Hip-Hop/R&B Surpasses Rock as Leading Music Genre in U.S.: Nielsen Report

Nielsen Music released its annual mid-year report.

Hip hop recording artist Kendrick Lamar poses backstage during the iHeartRadio Music Awards in Los Angeles. / REUTERS

For the first time since Nielsen started measuring music consumption in the United States, rock is no longer the top genre. R&B and hip-hop have taken the throne.


Nielsen Music (No. 32 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list) released its annual mid-year report this month, which provides the definitive figures and charts for the music industry from the first six months of 2017.

The R&B and hip-hop genre has become the largest share of overall volume (album sales, TEA and on-demand audio SEA) at 25.1 percent. Rock falls to second with 23 percent of the total volume.

While rock still dominates album sales at 40 percent, R&B and hip-hop has become the largest genre by dominating streaming consumption. More than 30 percent of audio on-demand streaming comes from R&B and hip-hop, nearly as much as the next two genres combined (rock at 18 percent and pop at 13 percent).

From Nielsen Music's Mid-Year Report U.S. 2017

Erin Crawford, senior vice president of Nielsen Entertainment and general manager of Nielsen Music, states in the report that understanding music fans, specifically "what they're listening to, how they're behaving and how they're changing," provides the insight.

R&B and hip-hop are paired together, but hip-hop appears to be pulling ahead especially when it comes to music streaming.

"A significant streaming milestone was also reached in March, when weekly on-demand audio streaming surpassed 7 billion," she said. "For the first six months of the year, there have been 184.3 billion on demand audio streams — a 62 percent increase over the same period in 2016."

Drake's "More Life" set a record for audio on-demand streams in one week, with 385 million streams earned for its collected songs, beating the record held by his previous album (245 million), according to the report. "More Life" debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart with 505,000 total equivalent album units.

Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar's "DAMN." spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and earned 341 million streams for its songs in its first week. In the week of its release, Lamar's combined social media activity was up 130 percent versus the previous week.

Future became the first act to have back-to-back No. 1 debuts in successive weeks on the Billboard 200 with "Future" and "Hndrxx."

The song with the second highest number of video-only streams in the first half of 2017 was "Bad and Boujee," by Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert, "a testament to video streaming's strength in the R&B/hip-hop genre," the report states. "Only Ed Sheeran's 'Shape of You' has more video-only streams."

Hip-Hop and the Mainstream

Hip-hop, which originated in the streets of South Bronx in New York City in the 1970s, is currently at the forefront of the music industry.

"DJ Kool Herc, African Bambatta and Grand Master Flash were the founding fathers of hip-hop," Dr. Shango Blake told DiversityInc.

Blake, CEO of TRU SK Consultants, LLC, is known as "The Nation's Hip-Hop Principal" for his pioneering work in using hip-hop as a communications and instructional tool during his tenure as a principal in New York City. His school went from one of the lowest-performing schools in the district to number one in reading and math.

"The Bronx was a melting pot of immigrants from Jamaica and Puerto Rico and Black migrants from the south," he said. "In fact, DJ Kool Herc was of Jamaican heritage."

"Hip-hop has told the story of Black people's struggle to overcome poverty, racism and oppression. It has also told the story of the masses of Black people who have lived in impoverished neighborhoods, yet through their resilience continue to make something out of nothing and set trends the whole world follows."

Superhero DJ Jon Quick of the New York City radio station WBLS said he can remember Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy once calling hip-hop "the CNN of the ghetto."

"That's exactly how I would state it," Quick said. "Unfiltered, unadulterated truth.

"Nowadays in some respects it's been so commercialized by the record companies that most of the music, at least lyrically, repeat the same themes."

Chuck D of Public Enemy

Blake also points to Public Enemy as influential in hip-hop's rise.

"Public Enemy, one of the most militant Black power rap groups, had multi-platinum selling albums. This happened because the greater society, or white people, embraced them.

"Run DMC, one of the first groups to bring hip-hop to the mainstream, was partly responsible for mainstreaming the African American experience.

"They were popular when 'The Cosby Show' was popular; thus, the impact of that show and Run DMC's appeal made the African American experience more accepted by the greater society."

He added that the acceptance of hip-hop changed with generations.

"The distinction is that white youth embrace African American culture," Blake said. "However, their parents and really their grandparents feel that they are losing their children and losing their culture and they blame hip-hop for this.

"In reality, America is becoming Black and brown. I believe this is the reason for some of our divisive politics."

Quick agrees that hip-hop has "risen because other cultures have embraced it."

"That's not even up for debate in my eyes," he said. "You go to some of the hip-hop concerts nowadays in the U.S. and it's almost 50 percent caucasian.

"Asia has embraced the culture as well. Many American hip-hop artists are much bigger overseas. Huge stars."

Studies have shown that the influence of Black consumers in the U.S. is significant.

Quick said he hopes that corporations give even more attention to the purchasing power of Black consumers, specifically in regard to Black radio stations.

Blake said, "If they are wise, corporations will continue to pay attention to Black culture."

He added, "More importantly, invest in Black youth and build infrastructure that support Black families. That's what you call a profitable and ethical corporate model.

"We as Black people will continue to grow in size and influence. Thus, it is wise not just to court our purchasing power, but support us and build loyalty to your brand while doing so.

"Hip-hop is profitable for companies. If we say you are 'hot' or 'poppin,' you can take that to the bank!"

Learn more about Dr. Shango Blake's use of hip-hop in school curriculum:

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