spend more time on it, we find that a simple collective climax repeated incessantly is not enough. Attention spans are challenged with the near-infinite availability of content, and as a result it feels that waiting for a genre like rock music to slowly suck you in to deliver the feels of a guitar solo is no longer as satisfying as it once was. This parallels the slow dismantling of the hopeful utopian vision of the internet by online mobs. As witnessed in the Trump campaign, the internet became not just a place for utopian organizing in a modernist fashion, but rather also the site of a post-modernist dismantling of what we previously considered to be a collective, shared reality.
In this world, hip-hop’s fast paced vocal delivery combined with off-the-cusp choruses and sampling delivers the memorable hit that audiences can be pulled into and then hold on to. The very nature of hip-hop music, built on the sampling of previous music, is a meme itself. It remixes and attaches new meaning to existing media. Using a sense of familiarity or surprise to evoke new feeling and create a sense of bond and belonging. Combined that with the flippant mannerisms yet hard themes referenced in hip-hop, the difficulties of urban life, the life of youth in cities, it makes perfect sense as the genre for the meme age.
While the allusion I draw to the change in internet communication may suggest that hip-hop is representative of the dismantling of an optimistic shared experience, what I mean in fact is that the growth of the internet requires that we reckon with the complexity of modern city life. Broad utopian visions, as easily as they are represented in rock, may not be enough. Hip-hop offers the creative surfaces to address the fine details of urban life on a changed internet. And while doing that it allows us to create little moments around the songs that quickly bring people behind a motif, as they do so beautifully in the #GooglyChallenge campaign that accompanied the release of this song – the world’s biggest cricket stars all repeating a dance to a song by college rappers from Lahore.
Maanu mentioned recently in a great interview with TPR Pod, that he switched from guitar-based singer/songwriter style acoustic music to hip-hop. The latter offered a challenge in terms of developing rhyme and flow, whereas the formulaic structure of guitar-pop had reduced the type of new material that could be generated if staying in that genre. Am I glad he chose to rap.
Kingdom, The Peshawar Zalmi song by Abdullah Siddiqui ft Altamash Sever requires little commentary from me. Tak Meday Sohna, by Adnan Dhool & QB, a perfect sound for this purpose. There is of course Groove Mera and the rest of the HBL PSL Taranay. And yet the sheer boldness, and somehow also the flagrant lack thereof, of Bol Qalandar is something else. I couldn’t help but have some fun with some Bol Qalandar memes on the Hamnawa Twitter page. Don’t get me started on the Aazadi anthem.