Rise of Hip Hop as the Most Popular Genre of Music in America

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Rock has held the award for the most popular music genre in the U.S. for years. American rock groups like Guns N’ Roses, Panic at the Disco, Fall Out Boys, Green Day, Nirvana, Aerosmith, etc. are just some of the historic names that we acknowledge as huge musical influences of our society. As time progresses we are starting to recognize the increase in popularity of hip-hop/rap music. The year 2017 is noted as the year that hip hop/rap has become the most widely streamed and the highest-selling musical genre. Rock originated between the late 1940s to the 1950s but became popular in the early 1950s. Rock was seen as a form of self-expression that felt free, which is what made it popular. Hip-hop/Rap is well-liked for the same reason. Rock is roughly almost 70 years old while hip hop/rap isn't even 50 years old. So the question arises how has hip hop/rap already become the most popular and profitable genre of music in America?

Hip hop originated in the 1970s in South Bronx, New York. The beginning of what seems to be the first appearance of hip hop was on 15-20 Sedgwick Avenue at Clive Campbell's (DJ Kool Herc) back-to-school bash. He started using turntables and making beats at parties around New York City as a way to spread the sound and promote a new style that he created. At the age of 18, DJ Kool Herc started constructing beats using a lot of percussion instruments. He noticed that the audience preferred the part of the music where it was mostly percussion. While he was deejaying he would talk over the beat. This soon developed into what was known as emceeing or rapping. Most of the songs that were created were party music but slowly some of the songs started addressing social and political issues. Hip hop was birthed in a poor black and Latino community in New York City, which is why a lot of the subjects that were discussed were specific to minorities. Police brutality, poverty, incarceration, oppression, and unemployment were all talking points in most songs. Even though the public was taking a liking to some of the music at the time, a lot of people saw hip-hop artists as radicals and gangsters. Originally hip hop had no true structure and it was widely recognized as defiant and dangerous due to the rhetoric.

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Hip hop advanced into a complete culture by the 90s. Deejaying, emceeing, break dancing, or b-boying, and graffiti started gaining popularity outside of New York City. Just within the first 25 years of its origin hip hop had already become popular. Artists such as Jay-Z, 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Lauryn Hill, DMX, Raekwon, Prodigy, Nas, Afrika Bambaataa, etc. are just a few of the influential names that have added something that has changed the culture forever. Still around the 90s hip hop was a very taboo subject and it wasn't popular to play hip hop/rap music. Hip-hop was considered too harsh and most club owners didn't want to attract black audiences because of the controversial opinions that accompanied them. Artists found other ways to express themselves beyond music. Fashion became a huge part of hip-hop culture. Timberland boots, oversized clothes, sportswear, bandanas, plaid, camo, puff jackets, patterns, and bright colors were a fad. Brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Ralph Lauren, Jordans, and Fubu were popular. Hip-hop not only outlined social and political issues it was also a symbol of creativity and freedom of expression. Hip hop popularity skyrocketed and gained traction not just because of the music but because of the culture itself. The hair and the clothing are still being mimicked to this day.

Hip-hop has become globally known and acknowledged. Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Kanye West, and Drake are just some of the names that have reached many people with their music and have dared hip hop. They've introduced different sounds and ideas. This was around the time when hip-hop authenticity was challenged. An example of this is when Kanye West released the song 'Jesus Walks'. When his song came out he addressed religion and his struggles with getting turned away by radio stations (including hip-hop radio stations) for trying to talk about God on his records. Gospel didn't know whether to accept it as gospel music and hip hop didn't know if it was going to appeal to their audience. Kanye West understood the difficulties of speaking about Jesus and gaining acceptance by secular radio. Most songs in the past would refer to Jesus, as 'He' or 'Him' but they wouldn't say the actual name, Jesus. In his second verse, he challenged radio stations by stating 'So here go my single dawg radio needs this, They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus. That means guns, sex, lies, and videotapes, but if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?'The song ended up on the radio and MTV. He also won 3 Grammy Awards in 2005. This song wasn't just about enjoyment it was also about breaking boundaries which is cognisant of hip-hop. “Old Town Road” fell into the same category of controversy as to if it was true hip-hop or country. Experimentation is a part of the new age of hip-hop. A lot of people complain and say that hip hop is watered down especially since there is no real discrete line determining what is or isn't hip hop. What is blurring these lines is also the classification of an artist. An artist like Drake, is he an R&B singer, Pop singer, or Rapper? How do you classify his albums or his music? Before everyone, for the most part, was rapping in similar styles with similar beats so now that the new age is adding its twist. This level of creativity is what hip-hop is about. The ideas that were taboo are now ideas that we now talk about openly. You can say that hip-hop was before its time. Rolling Stone writer Elias Leight reported 'Listeners sought out more rap singles and more rap albums last year. Hip-hop tracks were already more popular than any other kind in 2017, accounting for 20.9 percent of song consumption. That number jumped to a stunning 24.7 percent in 2018, meaning that nearly a quarter of all tracks listened to in the U.S. came from rap. (BuzzAngle measures track consumption by combining sales and on-demand streams at the rate of 1 sale = 150 on-demand streams.)' (Leight, Elias hip hop Continued to Dominate the Music Business in 2018). Streaming has added a different layer to hip-hop. The moment hip-hop became popular was when streaming became the main source of listening to music. Streaming has now accounted for roughly 54 percent of audio consumption which is almost 2 times what it was a couple of years ago.

