Hip hop got its start in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York. At the time, the city’s demographics were rapidly changing, with the white middle-class inhabitants moving out to the suburbs to be replaced by African American and Latino American populations. Most of these folks were from economically challenged backgrounds, and it didn’t help their situation that the city cut budgets and diverted resources to the well-off neighborhoods.
Emergence of hip hop music
Unemployment and poverty led to rising crime rates and other social problems. To cope with the challenges they faced, the young people from these underprivileged areas began creating their cultural expressions. They took inspiration from African music, blues, and black power poetry and organized block parties. The hip hop movement that developed was not just about music, but also art, fashion, and dance, and it continues in that vein to the present day.
In the 1980s and 1990s, several distinct styles of hip hop emerged—East Coast Rap, West Coast Rap, Gangsta Rap, and so on—and the popularity of hip hop went mainstream and spread like wildfire in the United States and around the world. It seemed as if the trajectory of hip hop was only in one direction—up. It was not just an enormous cultural phenomenon, but also the best selling music genre in the United States.
Cut-throat competition in hip hop music
The money-making aspect of hip hop music led to fierce competition between rappers and between record companies for more radio airplay, more exposure, and more record sales. Incidences of greed and corruption began making hip hop news, such as record companies bribing radio stations to get their rappers into the top spots in the popular music charts. That meant money and influence decided which songs were going get heard and move to the top, not the actual quality and popularity of the songs themselves.
That was bad news for up-coming and indie rappers. Without signing up with a big label, they had almost no chance of getting radio airtime. Additionally, the record executives began dictating what types of hip hop music the rappers could create. That meant only the already tried types that had achieved acceptance and popularity, not anything fresh and innovative. Far from spearheading cultural development, hip hop music began showing signs of stagnation.
Hip hop music and streaming services
The music industry suffered a severe setback in the 21st century. The economy went into the doldrums, and the emergence of streaming services disrupted the traditional ways of selling music. Fewer and fewer people now wanted to buy cassettes and CDs. Why, indeed, when they could digitally stream what they wanted to hear at any time and from any place? And as digital music more or less replaced the sales of physical albums, record labels began losing the tight control they had on music exposure.
Streaming services like SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple Music have given hip hop performers an unprecedented chance to make music on their terms. Additionally, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have allowed them to share it with a large listener base. Instead of depending on a record label, they can now manage their music career.
And if they do want to sign up with a record label, they are better placed to negotiate a favorable deal. They can use data from the streaming sites to show the exact metrics of their popularity. They can show exactly how many followers they have, how many streams they have had in a specific period, what locations they are most popular in, how many comments they receive, and more.
While record labels are not in the position to spend as lavishly on record deals as they once did, they have shown a willingness to take the risk of signing upcoming rappers with only one or two hits and a large online following. Hip hop music has proved its staying power, after all, and the companies can withstand a few failures for one resounding success.
Of course, there is no guarantee that music streaming will continue to be popular with listeners in the coming years. Technological developments could usher in something better and bring about further market changes.
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