Aug 11, 2023 - Economy & Business

50 years of hip-hop: Made in New York, now a global sensation

Data: Chartmetric, Billboard, Axios research; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Today marks 50 years since the birth of hip-hop — a relatively short trip from its inception at a small party in the Bronx to one of the most popular and influential genres in the world.

Driving the news: In New York City and across the country this weekend, concerts and celebrations are being held to mark the milestone.

  • Major platforms including Netflix, Apple and Spotify have also been paying homage to the milestone with special documentaries, podcasts and art.

Flashback: The multi-billion dollar industry was born at a back-to-school party in an apartment building in the Bronx on Aug. 11, 1973.

  • Since Jamaican-born DJ Kool Herc first spun his beats at that party, hip-hop has grown beyond what most people expected.

Why it matters: New York City youths created hip-hop as a means of expression and solidarity during a particularly difficult time in the city — marked by disinvestment in communities, high rates of violence and poverty.

  • Black and Latino kids grew up together and faced similar struggles.
  • Hip-hop and hip-hop culture pulled them together, says Rubén Díaz Jr., former borough president of the Bronx and a trustee for the Universal Hip Hop Museum, which is expected to open late next year or in 2025.

By the numbers: Today, hip hop music is the most-listened to genre in the world, says Shain Shapiro, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Music Ecosystems.

Zoom out: On top of its direct popularity — record sales, streaming, blockbuster tours and festivals — hip-hop has built a vibrant, ever-evolving culture that stretches across any number of industries.

  • It has helped some of the most valuable companies in the world build their brands and customer loyalty, including Apple, Nike and Block, said Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital, a media and research company focused on music and culture.
  • That's why it's "really tough" to quantify its overall economic impact, Runcie adds.

Yes, but: Hip-hop's roots as a means of expression against oppression have gotten lost along the way, many experts say.

  • "I think we're at a crossroads and that's why the 50th anniversary is so important, said Elena Romero, a long-time journalist and hip-hop documentarian whose new series, "Hip-Hop Subway: The L Line," launches Friday on CUNY TV.
  • Romero says while it's important to pay homage to the creators of hip-hop, "we also need to examine where we stand, how we have benefited, but where we have fallen short in supporting our community and the pioneers who may not have financially benefited to the degree that some of the artists today have."
  • "Unfortunately, there's still a lot of people that come from the communities where hip-hop was birthed that are still oppressed, that still find themselves in subpar living conditions," Díaz said.

"We have to understand how powerful we are, how we have the numbers, how we have so many allies outside of the Black and brown community that are now part of hip-hop, and how we go from reporting being the oppressed to then leading the way for equity, peace and justice," Diaz said. "We have to use hip-hop in that way."

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