Study: Hip-hop fans prefer positive rappers, but labels overlook them

LOS ANGELES — Hip-hop aficionados have spoken, and their favorite artists aren’t always ones who are signed to a major label or the ones rapping about vulgar, antisocial themes, a new study finds.

In fact, it was positive, “pro-social” songs that found to be heavily favored, the study concluded.

Hip-hop deejay
A new study finds that record labels seem to prefer rappers who preach antisocial messages, despite fans heavily preferring songs that have positive lyrics.

Researchers at UCLA conducted a multifaceted study to examine the link between which rappers fans supported on social media, and which artists were actually signed by labels, hoping to find if there was a difference in preferred lyrical content between the two groups.

The samples of fan input on favorite lyrics were gleaned from what was shared by a sampling of 600 Facebook users who self-identified as hip-hop lovers, while the researchers used lyrics from hip-hop tracks on the Billboard Top 100 list to represent the interests of major labels.

Overall, the researchers found that the Facebook users examined were more attracted to tunes with “pro-social” lyrics — ones that endorsed positive actions, such as feeling grateful, engaging in spiritual practices, valuing education, and supporting community building — over less positive songs.

Meanwhile, labels seemed to focus more on signing artists whose songs demonstrated more “antisocial” rhymers — e.g., espousing aggressiveness, criminal activity, misogyny, and illicit drug use.

“The findings suggest that rather than passively accepting what the media promotes, consumers are making conscious choices about the music they listen to and share with friends,” says lead researcher Avriel Epps in a university press release.

The numbers do seem to point to a divide between fans and labels.

The Billboard tracks analyzed in the study demonstrated antisocial themes 47 percent more frequently than the fan picks, while the fan picks had 16.5 percent more pro-social themes.

Epps also suggests that labels are losing out on many potential fans by eschewing pro-social artists, whom she affirms “consumers are actively searching for.”

The researchers speculate that the rise of streaming has democratized the discovery and playtime of many artists, while many artists have also been able to sidestep traditional gender roles and stereotypes (e.g., Frank Ocean).

Epps, a musician herself, had seen a divergence between what she saw fans and labels promoting, leading her to conduct her research.

“I was seeing trends on blogs and social media that contradicted music industry executives’ arguments that drugs, sex and violence were the only things that sold in urban music, so I wanted to explore that further,” she says.

The study’s findings were published May 26 in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.