Celebrating 50 Years of Hip Hop and Its Undeniable ImpactLauren Godwin, Coordinator, Audience and Culture MarketingAug 9, 2023
Imagine me, a young Black woman, excited to kick off a summer holiday weekend. I scroll through some popular playlists on my streaming app, but the songs don’t really speak to my experience and the news impacting my community. With a shrug, I decide on something upbeat to get me going. Now, it’s time to straighten my hair. I’d love to leave it natural, especially on such a hot day, but that’s not really the style. Finally, I slip into some snug jeans, a band tee that someone gifted me, and a pair of beat-up Chucks. When I hop in the car with my bestie, she turns up the volume on one of her favorite old songs: “Stay With Me” by DeBarge. And I’m puzzled because I’ve never heard this song before.
That might seem like a pretty average day for some, but for me, it couldn't be further from normal. This is what a day might look like for me if hip hop never existed.
Imagine 50 Years Without Black Culture
Hip hop brought Black culture to the mainstream and the rest of the world. It’s all around us, from the clothes we wear, to the graffiti we see across our city infrastructure, to the DJs and MCs that liven our events. Hip hop’s elevated status made it the third most popular genre in the U.S and number one with Gen Z.
For 50 years, the biggest influences on culture and style have come from the genre that redefined cool. In the U.S. and around the world, life just wouldn’t be the same without hip hop.
Generations Would Lose Their Voice
Black Americans have always created new ways to express themselves and fight oppression. Just in the 20th century, there was the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and the rise of Black pride. But it was hip hop that made Black culture mainstream.
Hip hop gave the Black youth of the late 70s and early 80s a microphone, a platform, and the world stage. Groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A. set the tone with their outspoken lyrics against the injustices many people in the country were overlooking. As time went on, songs like Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.” amplified the Black struggle. And Tupac’s “Keep Your Head Up” inspired millions, paving the way for rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole who continue to open people’s ears and minds to today’s issues.
Hip hop’s legacy lives not only through its musical influences but also through the very language we all speak. The genre popularized African American Vernacular English (AAVE), widely used by Gen X, millennials, and now Gen Z.
Black youth can see and hear themselves represented in more ways than ever. Today, young Black Americans are able to identify with figures like Jay Z, Rihanna, and Dr. Dre who are not only rappers and musicians, but also successful business owners and people to look up to.
Pop Culture Would Lose Its Beat
Hip hop is at the center of pop culture. Since the late 1970s, it has been a determinant of what’s cool, from the language, to the cadence, to the rhythm, to the movement. In recent years, Hamilton and its reimagining of history with a hip hop twist is a cultural staple and an obsession for musical theater lovers everywhere. The Shade Room is one of the most followed media pages on Instagram with 28 million people staying up to date with the latest hip hop news. New TikTok dances appear everyday with songs from some of today’s hottest rappers. From reality TV to the hottest trends on social media, elements of hip hop have shaped many facets of culture.
Old Songs Would Stay in the Past
Rappers were the first to bridge the gap between generations. In fact, it is widely believed that sampling was created with rap music. Today, almost every song is inspired by or contains sounds of classic songs from the 80s or 90s. Remember my day without hip hop? I would have recognized the song “Stay With Me” by DeBarge because it’s sampled in “One More Chance” by The Notorious B.I.G. and Moneybagg Yo’s “Wokesha.”
Black Culture Would Not Have Global Reach
Thanks to hip hop, Black culture is a powerful force around the globe, reaching far and wide, capturing hearts, and breaking barriers. Its beats and flows have inspired artists across genres. Hip hop is topping the charts in Latin America, Asia, and Europe and getting a new sound—from the rise of Latin trap, to the birth of K-Rap (a K-Pop subgenre), to Europe’s love of drill music.
Imagine 50 Years Without Flavor and Style
Despite hip hop’s impact and mainstream status, advertisers don’t always want to surround its content and are afraid of its image. But let’s take a moment and just imagine: What would life look like without the Black culture’s influence?
Retail Would Lose Its Cool
Tracksuits in the 80s, 90s street style, denim and hats in the 00s, and extravagant nails, large hoop earrings, and the sneaker culture of today—hip hop gave us the look. Rappers, DJs, and other hip hop artists start trends that are built on for generations. Hip hop promotes individuality and creativity, giving people the courage to express themselves unapologetically. The artists and moguls set new trends in fashion daily through everything from brand collaborations, to a simple Instagram post, to a one liner in their latest single.
Hair Trends Would Be Less Inspired
Hip hop is not just a genre of music, but a subculture rooted in Black culture and self-expression. From afros to high top fades, braids to weaves, artists like Ludacris and Lil Kim have changed what acceptable Black hairstyles looked liked and allowed Black women to take a break from the damage of hair straighteners and men to explore their personal style.
Luxury Would Be a Distant Dream
Hip hop made luxury brands into household names, popularizing luxury in the Black community and bridging the gap between high-end labels and its audiences. Though some labels were slow to embrace the community, those that did became more popular—and cool. Rappers do everything from hyping brands in hit songs to sitting front row at NYFW. And now, wearing flashy jewelry or name brand clothes is a sign of success that many hip hop lovers strive to achieve.
Imagine Losing the Hip Hop Audience
That’s just scratching the surface. Without hip hop, creativity across many industries would be stifled, and many categories would struggle to gain as much momentum as they’ve had without its influence. Now imagine: What would reaching large, engaged audiences look like without hip hop?
Streaming Wouldn’t Reach New Heights
Music streaming and hip hop have both evolved drastically in the last 20 years. When the first streaming platform launched in 1999, rock and pop were the most popular genres in music. Fifteen years later, hip hop surpassed both in popularity. Streaming’s reach allowed hip hop to hit new heights, allowing brands to tap into a full spectrum of audiences. For example, with creator- and fan-driven platforms like Pandora and SoundCloud, Drake became the first artist to surpass 50 billion streams on all streaming platforms.
Hip hop’s impact is undeniable. As we celebrate 50 years of this revolutionary genre of music, think about how it has impacted your everyday life. Could you or your brand live without it?
We don’t think so.
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