Mike A. Bryan, staff writer

Barack Obama put it well when he said, “The thing about Hip Hop today is it is smart, it is insightful. The way they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable.”

Not only is it smart, but it is extremely popular, as evidenced by the newest Nielsen music ratings. The category, labelled “R&B and Hip Hop,” has overtaken the Rock category, not only in streaming service listening, but also in overall music consumption. Unsurprisingly, Rock still takes the number one spot when it comes to album sales, but due to the popularity of online streaming services, the overall number of albums sold shrinks each year. Although the category is named “R&B and Hip Hop,” there is much evidence pointing to the fact that the R&B part of the category is not what is growing exponentially; it is Hip Hop that has infiltrated all components of our society.

In addition to being smart and popular, R&B and Hip Hop are so intricately tied to our popular culture today, that this music can be heard everywhere from the club to the newest summer blockbuster movie soundtrack. R&B has been a powerful movement in popular music since the 1950’s, with St. Louis native Chuck Berry serving as a perfect example of how that music led to the birth of Rock and Roll. Hip Hop, meanwhile, burst onto the scene in the late 1970’s, invented in the New York Bronx by artists like  Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash.

Forbes Magazine has declared that Hip Hop is king, which should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the music played on the radio or MTV. Furthermore, there are entire music TV channels that are fully dedicated to Hip Hop and the associated culture, such as Sean Combs’ “Revolt.” Other channels like Viceland feature shows about rappers, such as the funny and inspirational “American Boy Band,” which focuses on Kevin Abstract and his collective, BROCKHAMPTON. Hip Hop has become so pervasive in our popular culture that even the Kid’s Bop CD series features songs by rappers like Waka Flocka Flame.

The rise in popularity of Hip Hop is closely correlated with the growth in online music streaming services. While Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music have a wide range of genres, other popular platforms like DatPiff and SoundCloud are dominated by the Hip Hop category. On those platforms, “mixtapes” have become the dominant form in the genre, which is a throwback to the 80’s and 90’s, when selling cassette tapes out of a car trunk was the most effective way for rappers to disseminate their music. Many rappers put out a slew of mixtapes before ever releasing an actual album in record stores, contributing to the popularity of these online music streaming services.

Although Kanye West may think that he is bigger than the Beatles, it will take some time before the yearly total music sales reflect the actual popularity of the genre of Hip Hop. In the meantime, it will keep growing and infiltrating more parts of popular culture.

If you are curious about how Hip Hop came to be, check out “The Get Down” on Netflix – it is a fictitious account of that time period in the Bronx, but relies heavily on real events and people to tell the story of early Hip Hop.