State of The Hip-Hop Union 2021
Hip-Hop's influence on youth culture is on a timer.
We are now well into the 2nd decade of the 21st century. The 80s are beginning to be engulfed by 40 years worth of sand and the future is foggy as always.
It's hard to pinpoint where Hip-Hop stands in everything. Where it stands as a lifestyle, as a culture, as a lucrative tit for the music business to latch onto. But there's always a commentary on those fronts.
The subject of this SOTHHU is all about generational inspiration. I recently read an article by writer & trend forecaster Sean Monahan where he details that music as a whole is loosening its grip on youth culture dominance to none other than Video Games. It really got me thinking about what the youth are growing up with these days and beyond. (I also talk about this topic on "What's Good?" if you want some more live thoughts from me.) One thing that really got me, was the scope of which music has been the primary pop culture influence for many of people that grew up in the 20th Century and early 00s. But then I read this part:
"On the music front, Travis Scott and Lil Nas X delivered blockbuster performances on the soundtracks of the video games Fortnite and Roblox, respectively. With Scott’s Astroworld concert bringing in 12m viewers, he had nearly double the audience of the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs)."
Numbers never lie, ladies & gentlemen.
I'm 24 as of writing and I will be honest. Growing up, music wasn't my primary source of influence or entertainment as it is now. Video Games & Television were my Top 2 in those rankings. It wasn't until I was in my early teens that music even became a genuine factor in my life. It took until 20 for it to be number 1.
And I don't think I'm in the minority here. I would bet that most people born from the 1980s backwards had music as their primary form of entertainment. I think it wasn't until my generation that music started to loosen its grip on the youth culture crown. I was on my Game Boy before listening to whoever was popping in the 00s. I was watching Looney Tunes before I got my first CD Player. I was going to the cinema by myself before I even thought about going to music gigs by myself.
This article has played with my head for days. Because upon the first read, it sounds absurd that Video Games could be more important to the youth than music! MUSIC! A nearly inescapable force! Even after everything I said in the previous two paragraphs. I remember bumping 50 Cent after my sister burnt a disc for me with "Get Rich Or Die Tryin'" on it. I don't remember many playthroughs of Gran Turismo on the PS1 but I do remember spending my break time in Primary School, spinning Dizzee Rascal's "Boy In Da Corner" on CD.
Even though music wasn't prevalent in my life, it was always in the background. And somehow, it occupies a lot of my memories looking back.
But looking forward, with the popularity of Video Games right now, eSports being more lucrative than physical sports. Will future youths remember that Travis Scott Fortnite concert more than moshing with their squad to Travis Scott's music? Will they remember the 2017 EVO "Super Smash Bros." Tournament more than Kendrick Lamar's "DAMN." dropping that same year?
This might be the way it'll be from now on...
Paraphrasing Monahan's final lines. Music has been the dominant influence on young people for decades. You could make a case for over a Century. But out of all the threats, Film & TV being the closest competitors, have Video Games done it? Will the youths be hyping the next game dropping instead of hyping the next Wireless lineup?
Marinate on that for a moment. Let's re-focus on Hip-Hop especially and where I think it stands.
One of my favourite games ever is "Mark Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure". It was amazing. Graffiti; a mix of stealth, platforming & fighting, great voice cast and great homages to actual Graffiti legends. If you haven't played it, go find a PS2 emulator or dust off your old PS2 Slim and cop a used copy.
The reason why Hip-Hop is great and always will have a chance to survive in this now endless war for attention & influence is because of the sheer variety of skins it has. You can be overt and make a Graffiti Video Game, but all my FIFA, NBA Live or NBA2K homies know that the one thing that we end up remembering certain iterations by is the soundtrack. For the NBA games specifically, Hip-Hop reigns supreme.
Another skin - Breakdancing is going to be in the 2024 Olympics! eSports won't. (yet)
So Video Games' dominance may well be an inevitability. Financially, it already is. The gaming industry makes more than the four Major US Sports combined. So maybe music will lose its cultural hold on the youths. With Streaming now so ubiquitous it's impossible to go back and the Pandemic showing that the music industry has 0 back-ups from live shows & festivals, it's clear that the music industry got too cocky.
This obviously isn't the end of music altogether, this obviously isn't the end for Hip-Hop music & Hip-Hop culture. But some evolution is necessary on all fronts and the Video Game industry may be taking lead for the decades to come...