Music As Expression vs. Music As Entertainment

A debate of sorts has often flared between different schools of thought amongst the hip hop community. At least, in my mind, it’s always been the debate that’s really responsible for most of the divisions and arguments among fans and artists. All of the beef between underground and mainstream, commercial and “real” hip hop and hip hop and hip pop, I think, can all be boiled down to the clash of two ideals:

Music as expression vs. music as entertainment.

I raised the question last month to our Facebook fans, asking their thoughts on these two concepts – are they different things? What do they represent? Are there any particular artists that embody one versus the other?

I didn’t mean to imply that they were necessarily different things (although I think my question came off that way), and I was truly interested in what people had to say. Most argued that they were simply separate steps in the same process; music is created as expression, and then disseminated as entertainment.

While I think that’s generally true – I mean, all art that’s created for an outward audience, by definition, must provide some semblance of entertainment value – I’m not convinced that there isn’t still a fundamental difference between the two avenues.

In my opinion, the difference between music as expression and music as entertainment stems from the intent. And, that’s why I think that it’s at the heart of most musical debates.

You’re probably well aware of where this is going, but maybe not. Maybe I’m the only one that thinks this way. But, I think there’s a glaring and obvious difference between a piece of music – a song, a rap, a guitar riff – that’s created with the intent of simply making something that conveys an idea or an emotion and a piece of music that’s created with the end user in mind: Music that’s created as entertainment.

It would be ignorant of me say one of these categories is inherently “better” than the other, given that better and worse are clearly subjective terms. I can however, say that I’m personally turned off by music that’s blatantly created as a product – as entertainment – for a number of reasons.

The first reason is because in my opinion – and, again, this is simply my worldview, feel free to disagree – music, and especially hip hop in particular, is an art form that’s directly derived from the need for expression. While I’m glad that many great artists are able to make a living making great music because of the extent to which it’s been commercialized, that doesn’t mean that I think the creation of an “entertainment industry” is necessarily a net positive for everyone involved.

In that same vein, being as that I see music as a form of expression, it doesn’t make sense that something would represent personal expression while being controlled by a corporation. Corporations are not interested in expression, they’re interested in profits, by nature. Again, let me say that I’m not claiming that this is an inherently negative thing, I’m simply making the point, that by definition, corporations are simply incapable and unable to place more value in artistic expression than their bottom dollar.

More importantly, though, I’m a fan of music that’s made as a form of expression because it’s more likely to impact me in some real way. I can’t deny liking some songs that have had no effect on me as a person, that I simply liked because they were fun or catchy. But, other songs — my favorite songs, the ones that I’ll keep in my iPod until I’m 35 and probably still listen to at least a handful of times every month — are powerful in a way that simply can’t be replicated, mass produced or faked. It always seems so obvious to me when a musician is sharing some real experience or emotion with their audience, and listening to the product of those times is the most-rewarding for me as a music fan. Whether I can directly relate to the lyrics or the experience, or whether it just helps me gain a new view on life, that music is what sticks with me. And, it’s not something that’s just created as a form of entertainment — it goes deeper than that. It’s pure, unadulterated expression. And, the product of that expression is music that’s alive. It’s music with soul.

In my opinion, there is a glaring difference between the music that’s created as a form of entertainment and created for profit, and the music that’s simply a product of life and of expression. For me, music as expression — music with soul — is what keeps me coming back.

Feel free to chime in below in the comments, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Here’s to another great month from our site — thanks again for your support.

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