‘It was dangerous. It was threatening. It scared people’…so how did hip-hop become the most popular music genre?

To understand what this blog is about, please click here. Last article –  ‘I’m better than Michael Jackson because I got more streams/likes/views/awards?’ as part of my Black History Month series.

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What has happened to hip-hop?

ICYMI, rock used to be the biggest US music genre but for the first time ever, in 2017 R&B/Hip-Hop overtook rock (Ryan, 2018) and represented 24.5% of music consumption in the US (Caulfield, 2018).

Hip-Hop and it’s subsidiaries trap and rap heavily dominated the charts in 2017 with “viral hits” Lil Uzi Vert’s XO Tour Llif3, Future’s Mask Off and Post Malone’s Congratulations. The genre saw the second largest growth overall at 25% compared to Latin’s 30%.

19 songs exceeded 500 million streams in 2017; only 2 weren’t from the R&B/Hip-Hop genre (Ryan, 2018).

top 10 artists
The top 10 artists from 2017, with the majority belonging to the hip hop genre

And while many of these facts are taken from the US, hip-hop’s popularity isn’t limited to this area. For example, in Australia hip hop clubs are continuously popping up and international artists are taking headline spots at big festivals (Valenzuela, 2018).

top 10 albums
The top 10 albums from 2017, with the majority belonging to the hip hop genre

The genre is making big moves. With Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN recognised as “one of the most important works of the 21st century” and the first non-classical or jazz artist in a 75-year history to win the Pulitzer Prize (Valenzuela, 2018), it’s clear that hip-hop is “central to music” (Guan, 2017).

The history of hip hop and why it’s mainstream success might be confusing:

A brief summary of hip-hop, full analyses found here: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/history-of-hip-hop-music-new-york-dj-kool-herc-google-doodle-clive-cindy-campbell-a7887501.html, http://blog.dubspot.com/hip-hop-culture/.

The origins of hip hop can be traced to South Bronx, New York City in the 1970s (Stolworthy, 2017), where urban youth expressed themselves. At the time New York was in “a fiscal crisis”, “gang violence was on a rise” and “many of the opportunities into the music industry and sources of recreation evaporated” (Rory PQ, 2016).

Essentially, the genre was a subculture of mainstream music, as hip hop musicians “were not wanted” (Blake, 2018).

The genre benefitted from new technologies and equipment like Sound Systems introduced by Jamaican culture (Rory PQ, 2016). As a result, by the late 80s hip-hop was no longer confined to New York. The “golden age” of hip hop occurred throughout the 80s and into the early 90s (Rory PQ, 2016).

The number of drug references in hip hop – does this suggest that hip hop has a negative influence on society?

And while hip hop done well and established itself as a strong  in the music industry, this wasn’t without challenges.

The genre was associated with “gangs, guns, violence and sexism” and “making these seem commonplace and acceptable” (Giovacchini, 1999).

Giovacchini (1999) points out that hip hop had a “no prisoners are taken and only the toughest get ahead” mentality. As my title says, “it was dangerous. It was threatening. It scared people” (Louis, 2015), and had negative influence and power (Giovacchini, 1999).

Because of all of this…how has hip hop managed to have such a widespread appeal?




Streaming’s impact on hip hop

It’s well known that streaming and the digital era have revolutionised the music industry. Hip hop is believed to be the genre that has benefitted the most.

Hip Hop leads other genres and forces them to “keep up” (McIntyre, 2017). While some pop artists have found their ‘comeback’ not as successful as desired, hip hop sees continued success surrounding new projects (McIntyre, 2017), which can be pushed out at a high volume (McIntyre, 2017).

Hip hop/R&B is responsible for over “29% of all on-demand streams across [the US] and is the only field that is growing noticeably (McIntyre, 2018).

hip hop streams

Once, hip hop was “a genre very closely tied to location” (Blake, 2018). Streaming means this is eroding. Anyone, anywhere, can upload a hip hop song to a music platform without a label and have a good chance at achieving “viral success” (Blake, 2018).

This quick and untraditional rise to success creates rappers with “little to no ties to the places they come from” (Blake, 2018), which would have been unheard of during the hip hop of the 1980s.

Changing culture

Subcultures regularly get invaded because they seem rebellious – has this happened to hip hop? Do the former negative comments surrounding hip-hop make it attractive? There’s an old saying that we are attracted to what’s bad for us, which makes it more appealing…..

And considering that black people are continuous victims of having their originality and creativity unappreciated and not credited, maybe hip hop is another example of this.

As a result, hip hop, trap and rap have been “adopted across colour and national lines” in recent years (Guan, 2017). But like grime from the UK, hip hop has deep-rooted connections to the black culture of its country, which might make this problematic, especially when the original founders are pushed away from their own space.

As Guan (2017) said, Post Malone “seems to have cracked many of the protective codes that have maintained black centrality in hip hop”. More people are rapping than ever, with those outside the genre such as Taylor Swift joining in too (Guan, 2017).

Moving forwards, it will be interesting to see whether hip hop remains at the top, or with the rise of non-English genres such as Latin and K-Pop, this will change.


Sources: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2018/01/03/rap-overtakes-rock-most-popular-genre-among-music-fans-heres-why/990873001/, http://uk.businessinsider.com/hip-hop-passes-rock-most-popular-music-genre-nielsen-2018-1, https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/8085975/us-music-consumption-up-2017-rb-hip-hop-most-popular-genre, http://www.beat.com.au/music/hip-hop-most-popular-genre-music-world, http://www.vulture.com/2017/12/the-year-rap-overtook-pop.html, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/history-of-hip-hop-music-new-york-dj-kool-herc-google-doodle-clive-cindy-campbell-a7887501.html, http://blog.dubspot.com/hip-hop-culture/, https://www.forbes.com/sites/hughmcintyre/2017/12/28/hip-hop-is-winning-by-flooding-the-market-with-music-and-other-genres-need-to-keep-up/#3b0436d67a09, https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilyblake1/2018/01/18/streaming-data-hip-hop/#2a77779e13fd, https://www.theroot.com/is-today-s-hip-hop-trash-or-are-we-just-getting-old-sp-1822560290, https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/negative.htm, http://www.cracked.com/blog/4-bullshit-complaints-about-modern-rap-music/, ,




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