Who Is He?
Roadman Big Shaq is a character from Michael Dapaah and Marv Brown’s YouTube mockumentary “Somewhere in London”, where Michael also played potrapper (poet + rapper) MC Quakez. Because of the show’s popularity, Michael was invited to Fire In The Booth with Charlie Sloth in August 2017, where Big Shaq ‘interrupted’ MC Quakez’s session.
FITB lets grime artists “prove their skills” and launches careers (BBC, 2017). Michael was given 67 and Gigg’s “Let’s Lurk” to freestyle over and produced the iconic “Man’s Not Hot” (MNH) which is claimed to be both spontaneous and planned, although the most iconic bit (The Ting Goes Skrrrr…) was improvised (Minamore, 2017).
So, what happened next?
Pretty soon, the freestyle “caught alight…around the world” both offline and online, becoming a social media meme and being played in clubs (Minamore, 2017). I don’t know if anyone else remembers, but it was EVERYWHERE; even celebrities were talking about it (BBC, 2017). This was just the start of Big Shaq’s music industry career.
Many question how the music industry makes money, given that converting likes, views and streams into something of value can be challenging. But Michael saw the reactions of the viral meme and used this to launch Big Shaq’s music career. He quickly released MNH as a single in September 2017, which reached the Top 3 of the UK singles chart, with an accompanying music video featuring DJ Khaled, Lil Yachty and Wacka Flocka Flame.
What is the role of social media in the music industry?
Social media has massively changed the music industry for musicians, their labels and listeners, with benefits like democratising the process of becoming a musician (by removing the need for a record label and “[levelling the] playing field (Knight, 2018)”), perhaps a major reason why record labels are said to be dying and irrelevant. You can also show the ‘real you’, connect with fans and access data for self-improvement while discovering new artists and trends (Gillilan, 2017). This can be achieved quickly, cheaply and is far-reaching, so no wonder social media is popular in music. In this article, I want to examine the use of social media to launch a music career as Michael did, despite not being a musician. The same logic can be applied to the rise of Loz and her #zezechallenge video (
#IShakuOnTheBeatAsWell) and #MyYèIsDifferentToYourYè.
Even though online, as in real life, there are different communities, unity can be found through viral content like the MNH memes. I would label this as having high ‘virality’, a term I thought I’d invented, but the official definition is below:
While the exact science of going viral is unknown, it seems a lot of people want to and try hard to go viral because of the perceived benefits. This is becoming a popular music marketing technique: many musicians’ push a # with their new release and look at the “In My Feelings” challenge.
So let’s discuss what social media virality means in music:
If an artist has gone viral, you would expect high levels of attention and discussion, which might increase your fan base and create new career opportunities, potentially bringing financial success. In this sense, the music industry has been changed positively by social media. Alternatively, you could go viral for the wrong reason, and this can be detrimental to your career.
Or pushed out of the conversation?
With viral content, I have noticed that the bigger it gets, the further removed the author is from the post. Something might have thousands of interactions, yet the author’s own followers don’t see the same effect, and if someone is reposting, the @ might be removed. When such things happen, even if your content appears on many timelines, this doesn’t mean people will research further into you, so you would be absent from the spotlight. Trying to re-connect yourself might be challenging and you wouldn’t reap any benefits (but this is challenged by Michael Dapaah successfully reconnecting himself to the memes).
Even if you don’t need a record label to be a musician and their role in the music industry today can be questionned, their resources are valuable; big budgets for music videos, recording facilities, industry connections and a strong team to back you. Big Shaq’s virality meant Island Records (one of the big three in the industry) reached out and signed him, seeing his second single “Mans Don’t Dance” released through the label.
Or ignoring music quality for virality?
Rolling Stones reported that record labels are recruiting social media stars to secure them the next big hit. Ultimately, a label is a business and needs money to survive, so if social media stars’ following can get you virality and make sales, of course you will sign them. Although as I outlined here, music quality might change if the passion we are so used to is absent, coming from someone who might have no interest in the art form. Additionally, doing this raises questions about how corrupt the industry might be. We could see talented musicians with a lesser following unable to secure record label deals; Udell (2018) believes you are “amidst a sea of [your] peers and [an] abundance of content”. Small following = / = bad music and vice versa.
