How hip-hop took over the mainstream

If you’re planning to watch the Grammy Awards tonight, much of what we’ll see–the nominees, the award-winners and the performances will be mostly of the rap, hip-hop and R&B variety. Not a single rock category will make the telecast, leaving U2’s not-really-live performance on a barge on the Hudson River to represent the genre.

So how did rap take over the mainstream so convincingly? Time takes a look.

When Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert was 20 years old, he uploaded a few songs to SoundCloud, a free music-sharing platform. The tracks got a couple hundred plays, then a few thousand. Three years later, on the strength of a moody song called “XO Tour Llif3” and a series of streaming-only mixtapes, the rapper, now 23, has racked up over a billion Spotify streams and nabbed a Best New Artist Grammy nomination.

Lil Uzi Vert’s rise is impressive. But this year, he’s just one in a crowd of hip-hop stars who are dominating the mainstream. Nearly half of the songs on Jan. 27’s Billboard Hot 100 chart were rap or incorporate elements of hip-hop. Listening in the genre increased 74% on Spotify in 2017, and Drake, the Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar were three of the platform’s top five most popular artists. This is a marked change from the past 10 years, when artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga ruled the charts. In fact, “Look What You Made Me Do,” the lead single from Swift’s latest album, Reputation, fell from the No. 1 spot on the singles chart after just three weeks, dethroned by the rapper Cardi B’s viral hit “Bodak Yellow.” That was quickly succeeded by the downbeat rap of Post Malone and 21 Savage, whose single “Rockstar” topped the Hot 100 for eight straight weeks.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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