How Hip-Hop Took Over the Mainstream

From music to fashion to movies all the way to politics, Hip-Hop has put its stamp on multiple aspects of cultures around the world. It’s hard to imagine a 1970’s musical experiment started in a backyard in the Bronx would become the world’s most popular genre today. Once a niche genre, Hip-Hop is now the most consumed music genre on all major streaming platforms and has broadened the perspectives of people just about everywhere. The raw and resilient nature of the Hip-Hop scene can be scene in many cultures such as Japan’s “J-rap” to England’s “Grime Music” . Some may call it appreciation, others may consider it appropriation, but either way the adoption of hip hop around the world makes it clear that Hip-Hop is special.

To fully appreciate Hip-Hop you have to understand the building blocks of the culture/movement. The 5 elements of Hip Hop

  1. DJing: A DJ or “ Disc Jockey” controls the music in events and on the radio. Many specialize in Turntablism, which is a skill that developed by switching vinyl records and combining the rhythmic elements in them to create a new sound. 
  2. MCing: An MC or rapper is someone who sings and rhymes as the center of attention. MC’s communicate unique perspective through witty lyrics with signature deliveries.
  3. Break Dancing: Break Dancing is an athletic style of street dancing that consisted of four core moves and was marked by the “breaks” in a song.
  4. Graffiti: Once looked at in disgust, Graffiti has been adopted by street artists on all levels. Graffiti is more than art, it is a way to convey a “rebellious” message to the masses. Jean Michel Basquiat has even been influenced evident by his famous “SAMO” movement.
  5. The 5th element of Hip Hip is still up to debate. For now we have: beat boxing, writing, knowledge, and fashion. 

These pillars are the key elements in building this amazing genre! 

The first Hip Hop artist ever was a Jamaican immigrant from the Bronx. In Clive Campbell, better known as DJ Kool Herc, introduced the new “hippity” sound of Hip Hop to the world through his backyard speakers. The upbeat music soon spread like wildfire amongst NYC DJ’s such as GrandMaster Flash and The Sequence. The popularity then achieved new heights with the release of “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang in 1979.

This opened a new world for Hip Hop and brought the niche sound mainstream. The mid 1980’s marked the beginning of the “Golden Age” of Hip Hop, as Hip Hop became a worldwide phenomenon, with groups like Run D.M.C, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy & Ice T, branching their own distinctive sound in Hip Hop.

The 80’s fused Hip Hop with many genres such as Pop, Funk, Rock, and Blues by introducing the new technique of “Sampling”. This led to many interesting sounding songs like “Push It” by Salt N Peppa, “Just Havin’ Fun” by Dougie E Fresh, and “Walk This Way” by Run DMC. This was also the emergence of music videos, which turned some rappers into superstars.

Despite the glitz and glam, the 80’s were not all fun and games for Hip Hop.This marketed the rise of the notorious “Gangsta Rap” era. Starting in the underground scene, “Gangsta Rap” focused on violence prevalent in the urban communities mainly in New York and Los Angeles. The music made in this era rose awareness about problems hindering the development of African American and Latinos in low-socioeconomic America. 

The early 90’s was the latter part of the “Golden Age and tried to ride the success of “Gangster Rap” in the decade prior. Rappers like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg were on the forefront of this time period. Rappers now took a more lyrical approach to music and began to take their craft more seriously. Rap became a competition and whoever won the most fans, made the most money. TV programs like ”Yo! MTV Raps” and “RapCity”  had a huge impact on the public image of rappers. As MTV grew in popularity, rappers’ style and production budgets grew. 

The industry was becoming lucrative so this attracted businessmen like P-Diddy (Bad Boy) and Dr.Dre (Death Row) to create platforms that would allow artists to publish their music. However, during this period many of the street record deals came with force and unwritten commitments. Death Row Records and Bad Boy Records both had a notorious influence in their cities (LA and NYC) and have linked with multiple crimes during the 90’s. The mixing of business and the street made separating from the streets nearly impossible. Even big time artists like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, and Big L lost their lives to street. Despite a lot of violence, the 90’s had a timeless sound that would later influence other greater rappers to develop the style of hip hop. 

How Hip Hop Is Today

In the early 2000’s hip hop takes the industry by storm with its entrance into “pop” music. This was a new breath of fresh air for Hip Hop. Music became more radio friendly as rappers began to cater towards a greater audience. The catchy sounds of artists like 50-Cent, Eminem, and Nelly became the new gold standard, as they topped the Billboard charts during this time. More sounds began to fall under the hip hop umbrella. The southern crunk music stylized by artists like Lil Jon, Dem Franchize Boyz, and the Ying Yang Twins became mainstream. Alternative hip hop started gain popularity with pioneers such as The Roots, Gnarls Barkley, and Mos Def. The new millennium expanded both the sound and consumption of hip hop.

