Hip-Hop Is Changing Whether You Like It or Not

The music’s transformation isn’t neglecting its roots but merely a reflection of how millennials view the world. 

Childish Gambino; Danny Brown; Iggy Azalea
Childish Gambino; Danny Brown; Iggy Azalea Taylor Hill/Getty Images; Andrew Benge/Getty Images; Johnny Nunez/Getty Images

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (pdf) earlier this year, the top three things that those born after 1980 believe make them unlike any other generation are technology use (24 percent), music and pop culture (11 percent) and more liberal and tolerant ideologies (7 percent). It’s a given that technological advances give people access to information more than ever before, and this opportunity is one reason millennials have embraced different genres of music, according to BET.com’s associate editor, Taj Rani.

“Most millennials grew up in a TRL generation,” said Rani, referencing Total Request Live, MTV’s daily music-video countdown that first aired in 1998 and lasted 10 years on the air. “Your countdown had pop with Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, rock with Linkin Park, R&B with Destiny’s Child and hip-hop with Jay Z and Nelly, so you were getting a top 10 countdown that consisted of all these artists five days a week.”

Having access to a variety of music via television and Internet streaming made it harder to discern what black- or white-associated music was to a younger generation because they just liked what they liked, according to Rani.

In a recent study, MTV and David Binder Research (pdf) noted that “millennials feel that ‘colorblindness’ is something to strive for.” But they also believe in celebrating diversity, according to the research, with 81 percent stating that embracing diversity and celebrating differences between races would improve society.

“Hip-hop is not this exclusive thing, separate from the cultural world that produces it,” Watkins said. “It never has been and never will be. Though it often gets defined as African American, hip-hop has always had elements of multiculturalism and diversity. Any attempt to control hip-hop, to define and restrict its creative ambitions, has always been met with resistance within hip-hop.”

Hip-hop isn’t monolithic. It’s traveled the world and has more stories to tell now than when it was conceived. True fans of hip-hop understand this transformation. True fans never forget hip-hop’s beginnings, but also see the potential hip-hop has to touch the world like never before.

“As far as genres crossing, we all need to be a bit more open and understanding that people listen to different stuff,” said Rani. “You can’t put us all in a box. Music, in a perfect world, wouldn’t have a color association.”

Taryn Finley is a summer intern at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.