It used to be all about the Benjamins, all about the cold hard cash – in this case, U.S. $100 bills, as expressed in a Puff Daddy track from 1997. But rap music and hip-hop culture – arguably the greatest global culture force of this and the last generation – is moving on from cash, reflecting trends in the worldwide digital economy. These days, it’s becoming more about the digital payments instead of paper currency.
The August pages of The Wall Street Journal have taken notice. “Cash App, a smartphone-based money transfer service operated by financial technology company Square Inc., has found an ardent fan club in the tastemakers of hip-hop,” the newspaper recently noted. “Iggy Azalea, Meek Mill and about 200 other hip-hop artists name-check Cash App in their lyrics, according to music database Genius. ‘Hit me on my Cash App, check it in the morning,’ Ms. Azalea sings.”
According to the paper, some 100 songs on Spotify refer to Cash App. That represents a big generational change in the world of hip-hop, which, due to technological changes and other factors, has arguably had more impact on global culture than rock and roll and jazz did in the 20th century.
Cash Rules Everything
A generation ago, Wu-Tang Clang – in the view of many rap fans, a group as important to the genre as, say, The Clash was to rock and roll – proclaimed that “cash rules everything around me,” as the news outlet noted. Not so much anymore. As the WSJ put it, “the forces of technological change have come for one of rap’s great muses. Cash was used in just 26 percent of consumers’ monthly payment transactions in 2018, down from 33 percent in 2015, according to researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.” And hip hop, the culture probably most reflective of consumers’ desires of global youth, is changing as well.
Even beyond digital payments and hip hop, the concept of money keeps changing to keep up with trends from the broader consumer economy. Way back in 1988 – right after the big stock market crash of 1987 – Barenaked Ladies, a pop group from Canada, released the song “If I Had a Million Dollars.” How quaint that can seem now. By 2010, the stakes had changed exponentially, as demonstrated by the Travis McCoy track (featuring Bruno Mars) called “Billionaire.” As well, Madonna seems more than a bit dated today when one listens to “Material Girl” and her insistence that “only boys that save their pennies make my rainy day.” Pennies? Really? Are they still around?
Popular music is nothing without endless, pretentious lists, and that holds true for the supposedly best or favorite songs about money. Many of those lists also serve to indicate how far behind rock music seems to be when it comes money compared to hip-hop culture. Of course, most of those lists include the by-now-ancient-seeming “Money” by Pink Floyd – a track from an album released in 1973 – along with other staples of so-called classic rock.
But those lists also point to something deeper: the rising glorification of materialism and money in the 1980s. Money becomes almost an abstract concept in some of those 1980s synth and new wave tunes, something more than dollars on the barrelhead or coins rattling around in pockets. Some can recall the Pet Shop Boys, an English band from that era, making this business proposition: “I’ve got the brains you’ve got the looks/Let’s make lots of money” in the song “Opportunities.” Is there really anything with more of an ‘80s feel than that?
But when it comes to current rap and hip hop, the lyrics about money seem much less abstract and more based on daily consumer life. According to the Journal article, “Floyd ‘A1’ Bentley, a rapper and star of the VH1 reality show ‘Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood,’ … said in an interview that he prefers the convenience and safety of paying people via Cash App to making frequent trips to banks and ATMs.” He was quoted as saying this: “In this industry, you got clubs. You got bottles. You got models. You have strippers. They want to get paid right away, and they really don’t be wanting them checks.” Indeed, that reflects the larger trend in the global economy of workers – gig or not – who want to get paid right away, one that PYMNTS has deeply documented.
Want to know about how digital and mobile payments are playing out in the real world – well, at least part of the world? Pay attention to hip hop.