There is no doubt that hip hop has and is one of the most popular music genres globally. If you are like me, you are probably taking an “old man yells at cloud” approach to hip hop. Meaning that if it is strange to me, I’m going to shout at it until it starts to make sense.

So, why is hip-hop so popular? The one thing that has stayed consistent in hip hop is a rebellious attitude. Similar to rock’n’roll’s growth in the 50s onward, people cling to many elements of the counterculture. As the last generation grew up, it became more mainstream to enjoy this style of music.

Throughout this article, we will dig through the history of what made hip-hop a cultural phenomenon. We will also get into the latest hip hop developments to see how modern creators can maintain popularity.

A History Of Counterculture

Counterculture is defined as a style of culture that is entirely different from the mainstream. It was first used by John Milton Yinger, who wrote an article coining the term in October of 1960.

This is important because the 1960s was one of the most polarizing times of our country: The Vietnam War. Numerous musicians and bands took to the stage to turn cries of outrage into beautiful music. This was the sound of the people.

It was the time of free concerts, and numerous musicians joined the fray. Below are a few of the more popular ones:

  • Grateful Dead
  • Pink Floyd
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • The Doors
  • The Byrds

You will notice that none of these bands are part of the Hip Hop genre. To address this stage of counterculture, we need to fast forward to the 1970s.

Hip Hop And Counterculture

During the 1970s, African Americans had plenty to be upset over. To get a close-up idea of why, we need to take a closer look at the South Bronx, where a popular DJ named Kool Herc was setting the stage for a revolutionary change in music.

During 1973 Kool Herc played at his sister’s back to school party. By isolating percussion notes and combining them between two different records, DH Kool Herc essentially Frankensteined a new musical technique.

This technique is known as “scratching” today. If you are a listener to any modern DJs, you know that scratching is still used today. This combination of beats done at a school dance is known to be the birth of Hip Hop.

Hip Hop was a way for disenfranchised youth to express themselves in a way that was uniquely them. Much like the music of the 1960s, this genre was effectively used to inspire these youths to fight the power. Below are a few examples of popular old school Hip Hop Artists:

  • Grandmaster Flash
  • The Cold Crush Brothers
  • Jazzy Jay
  • Grand Wizzard Theodore

Hip Hop also went on to inspire many different artistic mediums:

  • Gangsta rap
  • Beatboxing
  • Breakdancing
  • Graffiti
  • DJing
  • MCing

Now that we know a little bit about Hip Hop’s history, we can get into some more modern trends.

Who Are The Most Popular Hip Hop Artists Today, And What Are Their Stories?

With the growth of celebrities like Drake, Kanye West, Jay-Z, And Snoop Dogg. They have been, or are currently, chart-topping artists with many hip hop and rap songs under their belt.

Kanye West

Before Kanye West was an outspoken media target, he developed the modern image for mainstream hip hop. Born in Atlanta, a young Kanye had a dream of becoming a famous solo rapper. His goal was to make music that had never been heard before. In the early days, Kanye has been complimented for his ability.

Greg Kot, a Chicago Tribune music critic, interviewed Craig Bauer, who had mixed four songs on Kanye West’s second album, had the following to say about him.

“He would lift samples and manipulate them — twist them around, turn them up an octave — until he got something fresh out of something that was made 20 or 30 years ago. He never wanted to be like someone else.”

Craig Bauer, co-owner of Hinge Studio

Regardless of what you may think about him, Kanye West has undoubtedly had a major influence on what modern hip-hop looks like.

Drake

During the early days, Drake was better known for being a face on Degrassi: The Next Generation. However, his breakout into singing came with his debut mixtape: Room For Improvement.

Unlike Kanye, Drake spent less time using his platform to make political statements. Instead, Drake’s controversy involved getting into physical altercations with Chris Brown and Diddy.

In the music world, Drake is most credited for contributing to the Toronto Hip-Hop scene. With a smoother and less violent feel than American rap, it was a good alternative to radio hosts looking for a more family-friendly focus.

