During summer, Nielsen Music – a music information and sales tracking system, reported that Hip-Hop has overtaken Rock ’n’ Roll as the most popular music genre in the USA.
Rock and Roll was a foundation stone of American music, born through the likes of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry in the late 1950’s. The combination of their floor filler music, Berry’s overwhelming post-war positivity and Elvis’ hip shaking swagger created a new rush in popular music and so rock was born.
Since, their influence has stemmed throughout the globe and created modern rock titans such as AC/DC, The Rolling Stones and Guns N’ Roses. The highest selling rock albums in the USA have interestingly been from English bands: The Beatles have sold 178 million units nationwide, Led Zepplin with 111.5 million units and Pink Floyd with 75 million units.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll is as integral to American society as Baseball.”
Rock ‘n’ Roll has consistently helped set the trend for popular music and also had a profound effect on American society by allowing artists to communicate on political issues and influence government, such as The Rolling Stones’ anti-Vietnam war ‘Gimme Shelter’. It is credited with integrating the teens of the 1950s, 60s and 70s and influencing clothing, television and dance. Rock ‘n’ Roll is as integral to American society as Baseball, the Statue of Liberty or even the corndog.
Whilst Rock was flourishing, it was also influencing other genres of music, in particular, Hip Hop. After the ban of segregation in the 1954, Rock paved way for black America to be given artistic expression by forcing prejudice labels to sign black artists because it was so profitable.
Hip Hop culture was a product of the combination of music, dance and art. More specially, DJ’ing, rhyming, breakdancing and graffiti. Grandmaster Flash was a pioneering Hip Hop DJ who extended the break beat (where only the drum sounds are playing) to stimulate improvisational expression, whether rapping or dancing. Contests developed and Hip-Hop grew from a backstreet tradition to a major part of black suburban lifestyle until it first came to national prominence in America, with the release of chart-topping ‘Rappers Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang in 1979.
In the mid 1980’s a new wave of rappers came to the forefront to inject Hip Hop into popular music, redefining pop and breaking down racial barriers. Run-D.M.C. were at the forefront, fusing America’s beloved Rock with Hip Hop and becoming regular frontmen on MTV to push Hip Hop into the world of popular music. Other innovators of the time were LL Cool J, rap’s first romantic superstar; The Beastie Boys, a white trio who broadened rap’s audience and popularized digital sampling (composing with music and sounds electronically extracted from other recordings); and Public Enemy, who invested rap with radical black political ideology.
The most significant response to hip-hop, though, came from Los Angeles, beginning in 1989 with N.W. A’s dynamic album Straight Outta Compton. N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude) Their graphic, frequently violent tales of real life in the inner city, as well as those of L.A. rappers such as Ice-T (remembered for his 1992 single “Cop Killer”) and Snoop Dogg and of East Coast counterparts such as Schoolly D, gave rise to the genre known as gangsta rap. As the Los Angeles-based label Death Row Records built an empire around Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and the charismatic, complicated rapper-actor Tupac Shakur, it also entered into a rivalry with New York City’s Bad Boy Records. This developed into a media-fuelled hostility between East Coast and West Coast rappers, which culminated in the still-unsolved murders of Tupac and the wildly gifted MC known as the Notorious B.I.G.
Hip Hop was well and truly moulded into pop music as the 21st Century came around, and from then on, it’s popularity soured through the creation of big personalities and emphasis on style and fashion. Dr. Dre was a crucial figure: His protégés 50 Cent and Eminem became huge worldwide stars. With Hip Hop becoming so popularised, all of the resultant pressures of accessibility, and the intricacy and subversive nature of earlier MCs had largely been pushed to the “alternative”/“underground” scene spearheaded by rappers such as Mos Def (later known as Yasiin Bey) and Doom (MF Doom).
Perhaps no one represented the cultural triumph of hip-hop better than Jay-Z. As his career progressed, he went from performing artist to label president, head of a clothing line, club owner, and market consultant—along the way breaking Elvis Presley’s Billboard magazine record for the most number one albums by a solo artist.
Kanye West, one of Jay-Z’s producers, emerged as one of the most fascinating and polarizing characters in hip-hop following the success of his 2004 debut album The College Dropout. Musically experimental and fashion-forward, West represented many of hip-hop’s greatest possibilities with his penetrating, deeply personal lyrics. However, his endless self-promotion and often arrogant aura also demonstrated some of the elements that now tried the patience of many listeners.
As Hip Hop reaches its peak popularity, one man epitomises how far the genre has come. With record-breaking album sales, he represents old school Hip Hop as a powerful lyricist of social commentary and raw flow of rhythm. Yet he also represents what Hip Hop has become, with trap records and collaborations with international popstars such as Drake, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. Impeccable vocal talents and an ability to bring the troubles Compton to the world, there is a reason Kendrick Lamar is at the forefront of Hip Hop as it overtakes Rock as the most popular genre.
The future of Hip Hop looks quite frankly gloomy as the new age of electronic rap takes over. ‘Lil’ or ‘Young’ seems to be before all of their names and apparently red braided hair with plastic bobbles is the new craze. Without trying to sound too much like an old man, what are kids listening to these days? Either way, as Lil Uzi Vert becomes the artist at the top of Billboards Most popular album, it is clear Hip Hop is not going to be knocked off the top spot anytime soon. But other than it’s rise in popularity, how did Hip Hop overthrow the giant that is Rock?
The digitalisation of music – from physical albums, to downloads, to streaming, has in turn changed the focus of music popularity to a younger audience. Rock has become a stagnant genre as the rise of the generic indie band taint the rock greats. Rock is also generally associated with an older generation, parents. Furthermore, there has been a shortage of old-school rock icons for young people to get behind whereas Hip Hop is constantly creating new style icons – just look at the popularity of Kanye West’s Yeezy brand.
Whether or not Hip Hop will remain the most popular genre in the USA and if it will happen in other countries around the world is yet to be seen. Its significance should not be underestimated though, as it provides an idea of what to expect from upcoming pop music.