Ain’t No Hip Hop In The Mainstream…


The biggest move­ment in pop­u­lar music in the past few dec­ades has undoubtedly been the rise of hip hop. From its early begin­nings on the streets of New York thanks to the innov­a­tions of the likes of Grand­mas­ter Flash, it has now grown to become an icon­ic style of music with its own sound, lan­guage and aes­thet­ic that is recog­nised and embraced the world over.

How­ever, like any pop­u­lar art form, hip hop has had to con­stantly face ques­tions about how its basic mes­sage and music­al forms have been used and diluted by the powers of big busi­ness in the main­stream media.


From its early days, hip hop provided a fant­ast­ic oppor­tun­ity for young black artists to gain a new voice in the music­al world thanks to the revolu­tion­ary use of cut-and-paste audio tech­no­logy. This, when coupled with the polem­ic delivered by author­it­at­ive rap voices such as Pub­lic Enemy and KRS-One, gave rise to a power­ful new black con­scious­ness.

How­ever, due to the cros­sov­er suc­cess of artists like Run-DMC who found massive suc­cess in white Amer­ica thanks to their col­lab­or­a­tion with the rock band Aer­o­s­mith, hip hop quickly became part of the estab­lish­ment with its enter­tain­ing artists provid­ing an ample dose of notori­ety for con­tro­versy-hungry tabloid media.


The 1990s really saw hip hop become a dom­in­ant main­stream art form with Dr Dre’s gang­sta rap sound provid­ing a whole new soundtrack for those seek­ing the infam­ous West Coast life­style. Where­as efforts made by Wu Tang Clan ensured that the innov­at­ive music­al powers of hip hop kept the art form fresh and rel­ev­ant for a young gen­er­a­tion of music fans.

But with the turn of the 21st cen­tury, the rise of multi-mil­lion­aire hip hop stars end­lessly rap­ping about their party life­styles led to many ques­tion­ing wheth­er hip hop was for­get­ting its roots. And the rise of ano­dyne tal­ent shows such as X Factor have also been quick to use the appeal of hip hop for its own pur­poses. The example of the tal­ent show using legendary hip hop luminary LA Reid who helped launch the careers of Out­kast and Kanye West illus­trates the for­mu­laic attempts of the show’s pro­du­cers to inject a little street appeal in the tal­ent show format.

Such tal­ent shows have also faced little suc­cess in pro­mot­ing hip hop music in terms of the songs per­formed, as the odds on sites like routinely reveal that tra­di­tion­al pop sing­ers are most likely to be backed to win des­pite the dom­in­ance of hip hop in the music charts.


This could be seen as a reflec­tion of the show’s more main­stream view­ing audi­ence, but as Kanye West recently made an appear­ance at the icon­ic Gla­ston­bury Music Fest­iv­al, it seems likely that hip hop’s impres­sion on pop­u­lar cul­ture will only keep grow­ing.

By Daniel Mar­tin 

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