Jay-Z

Jay-Z is one of the world’s best selling rappers. Being born in 1969 in New York gave him a solid “rags to riches” appeal. He’s also a rather successful businessman, starting clothing retailers like Rocawear and the 40/40 club. Today, he runs his own full-service entertainment company.

In the 1990s, Jay-Z began the meteoric rise to stardom by selling CDs out of his car until he founded Roc-A-Fella Records with Damon Dash and Kareem Burke. From this point on, the distribution platform allowed him to earn his own living with the following famous albums:

  • Reasonable Doubt
  • Hard Knock Life
  • The Blueprint
  • The Black Album
  • American Gangster

As Jay-Z grew older, he turned an amazing career in rap and hip-hop into a philanthropic career. He has contributed money during Hurricane Katrina,  established a trust fund for Sean Bell’s children, and donated money to civil rights activists protesting against police brutality, keeping the whole “fight the power” ideal behind this genre of music alive.

You could argue that many famous artists attributed this style of modern music. Chris Brown, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, and Nas are all additional examples. It’s easy to say that not one person contributed to this genre, but a community of sound producers who come together.

That being said, you cannot talk about this modern genre without mentioning Soundcloud rappers.

The Legend Of Soundcloud Rappers And How They Got So Popular

Going back to the 1970s, nobody imagined that their contributions to music might have resulted in Soundcloud rap. Despite many people calling it “mumble rap,” there is no doubt that they have gained mass popularity at that time.

Much of this popularity can be attributed to Soundcloud, as any artist can upload a track and find the audience they are looking for. Below are a few examples of popular Soundcloud artists.

Juice WRLD

Jarad Anthony Higgins was born in 1998, giving him less time than many famous artists to leave their mark. Despite his early demise, his mark was firmly left behind among digitally-based hip-hop music.

Under the name Juice WRLD, he captured a wide variety of audiences looking for a new form of rap, performing tours alongside famous names like Nicki Minaj.

His posthumous release of “Legends Never Die” hit number one on the Billboard Top 200 charts. We will never get the opportunity to see what Juice WRLD would have grown into. I wish the best to their family and friends.

Lil Uzi Vert

Lil Uzi Vert is another unique reminder of what mainstream music is turning into. With an emphasis on dark music, Lil Uzi Vert has received a 2018 Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist.”

His inspirations came from the classic hip hop and rap influences like Wiz Khalifa, Meek Mill. The “dark music” part of his influence came from listening to Marilyn MansonParamore, and My Chemical Romance.

Lil Uzi is unique because most music in his genre is about success, money, and getting laid. Meanwhile, Uzi delves into topics in a far darker emotion, being a big part of the genre “emo rap.” He is also known as a Lofi hip-hop artist, which we will explore next.

What Is Lofi Hip-Hop And How Did It Get So Popular?

The term “Lofi” stands for low fidelity. Low fidelity equipment stands counter to high fidelity equipment, known for having a higher quality sound. As a result, we can say that “Lofi music” is an aesthetic kind of music that comes from using lower-quality equipment.

The term is interchangeably used with DIY equipment, which happens when you bring your recording equipment home and decide to do it from there. The result is almost always lower-quality than studio recordings. Sometimes, people use the imperfections that come from non-studio recordings as a way to enhance the music.

Lofi Hip hop and other forms of music integrated this into their form of the counterculture. They saw creating Lofi music as an easy way to identify themselves as appreciating the music over the hyper-perfected sound requirements of a studio owned by a major label. Apply the same ideal to almost any genre at a certain period of time, and you realize that history repeats itself.

Final Thoughts

Hip Hop has been around for quite some time.  Despite where you may have begun, all hip hop comes from an original idea that has been in almost any kind of popular music: counterculture.

This revolution happened with rock, indie, punk, hip hop, and rap. Regardless of what genre you choose, you can probably find some form of “stepping outside of the norm” in any of these genres.

Many great people have contributed to classic hip hop to create what we see now. Despite seeing how different it was compared to what we see now, it will be interesting to see how today’s artists take it in a unique direction.


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