Continued developments have been the biggest strength of hip hop and a partial reason why it has lasted and grown in popularity over the years. Hip hop is multilingual, multiracial, multiethnic, diverse and transcends gender, class, and sexual identity.”Eight of the 10 most listened-to artists of the year came from the R&B/hip-hop genre, led by Drake, with 4.8 million album-equivalent units... and Kendrick Lamar (3.7 million). Rap also experienced the second-highest growth of any genre, spiking 25% over 2016”.The demand for hip-hop is so high that even when rap albums come out at strange times, they still succeed. When Bronx native A Boogie with da Hoodie released his album Hoodie SZN without releasing a lead-in single the Friday before Christmas he shockingly didn't see a hitch in sales or streams. His album Hoodie SZN debuted at Number Two following 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was, a rap album. Hip hop/rap has been used to address feminist and racial issues and serves a purpose in society. The genre has been used in countries like Brazil, Niger, Japan, Sudan, Korea, and others countries to address numerous concerns. The fact that Hip hop talks about issues that average people go through has made it easy for people to connect. This is what made it last because all hip hop was created from was the willingness to express our stories and the way we feel.' As a result of both its longevity and its cognate message... Hip-hop cannot be dismissed as merely a fad or as a youth movement that will soon run its course. The only thing that we can be sure about is that Hip hop is here to stay. ' Hip hop must be taken seriously as a cultural, political, economic and intellectual phenomenon deserving or scholarly study'.

Works Cited

  1. Morgan, Marcyliena, and Dionne Bennett. “Hip-Hop & the Global Imprint of a Black Cultural Form.” Daedalus, vol. 140, no. 2, 2011, pp. 176–196. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23047460.
  2. Alridge, Derrick P., and James B. Stewart. “Introduction: Hip Hop in History: Past, Present, and Future.” The Journal of African American History, vol. 90, no. 3, 2005, pp. 190–195. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20063997.
  3. Watson, Amy. “Share of total music album consumption* in the United States in 2018, by genre.” Statistica, Buzz Angle Music, 9 Aug 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/310746/share-music-album-sales-us-genre/
  4. Leight, Elias. “Hip-Hop Continued to Dominate the Music Business in 2018.” Rolling Stone, Penske Business Media Corporation, 3 Jan. 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/hip-hop-continued-to-dominate-the-music-business-in-2018-774422/
  5. Bains, Arsh. “Why Hip-Hop is Dominating Billboard Charts.” 36Chapters, Medium, 20 May 2017, https://36chapters.com/why-hip-hop-is-dominating-the-charts-87ef145f8deb
  6. Brown, TM. “The Greatest Hip Hop Songs of all Time.” BBC, BBC Online, 8 Oct. 2019, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20191007-the-greatest-hip-hop-songs-of-all-time
  7. Ryan, Patrick. “Rap overtakes rock as the most popular genre among music fans. Here's why.” USA Today, Gannett Company, 3 Jan. 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2018/01/03/rap-overtakes-rock-most-popular-genre-among-music-fans-heres-why/990873001/
  8. Cantor, Paul. “9 Things That Almost Killed Hip-Hop in the ‘90s.” Complex, , 4 Jan. 2016 https://www.complex.com/music/2016/01/9-things-that-almost-killed-hip-hop-in-the-90s/hip-hops-golden-age-artists
  9. Foley, Gregk. “21 Trends & Brands that Defined 90s Hip-Hop Fashion.” High Nobietys, 6 Mar 2019 https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/90s-hip-hop-fashion/
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