Hear me out on this: Hip-hop is pop music. I don’t necessarily mean that the pop genre that produces commercialized, radio-friendly hits like Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is evolving to sound more like rap. You can still find those formulated, easy-to-sing-along-to, catchy melodies on the Billboard charts.
The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” are perfect examples of two very different breeds of pop that are still thriving. So, rather than me trying to explain why hip-hop is pop music, I will rephrase my argument: hip-hop is larger and more popular than pop music.
For the second year in a row, Billboard and Spotify both crowned hip-hop artists as the top musicians on their year-end charts and most-streamed lists.
Spotify listeners indulged in and voluntarily enjoyed a Drake apocalypse from 2015 to 2018 before Post Malone overtook him as the platform’s most listened to artist in 2019 and 2020. Post is also listed as Billboard’s top artist for both last year and this year.
On top of the rap genre propelling one of its own to the number one seat on the prestigious lists artists want to find themselves on, hip-hop artists are also filling in most of the other spots on these lists as well.
Billboard is regarded as the music industry’s standard for ranking songs, albums, and artists through its charts system. The chart rankings are based on sales, radio play, and online streaming, providing a feel for what people are listening to in the United States. The 2020 charts have spoken and they have said it loud and clear: We like rap music.
After Post Malone at first, Billboard’s top 10 artists of 2020 are, in this order: The Weeknd, Roddy Ricch, DaBaby, Drake, Juice WRLD, Lil Baby, Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and Pop Smoke. Rappers also take up another eight spots on the list before hitting the 30th slot, giving hip-hop 15 of the 30 top spots on Billboard’s top 100 artists of 2020, with a major focus on seven of these rappers being positioned in the top 10.
Outside of the stats and vanity metrics, it is important to also note the influence hip-hop has had and is still having on internet culture and social media. While rap music is dominating Billboard charts and Spotify Wrapped year-end lists, the genre’s influence is also obvious to see (and hear) while spending time on the latest social media sensation, viral-video producing behemoth TikTok.
In a release from its own newsroom, TikTok announced hip-hop as the app’s main source of tunes, followed by pop, and then R&B/soul. It’s also worth noting that of the 176 total songs to reach one billion video views on the platform this year, eight of the top 10 fastest songs to reach the milestone were rap songs. The fastest of these was Drake’s “Toosie Slide” (no surprise there), followed by Cardi B’s and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” (also not surprised).
TikTok is also positioning itself to be a big contributor to the music industry with many intriguing stories, like multiple artists finally finding mainstream success due to exposure from TikTok, as well as older acts like the Ying Yang Twins having their 2002 hit song “Say I Yi Yi” resurface due to a TikTok viral trend.
Between Billboard, Spotify, and now TikTok, we don’t have to search far and wide to find the evidence needed to confirm hip-hop’s popularity. From social media trends to year-end stats, hip-hop/rap is digging in its heels and sinking its feet as both the premier music genre and driver of culture.
We shouldn’t expect to see this trend slow down anytime soon either; Drake is expected to drop Certified Lover Boy the moment 2021 starts, which will inevitably kickstart another Drake apocalypse that we will all take part in.
On top of the Drizzy effect, we can also expect to see hip-hop/rap enjoy more mainstream success moving forward, largely because racism is getting called out more and more as it no longer being tolerated. On top of anti-racism being on the rise, the younger generation of Gen Z is also consuming music with more open-mindedness, resulting in them gravitating towards hip-hop without racist-fueled biases.
Since the beginning of time, Black creators have had to be more creative, more talented, and work way harder to get the same amount or even a fraction of exposure as their white counterparts. This unwarranted concept has bled into every sector of business and society, including the music industry, so it is about time rap/hip-hop gets the credit it deserves as not only an art form and musical genre but also as a cultural influence.
So is hip-hop pop music? If we’re defining pop music as a “non-stop evolving genre that consists of whatever music is currently popular,” then hip-hop/rap is definitely pop music. Pop and Rock & Roll were synonymous back in the 1960s, so now it’s hip-hop that is synonymous with pop.