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It was Q-Tip who immortalized the take: “Rap is not pop / If you call it that, then stop.”
The line arrived at what could be considered the first wave in hip hop’s crossover. MC Hammer was cracking mainstream audiences with a viral dance craze and even managed to bring the flavor to a few national brands, including Pepsi, marking one of the soda company’s earliest partnerships with a hip hop act. Q-Tip later clarified that the timing was less of a dig at MC Hammer and more of a response to an unwelcome perception of hip hop as a “pop” genre: commercial and mainstream.
Nearly 30 years later with some of those same indicators still present—viral dances, hip hop’s stars at the forefront of major advertising campaigns, and the genre’s official rank as the most popular genre of music in the country—hip hop is more influential than ever before.
Tip’s assertion could definitely be ruled out as an erroneous statement in 2020 because hip hop is now the most influential cultural vehicle in the United States today. Rooted by heightened authenticity, laced with inherent social responsibility, and molded by the indispensable chase of the American Dream, hip hop is officially popular culture.
With 40 years worth of groundwork at the foundation, the culture’s rising generation of consumers, tastemakers, and eventual adopters stand to influence mainstream society more than ever before. The last half of the 20th century marked the birth and coming-of-age of this culture. Hip hop began a thoughtful and often misunderstood takeover in the 80s and 90s, evolving with the world around it while continually latching onto the rebellion and resilience that colored its origins. A new millennium, however, marked its journey into adulthood, and these past 20 years have exhibited the cultivation and unrelenting progression of its authority.
In 2020, this translates to a force nearly half a century in the making. Hip hop has paid its dues and emerged victorious in all bets against the underdog. Its creators are among the biggest stars in the world. Its music is the most listened to in American society. Its top-seeded contenders are Pulitzer Prize winners, Harvard lecturers, and Kennedy Center directors. Its influencers are shaping digital trends and setting new precedents in mainstream art and fashion every day.
The year 2019 alone has proven to be a comprehensive culmination of hip hop’s next frontier. The gradual destruction of exhaustive gender constructs and hyper-masculinity have made way for the fearless reclamation of femininity among artists like Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, while making room for the longevity of Lil Nas X alike.
The very public social issues of Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky, and 21 Savage have sparked a new consideration of young consumers’ relationship with the institutions both in their own countries and abroad. The blatant promotion of the DIY approach to success in hip hop has paved new roads toward independence, entrepreneurship, and the new definition of the American Dream.
In 2020 and beyond, the traditional age and socioeconomic-based categorizations of Millennials and Gen Z will have to make way for the more emotionally and culturally binding umbrella of Gen Hip Hop. As hip hop’s influence continues to permeate pockets of global culture—thanks to the digital demolition of traditional borders—this lens will prove to be one of the more significant vantage points from which to interpret society’s next trends and expectations.
The year 2020 marks the edge of an explosion in hip hop’s inescapable presence—one even more pervasive than what we’ve already witnessed this past decade. Among lifetime consumers and children of the culture, the implications of the culture in everyday life are an inherent reality — a built-in understanding. As the new decade gets underway, however, these sensibilities are poised to become second nature to the rest of the world.
Welcome to the decade of Generation Hip Hop.
This month, REVOLT’s Audience Insights team will be launching “GEN HIP HOP,” the first research study of its kind on hip hop’s youth audience. Covering topics such as politics, gender identity, and self-expression as the New American Dream, the report traces hip hop’s rise to become a global phenomenon, connecting all corners of the world and embracing all walks of life.
For more information, visit GenHipHopStudy.com.