I’m a little late in finding this out, but according to Nielson, rap and R&B are now the most widely consumed genre of music in America, overtaking rock music. Everyone who has anything invested in these genres probably has something to say about that, and I’d just like to give my quick thoughts.
Now first and foremost, I am thrilled about this. Fans of anything should want to see that thing succeed, and while success can be a subjective status defined by those aiming for it, hip hop music being the most widely consumed kind of music is at least an objective indication that what people thought decades ago was just a fad is here to stay and continue growing. While there have been many fads within hip hop music, those voices of doubt about the culture and style of music as a whole only belong to the ignorant at this point, those who are in denial about the last 40+ years now. That being said, I know that there are probably some people who are a little upset about hip hop no longer being counter-culture, and see it as having been diluted to get to this point.
The biggest contributing factor to the growth in consumption of the music is that hip hop culture has opened up to everybody. There are white rappers running around everywhere, and it has become normalized (the Eminem comparison has stopped being drawn the way it was for a good 15 years). We are at a point where people like Dustin can start on a blog on the premise of being a hip hop site (although that has expanded a bit), and have me, somebody who is neither white nor black, contribute to it, and nobody would think anything of it. Rappers are coming in with different looks (granted, some of them are fucking stupid to me), as opposed to the almost ubiquitous baggy jeans/hoodie/Timbs combination of the ‘90s/’00s. Hip hop is still a genre that is opposed to change, but it has become far more accepting of new ideas, styles, and looks, possibly aided by the overall mindset of the millennial generation.
In a changing environment, it’s evolve or die. The music industry is in constant shift. Listeners are very fickle in what they like. They have short attention spans and tastes change very quickly. If music doesn’t make an effort to change with it, then it gets left behind. Mainstream hip hop chose to evolve. The choice may not have been supported by everybody, but it happened, and it’s been happening since the beginning. From golden age rock samples with little to no lyrical content, to highly lyrical verses over dusty soul and funk samples, to the heavy orchestral sounds of the G-Unit era, to crunk, and now trap with more emphasis placed on melody in delivery. It’s how the genre keeps from going stagnant, and keeps doors open for listeners to constantly keep coming in.
While this may reek of “selling out” or changing to the point where it’s no longer the same genre, you have to remember. The DNA of hip hop is still present. In fact, and I’m sure I’ve said this before, it’s probably more present than it was 10 years ago. In 2007, the only notable labels that I can think of that really repped the core essence of hip hop are Duck Down and Def Jux (I’m definitely forgetting others). These days the movement of representing what the culture was built on has been a growing one. Sure, it may be in response to the current styles in the spirit of rebellion and keeping that counter-culture feeling alive. However, the interest wouldn’t be generated for this sort of a movement/subgenre if there wasn’t enough listeners of the genre to begin with. We’ve reached the point where people like Westside Gunn and Conway can be signed to a major label. I don’t think that would have been possible even just 5 years ago.
Hip hop is in a good place. It is exciting to see it winning and reaching the level of popularity that it is at right now. While there are a ton of popular subgenres out that many (including myself oftentimes) may have a distaste for, it is only natural for a genre to create subgenres while trying to experiment. There is room for everything now, and hopefully that continues to allow for further growth in consumption and experimentation.