Is Hip-Hop Really Declining? Or are Genre Lines Blurring?

Hip-hop’s decline may have been a hot topic in recent years, but scenes influenced by the sound are flourishing across the world. It’s time to think outside the traditional eurocentric notions of genre, and look towards where hip-hop is going.

Is Hip-Hop Really Declining? Or are Genre Lines Blurring?
Sarah Kloboves
Sarah Kloboves
May 24, 20247 min read
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This is the first in a two-part series exploring the state of hip-hop/rap in collaboration with the UK ticketing platform Shoobs. Stay tuned for part two coming next Friday (5/31).

If you’ve been following music news in the past year, there’s a likely chance you’ve seen the words “hip-hop” and “decline” sharing the same headline. Throughout 2023, the fall of the music industry’s genre-giant became a widely discussed and hotly debated topic. While many argued that the genre’s fall in market share is something of a concern, others noted that its lack of chart preeminence is due to a variety of factors — not that it’s necessarily “unpopular” now.

According to Chartmetric's Year In Music 2023 report, hip-hop/rap artists were the biggest presence in music in 2023 in terms of release volume. A similar pattern followed for tracks, whose most dominant genre was hip-hop/rap—both all-time and in 2023 alone. So, while the sheer number of artists and tracks in the genre is certainly growing, it begs the question of whether the scene is becoming too oversaturated. 

After celebrating its 50th anniversary this past year, it’s uncertain what the future holds for the beloved New York-born style. While its lasting influence continues to fuel scenes around the world, has American hip-hop lost its place as the default? 

Is hip-hop really declining?

While a genre’s presence (or lack thereof) on the top charts isn’t always an exact reflection of its overall health, there’s no denying that hip-hop’s been on a significant decline on the charts since 2018. At the beginning of 2023, there was an all-time low in hip hop's monthly market share on the USA Spotify Top 50 Chart. However, just one year later, an obvious resurgence has emerged, bringing hip hop's current average market share for 2024 to 34%.

When compared to other genres, pop has seen an overall increase since 2018. Latin has also made substantial noise since 2022, averaging a share of nearly 11.2% over the past two years. With these figures in mind, one can infer that their growing shares have muffled whatever noise hip-hop still manages to make.  

At the global level, Spotify’s Top 50 Global chart saw a far less steep decline. Falling by only 24%, it’s clear that scenes outside the genre’s home country have continued to hold their weight. 

The YouTube Top 50 charts can also help analyze hip-hop's global view. As far as share, the trend followed suit with a drop at the start of 2022. Still, 2024 looks promising for the genre as the beginning of Q1 accounted for an average of 11.5%, followed by 14.2% at the start of Q2. 

No matter how you slice it, hip-hop/rap does appear to have undergone a dry spell on the top 50. Still, that doesn’t negate the genre’s ability to produce dominating, long-standing chart toppers. In the first quarter of 2024, a rap project has secured the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top 200 list for each month: 21 Savage’s American Dream, Ye and Ty Dolla Sign’s Vultures, and Future and Metro Boomin’s We Don’t Trust You, respectively. Single’s are also dominating, and according to Complex, “hip-hop already has as many No. 1 songs in 2024 as it did all of 2023.” 

When analyzing genre presence on the top charts, it's also important to remember that these shares indicate the top percent of artists, not necessarily the majority. The fluctuation in presence almost always depends on what projects superstars are debuting — if Drake releases an album, the overall share of hip-hop tends to increase as the project takes up space on the charts. While the long tail decline can certainly give a sense of what's going on in the mainstream, there's always a larger story to be told under the surface. 

Hip-hop artists are releasing outside of their genre

As music becomes increasingly global, the lines between genres continue to blur. This is particularly true with hip-hop, as many Western artists are beginning to release tracks outside of the genre's traditional sound to engage with new audiences worldwide. So while genres like afrobeats and reggaeton surge — thanks in part to collaborations with major US stars — the sonic view of mainstream hip-hop is also starting to change.

