From what was initially a neighbourhood-based cultural practice, Hip-Hop has permeated societal culture in an unprecedented way. Hip-Hop extended it's boundaries before breaking them down entirely to accept any and everyone; gender, economic class and race extinguished as the genre's influence washed over society and in a way, unified a diverse group of people.
Emerging from the ghettos of New York City, specifically the Bronx, in the '70's, Hip-Hop became the voice for a people who had been ignored for too long. It echoed the conditions African- Americans were living in - and still are, to an extent - and their daily struggles. Acts like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five laid down the roots for what would become, slowly, the genre that permeated global society; Hip-Hop, over time, became the method that people of all religions, cultures, socio-economic classes could speak through. Hip-Hop became a voice for the ignored. Initially through songs like "Fight the Power," "Fight For Your Right to Party" and "Fuck Da Police," Hip-Hop's influence over the masses grew as it took themes and messages, feelings that resonated with a majority of the ignored amongst the lower socio-economic classes and displayed them on a more global scale.
Hip-Hop was dismissed as a trend, a piece of musical fashion when it first arose but over time ,it became the fastest growing musical genre in the world. It was viewed as street language due to its harsh language, association with sex, alcohol, gambling, gang violence, drugs, and prostitution. Heavily criticized in the 80's, Hip-Hop entered the mainstream in the 90's and by the early 2000's, it was the mainstream, replacing the likes of Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys with Eminem, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and Kanye West. By constantly challenging the system, by questioning its authority on music, Hip-Hop managed to become the system, it managed to revolutionize the way people speak, walk, act and dress in a mere decade.
The collaboration between Eminem and Dr.Dre was a turning point in Hip-Hop history. Though Notorious B.I.G and Tupac, along with countless other artists in the 90's, drove Hip-Hop to stardom, the genre was always associated with violence and gun-fare as evidenced by the passing of the aforementioned two greats (R.I.P). Eminem's rise to fame coincided with a dip in the Hip-Hop industry. Tupac and Biggie had passed, Jay-Z and Nas hadn't released anything as emphatic since their debut albums and the likes of Wu-Tang were close to breaking up. The industry was at a stand-still, that is until the skinny white kid from Detroit came along and tore through the industry with his verbal venom.Â Eminem, who rocketed to fame with his debut album, The Slim Shady LP, was scrutinised like no other rapper before, because of he was a non-black rapper. The government sat up and noticed Hip-Hop after decades of allowing it to seep and bubble under the radar because they realized that an angry white kid from the 'burbs, who lived a worse life than some black rappers, could influence a whole generation of mainstream, suburban kids easier than than they could:The main reason people were aghast at Eminem and his lyrics was because of the colour of his skin, something he referenced time after time but none more so eloquently than on "White America":
"See the problem is/I speak to suburban kids
Who otherwise woulda never knew these words exist
Whose mom's probably woulda never gave two squirts of piss
'till I created so much motherfuckin' turbulence
Straight out the tube/right into your living rooms I came
And kids flipped/ when they knew I was produced by Dre
That's all it took/ and they were instantly hooked right in
And they connected with me too because I looked like them"
Hip-Hop transformed into a culture that could not be ignored, especially when the masses started adhering to its ways. Everyone capitalised heavily on the growing influence of Hip-Hop, making it a highly profitable industry, which lead to clubs in the early 2000's playing rap and hip-hop. Gone were the days of clubs playing disco, grunge, and old school rock. Clubs who played these genres were (and still are) a rarity. Clubs and bars always need to keep up with the current trend and Hip-Hop was the hottest thing going around at the turn of the century.The market became over-saturated with the sound of Hip-Hop, leading to the rise and prominence of what had been so far, underground artists and sub-genres. Artists and rap music started to become created just for the clubs. With Hip-Hop spreading across bars and clubs, the genre stopped being afro-centric with the mainstream finally catching on to the sounds of the streets.
This over-saturation of the market allowed for varying branches of the genre to be created. From club-oriented hip-hop where artists like Pitbull thrive to underground rap where artists like Edan are king to worldwide hip-hop like Drake that pleases just about everyone, labels and genres within genres have been created to allow artists that would've been previously been dismissed to prosper. Hip-Hop is everywhere now.
Music is a reflection of social change. As such, it creates new mindsets and reflects the reality of an era. Today, the influence Hip-Hop has had on culture, specifically American culture, is obvious. The effects of Hip-Hop are visible through the way majority of youth dress, talk, walk, and behave. Language and words created on the streets moves quickly off the pavement on to the airwaves through to the corporate boardrooms where it gets blown into the mainstream. Through an entirely absurd punch-line in a song, Kanye West created a word, "cray", that is used, ironically and un-ironically, in everyday life and in popular media from movies to modern T.V. Language is the product of society and as society transforms, so does its language. Mainstream English has been altered by Hip-Hop expressions that echoes the diversity of a culture that's constantly changing.
Rappers hold the power over everyday societal change. Words they use in rhymes, clothes they wear in interviews, messages they convey through their music, whether it's original or recycled seeps down into the mainstream. It permeates through our headphones, through speakers, through the radio or iPhone blasting on the subway late at night, it trickles down into your grandma's bedroom and onto your television screens. Hip-Hop artists are your modern day pop stars; they're the ones people go to the gossip mags to read about- they're the ones whose names are cluttering up your social media feeds. Rap stars are on the cover of Vogue and GQ; they're the ones you obsessively tweet at, hoping for a faint sign of recognition from them. They're the ones who make you sit up and notice when they endorse Barack Obama (Jay-Z, Common) or Hilary Clinton (50 Cent, Timbaland) for the 2008 U.S Presidential elections. The Tonight Show has The Roots, a hip-hop band, as their house band - something unimaginable a mere twenty years ago. Hip-Hop songs are now used to reach out not just to the youth, but to the mainstream. Hip-Hop has transcended cultural, racial, ethnic, geographical, social and class lines.
Hip-Hop is here to stay, for now.Â