As a music community I feel like we don’t talk about Facebook enough. Sure we use Facebook to talk, but we rarely step outside it and think about how it relates to the music world. Especially from a distribution perspective, we definitely take for granted just how vital Facebook can be for getting someone’s music seen.

Now it’s not to say that the music world’s focus on other social platforms isn’t warranted. The importance of websites like Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and Youtube in providing musicians an arena to release their music to a wide audience of music fans cannot be understated. What Facebook provides that these platforms do not is the combination of their services and the assurance of a monopoly over all other social media networks.

It makes sense that Facebook has become a platform for direct distribution for a lot of  emerging artists who seek to get their music out there. Which is interesting, because Facebook has something which other platforms can’t offer: the use of captions and subtitles in their videos.

Now, this may seem like a small alteration in the music consumption experience but small alterations make all the difference when it comes to reception. Take for example how the removal of quotation marks in novels will make you to pay more attention to the context, or how watching a movie in 3D will lead you to remember the visual details and how playing the same game on different consoles will result in entirely different experiences. For translation purposes the use of subtitles and voice dubbing have both been hotly contested, debated and researched leading to some interesting assertions surrounding how subtitles will always demand the viewers attention even when the soundtrack is in their first language.

So how could subtitles demanding attention in music videos affect how the music is received by the viewer? Well, firstly it overstates the importance of lyrics in music, leading to an over-emphasis on ‘meaning’ which has become the catalyst for pseudo-intellectual blanket statements on the arbitrary nature of modern music.

Another implication is that due to Facebook‘s video-player settings, it could lead to situations where entire songs are read with corresponding visuals and never once heard, turning an auditory and visual medium into a purely visual one. The effects of this are more difficult to map. Will this lead to a more poetic reading of the artist’s music, or will the track come off as stagnant text? Either way, with Facebook‘s overall power and control increasing every day, I feel it’s important to become aware of the ways its music sharing platform can affect listeners and what kind of music seems to be emerging from there: Enter the Facebook Rapper, or, as the internet knows them, the caption-rapper.

(Source: I Hate Mumble Rap)

Caption-rap is a subculture that’s been around for quite a while, but has seen growing popularity in the last couple of years, especially with the growth and widespread appeal of pages like Unilad Sound and Underground Hip Hop World. It’s a strange and weirdly futuristic way of looking at distribution in the music industry, with Facebook pages becoming a quasi substitute for marketing companies. It sounds pretty swell, a Facebook page will market your music for you, get your name out there and maybe you’ll cop some ad revenue whilst that Facebook page builds its rep. However, rather than championing the underground rapper through the glory of the internet, these pages have become more of a mess of recycled memes, Eminem worship and ‘mumble-rap’ hatred more than anything else.

(Source: Underground Rap World)

Added to this, even if your music is put on Unilad Sound there’s a good chance that due to their privacy policy they’ll re-brand your content as theirs without any reference to you at all.

In any subculture it’s always interesting to see the artistic, thematic and ideological ideas which link these modes of expression together. In the case of caption-rap and the associated pages, they all seem to be unified by two rather rudimentary ideas about hip-hop. The first is that there is no greater tool on a rappers belt than the ability to say lots of words really fast. The second is that ‘mumble rap’ is bad and can’t possibly be considered ‘real rap’. I don’t feel like I should have to explain just how problematic, confused and straight up wrong these two ideas are but just in case I did, here’s a video for one of the most famous caption-rappers Tom Macdonald where he stands on a pedestal, disses Lil Peep for dying and basically claims to be ‘too conscious’ for mainstream hip-hop.

Now I don’t think Tom is quite representative of all rappers trying to make it using Facebook’s applications of captions and subtitles as a distribution tactic, but he certainly is one of the most popular, and that says something about the culture (just as Lil Pump and XXXTentacion say something about Soundcloud-rap). The similarities to artists like Hopsin and Russ are evident in the way they gate-keep hip-hop as though it’s a perfect art form that should never be expanded upon by new musical ideas.

An alternative way to look at this movement is to see it as a collective reaction against mainstream hip-hop which finds itself at odds with its heavy emphasis on production, repetitive lyrics and hedonistic themes. Such reactionary movements are going to happen in music and that is kind of why music evolves. Where this take on caption-rap completely falls apart is the sub-genre’s wilful ignorance of other hip-hop cultures which emphasise different ideals whilst also emphasising new sonic ideas. We got abstract hip-hop, the art-rap scene, noise, industrial and glitch-hop- all these genres are thematically and artistically different from what can be considered mainstream hip-hop whilst also pushing a few musical boundaries here and there.

Setting up a distinction between conscious hip-hop and mainstream ‘mumble rap’ (even though Kendrick Lamar is the top-billed rapper and conscious hip-hop is a stupid name for a genre anyway) as the only two types of hip-hop is ignoring the developments made in these quite successful movements. In an age where finding new kinds of music is easier than ever we should really be past these reductive binaries and it’s quite disappointing to see them manifest in a musical movement.

Here the biggest problem with caption-rap isn’t its tendency to look down on the new and frankly quite intriguing developments being made in Soundcloud-rap, nor is it the fact that they tend to use their nostalgia for 90’s hip-hop as a rulebook. The biggest problem with caption-rap, from its exploitative marketing techniques, its corny application of meme-culture and its boring flows is that it shows no taste whatsoever.

At this point it is difficult to see how Facebook will be in becoming a major form of distribution for rappers, but if the current quality of caption-rappers are anything to go by, it’s very likely that this distribution method will be based off of how controversial or unique a rapper claims to be. Meaning that we’re sure to find some hella cringe-worthy edge-lord rappers in the future. Hooray…

Check out the group the best of captioncore if you’re curious about just how prevalent Facebook music has become.