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Hip-Hop Fridays: The Height Of Hip-Hop by Malcolm Mayhew

They said rock 'n' roll would die. It didn't.

Those same cultural coroners have tried to issue premature death certificates for rap and hip-hop, too.

Not likely. Hip-hop's popularity hit an apex when every song on Billboard magazine's Top 10 hit list was by an African-American artist -- a first in the magazine's 50-year history.

And according to a report released by Interep -- an independent advertising, sales and marketing company that focuses on radio -- more than 84 million rap and hip-hop records were sold last year. The report also says hip-hop is the fastest-growing radio format; it's played on more than 150 stations.

"This is a validation of what we've been championing for years," says Jerry Barrow, features editor for The Source, a national magazine devoted to rap and hip-hop music. "It's way more than a fad. ... It's not going away."

Beyond the Billboard Top 10, which is filled with tracks by Beyonce, Nelly, P. Diddy, Chingy, Pharrell, 50 Cent and Black Eyed Peas, hip-hop is reaching mainstream America. Major corporations are using the music to tout cars, fashions, burgers and soft drinks.

"You cannot turn on the TV without seeing some influence of hip-hop being shown by the media for marketing or advertising purposes," says Melcom Copeland, president of, a Delaware business consulting firm that caters to hip-hop artists and retailers.

"In the past, the decision-makers of corporate America didn't understand the culture," Copeland says. "Why would they use this seemingly negative genre to promote their products? That's all changed. Now, everyone wants a piece of the action."

Rap and hip-hop have been on the pop culture landscape since the late '70s. First confined to street corners and tiny clubs in New York, rap and its parent movement, hip-hop (a term used to describe the music and the culture) made some noise early with singles from Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang and Fatback. But it was the New York trio Run-D.M.C. that brought rap into the mainstream with a cover of Aerosmith's Walk This Way in 1986. The group's Raising Hell album became the first rap album to crack the pop-music chart's Top 10; Run-D.M.C. was also the first rap act on MTV.

"I think some people knew their name before that, but that's what broke them into the mainstream," says Dan Kieley, program director for local hip-hop and pop radio station KRBV/100.3 FM. "And that's what broke rap into the mainstream."

For years, rap had a stigma attached. In the late '80s and early '90s, gangsta rap -- a subgenre conceived by acts such as Compton, Calif., outfit N.W.A. and Houston's Geto Boys that focused primarily on violence -- overshadowed the genre as a whole. When gangsta rap artists such as Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G. (both of whom were killed in drive-by shootings), Ice-T and former N.W.A. member Ice Cube became enormously popular, gangsta rap entered the mainstream, and rap found itself simultaneously loved and reviled. It was respected by fans and artists but shunned by critics and parents.

"For a while there, rap definitely, pardon the pun, had a bad rap," says Dennis "Da Menace" White, a former rapper who is now a video jockey for The Fuse, an all-music cable network.

But in recent years, rappers and hip-hop artists have crossed over to movies, television and the fashion industry, bringing the hip-hop sense of cool to a much broader audience. Performers such as Ice Cube, Beyonce and Queen Latifah have carved out acting careers; others, such as P. Diddy and Jay-Z, have their own clothing lines.

"They've grasped the cross-marketing concept, like pop artists have been doing for years," White says. "Beyonce's doing Pepsi commercials, 50 Cent has a shoe coming out, Puffy's [P. Diddy's] got his own line of clothes -- pretty much all the top artists are into the business side of the music, not just the music. And when these artists are seen in different aspects like this, people want to get to know them better."

As a result, says Stacey Ingram, a 10-year employee at Wherehouse Music on Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth, hip-hop knows no boundaries.

"Race and age don't matter," she says. "Everyone listens to it -- from white kids to black kids to middle-class adults."

Rapper Eminem, White says, is one of the artists who helped bridge hip-hop's race and age gap.

"Even though some of his lyrics have negative connotations, his popularity opened the door for mainstream acceptance of rap and hip-hop," White says of the Grammy-winning rapper from Detroit. "Because of him, and the accessibility of his music, people who never knew much about rap got a chance to understand what it's all about."

Hip-hop is booming, but it's unknown how long that popularity will last, White says. And the danger with anything becoming hugely popular is that it'll become diluted and insincere.

"It's the big trend now -- for pop singers to have rappers on their records," he says. "Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, they're collaborating with rappers. So I hope it stays about the music, not the trend."

Billboard top singles issued Oct. 11

1. Baby Boy, Beyonce featuring Sean Paul

2. Shake Ya Tailfeather, Nelly, P. Diddy and Murphy Lee

3. Get Low, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz featuring Ying Yang Twins

4. Right Thurr, Chingy

5. Frontin', Pharrell featuring Jay-Z

6. Damn, YoungBloodZ featuring Lil Jon

7. P.I.M.P., 50 Cent

8. Into You, Fabolous featuring Tamia or Ashanti

9. Stand Up, Ludacris featuring Shawnna

10. Where is the Love? Black Eyed Peas

Malcolm Mayhew is a Star-Telegram Staff Writer and can be contacted via e-mail at:

Note: This article first appeared in the October 15th edition of The Star Telegram

2003 Star Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, October 24, 2003

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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