AI rappers? Virtual reality shows? The future of hip-hop is here.

My friends, happy Thursday!

For “Hip-Hop Is Universal,” MSNBC’s celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, I’ve been holding conversations with experts who can speak to the way the genre seems to intersect with every discipline imaginable

As I wrote in my introductory post, hip-hop speaks to everything in our world and beyond — to race, money, power, sex, tech, space and more. And the people I’ve spoken with thus far have all driven this point home in their own brilliant way. 

As a hip-hop fanatic myself, I’m relishing these chances to sit down and nerd out with people who love the genre, too, and have found ways to fuse it with other passions. 

My first interview was with Dr. Taj Frazier, associate professor of communication at the University of Southern California, director of USC’s Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg and, perhaps most famously, host of “Hip-Hop and the Metaverse” on PBS. 

I’m going to start sharing the audio from the interviews here on The ReidOut Blog — maybe even some video clips from time to time. And we’ll see how things blossom from there. Check it!

Frazier’s PBS series highlights the way hip-hop is being deployed in cutting-edge technologies, in places like virtual reality concerts, art exhibits and production studios. And artificial intelligence-driven rappers. And AI-enabled instruments and songwriting aids. 

You can watch every episode from season one for free; each episode is about 10-15 minutes. Here’s a quick teaser:

Hip-hop has always been on the cutting edge when it comes to technological innovation — with creators constantly devising new ways to make their art and share it with the masses. That fact hasn’t changed. But with it comes ethical concerns, about who ought to be allowed to commodify hip-hop and how. 

I sought out Frazier because he’s one of the most trusted voices when it comes to understanding how the hip-hop and tech worlds overlap, as well as forecasting what the future of hip-hop, aided by advanced technology, could look like at its best. 

Give this inaugural convo a listen. I’ll also post a little reading/viewing list with each of these, so you can brush up on some of the things we discuss.

To check out

  • Watch a video explainer of hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc’s invention of “The Merry-Go-Round” technique.
  • Watch a demo of the stem player,” a choose-your-own-adventure music device popularized by Ye and Ghostface Killah.
  • Here’s a video of Travis Scott’s “Fortnite” collaboration, which demonstrated the ways hip-hop can use alternate reality technology.
  • Read about FN Meka, the controversial AI-driven “rapper.”
  • Read about how the group Little Brother rose to prominence with the help of Okayplayer, a website founded by Questlove.

This post is part of MSNBC’s “Hip-Hop Is Universal” series, which celebrates the genre’s 50th anniversary and examines its future.


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