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At 50 years old, Hip Hop is more than a music genre; it’s an influential force in modern culture

3 minute read | August 2023

Music is and will always be an essential element of culture, but seldom is a music genre so pervasive it changes the cultures around it.

In modern culture, hip-hop stands alone in this regard, and as it celebrates its 50th birthday this month, we can see just how beloved and influential it has become.

While it would be nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact birth of hip-hop, most music historians cite a 1973 block party in the Bronx as the event that brought the critical elements together at a large, public event. At that party, DJ Kool Herc debuted the “merry-go-round,” a style of DJing that extended the break beat of a specific song by playing two copies of the same record and switching between them at the right moments. This, however, was a full six years before the Sugarhill Gang introduced hip-hop to a wide audience with the success of its hit song “Rapper’s Delight.” The Gracenote Global Music Data content team catalogs the most highly consumed artists from around the world, including just seven artists in this 1970s era of the genre. 

Today, the sound that defines the culture has grown well beyond its Bronx roots. In fact, more than 96,000 of the most-listened to artists globally are rap and hip-hop artists, and 149 countries are home to at least one hip-hop artist. And these artists have created more than 100 sub-genres of hip-hop music.

Interest in hip-hop music has become so global, in fact, that only one-third of today’s most-listened-to hip-hop artists are from the U.S. Hip-hop is also multilingual, as hip-hop spans English and 98 other languages, dialects, creoles and regional variations1.

Men continue to dominate rap and hip-hop, but the genre maintains a powerful base of women who hold their own on the hip-hop charts. In fact, hip-hop boasts a notable amount of gender diversity from women, mixed duos, groups and non-binary artists, especially in collaborations.

The connection to hip-hop among the Black community is undeniable, especially in the U.S., where Black audiences are 6x more likely than the general population to say it’s their favorite genre. From a listener perspective, that appeal is most evident on the radio, as hip-hop stations attract 14% of all radio listening among Black audiences. Among Black audiences 18-34, the urban contemporary/hip-hop genre accounts for 30.7% of all listening on broadcast radio and 20% of streaming audio3. And hip-hop fandom is highest in the south and among Millennials.

Hip-hop’s persistent audience engagement across media platforms represents a big opportunity for advertisers to connect with Black consumers in culturally relevant ways. And the combination of this dominant genre and trusted outlets is leading to more business with Black-owned media. According to Nielsen Ad Intel, ad spend with top Black-owned radio stations in top markets increased 92% in 2022 compared with the prior year. But the opportunity exists in video content as well. 

The hip-hop programming genre on TV is not only one of the most representative for Black talent on screen at 89%, it delivers one of the most diverse audiences as well, with about two out of three Black viewers and nearly another quarter from White audiences. 

After half a century of hit making and culture shifting, it will be interesting to watch how hip-hop innovates for the next 50 years across the media landscape. 


 1 Gracenote Global Music Data
2  Nielsen Scarborough USA+, Release 2 2022
3 Nielsen Radio Database, fall 2022
4 Nielsen RADAR, fall 2022

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