The mainstream appeal and album sales of the genre caused big music corporations to move towards the hip hop realm in the 2000’s. Robbie Williams pioneered a new record deal called a “360 deal” in 2002. This gave record labels complete ownership of the artists’ entire brand while under contract. Despite the guaranteed fame, this became very problematic for artists because even though hip hop gained popularity, more and more consumers began to pirate their music illegally. In short, artists couldn’t make money from album sales, and the labels own most (if not all) of the masters and most of the money for performances. Jay-Z is an artist that took financial matters into his own hands by creating “Roc-A-Fella Records”. By having a structured entity behind him he was able to get a 50/50 deal with Def Jam. He then went on to further his revenue streams by creating “Roc Nation”, his own entertainment agency.  The 2000’s proved artists without music business expertise ended losing out on a lot of earnings due to overbearing signing contracts. 


The mid 2000’s was a downtime in Hip Hop. Some say it was due to the criminal and misogynistic content and others say it was due to the pirating of hip hop music. The adoption of the internet helped artists with platforms like SoundClick and YouTube, but simultaneously hurt them with pirating platforms like LimeWire. ”Soulja Boy Tell’em” became the first internet sensation with his hit record “Crank That” in 2007. During this time many artists made money by having “crossover capability” and creating work that would appeal to more than the core Hip-Hop crowd. Alternative artists like Kanye West, OutKast, and Gnarls Barkley were able to gain substantial success during the early-mid 2000’s. Lil Wayne’s “Carter lll” was also a great success in 2008 labeling himself as the greatest rapper during the rap slump. This was a weird time for hip hop, but the grey area created space for new innovative artists like Drake and Kid Cudi to change the direction of the dying genre. 

The late 2000’s was the proclaimed “death of hip hop”, but the genres popularity rebounded in the early 2010’s when the integration of Trap into the world of Hip Hop. The new style added hard bass paired with melodic instrumentals to make a trap or house party vibe. The creation of “Trap Music” is credited to Gucci Mane, but has been adopted by many popular non-trap artists like Drake, J-Cole, and Kendrick Lamar over the years. The growth of “Trap” has given Hip Hop a second breath and created 3 subgenres.

3 SubGenres of Trap Music 

  1. “Drill Music” pioneered by Chief Keef and Yung Chop with “I Don’t Like” in 2012. 
  2. “Mumble Rap” pioneered by the Migos with “Versace” In 2013.
  3. “Drip/Slime Music” pioneered by Young Thug and LondononDaTrack with “Hookah” in 2014. 

There is obviously room for more singers because artists like PlayBoy Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, Meg The Stallion, and DaBaby do not fit perfectly into any one category because of their unique approaches to music. 

Apart from southern trap music there was a lot of Hip Hop music made in NY, Chicago, and LA. In NY you can get various sounds, from the smooth Bronx trap from artist like “A Boogie wit da Hoodie” and “Lil Tjay” to the drill Brooklyn trap from artists like “Pop Smoke” and “Sheff G”. In Chicago, apart from drill there is Neo-Seoul Rap from artists like “Chance the Rapper”’and “Noname”.  

Hip-Hop went through a lot of changes in the second half of the 2010’s, making lyricism an afterthought for many successful artists. Melodic and “boppy” music is taking over the sound of the genres due to its blend of musical aspects. In fact, the most prominent artist today rarely has the ability to freestyle “off the top“. Today, an artist needs the talent, and the knowledge of how music marketing works. Distribution services like “Distrokid” and streaming services like “Soundcloud” and “Spotify” make music publishing as easy as a few clicks. Despite the increased exposure, the rise of streaming services made album sales less lucrative for musicians; forcing them to find other ways to make money. Many artists like “Tekashi 6ix9ine”, “NBA YoungBoy”, and “Kodak Black” are seeing success from “trolling” or being controversial on social media. Artists are doing more publicity stunts to make them seem more iconic in hopes of sold out shows, as touring proved profitable in this era. Some other ways, artists have been making money is through sponsorships, shows, and merchandise. Hip Hop is now a “game of brands” where the better brands attract cult followings resulting in more cash for creators. Today’s MC lyricism is not the same as back in 1980’s or 1990’s, but their influence is equal if not more relevant than ever. 

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