The Relevance of Real: How Avid Fans Determine and Value Authenticity in Rap Music



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Authenticity in rap music holds historical importance in hip hop culture. Low-income blacks in New York City used rap music to express their feelings about and bring awareness to issues in their communities. Rap music is no longer as closely tied to its origins, but authenticity remains a valuable part of these expressions. Though researchers acknowledge rap music has changed, they use historical markers to identify what is authentic in rap music and rarely investigate how fans understand authenticity today. In-depth interviews with eighteen avid rap fans illustrate new ways fans determine authenticity in rap music. Borrowing from Swidler’s (1986) “cultural tool kit,” this study shows how fans draw from their personal tool kits to determine authenticity. Specifically, fans determine authenticity based on whether they believe an artist is telling stories about personal lived experiences, whether they can relate to an artist’s lyrics, and/or whether an artist shows vulnerability in some way. Conversely, fans consider lyrics inauthentic when a rapper tells exaggerated stories that do not seem plausible. While fans value music that fits with their own socially constructed understandings of authenticity, this study also reveals that authenticity is not always necessary to draw them to the genre. Given rap music’s current popularity, this research shows the importance of authenticity for cultural consumption and opens avenues to explore further what draws the most avid fans.



Rap music, Hip-hop, Authenticity, Cultural tool kit, Avid fans