Rap: The New Rock and Roll

In 2013, Kanye West sat down with BBC Radio 1 host, Zane Lowe, to discuss culture, fashion, and his hot off the press, controversial LP Yeezus. The interview was filled with memorable gems and quotable phrases, but one concept stood out: Kanye West boldly stated, “But we culture. Rap the new rock n’ roll … We the rock stars!”

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Photo Courtesy of BBC Radio1 on YouTube

To loyal, middle- aged, classic rock fans and Woodstock raconteurs, who ramble on about the heydays of yesteryears, such a notion could seem comical and overly confident. However, there is a case to be made; not only has rap overthrown rock, but its cultural and statistical influence is widespread. 

Rock, at its core, presented an ideal of flashy living, and careless regard- a hedonistic lifestyle that catered to the growing sentiment of society. Stemming from a lineage of jazz and blues, rock music pushed the motto of: sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, as throughout the decades, tales were told of Mötley Crüe’s crazy parties, followed by the rise of Glam Rock’s flashy style, punks anarchist incentives, and grunge’s angst- filled ballads.

Rock Stars created the hobo-chic aesthetic while disregarding the music industries manufactured sounds, going against the stingy prudence of higher authority. Rock provided the framework for what youth culture would be for the next few decades. However, with the rise of their popularity, rock music, which voiced youth’s unrest, turned to smoothened sounds and manufactured commercial celebrities. As the sound of grunge and punk took a turn, the veterans and former rock gods grew up and lost their appeal. 

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Motley Crüe was one of the hottest rock bands during the emergence of the glam rock era in the 80s

Photo Courtesy of Koh Hasebe on Getty Images

Hip-hop stemmed from black neighbourhoods, in the inner burrows of New York. Pioneers of the sound such as Grand Master Flash, provided the sonic, rhythmic and sociopolitical framework for rap in the early 80s, that would later influence acts like N.W.A to create their critically acclaimed and controversial song “F*ck  the police”, in 1988. The song provided a resonating theme in response to the heightened acts of police violence taking place in Compton and across America.  

Hip-hop, like rock, provided a rebellion that youth across the nation could identify with. It expressed the sentiment of a disenfranchised subculture that demanded respect, purpose, and prominence. However, as rock n’ roll lost its sex appeal, and its alluring grit (becoming a polished, corporate, mainstream conglomerate) it no longer held weight against raps brash and unapologetic sound and content. 

Rap showcases the same self-indulgent sensationalism as rock. Run D.M.C’s iconic Adidas and flashy chain style (arguably starting rap artists endorsement of fashion) and trendsetters such as Kanye West’s fashion forward thinking and new brand YEEZY are of a few examples of current hip-hop culture influencing what youth culture hears, wears and cares about. 

Even with the rise of streaming, rap continues to succeed by providing direct-to-consumer mixtapes and albums through various platforms, such as Soundcloud and DatPiff while rock offshoot genres scrap to find ways to adapt their ancient business models to the changing consumer landscape.

Hip-hop artists nowadays, recognize the shifting tide, as rap music propels itself even further into the mainstream. Acts like Rae Sremmurd, with their hit song “Black Beatles” in 2016, or the spitting image of Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo Tour, reminiscent to that of punk or metal rock concert moshpits, are prime examples of the introspection that rap is consciously aware of its dominance. No longer are the masses running to underground, grimy basements to hear their local punk band scream against the “system”. Rather, youth prefer jumping in the midst of a moshpit at a Travis Scott concert. Gone are the days of suburban angst-filled anthems, and in are the aggressive chants of SoundCloud rappers, such as XXXTentacion. 

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Travis Scott performs at Faust, before his concert was shut down by the police. 

Photo Courtesy of Victor Malecot on Ten Days In Paris

Hip-hop has transcended time and relevancy to become one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary art forms, and it shows no signs of slowing down. With its swagger, influence, political voice, and luxurious allure, it not only has dethroned rock, but continues to further skyrocket. In the wise words of Roger Daltrey, the lead singer of one of the most iconic rock bands, The Who, “The sadness for me is that rock has reached a dead end... the only people saying things that matter are the rappers…” I have to agree with both Kanye and Roger on this one- rap is the new Rock.