According to Nielsen’s 2017 Music Report, R&B and hip hop dethroned rock ‘n’ roll as the most listened-to genre of music in the United States. R&B and hip hop account for a quarter (25%) of total music consumption whereas rock ‘n’ roll accounts for 23% of total music consumption. Some industry professionals argue Nielsen’s rating system is unfair as it combines R&B and hip hop as one genre and ignores rock ‘n’ roll as the dominant genre for album sales. In 2017, 40% of albums sold were rock albums; hip hop and R&B did not come close for album sales.
However, many industry experts point to Nielsen’s rating system as the future of music. In recent years, the popularity of streaming is rising while album sales are in decline. Hip hop and R&B artists are especially benefiting from this change in music consumption. Hip hop and R&B comprise 29% of music streams and are the most popular genres on Spotify and Apple Music (beating both rock and pop music).
Of course the rise in streaming also reflects the change in music lovers’ interactions with music. Radio hits and singles are certainly influential in presenting music trends to a general audience, but in the age of digital music streaming, consumers can listen to their favorite songs without having to purchase an album. Unlike rock artists, hip hop and R&B artists continually adapt their music and show greater flexibility in their genre than pop and rock artists do. Contemporary R&B pairs well with pop music and as a result, many artists outside the realm of hip hop and R&B experiment with the music style. For rap, pop rap brought mainstream rap artists to top 40 radio stations as pop rap artists responded to the growing demands of EDM and pop lovers. Kanye West’s collaboration with Daft Punk in “Stronger” is one of the most notable examples of the explosive popularity of pop rap.
Artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, and Bruno Mars bend the rules of the genre to produce cross-genre hits and as a result, are household names with award-winning albums. Hip hop and R&B’s evolution did not stop at pop rap as the age of independent music distributors, like SoundCloud, allow a new generation of artists to experiment with music styles and become viral hits. This new generation of SoundCloud rappers have inspired the resurgence of trap rap and established a trend of mumble rapping.
The dominance of hip hop and R&B show no signs of slowing down or stopping. As long as hip hop and R&B continue to adapt and pioneer music trends in the age of streaming, their popularity will continue to rise. As for rock ‘n’ roll, how should the genre rise to the demands of the age of streaming?