The Emerging Artists section of Chartmetric’s 2023 Year in Music Report highlights this trend within hip-hop. With an identified 125 emerging artists that rose to fame in the past three years, those artists were significantly less likely to release tracks within the hip-hop genre in comparison to other genres, such as K-pop or Latin music. It’s clear that artists associated with the hip-hop genre have had no problem breaking out in the past three years, such as Ice Spice or Kay Flock. However, the majority of emerging hip-hop artists release significantly fewer hip-hop tracks, instead exploring genres such as Electronic, Pop, R&B, and Latin.

The prevalence of these emerging global scenes can also be noted in comparing the breakdown of the top 100 artists and tracks on Spotify in 2023. For tracks, Latin dominated pop, accounting for 23%, while hip-hop saw only 10%. On the other hand, hip-hop was the second most prevalent genre for artists, again behind pop. This suggests that even though there are fewer Latin artists, their tracks are more influential among today's most streamed songs. 

Issues with genre labeling when Western music is no longer the default

Since the inception of the modern music industry, its scope has remained Western-oriented for nearly a century. The same story follows for hip-hop and rap, where the primary tracks that have dominated top charts and radio are released from artists in America—so much so that 68% of the top 50 rap/hip-hop artists globally by Chartmetric artist score are from the United States.

Today, thanks to the impact of digitization in music and the rise of social and streaming platforms, global sounds are breaking through the noise in ways that were never traditionally possible. But, as scenes like Afrobeats and Reggaeton move up to compete, artists from outside of Western regions are forced to separate themselves from umbrella terms like “hip-hop” by adding regional terms like “Latin” or “African” — unlike artists from the U.S., who rarely required to use terms like "American hip-hop" or "American rap."

This is the issue with genre data at large. For example, an artist like Bad Bunny is typically classified first as a Latin artist. But, should he also be equally labeled as hip-hop, given that most of his discography would be characterized as Latin hip-hop or reggaeton? What is the most defining factor for genre in today’s age — the sound or the region they come from? 

When analyzing one of Spotify's top African music playlists, "African Heat," 35% of the tracks are labeled as "African," with "hip-hop/rap" at 15.5% and "afrobeat" at 13%. However, when at the artist level, the primary genre becomes hip-hop/rap tied with dance/electronic, not African or afrobeat.

A similar story follows with K-pop, where 69% of tracks are categorized with “pop” according to their primary genre, but only 17.8% are classified as K-pop. 

On the one hand, lumping non-Western artists into basic genre categories prevents their real sound from being accurately appreciated. Specifically for Black artists and Black music, lumping "African" in with "hip-hop" dilutes the meaning and origins that make the genre unique in the first place. On the other hand, not including an afrobeats artist like Rema among the top hip-hop/rap artists fails to denote his identity as a rapper.

While breaking into the Western market may not be every artist's goal, it is one of the most reliable paths to financial success. However, when hip-hop is labeled as the dominant genre of Black artists, the decline of the genre can also mean a decrease in budgets, attention, awards, grant money, and more. Therefore, it's crucial to use qualifiers when discussing terms like "decline." This is especially important as genres not explicitly labeled as "hip-hop," such as mainstream Latin music, are experiencing growth. There's a valid concern that genres which have drawn influence from and benefited from hip-hop may gain attention while sidelining hip-hop itself.

It seems to be a lose-lose situation for artists outside the borders of “mainstream” music. The Eurocentric nature of music and pop culture devalues and diminishes artists from non-western countries, and as an industry, we critically need to start rethinking the way that we define genre. 

Thinking towards the future

Hip-hop's influence is so pervasive that it has become a fundamental component of almost every dominant and emerging genre, including K-pop, Afrobeats, and Latin music. However, it's not always feasible to label everything as hip-hop, which can lead to its dominance being overlooked on charts and playlists.

This is why it is crucial to continue paying attention to hip-hop, not just within the United States but globally. Ignoring hip-hop because it appears to be 'in decline' risks losing sight of local hip-hop scenes and the rich cultural expressions they represent. As glocalization becomes more prevalent and the U.S. loses some of its cultural dominance, understanding and appreciating the global evolution of hip-hop will become even more important.

Visualizations by Nicki Camberg and cover image by Crasianne Tirado with data help from Melina Raglin. Data as of May 24, 2024.