How Rap Influenced The New Aesthetic And Vice Versa
Trolling people on the Internet is cool, so when OG Maco went on a Twitter rant and revealed that his viral hit “U Guessed It” was him trolling the taste of rap’s URL-based subculture, should we even be surprised or upset?
“I made the dumbest song I possibly could on a beat full of bass and knew it would blow” he tweeted, casting light on the easily digestible nature of trap music while throwing shade at those who eat it up enjoyably.
Whether he knew it or not, Maco was working within an Internet-influenced phenomenon called the “New Aesthetic.”
Originally coined by London-based artist James Beadle during a Tumblr musing, NA is the blurring of internet and reality. While Beadle cautions against classifying too strictly what is/isn’t NA, in hip-hop there are numerous examples, like the precedent-setting 2Pac hologram that debuted at Coachella in 2012. Or Lil B, one of the first artists to employ NA in his personal brand.
The Based God virality of Tumblr circa 2011 doesn’t get enough credit for helping popularize the basic Internet meme as we know it: digitally altering real-life photos with superimposed text and graphics to evoke different meanings. What’s more, the naivety of NA’s early-Internet aesthetic communicates how amateurishness can be endearing. Just re-watch Kanye’s “Black Skinhead” video; it looks like a high school senior’s unfinished graphic arts project—on purpose. The idea is that there’s a rawness in primitive design that’s lost in the Apple-ized world of today, just like trap music often favors basic, unvarnished rap schemes.
Lil B’s internet-bred fame would inspire others, like Swedish rapper Yung Lean, whose Sad Boys Entertainment label and rap collective epitomizes the trend of internet artists plying hazy, electronically produced tracks to express moods of melancholy. This is what many see as one of the principal concerns of NA, however: that all this technology curbs real human emotion. For this reason, Kevin Abstract, who’s also buttered his bread thanks to success in the dot com arena, no longer wants any part of it, instead seeking ways for his music (and self) to flourish IRL.
But if we’re tracing the origins of hip-hop’s wistful ties to NA, we’d have to begin with 808s and Heartbreak. Mixed reviews aside, the album pioneered the intersection between rap and the robotic, digital distortion of auto-tune–which, unlike any hip-hop artist prior, Kanye used to convey sadness. The sadness of 808s would brew into skillful perversions on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, then wrathful anger and nihilism on Yeezus. Your favorite rapper has probably fostered the technique at some point, too.
Still, no matter how you go about explaining hip-hop’s intersection with the internet, certain fans will never buy that the genre is in good hands. Yeezus was trash, they say. Future mumbles too much and needs to stop mushing over auto-tune, they’re convinced. Internet rap isn’t real hip-hop!
Despite how much the New Aesthetic can help us understand rap’s digital lineage – from both a visual and sonic standpoint – it’s impossible to tame this understanding with dumb takes on whether Internet culture is good or bad for the genre, whether what’s popular right now is “real rap” or not. You’d almost think the growing relationship between artists and the technology they use would render these outdated dichotomies obsolete. After all, it’s exactly why someone can look you dead in the face in 2015 and say: “I like Young Thug better than Kendrick Lamar.”