Is Hip-Hop Dead?
And whether that feeling is negative or positive, music will always make us feel something.
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On a hot August day in the summer of 1973, Cindy Campbell and her friends gathered in the recreational room of their apartment for a party. Cindy’s older brother, Clive Campbell, was asked to DJ for this party. Clive wanted to try out a new DJing method he had been working on while noticing the dance patterns of people at parties. He would lengthen the short drum break that the audience was most interested in hearing by switching back and forth repeatedly between two copies of the same song. Little did he know that he had created what record producers now call a “breakbeat.” Clive Campbell would later be known as DJ Kool Herc, the creator of hip hop. With the 50th anniversary of hip-hop slowly approaching, the genre has gone through a multitude of changes, from its sound to its lyrical content. So how could a genre that was once so prevalent and impactful suddenly become “dead”?
Well for starters, when someone says hip-hop is dead, what exactly do they mean? Are they referring to its decline in popularity? It’s lack of innovation? It’s change in essence? The dictionary definition of dead is as follows: “no longer alive; a place or time characterized by a lack of activity or excitement; lacking emotion, sympathy, or sensitivity.” In order for something to die out, a major change must happen in order for it to stop functioning. Hip hop’s catalyst was the internet.
The presence of the internet and social media has played a major role in hip-hop’s drastic change. Gaining popularity as a modern rapper is arguably easier nowadays, as 20 years ago, upcoming artists had to rely on word of mouth and selling their CD’s to promote their music, but now with the click of a button, an artist’s music can be shared worldwide, instantly. But the internet being the foundation of many rapper’s careers can be both a blessing and a curse. Although social media is an easy way for an artist to put out their music, this has caused many rappers’ brands to be purely based on social media appeal. This creates many “one hit wonders,” as internet trends often die off as fast as they start.
A major factor that contributed to hip hop’s evolution was the pressure for record companies to appeal to a wider audience. Record executives, recognizing the potential profitability of hip hop music, targeted suburban white male teens as the main consumer base for this genre. In order to attract this demographic, artists were encouraged to create lyrics that focused more on materialism, partying, and explicit themes. This strayed away from hip-hops original intent, which aimed to highlight stories from the unheard, impoverished Black youth of America. Hip-hop songs that were once filled with powerful lyrics, painting a picture of urban life, are now filled with negative lyrics praising infidelity, violence, and the abasement of women. The oversexualization of women in rap songs and rap videos may cause female artists to feel they need to sexualize themselves in order to stay relevant. This can lead young girls who listen to this type of music to think that in order to be seen, they have to act like them. The negative topics seen in hip-hop today can not only potentially change the way people see themselves, but can also change their perception of the world. Over the years, rap music has become synonymous with wealth and materialism. Artists flaunt their expensive cars, designer clothes, and lavish lifestyles in their music videos and lyrics. This glorification of money and material possessions has undoubtedly had a harmful impact on society, particularly on young people who are often the target audience for rap music. This portrayal of materialism creates unrealistic expectations and aspirations for young listeners. They are led to believe that acquiring wealth and material possessions is the ultimate goal in life, and this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction with their lives.
With that being said, even though hip-hop has changed significantly, its impact is undeniable. Since the creation of music itself, the world has seen many genres of music fade in and out of existence, but hip-hop is one of the very few genres that has managed to stay relevant. It’s resilient. The genre has modified and evolved itself from new musical trends and social contexts. From the conscious and politically charged lyrics of Kendrick Lamar and J Cole to the upbeat party anthems of Drake and Gunna, hip-hop appeals to a wider audience, giving rise to various fusions and sub-genres.
Although the rap industry is currently looking doubtful, we have to remember the purpose of music; to invoke feeling. And whether that feeling is negative or positive, music will always make us feel something. In the end, there may never be a clear answer to the question of whether hip-hop is dead or not. But maybe it doesn’t need one. What truly matters is how it continues to touch lives, spark conversations and influence the world in ways unimaginable. And in that sense, hip-hop will always be alive. It will continue to live as a powerful force that goes beyond space and time, leaving an ineffable mark on not only pop culture, but the human experience.
So no, hip-hop is not dead.
“Hip Hop: A Culture of Vision and Voice.” The Kennedy Center, last accessed: October 2023, https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/resources-for-educators/classroom-resources/media-and-interactives/media/hip-hop/hip-hop-a-culture-of-vision-and-voice/#:~:text=It%20was%20the%20early%201970s,imagination—hip%20hop%20took%20form.&text=DJ%20Kool%20Herc%20is%20credited,an%20August%201973%20dance%20bash.
Oxford Learners Dictionary, last accessed: October 2023, https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/dead_1#:~:text=adjective-,adjective,dead%3B%20she%20died%20in%201987.
Nia Rose Green
Writer & Artist
Nia Green is in 12th grade and is a writer for the Golden Wave, the high school newspaper. Nia is a huge movie buff, who loves watching all genres of movies and writing reviews for them on Letterboxd. Nia also enjoys writing screenplays and aspires to be a screenwriter or a journalist. Writing articles is a great opportunity to explore both of the potential fields Nia wants to work in.