Happy 50th Birthday, Hip-Hop. You Transformed Culture

Music streaming sales are dominated by top R&B and hip-hop artists, but the real value lies in the cultural significance

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In 1973, hip-hop was born. Fifty years ago at a party in the Bronx, roots were planted that, unbeknownst to the world at the time, would sprout a cultural movement that would change the trajectory of the music industry forever.

As it stands today, through streaming platforms, music revenue is projected to double to about $131 billion by 2030. Currently, music streaming sales are dominated by top R&B and hip-hop artists. From that number alone, the economic impact is palpable, but the true value of the genre lies in its cultural significance.

The soundtrack of transformation

Hip-hop is a genre that, in the past, was portrayed as rebellious or violent. Today it is a cultural phenomenon that has changed the socioeconomic status of communities of color and so redefined the mainstream. Through lyrics and rhymes, musicians have become legends and those legends have become entrepreneurs, forging a path to close the wealth gap for people of color for years to come.

If you look around, you’ll find hip-hop is everywhere; from the clothes you wear to the alcohol you drink and the video games you play. There is not a fashion designer today that hasn’t drawn inspiration from the genre. Louis Vuitton, a legacy fashion house, recently appointed Pharell Williams as its new Men’s creative director. Gucci collaborated with Dapper Dan in 2019, acknowledging his contributions to merging luxury fashion and hip hop. Rihanna converted her illustrious music career into a lucrative beauty business that turned her into America’s youngest self-made billionaire in 2022.

As the genre began to shape itself and grow, the advertising industry took notice. Instead of seeing artists as risks, marketers started to understand that the rewards of working with hip hop’s biggest and brightest far outweighed any uncertainty that existed before. Deals like Diddy’s collaboration with Ciroc or Lil Nas X performing a concert for Roblox in the metaverse have shown that, with the backing of industry powerhouses, the advertising power of hip hop knows no bounds. Even large-scale brands like Diageo have taken notice and invested in hip-hop in the past and present through programs like Hip Hop 50.

Beyond consumer goods

The political impact of hip-hop is visible. Used as a vehicle for social change, hip-hop has sparked and fueled controversy for years. The early songs of artists like N.W.A or Tupac Shakur portrayed themes such as police brutality and, more recently, Kendrick Lamar’s Alright became the unofficial rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

While it might seem that hip-hop is an established cultural pillar, there is work to be done. For too long the people responsible for creating and perpetuating the culture were not reaping the fruits of their labor.

For example, when Rolling Stone pulled a list of the highest-paid musicians in 2021, only one of them was a person of color. In 2018, it was recorded that the hip-hop industry accounted for 21.7% of the total music industry consumption in the U.S., surpassing country music as the second most consumed music genre in the United States, accounting for 27.7% of all album sales. But, even with the record-breaking numbers, there still is a looming sense that there is more to accomplish, only further reinforcing the importance of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary.

Exploitation vs. collaboration

The revolution must be financed, and that rings true for expanding the impact of hip-hop as well. No longer is it sufficient to put these artists in front of the camera without fair compensation, creative control and proper recognition. The societal and cultural impact is nothing without the creatives who perpetuate it and the only way to authentically honor the genre is by putting more of those minds in the driver’s seat because no one knows how to sell the invention better than the inventors.

The future of marketing and hip-hop isn’t about exploitation, it’s about collaboration. If marketers can work together with the voices of hip-hop, new and old, the impact of the genre will only grow in years to come.