Standing on the Shoulders of the Collective Brain: Testing for the Determinants of Innovation Using Hip Hop Data
30 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2019 Last revised: 10 Dec 2019
Date Written: June 22, 2019
Innovation is more likely in a population composed of both imitators and learners, than it is in a population of lone trailblazers. The human propensity for social learning gives rise to cumulative culture and innovation comes about primarily through the recombination of existing knowledge. I use data from Hip Hop chart ranking and YouTube video views to measure the impact of this collective brain on innovation and success. This genre of music is used because, more than others, it has the custom of explicitly featuring guest artists and samples of existing songs. This provides a measure of the extent of recombination of existing knowledge in the new songs’ creative process. I find that songs that more fully rely on the collective brain are more innovative and have greater impact. In addition, I find evidence that the pattern of recombination of more successful songs includes not just novelty, but novelty together with elements of conventionality. I also explore how artists have adapted their marketing strategies to recent disruptions in the how music is produced, distributed and consumed.
Keywords: innovation, culture, cultural evolution, music, Hip Hop
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