Nothing in this life has ever brought me more joy and support than hip-hop, so it was a proud moment when I read this. Forbes newly confirmed hip-hop/R&B is now the dominant musical genre in the United States
Having been a fan (and now a contributor) to hip-hop culture for most of my life, seeing rap reign supreme, at least on a national level, is cause for celebration.
Yet this celebration was not without pause for concern.
We have always been told that history repeats itself, which is actually just a simple way of explaining the cyclical social circumstances caused by human nature if they are not changed. If we look at the history of modern music, there is a glaring reflection on the future of hip-hop that cannot be overlooked. What I mean by that is that over the last 50 years at least many musical movements have taken over the country, only to be exploited and diluted into oblivion once their popularity has reached a critical mass.
For example, take the global genre of rock, which hip-hop has just replaced as the country’s largest genre. A complex family of musical influences that evolved in elaborate ways from its roots in blues and country music, rock in its many forms has been the most important music genre for decades. It’s also waning, the result of decades of exploitation having left it reclaiming new ground in an environment of copycat artists and pop offerings crafted by labels that co-opt the genre’s bloodline.
Hip-hop has also endured its fair share of exploitation at the hands of profit-obsessed corporate interests and big labels. As the genre has tightened its grip on the country, it has become increasingly profitable, especially among a new generation of consumers growing up with on-demand streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.
Since the early 80s, we’ve seen brands co-opt their cultural offerings in an effort to broaden their demographics and appeal to younger consumers, but abandoning the appeal of hip-hop has only become more subversive and accepted. in the years that followed. .
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From more mutually beneficial corporate relationships like the one hip-hop shared with Sprite to the outright co-optation of cultural characteristics by grain companies, auto commercials, movies, and even government officials, a largely directed culture by black youth received very little return for his contribution to the company’s success. Songs, slang, memes, dances, fashion, jokes – young black social media users have provided businesses around the world with a gold mine of content with which to sell their wares with little or no consideration or compensation given to their creators. It’s nothing new – it’s been going on for decades – but with each gain in popularity it will continue to happen more often.
Hip-hop’s influence on the world is welcome, but when its cultural contributions are used to benefit those who have no intrinsic connection to the culture and without sharing the wealth generated or even giving credit, who really eats hip-hop ubiquity?
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using hip-hop’s dominance for commercial gain. At the same time, it is extremely important for the longevity of the genre, and of culture in general, that the biggest names in the art form strive to maintain this process, above all, beneficial to the genre and its contributors. .
Companies that co-opt the latest sounds, trends, and fashions from hip-hop youth can be a lucrative situation for all parties, but what does it mean if the majority of that money doesn’t go back into the culture? Why are creative, benevolent artists still tasked with rebuilding hip-hop’s infrastructure financially? Where are the investments from non-creators who reap the benefits and only pay out a fraction of their profits to artists willing to play the game?
As hip-hop continues to grow and redefine itself, it will become increasingly important that we ask these questions, bearing in mind that the answers may change frequently.
While hip-hop is not a council to be governed by a body of careful protectors, it would be irresponsible to simply view the genre as an art form subject to the whims of any outside force that wishes to engage in it. Hip-hop has saved countless lives and provided many with a model of financial independence. Artists have used the platform that hip-hop has given them to achieve great things and bring about real change, made possible due to the undeniable popularity of the genre.
If Chance The Rapper couldn’t pull together a flash mob of thousands with the ease of a tweet, it’s highly unlikely he could donate a million dollars to Chicago Public Schools and create mics. opened in his hometown. Countless artists could not break the cycle of poverty in their families and reinvest in their communities without sold-out tours and breaking records. It is the sheer power of its appeal that has enabled and will continue to enable hip-hop to affect the world that also threatens to undermine its influence, and this is where discernment and intention are paramount to its existence. flourishing.
The more popular something becomes, the more its cultural offerings are co-opted by corporate interests, the less “cool” it becomes. As the control of hip-hop culture shifts away from those who truly care, those who remain indifferent and just looking to take over the marketing will turn hip-hop into what they want. let it be and will leave a hollow, less influential shell of culture in their wake.
To be clear, this isn’t me screaming the sky is falling on us – I know hip-hop is in good hands – I’m just offering a humble reminder that hip-hop is far more precious than we are. treat it often. There’s a great opportunity to use America’s love of hip-hop over any other genre as a stepping stone to greatness, rather than an invitation to exploitation.