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The Hip-Hop Generation

In July 2017 Nielsen Music, a statistics company that studies global trends, put out a mid-year report on the music industry. For the first time since the start of the company in 1992, hip–hop and R&B was ranking as the most popular genre over rock in the United States.

Taking in digital and physical albums sales along with audio and video streaming, R&B and hip-hop comprised about 25 percent of sales and streams compared to rock’s 23 percent. It might not seem like a big difference between the two genres, but those numbers represent millions of listeners.

The margin is close because rock sells more physical albums at 42 percent of those sold, but people aren’t buying physical copies as much anymore. Consumers are streaming and that’s where hip-hop and R&B take the crown at 29 percent of total streams; more than Rock and Pop streams combined. What does the shift in genre mean and should this surprise us?

Hip-Hop and R&B has been crushing the charts and shattering records for years now. With some of the biggest artist today like Drake, Kendrick Lamar and the Weeknd winning Grammy awards, breaking streaming records and being featured on major lists from the likes of Forbes.

Some of the top musical artists in the world like Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5 and Katy Perry are collaborating with hip-hop artists. In fact, Ed Sheeran, who currently sits as the biggest artist in the world according to Billboard and Nielsen Music, is known to have a heavy hip-hop and R&B influence, rapping in some of his tracks.

If we’re talking about top artists we have to mention Beyoncé. Winning 22 Grammy awards, the most MTV Video Music Awards ever, and being awarded as the top artist of the 2000s by the Recording Industry Association of America has put Beyoncé at the pinnacle of the industry. In addition, she’s married to one the most successful rappers in the industry, Jay-Z, who has had all of his albums be certified RIAA platinum or higher. At the time of this article, six of the top ten Billboard Hot 100 songs are either hip-hop, R&B or a combination of the two. Just these facts alone should give you a good understanding of how much the two interconnecting genres have completely enveloped the music industry over the past decade. All that said, the music industry isn’t the only thing that hip-hop and R&B has dominated. Hip-hop culture is now pop culture.

The rise of hip-hop is not just seen in the top music award shows and in the top songs of the week but in our everyday lives. The clothes, the slang, the dances that are all trendy and cool are mostly from hip-hop. You’d be lying if you said you haven’t heard the phrases it’s lit, or dope, or even turn up come up in conversation. Even from people who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves hip-hop fans. How about the infamous dab that is still pervasive in the culture? A dance move that originated in the Atlanta hip-hop scene and was popularized by the hip-hop artist, Post Malone. Hip-hop is also on the forefront of the fashion industry. With artists like Kanye West, Drake and the Weeknd starting their own clothing lines that have been increasingly popular. It shouldn’t be a surprise for teens and young adults to learn hip-hop and R&B has officially become the most popular music genre in the country.

Hip-hop and R&B have gained this level of saturation in our music and mainstream culture because of the one thing that rock music had for decades, the youth appeal. Back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s groups like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Metallica were seen as noisy and distasteful to adults. It made kids like it even more because it was edgy and cool. Simply put, people wanted to be rock stars. In 2017, those kids are now the older adults and rock has ingrained itself so much into American media that it’s not seen as edgy or different. You could probably catch a generic rock tune in some yogurt commercial. Ask your average suburban 60-year-old about hip-hop though, and you’ll get the same reaction their parents had, “It’s obscene,” and “not real music,” but what it really is, is edgy, and different.

It should always be well noted that hip-hop and R&B culture is basically African-American culture. At the least it’s heavily derived from it. The African-American community deserves credit over the massive success and trend setting it’s created in pop culture should not be undervalued or ignored.

If hip-hop and R&B’s music and culture is edgy against the grain and popular within the youth community, our generation will be cemented and remembered as the hip-hop age. Perhaps just as scholars today study the poetry and writings of people like Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mary Shelley to understand their respective time periods; future scholars might find themselves studying the works of Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake to understand ours.