I spent the Spring of 2007 living in Florence, Italy. Besides iced coffee and hot American guys, the thing I really missed was hip hop. With a shaky internet connection and little to no knowledge of/access to music steaming sites, I was left with the few hundred songs stacked in my iPod to get me through my four months there. The time lag between American hip hop culture and European hip hop culture was around 6 years, at the very least. Coolio frequently played in the club, and international travelers got as excited about it as we did when Kendrick dropped his “Control” verse. I have a distinct memory of getting in a local promoter’s Audi with some friends where he had Get Rich Or Die Trying videos looping on his dash cam. He was very proud and even pointed it out to us like it was the most exclusive shit he’d ever gotten his hands on.
Fast forward to 2013. I was attending a Chris Brown x Reebok shoe giveaway for work and my boss asked me to give her brother a ride to the event. He was 17 years old and visiting for the week from London. I agreed, not quite sure what I would have in common with a teenager from the other side of the pond. Two minutes into the hour long ride to Crenshaw High School, I got my answer. J. Cole, Jay-Z, and Kanye had all recently dropped albums and were in heavy rotation in my car. As song after song played, I heard him rapping verse after verse. I was shocked. “How do you know all this music,” I asked him. “It literally just came out.” “Uhhhhh, we get music the same way you do,” he replied. “I’ve been listening to these for weeks now.” I switched it up and put in a Meek Mill mixtape. Again, he knew every song. No matter what I played, he knew.
My mind was blown. I knew that technology had made huge advancements but spending the day with this kid opened my eyes to so many things. From his perfectly manicured outfit to his spotless J’s to his on tempo raps and head nods, he seemed like he had been in the LA music scene his whole life. It became evident to me how much of an impact iTunes, mixtape sites, YouTube, social media, and blogs had on the rest of the world. Not only is our music immediately and readily available, but our fashion, language, and trends are just an Instagram scroll away. It is easier than ever before to emulate your favorite artists, from their style to the way that they speak. This access creates demand and has really opened up foreign markets for newer artists. A friend of mine DJ’s for Ty$ and is currently touring throughout Europe. Six years ago, it would be damn near impossible for an artist with two radio singles to sell out arenas abroad, but today, it’s becoming more and more common. It’s incredible to witness first hand the impact of technology on music in America and abroad and to be a part of a culture that connects people thousands of miles apart. Hip hop has been a powerful force since it’s inception but with instant international accessibility, the opportunities and possibilities are endless. The “tanning of America,” as Steve Stoute calls it is slowly becoming the tanning of the world. Hip hop creates connection, fosters understanding, and brings people from different economic and social standings together. We’ve seen what it’s done to break down racial barriers in our youth and I’m excited to see what this could translate to on an international scale.