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How did Hip-hop dethrone Rock?

Sarah Liethof

· Music Industry,Online Marketing,Rock,Hip-hop,Artist Management

For the first time ever Hip-hop has surpassed Rock as the most popular genre in the U.S.A. according to Forbes. Hip-hop has been the underdog for years, merely pushed away by the big public as something that is made on the streets and meant for the streets. The last years however it has made a very quick uprising in the mainstream business, with Drake’s ‘One Dance’ becoming the most-streamed song on Spotify ever (a position that he did not maintain long as it has been dethroned by summer hit ‘Despacito’). How did Hip-hop grow so exponentially so suddenly? And how did it manage to surpass Rock, U.S.A.’s favorite for so many years? Today we will look into how both genres are marketed to the public and whether the answers lie there.

Rock goes back a very, very long time already. With legends as The Rolling Stones, Kiss and Elvis Presley it is inevitable that Rock has settled itself nice and well in the history of music. These guys were icons in their time, especially Elvis Presley who, occasionally, was chased by screaming fangirls, a phenomenon that nowadays is not seen that often anymore within Rock. Rock for a long time thrived on CD-, merchandise- and concert sales and was by far the most popular genre in the U.S.A. It mastered itself in the offline marketing world and became one of the first genres that really became mainstream. The Rock genre became really good in marketing themselves mainly offline and this might have been the downfall of it as well. With the rise of social media and online marketing over the last couple of years another approach was needed and Rock did not respond fast enough.

Elvis Presley

The late Elvis Presley

Hip-hop did react though. Hip-hop is still the young kid on the block. It has been around for a mere 30 years now and, although we could say it certainly has its legends already (looking at Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre), there are still a lot of legends in the making. You can clearly see that the ‘set’ ways of Hip-hop are no longer the only way and artists have the chance to experiment. From Young Thug in a dress on the cover of his album ‘No, my name is Jeffery’ and Beyoncé dropping a complete album in the form of a visual.

Beyonce Lemonade and Young Thug My Name is Jeffery

Beyonce's 'Lemonade' and Young Thug's 'No my name is Jeffery'

Hip-hop artists seem to have found smart ways to build up a very high anticipation for their upcoming albums, which creates enough buzz to then be picked up by big news outlets, making the reach of the album release much wider than only the fan circle. A very smart example is the case of Frank Ocean. In my personal opinion is Frank Ocean one of the strongest Hip-hop/RnB artists right now, lyrically as well as musically. The thing that really made him stand out though, was during last summer, 2016. Fans were already waiting for four years on his new album, that kept being delayed. You would assume that after multiple delays fans would get tired of this, and this was the case, but suddenly a cryptic website popped-up. It contained a live stream that was showing Frank Ocean working in a woodwork shop. Nothing was really happening, but people still watched. Even I watched the livestream for a couple of hours in total, hoping something would happen. The anticipation for the album was real again, big news outlets like Metro, Pigeons and Planes, Elle and Billboard were writing about this mysterious livestream and nobody, except for Frank Ocean, knew exactly what was going on.

Frank Ocean woodwork shop

A still from the livestream of Frank Ocean

In the end, the album(s) did drop, a visual piece called Endless which was livestreamed and the music album ‘Blonde’. It worked. Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ became the third-largest debut of 2016 and came in at no. 1 on the Billboard album top 200. His album came in after Beyonce’s 'Lemonade' and Drake’s 'Views'. Noticed that all these three album are in the Hip-hop/RnB market? This genre’s artists are mastering the digital era of marketing. Of course, your album has to be good enough, but in this world it does not bring you to the no. 1 spot. You have to master smart marketing tactics, whether this is building anticipation, an unexpected drop or other smart ways to increase your fan circle. The Hip-hop and Rnb market know exactly how to do this. There are many different approaches but the things that do stand out are building high anticipation, being very secretive and exclusive or showing everything, which are actually rather contradictory. A great example of the ‘showing everything’ approach is the collective ‘Migos’. Migos consists of three rappers (Quavo, Off Set and Take Off) who have been releasing music for a couple of years now.

Migos, Quavo, Offset, Takeoff

Rap formation 'Migos'. Left to right: Quavo, Offset, Takeoff

Especially at the beginning of their career, Migos dropped four mixtapes per year. An incredibly high rate for an artist or collective in general, which skyrockets their content marketing and makes them relevant. Next to this fire tempo of releasing content, they are very present on social media. They show off their wealth and status to millions of followers, often being looked up by aspiring youngsters.

Apart from the development of marketing and genres adapting to it, its public must also adapt. Although Hip-hop has passed Rock as most popular genre, Rock still sells more albums due to the fact that they mostly have an older generation listening to this genre. 40% of all album sales in the U.S.A. are Rock. Hip-hop has a fan-base that is much younger and is not interested in albums but in streaming, the life of artists and a constant stream of new content, to which Hip-hop has managed to adapt very well.

Making use of innovative marketing tactics might set off your career and the Hip-hop community has become a master of it. Hip-hop has learned to adapt themselves to the ever-changing market and to the interests of their fans, while Rock has not been able to do this. If you are looking for ways to expose your up and coming artist, looking in the direction of the Hip-hop community might be a wise step to gain more knowledge.

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