Scientists Show Proof Hip-Hop Has Revolutionized Music the Most Since 1960 (News)

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For decades, fans of Hip-Hop have considered it one of the most important developments in Pop culture. Now, scientists say they have proof that it is in fact the most revolutionary form of music since 1960. Much has been discussed about the rise of Rock & Roll and the “British Invasion” of the 1960s. That music was the soundtrack of a Baby Boomer generation that would dominate the country for the last half century, but a study by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, in Royal Society Open Science, released earlier this month, now shows it was the beats & rhymes of Rap music that have had the biggest impact on music during that 50-year span.


For years, fans of various genres–Rock & Roll, Heavy Metal, Grunge, Jazz, Blues, Disco, Rap, EDM–have championed their preferred music type and decried the importance of others. Similarly, listeners have romanticized the music of their teenage years for its diversity and richness, while criticizing present day music as being “unoriginal” and lacking in the innovation of yore. The Royal Society Open Science study set out to analyze both of these premises through raw, hard data, using a methodology similar to how evolutionary biologists have compared and contrasted the evolution of various species vis a vis one another, “Drawing inspiration from studies of organic and cultural evolution, we view the history of pop music as a ‘fossil record’ and ask the kinds of questions that a palaeontologist might: has the variety of popular music increased or decreased over time? Is evolutionary change in popular music continuous or discontinuous? And, if it is discontinuous, when did the discontinuities occur?”

In order to undertake the massive study, the researchers first set some parameters. They limited the study to a 50-year span, between 1960 and 2010, and they only looked at songs that made the Billboard 100 chart over that period of time. That yielded a pool of 17,094 songs. They then analyzed these tunes by song structure, using several quantitative audio features (based on tone, timbre and other factors) to classify the songs into specific categories. Those categories were then cross-referenced against tags applied to songs listened to by users to assign commonly-used genre names (Rock, Jazz, Hip-Hop, etc.) to the categories.


Their analysis revealed several interesting findings:

– The biggest revolution in music in the last 50 years began in 1991, driven by the ascendance of Hip-Hop, “The rise of rap and related genres appears, then, to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied.”

Hip-Hop History 1991 Mix by Brooklyn Radio on Mixcloud

– The Rock & Roll movement which started in 1964 was another dramatic shift in music, but did not have the same impact as Hip-Hop. The genre, which was driven by acts like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, was iterative of preexisting genres like Blues.

– Another, smaller revolution occurred in 1983, corresponding with the expansion of Disco, New Wave and Hard Rock.

– While those revolutions in 1964, 1983 and 1991 were radical shifts in music, it was by no means homogeneous in other years. Instead, music has been incredibly diverse over the last 50 years, characterized by the rise and fall of several genres throughout the period–Jazz, Blues, Soft Rock, Hard Rock, Disco, New Wave, Funk, Soul, R&B, Alternative, Heavy Metal, Stadium Rock, etc.

Upon reflection, the findings about the seismic shift in music caused by Hip-Hop should not be surprising. The genre was unlike any other before it. Turntablism and sampling allowed the music to draw on literally all genres that came before it, synthesizing and fusing those forms of music in ways never imagined, previously. Additionally, as noted in the LA Times, the lack of traditional musical instruments freed Hip-Hop’s creators from the structural limitations of those instruments, allowing them to produce songs that were restricted only by the confines of their imaginations. Moreover, the shift from singing to rapping also provided for the injection of tens, if not hundreds, of more words per song, which in turn, enabled MCs to express far more complex ideas over the course of a song.

As Hip-Hop continues to evolve, do you think the same will be said for it in another 50 years or will another genre of music rise to take its place?

Related: It’s Official. Hip-Hop Will Have a Hall of Fame in New York City (Video)