Hip-Hop Economy

From New York to Nepal, Hip-Hop has become America's leading culture export

syncopated beats and dynamic lyrics. In some cases, the music portrays the darker side of urban life, glorifying violence, materialism, illegal activities, and misogyny. On the flip side, it’s also a form of expression embraced by youth culture.

The origins of hip-hop music can be traced to DJ Kool Herc’s turntable wizardry in the mid-1970s, but the culture formed as break dancing, graffiti art, and deejaying converged. Popular in urban America, hip-hop remained an underground phenomenon until the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” became the first song in this genre to hit the pop charts in 1979, peaking at No. 36 on the Billboard charts. Despite its popularity and the success of Old School acts such as Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, and Run-DMC, critics argued hip-hop music would be just another fad. Roughly 25 years later, it has become more than a music genre. It’s a culture that is embraced by youth worldwide. It’s no longer a black thing; whites purchase roughly 60% of hip-hop records.

In fact, hip-hop music sales made up 89.2 million, or 11.7%, of the 762.8 million albums sold in the U.S. in 20014ranking it the third bestseller behind rhythm &blues and alternative music, according to SoundScan, a White Plains, New York-based firm that monitors U.S. album sales. At an average of $12 per CD, that’s more than a billion dollars in hip-hop music sales alone. The Hip-Hop economy slumped in 2001 when the U.S. slid into recession, but sales were more robust in 2000, totaling 101.5 million of the 785.1 million albums sold in 2000 for a total of $1.2 billion. When these revenues are combined with clothing, film, and television revenues, the market grows exponentially.

This sector goes beyond American shores. Its influences can be found in clubs, clothing, and the attitude of youth from Germany to Japan. “It’s always been big overseas,” says Kim Osorio, music editor for The Source, a publication that’s considered hip-hop’s bible. “If you go to Japan, the influence hip-hop has on the culture is crazy. It’s different, though. They’re still break dancing.”

After years of being shunned by corporate America, big business has become more aggressive in its use of the medium to appeal to young people. Music videos have become a venue for manufacturers to showcase their wears to a market eager to spend cash. Just open a magazine and you’re likely to see rapper Wyclef Jean at a soundboard with a bottle of Pepsi. Busta Rhymes, on the other hand, prefers Mountain Dew, which he hawks on television using the same pulsating beats and outrageous attitude that characterizes his music. And, on billboards throughout New York City, Foxy Brown strikes a pose in her Calvin Kleins.

The sheer power of the Hip-Hop economy is that a product can become a top seller simply by being mentioned in a tune. It started with Run-DMC’s “My Adidas.” In 1987, Russell Simmons, the undisputed “Godfather of hip-hop” convinced executives from the athletic shoemaker to sponsor the rap group’s tour, asserting

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