From the ’80s rock stars, to the ’90s grunge bands and now to the rappers and hip-hop artists of today, music has evolved but so have the idols.
Sitting at number one on the Spotify Global Top 50, Post Malone, with the help of 21 Savage, tells the world he is “feeling like a rock star” and it is easy to see why. Post Malone, along with his contemporaries, have transformed hip-hop from second fiddle to the most popular genre of music in the country for the first time ever. This seemed almost an impossible feat three decades ago, when Run D.M.C. were barely scratching the mainstream with their Aerosmith cover: “Walk This Way.”
Hip hop has come a long way from those days, when the most popular songs were the ones that had enough crossover appeal to end up on the radio. Rappers such as Eminem struggled with this in the new millennium, evident on the song “The Way I Am” where he raps, “I’m … pigeon-holed into some poppy sensation to cop me rotation at rock-n-roll stations.” But after returning from a hiatus in 2009, Eminem rejoined a music climate completely changed. In fact, his first song upon returning highlights the difference perfectly. He joined Drake, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne on the smash hit “Forever.”
Lil Wayne, already in the rap game for 18 years at this point, was at the top of his game coming off his triple platinum album, Tha Carter 3. Kanye West had already proved himself a genre bender. Bring soulful samples and gospel music on his first album “The College Dropout”, then live orchestras in “Late Registration.” Nothing topped the crossover appeal of his next two albums though. With “Graduation” and “808’s and Heartbreak,” West showcased the versatility of rap, and had the radio play to show for it. Meanwhile, Drake was just beginning his ascent to the top of the charts. With help from Lil Wayne, Drake would flourish in the 2010s and do his part to bring hip-hop to the pop charts.
Nothing would have quite as much impact as Eminem’s album “Recovery.” With smash hits “Not Afraid” and “Love the Way You Lie,” the album sold over 10 million copies worldwide, and opened the door for hip hop to take over the charts. Following his lead, artists such as B.O.B., Wiz Khalifa, Lupe Fiasco, Drake, Jay-Z and Kanye West did their best to perform singles that would earn them a spot on the pop radio rotation, while at the same time artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole made music in direct contrast to this idea, preferring to focus less on radio hits and more on the message.
Hip-hop came a long way from Slick Rick and Grandmaster Flash, but the past three years arguably have seen the genre grown more than the past three decades. This new guard, led by Drake, has brought hip-hop to the headphones and car stereos of the entire world. Post Malone raps that he is “feeling like a rockstar” when he should be saying he is a Rock star. And he’s not alone.
The most popular rappers sit at the top of the charts consistently now. Lil Uzi Vert, Migos and 21 Savage are just a few who have experienced major popularity in just the past couple years. Lil Uzi Vert peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 100 with his summer hit “XO Tour Lif3” that brings a heavy Marilyn Manson influence. Like Manson, Lil Uzi Vert performs all over the stage and frequently climbs scaffolding and flies out into the crowd. Mosh pits form as 21 Savage begins his most recent hit “Bank Account,” an ode to fast cars and girls like a modern day Mötley Crüe.
Hip-hop artists and rappers have invaded almost all areas of pop culture. The Atlanta-based trio Migos have appeared on TV and are working on a movie script. Lil Yachty released a clothing line with Nautica earlier this year, and that is nothing compared to his collaborator A$AP Rocky who has released lines with high-end designers such as Raf Simmons and Guess. Likewise, no one has reached the success and popularity of Kanye West with his Adidas shoe collaboration. The “Yeezy’s” frequently sold out and helped catapult Adidas shoe sales past the shoe-giant Jordan Brand.
So what does this all mean? Rock stars were the pop culture of the late ’70s and ’80s. They connected with their fans in such a way that Kiss is still appearing in movies as recent as “Why Him?” from 2016. Hip hop artists and rappers have similarly invaded the pop culture and molded it around them. There is no longer a struggle to reach mainstream popularity and so these artists are staying true to the genre of hip-hop. Hip-hop and rap is the mainstream, and artists like Post Malone are just the beginning of the new rock stars.