Photograph: Jamel Shabazz

Hip Hop Rules

Nielsen’s mid-year stats prove the fact that you’ve been feeling ever since you heard your first mixtape: hip hop is the most popular music in America.

Remember back in 1989, when Boogie Down Productions dropped an album called Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop  ? Released, appropriately enough, of the 4th of July, BDP’s third studio album put forward a fairly radical argument, on track No. 9, a song called “Hip Hop Rules.”

At the time KRS’s proclamation might have seemed a bit of an overstatement. I mean, Slick Rick the Ruler might have worn a crown sometimes, but he didn’t actually hold dominion over any sovereign territory—apart from the hearts and minds of rap fans. The top pop song of 1989 was “Look Away” by Chicago. Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” was No. 2, but that was more of a New Jack Swing moment.

That was the same year top hip hop artists banded together to boycott the Grammys just to force the Recording Academy to televise their category on the Awards.

Nevertheless, that same year KRS One hopped on a ruff and rugged raggamuffin beat and spit the following prescient bars:

Way back in the days, 1979
Fatback Band made a record usin’ rhyme
In the same year come the Sugarhill Gang
With the pow pow boogie, and the big bang bang
R&B, Disco, Pop Country Jazz
All thought hip hop, was just a little fad
But here comes Grandmaster Flash nonstop
And right after Flash, Run-D.M.C. dropped
Now, they had to pay attention to the scale
Where other music failed, hip-hop prevailed
See rap music has gone platinum from the start
So now in eighty-nine we gettin’ present as an art

This song dropped just over a year after Run-D.M.C. changed the world with their Aerosmith collab “Walk This Way.” When Rick Rubin first brought up the idea of the rock/rap mash-up, Run hated the idea, but Jam Master Jay saw the vision. That vision has now become a reality.

Fast forward to this week’s Nielsen Music mid-year report, which reveals the following:

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. is the album of the year—which should not come as a surprise to readers of MASS APPEAL.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that—for the first time since Nielsen started measuring music consumption in the United States—rock is no longer the top genre.

R&B and Hip Hop now account for 25.1% of all music consumption in the U.S. while Rock & Roll ranks second with 23%.

One big factor behind the power shift has been the rise of streaming services and the decline of album sales.

Rock still dominates the album sales numbers, with a 40% market share among the various genres. But as the total number of albums sold declines every year, that stat has become increasingly irrelevant.

By contrast R&B and Hip Hop make up over 29% of all on-demand streams in the U.S.A., which is a big deal because streaming (and vinyl) are the only fields that are growing year over year.

In fact, R&B and Hip Hop are almost as popular on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music as the next two genres (rock and pop) combined. And let’s not even start talking about how much rap influence can be heard in today’s R&B, pop, and rock music. Way more than, say, country-trap songs.

So big up KRS-One, the hip hop Nostradamus.

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