5 pop stars who appropriated hip-hop culture

Miley Cyrus is not the only pop star guilty of the crime.

by André-Naquian Wheeler
11 May 2017, 4:50pm

Miley Cyrus is currently facing backlash after slamming the hip-hop genre for its overt sex- and wealth-centric themes. The critical comments, made during an interview with Billboard magazine, come only four years after the former Hannah Montana star adopted an urban sound for her platinum album Bangerz in 2013, which was chiefly produced by hip-hop beat maker Mike WILL Made-It.

As Cyrus gets raked over the coals, it's important to remember she is not a lone offender. As hip-hop has taken over the mainstream, non-black pop stars have consistently immersed themselves in the genres of hip-hop and R&B — throwing on durags, oversized jerseys, and Air Jordans to help their act — and moved on to the next genre after obtaining a hit or two. While appreciating a culture different from your own is not a bad thing, taking it on as your own perpetuates the erasure of that culture and steals it from the very people that created and fostered it. To be simple and blunt: sometimes marginalized groups just want to have something for themselves.

While there's no denying that some of the songs created during these crossovers are absolute fire ("Dirrty," anyone?), the appropriation that it represents is part of a long legacy of black genres (jazz, blues, motown, etc.) being commodified by non-black artists and industry players. Plus, the adoption of urban sounds is so often merely a phase for these chameleonic pop stars.

For example, when urban music waned in popularity during the years of 2010-2012 and EDM took over airwaves, artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera (and even black artists like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj) shifted from working with producers like Timbaland and Pharrell Williams to working with top-40 producers like Dr. Luke, Calvin Harris, and RedOne. Yet, when urban music became en vogue again, pop stars returned to the genre. For example, Britney Spears recently collaborated with up-and-coming R&B sensation Tinashe on "Slumber Party," and Katy Perry created the massive hit "Dark Horse" featuring Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia.

With the appropriation of hip-hop culture growing (Justin Bieber appearing on DJ Khaled's "I'm The One" and Katy Perry working with rap trio Migos), i-D takes a look back at the history of pop's appropriation. From Britney Spears's collaboration with the Ying-Yang Twins (remember them?) to Ke$ha's cornrows and gold grillz, let's take a deep breath and look back at pop's identity crises.

Britney Spears "Boom, Boom ft. Ying Yang Twins" (2001)

#TBT to Britney's early-2000s years, which were filled with glistening bodies, midriff tops, and rapid-fire dance numbers that make you tired just watching them. As Britney attempted to bury her cookie-cutter "Hit Me Baby" days from our memories, she enlisted the help of Pharrell Williams, DarkChild, and Ying Yang Twins to assert her new adulthood. During this image change, there were plenty of questionable outfits featuring baggy jeans, bandanas, and fedoras. While Britney is certainly an inimitable dancer, a lot of the moves performed (flanked by a largely POC crew of backup dancers) were appropriated from hip-hop.

Christina Aguilera "Dirrty ft. Redman" (2002)

With those red leather chaps and striped bikini top, Christina's look from "Dirrty" is forever entrenched in popular culture. The look is so iconic, in fact, Kylie Jenner almost broke the internet when she replicated Aguilera's outfit for Halloween last year. The music video, directed by David LaChapelle, featured Christina mud wrestling, sporting a new nose stud, and performing booty popping that, at the time, was more common in rap videos than pop. Oh, how things have changed.

Ke$ha-"Crazy Kids ft. will.i.am." (2013)

Ke$ha has gone on record saying her party-girl rapper sound was pushed on her by Dr. Luke. "I remember specifically him saying: 'Make it more dumb. Make it more stupid. Make it more simple, just dumb,'" she told The New York Times Magazine. As Ke$ha hops around in the video performing one hip-hop trope after the other, the entire act feels forced and gimmicky. The singer created a host of rap-inspired hits like "Tik Tok" and "We R Who We R" during the years of 2009-2013. Since she severed her professional relationship with Dr. Luke in 2014, Kesha has dropped the dollar sign from her name and returned to her original country sound.

Jessica Simpson "Irresistible (So So Def Remix) ft. Jermaine Dupri & Bow Wow" (2001)

This song is a major throwback, featuring a pre-adolescent Bow Wow and Jessica Simpson pre- Nick Lachey and department store clothing line. The song was an obvious ploy to take part in rap's burgeoning mainstream acceptance during the early-2000s, songs like Nelly's "Hot in Here" and Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady" dominating pop radio. To no one's surprise, this is Jessica Simpson's lone hip-hop offering. One quick question: Whatever happened to So So Def?

Lady Gaga "Cake Like Lady Gaga" (2013)

An astute songwriter, Gaga clearly recorded this song with a carefree attitude. She gifted fans with a teaser of the song in 2013, the raunchy, sepia-toned video shot by Terry Richardson. Outside of the song being performed at her ArtRave Tour, "Cake Like Lady Gaga" was never officially released. It's pretty obvious Gaga was well-aware her attempt at rapping puns like "In front of paparazzi, singing paparazzi" was nowhere near as good as Big Sean's or Lil Wayne's.


Text André-Naquian Wheeler

lady gaga
Britney Spears
Miley Cyrus
Christina Aguilera
jessica simpson