Is the dominance of hip-hop on the charts coming to an end? A year ago such a possibility would have seemed unlikely as rap titles routinely held the majority of the positions in the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. Yet recently a change has been taking place in the mix as releases by rock groups and more traditional r-n-b singers have begun to gain wider popularity. This may be the result of radio discovering there is an still an audience for good rock in the wake of the recent success of U2 and Green Day or possibly the audience tiring of the banal posturing of much of hip-hop in the last few years.
A glance at the Billboard album charts for June 4, 2005 shows evidence of a change taking place. Of the top 20 titles, only two are by rappers (50 Cent, Memphis Bleek). Rock groups with titles in the top 20 are System of a Down, Dave Matthews Band, Weezer, Def Leppard (yes, that Def Leppard), Nine Inch Nails, and The Killers. Pop and pop/rock titles in the top 20 are the American Idol season 4 album and titles by Rob Thomas, Kelly Clarkson, and Mile Jones. R-n-b and pop/r-n-b titles in the top 20 are by Mariah Carey, Kem, Gwen Stefani, and Natalie. There are three country titles by Toby Keith, Cowboy Troy, and Rascal Flatts. A collection of hits by various artists rounds out the top 20.
While hip-hop is more successful in the Top 20 singles, it is mainly due to one artist (50 Cent). Even here, there is a broad range of musical styles at the to with Mariah Carey, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, Black Eyed Peas, Rob Thomas, The Killers, 3 Doors Down, Green Day, and the Backstreet Boys all represented. Other than 50 Cent, the hot item at the moment is Kelly Clarkson with “Since U Been Gone” (#7) and “Behind these Hazel Eyes” (#8) in the top 10 and “Breakaway” (#40) still in the top 40 after 41 weeks on the charts. “Breakaway” and “Since U Been Gone” were back-to-back singles with sales over 2 million each in the U.S. alone – an almost unheard of feat these days.
What does all this mean? Well I am not predicting the fall of hip-hop but I am suggesting it will no longer have a stranglehold on the charts. As it became dominant, the lack of variety made it seem rather stale. The one great strength of pop music is that it can assimilate anything. Just as when disco lost popularity but had its signature features incorporated in the dance pop of Madonna, Janet, and others, so you see elements of hip-hop mainstreamed into pop music. The more creative hip-hop artists (e.g., Outkast) will continue to have an audience as well as lesser talents who have good commercial sensibilities (e.g., Eminem, 50 Cent). But the days of interchangeable rappers dominating the charts is likely coming to an end.