Hip hop is officially a more popular type of music than rock

Hip hop is officially a more popular type of music than rock

Charting the course of music culture is something which enthusiasts and fans always take an interest in. Which new type of music will take off and can we predict the course it will take us on? If you were to ask your average musician what their most important influences were, you'd probably expect them to trot out the same familiar names: Elvis Presley, The Beatles, David Bowie etc.

These are figures who've cast a long and lingering shadow over popular culture. Their sound seems to exert its own irresistible gravity, one that continues to affect artists more than half a century after their original inception. We still think of rock as being the foundational modern genre which all others owe a debt to. But as it turns out, that assumption is changing, and so are mainstream tastes.

Rapper and musician Drake. Credit: Getty

According to an annual mid-year report by Forbes, hip-hop is now the most consumed music genre in the United States for the first time ever. using stats acquired from the Nielsen's music sales measurement. Nielsen's ratings also monitor radio airplays, online streaming and music consumer behaviour tracking what music Americans consume, and have now determined that for the initial six months of 2017, R&B and hip-hop made up approximately 25 per cent of all music consumption in the US. On the other hand, rock music only managed to claimed 23 per cent of America's total music consumption in hard-copy purchases and digital streaming. Not only this, but Forbes also predicts that this isn't just a statistical blip, but part of an emerging trend which will continue in months and subsequent years to come.

Hip-hop doesn't dominate completely however, and rock still reigns supreme in terms of sales of album sales. Currently, approximately 40 per cent of all album sales in the country are for rock albums. However, the total number of records has been steadily decreasing over time. Thus, while that percentage looks steady, it’s not truly representative of music trends in contemporary America.

By contrast, hip-hop is responsible for an impressive 29 per cent of on-demand music streams across the country. When it comes down to it, on streaming services like Spotify and iTunes hip-hop is as popular as rock and pop combined. If that wasn't evidence enough that hip-hop has seized the crown from rock and pop, then consider the fact that a grand total of seven of the top 10 most popular songs on streaming platforms in 2017 are hip-hop tracks. Kendrick Lamar was number one on the list. His new album, "DAMN," boasted around 1.8 million listeners, and Drake’s record-breaking album, "More Life" was the third most consumed album at 1.7 million listeners. Those numbers are killing it, huh?

Hip-hop group 2-Live Crew. Credit: Getty

As if that wasn't enough to convince you that rock's cultural hegemony is at an end, then consider the fact that scientists have  managed to empirically prove that the cultural impact of rap outweighs the influence of The Beatles. Back in 2015, researchers at the University of London and Imperial College examined 30-second clips of more than 17,000 separate songs listed on the Billboard Hot 100 charts between 1960-2010. Using complex data-mining software, they analyse a number of variant elements in the composition of tracks, such as the variety of chords and the instruments used. Once they'd managed to plot out trends over the course of five decades, they discovered three distinct revolutions in music over 50 years. The three important innovations were rock and roll in the 60s, new wave in the 80s, and hip-hop in the 90s.

In the Royal Society Open Science Journal, where this study was eventually published, the authors wrote that hip-hop was: "the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied." Furthermore, lead researcher Matthias Mauch added that: "What is really fascinating to see is how has diversity has changed - we can measure whether the charts have become more bland. Many people claim music is getting worse and worse, and we didn't really find anything like that. There is not an overall trend for the composition, the musical ingredients of the charts, to become less diverse."

Mauch also added, "The third revolution is the biggest. This is so prominent in our analysis, because we looked at harmony - and rap and hip-hop don't use a lot of harmony. The emphasis is on speech sounds and rhythm. This was a real revolution: suddenly it was possible that you had a pop song without harmony. The minor seventh chords were introduced through funk, soul and disco in the 1970s. That didn't cause a revolution, but these chords were not present before - and they haven't gone away since. New songs still heavily use these chords. A lot of hair metal and stadium rock ... came into the charts, and they had a bigger share of the overall charts. But then rap and hip-hop came in. I think that hip-hop saved the charts."

So next time someone complains that music is getting worse, or that it all sounds the same, or that rap isn't real music, you now have scientific and statistical evidence to shut them up. Isn't that great news?