The term ‘alternative’ has been used to define music that differentiates from most popular music genres. From an industry perspective, it has been used to categorize music that has no intentions of crossing over to the mainstream or has little to no airplay. To musicians, ‘alternative’ defines the meaning of being different from those who are popular and staying true to what they do musically.Terms like ‘underground’ or ‘indie (independent)’ have been used to define alternative. In some ways it’s true, it some ways it’s not. It just depends on the type of music.
I believe the term came about because the major record labels made Rock and Rap into billion dollar industries. Because of that, those two genres became what people called ‘Rock’ or ‘Rap’ when it’s really watered-down, progressive pop music. Calling it ‘alternative’ was a way to differentiate what everyone else was doing musically. If you didn’t follow the formula, you were categorized as ‘alternative.’ If your style or lyrical content differed from what was being heard or seen elsewhere, you were categorized as ‘alternative.’ Conscious rap has been put into the alternative category, though consciousness has always been a part of Hip Hop music from the beginning. It wasn’t until the music got into the hands of the music industry and took it out and made it more ignorant and degrading. If you weren’t a gangster or a thug, you were thrown into that alternative category. If you didn’t degrade women, then you were once again thrown in the alternative category.
I believe that certain music has maintained its integrity and quality because of the legacy and value it has. Like Rock music, Hip Hop has transitioned back to it roots. People are appreciating storytelling and wordplay once again. I believe that there are still lyrical rappers just like there are still rock bands. They are being well received and shouldn’t be labeled as alternative. Why would anybody want to categorize music when it’s still music. It may not be commercial appealing or it may be irrelevant to some people, but the music still shares a common thread that pop music has.