Slayer/Exodus Guitarist Gary Holt: “Rap Is the Number One Music Form in America Now Is ‘Cause There’s Social Media”
Why did hip-hop surpass rock as the number one most dominant musical genre in pop culture? I would argue that there’s a myriad of reasons, ranging from shifting demographics and the power of representation to providing fresh ways for adolescents to rebel and tap into the fears of suburban parents to the fact that kids are always gonna prefer the new to the old to the fact that its relative musical simplicity is a superior fit for the modern second-screen-multi-window world to the fact that a lot of it just plain great.
But Gary Holt, the illustrious guitarist for Exodus and Slayer, thinks it really boils down to one thing: social media.
Holt’s comments came during a recent clinic at Rock City Music Company. He began by making it clear he’s not a fan of modern rap:
“I like old-school rap. Maybe I’m just showing my age. Back in my day, rappers used to actually have rhythm. They actually used to be funky. Fucking now, the shit is… they’re not even in time; they don’t even rhyme. It’s fucked up.”
He then pointed to an audience member and continued:
“Look, you’re a young dude, right? You want a career in music? Go tattoo the fuck out of your face. You’ll be a fucking rap star. That’s what dudes looked like when they passed out on the bus — we’d Sharpie the fuck out of you. And now that’s what they look like on purpose. It’s crazy. They’re all fucking Sharpied up.”
Finally, Holt zeroed in on social media, and its ability to enlarge the perception that rappers are getting rich:
“My theory on why rap is the number one fucking music form in America now is ’cause there’s social media. Rappers — I’m friends with some and I love a lot of ’em, but they’ve always been about, ‘Look what I’ve got. Look at my diamonds and shit.’
“I saw a news article — it was about some 18-year-old rapper who bought a Rolls-Royce so he could smash the windshields out and put it on Instagram. All right, you’re a fucking asshole, you’re dumb, and I hope you run out of money and you’re fucking sucking dick behind a dumpster for money later. So, fuck you.”
Cool. Well at least he’s not bitter about it.
Look: I think Holt is referring to a specific type of hip-hop (e.g. Post Malone, 6ix9ine, etc.), which is admittedly very popular right now, but still only represents a segment of all the exciting things happening in that genre. It’s no different then if someone said “I like old metal, but all these bands with Meshuggah riffs and breakdowns and clean vocals, metal is truly terrible now.” It’s a pretty broad generalization.
Having said that, I don’t think Holt is wrong that rap’s obsession with material wealth has played a part in its success…
…but it’s for that very reason that I think Holt is wrong about social media. For one thing, hip-hop has pretty much always contained lyrics gloating about money, and that’s because it was started in working class communities where being able to afford that kind of affluent lifestyle was a distant dream. For another thing, while rap’s ascent was certainly gradual, I think there’s fairly precise moment in history when its popularity overtakes rock music, and that’s in the mid-90s, long before there was any such thing as social media. There was a window there after Kurt Cobain died where there wasn’t really a great rock icon to capture the media’s attention, but there was an influx of genuinely talented and colorful personalities in hip-hop (Biggie, Tupac, Wu-Tang, etc.). I’m sure social media has continued to help hip-hop, but I think by the time Facebook and Twitter came along, it had already captured its pop culture throne.
Again, I think all of these aspects are just pieces of a larger puzzle — to really answer the question of why hip-hop surpassed rock in mainstream popularity would take an entire book, at least.
You can watch footage from Holt’s clinic below. Hopefully he takes some comfort knowing that rock is nowhere near dead, even if it’s not #1 right now. Also, hopefully he soon hears some Run the Jewels or Immortal Technique or The Coup or Aesop Rock or any number of other great hip-hop artists who don’t have facial tattoos and whose lyrics usually rhyme and all that shit he likes.