So the Nielsen's data people have come out recently and have officially declared rap music the most popular form of American music trumping rock music in sales and consumption. This comes as no surprise to those with a little age on them, who have been able to observe firsthand the trajectory of rap's popularity. Rap went from not getting any music videos shown on mainstream outlets and being largely ignored by music based award shows to being almost only form of music you see featured in movie trailers, commercials, and hear in nightclubs. Its become more and more evident that hip-hop is here to stay. Even with popular slang, terms that originate from hip-hop culture are what dominate. Terms like "dope" and "lit" have replaced "gnarly" and "cool". Whatever styles of dress and grooming you see among the current rap artists are what gets adopted by their adoring, young fans(and in a lot cases, even pop artists)- in the 90's it was gold & platinum jewelry, baseball caps, baggy jeans, Jordans, etc., now it's skinny jeans, grills, dashiki hoodies, and whatever else the young kids are running around in these days. But I have a few theories as to why rap has overcome rock as America's most popular music:
White people have always stolen, or "borrowed" from black people. Like it or not, white mainstream culture has always looked to black culture as the indicator of what's cool, edgy, and the "next big thing", often to exploit it monetarily, and less often just because whatever music black people are cooking up genuinely appeals to them and makes them dance and feel good. Black people have always been creators and have always seemed to be able to create something from nothing, or at most, very little. Divorced from our original African roots when brought here to America, we created jazz and blues as an original art form. White people became fans and began to make their own jazz. The rhythm and blues Black southerners created served as the skeleton for what became rock n roll, and the new rebellious music that was once labeled "nigger music" was quickly becoming the soundtrack to the lives of white youth. White people took it and made their own rock music. Hip hop music has been able to fight off the next White takeover of itself so far, but that doesn't keep white pop culture from borrowing elements of the music like the aforementioned slang, dress, and forms of dance. They show their support for the most current form of black music through buying albums and tickets to hip-hop shows (In fact, I've never been to a hip hop concert that wasn't at least 50% white). Simply put, white people always adopt whatever black people are doing because it's cool. And I don't think they're gonna stop "borrowing" things from us any time soon.
Rock music stopped being edgy and also fell off. The age of classic rock has been long over, and the age of rock being looked at as edgy/scary has been over for even longer. Rock had to almost reinvent itself with the birth of heavy metal to appear scary and dangerousat one point. Rap, however, due to the conscious and subconscious perceptions of the young, Black male (or how White America sees the young, Black male) became the King of Everything Scary when it burst onto the scene in the 80s. America saw this as the music of criminals, drug dealers, thugs, gangsters, and street scum who up until now had no voice and didn't deserve one. A couple of guys with long hair who wore spandex and pretended to salute Satan had nothing on Eazy-E, Ice T, and Public Enemy. Their music was brash, unapologetic and drenched in profanity. And on top of it, they didn't even play instruments! But despite these factors, America's infatuation with violence and misogyny (and penchant for looking to Black culture as to what's cool) kept feeding the beast. White America couldn't look away from rap culture but at the same time, didn't want representatives of this new culture living next door to them. Another factor is that rock has been assimilated into pop music to the point where most people can't name off the top of their head a whole lot of true rock groups that are pushing the genre forward. Sure, you have your Black Keys and White Stripes, but when it comes to rap, most youth can name more rappers than they can name rock artists.
The versatility of rap music provides something for everybody. Throughout the past 30 years rap has evolved way beyond party music. It's the genre known for speaking out against things like police brutality and social injustice. It's great for storytelling. It's great for talking about love. It's great for talking about hate. It's great for talking about a good day. It's great for talking about a bad day. It's great for talking about nothing. It allows for introspective self reflection. And did I mention it's still great for partying and dancing to?! Even if the ultraviolent overtones of 21 Savage don't fit you, you have a Drake (and his many clones) to chill out to. If the garbled ramblings of Lil Yatchy or Migos aren't your cup of tea, you have artists like J-Live and Pharoah Monch out there still flexing their vocabulary. Don't like the beta-male crooning of Drake? You may like the confident, grown man bravado of a Black Thought or Jay-Z...Wanna hear rap from a female perspective? Rapsody, Jean Grae, Bahamadia, Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Eve, MC Lyte, Rah Digga, Queen Latifah, Snow Da Product, Nitty Scott, Young MA, or one of many others are available to check out. There's literally rap for every personality, every mood, and every age group that's been alive since it's inception.
So taking everything mentioned under consideration, acknowledging that rap music is here to stay, I surely hope it continues to morph, grow, evolve, and continue to be an accurate reflection of the black experience in America.