Pushing cultural changes
Big Shaq’s Genius video explaining the London-centric MNH lyrics has 13 million views, almost 6x as many as his FITB, and could be viewed as expanding the understanding of London/UK culture. Pushing awareness through music should be celebrated, and has been seen with This Is America by Childish Gambino, Lemonade by Beyonce and Justin Bieber’s remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Despacito, credited for increasing the popularity of Latin music in the West (Billboard, 2017). In the future, this is likely to continue within the music industry, and I think this is exactly what is needed, to harness the power of music and celebrating the increase in globalisation.
Or damaging culture?
I’m sure we’re all aware of the negative implications of social media on individuals, but what about the music industry?
Personally, I think social media has become a default for musicians and their marketing – something that everyone automatically goes towards when they want to promote a new release and I feel that innovation is lacking. The Rolling Stones article outlined a common belief that having millions of followers means the “[music will] reach millions of [views/likes/streams]”, and I think this is the problem and one reason why the music industry today needs to be ‘saved’. Not only is this a numbers game (although music is an art form), but people believe social media is a guaranteed method to make sales, meaning they don’t do anything unique. The idea of having high virality probably motivates this type of thinking.
I would love to see different marketing techniques, considering how rich of an art form music is.
So is Michael Dapaah a Tweeter or a Talent?
TOT does not believe that anyone is ‘untalented’; instead we look at music careers and uncover the role that technology has played. With Lauryn Hill last week, technology played a minimal role in her success compared to Michael using the digital age well to create a music career.
Mostly, I am sceptical of using your social media following to venture into music because of the impacts this might have on music quality. Although Michael acknowledges he is a parody act getting success in the music world (Minamore, 2017), and I commend him firstly for the freestyle, and secondly for capitalising on being viral and building a career, given how difficult this can be. I think Big Shaq is one of few examples where I don’t feel angry that social media was used by a non-musician to create a career simply because of how he navigated it and the fact he doesn’t take himself too seriously. But in today’s climate, this approach isn’t seen by everyone entering the industry. Many are seeing the opportunity to make money and having 15 minutes of fame, but this model isn’t going to last. It might actually do more damage like making the industry collapse.
Big Shaq is based on a “black boy with a dream” (Minamore, 2017), and Michael has prolonged his career by appearing at music award shows, working with big music names and performing on the Wireless stage. As an entrepreneur, I commend this, and think Michael is a good example of achieving and navigating virality in music.
Sources:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_Lzicf8vZg, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WTsHsa4bQQ, http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41201489/michael-dapaahs-fire-in-the-booth—official-roadman-shaq-single-and-merch-on-the-way, https://open.spotify.com/artist/7mnAzEmgquhrVtGob81SmO?si=HC2rJ8ffREaYnl94S4Vegg, https://www.thefader.com/2017/10/27/michael-dapaah-big-shaq-interview-mans-not-hot, https://www.wirelessfestival.co.uk/line-up/artist/big-shaq, https://www.facebook.com/MichaelDapaahtv/videos/big-shaq-mans-not-hot-filter/1493952957321113/ , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQwQqJwWpW4, https://econsultancy.com/blog/68522-the-impact-of-technology-and-social-media-on-the-music-industry, https://socialb.co.uk/blog/how-social-media-has-changed-the-music-industry/, https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/social-media-the-music-industry/, https://www.facebook.com/IslandRecordsUK/videos/big-shaq-at-island-hq/10154992196597444/, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/virality, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/you-dont-need-to-be-a-musician-to-get-a-record-deal-in-2018-702710/amp/?__twitter_impression=true, http://artofamanager.com/2018/08/12-2/ , https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/7897123/latin-music-takeover-despacito-mi-gente-charts