Music styles that, like hip-hop, are connected to some kind of grass roots, are fluid, with constant incremental changes building into epochal ones. When they move from their base audience, it’s often because a particular conjuncture of sounds resonates with a new crowd. But here is where a kind of misrecognition occurs: for the neophytes, the style is this one way, frozen in time. The give and take between music makers and their core followings, the push and pull, ebb and flow that built disco, hip-hop, house, reggaeton, and so on, is interrupted by listeners who in their enthusiasm don’t always understand the history or sociology of their genres. They don’t have to: when music becomes a commodity, it can travel worldwide, as all commodities do, severed from any knowledge of the conditions of its production. Genres cease to be grassroots social worlds, and instead become something more like brands: mere sonic surfaces rather than deep historical processes.
When a genre develops a signature sound, it’s ripe for the plucking by interlopers. Instead of having any real connection to the communities that develop musical styles through the dialectical movement between music makers and their core audiences, an outside producer just has to have a decent set of ears and a computer, and can start cranking out reasonable facsimiles, like factories in China churning out fake Coach purses indistinguishable to everyone but connoisseurs. Even if you can tell the difference, the functional parts are close enough. Today’s Chinese pirate manufacturers pride themselves on their quality goods, just as today’s kings of musical appropriation do.