Has 2023 Been a Bad Year for Hip-Hop Music and Is Commercial Capitalism to Blame?


In June, Billboard reported that not a single hip-hop song has made the No.1 spot on the “Hot 100” charts so far in 2023. Now, as we’ve passed the halfway mark in the year, there has still been no success for the genre chart topping wise-a first in hip-hop history since 1993. 

Billboard attributed the lack of hits to five separate and understandable reasons: hip-hop’s unique connection with police monitoring, drug use and gun violence; chart stagnation, a lack of projects being released, rising popularity in other genres and a “return to the club scene.” 

Even with this absent turnout of No. 1 hits, hip-hop remains the most popular genre of music in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Since the birth of the genre in the Bronx, New York in the 1970’s, hip-hop music has grown and flourished across the world and laid down the foundations for many of the greatest modern cultural expressions. Hip-hop culture dominates mainstream media, street fashion and art. Some of music’s most dedicated fan bases are those of hip-hop artists-I mean look at Nicki Minaj’s “Barbz.” Even in several of the songs to hit the No.1 spot on Billboard, you can hear the influence of hip-hop on the track.  

So what’s with all this inactivity on Billboard? Where are the No.1 hits this year? Is it time for hip-hop to pass down the crown to a new generation of music? Hip-hop has had an everlasting impact on society since its inception, but it will be interesting to see how the genre evolves as years progress. 

Hip-hop has spent practically my whole lifetime commanding the charts and mainstream attention, and while it may seem like it could take a step out of the limelight, I can’t help but think that the lack of success in the charts could be credited to the ultra capital commercialization of the genre. 

With its immense popularity, hip-hop has proved itself to be the ultimate cash cow in the music industry. This leads labels to capitalize off artists, and if society has taught me anything it’s that capitalisation can often ruin a good thing, and it shows in mainstream music. 

Commercial music creates extra limitations to the way artists can express themselves. Instead of focusing on individuality, commercial music follows trends and boxes artists in. It can often make them follow a certain narrative that isn’t necessarily bad or good, but can often get repetitive. The repetition creates a lack of sustenance and the lack of sustenance diminishes any chance of a lasting impression. 

Consider the battle for No.1 on Billboard in January of 2020 between Roddy Rich and Justin Bieber. Rich’s “The Box” was something new and innovative with Rich formulating the infamous intro with random noises he made up, whereas Bieber’s “Yummy” was set to be his special comeback song with 90% of it just being the word “yummy.” Despite Bieber’s efforts and overarching popularity, Rich ultimately took the spot and “The Box” stayed at number one for 11 weeks. 

Unfair Treatment in Society

Also, in hip-hop one of the trendy topics can be gun violence-a topic that’s referenced in other genres as well. For hip-hop however you especially have to consider the intersectionality of race, and the impact racism has on the genre. While there is a commercial pull to make songs about violence and sexuality, there’s also extra monitoring put on people of color that talk about it. 

In 2018, New York put a police division together just to investigate hip-hop events, and use song lyrics to prosecute artists. There is no other police division made like this for any other type of music. 

Jay-Z said it best himself: 

“Rappers, as a class, are not engaged in anything criminal. They’re musicians. Some rappers and friends of rappers commit crimes. Some bus drivers commit crimes. Some accountants commit crimes. But there aren’t task forces devoted to bus drivers or accountants. Bus drivers don’t have to work under the preemptive suspicion of law enforcement. The difference is obvious, of course: Rappers are young black men telling stories that the police, among others, don’t want to hear. Rappers tend to come from places where police are accustomed to treating everybody like a suspect. The general style of rappers is offensive to a lot of people. But being offensive is not a crime, at least not one that’s on the books. The fact that law enforcement treats rap like organized crime tells you a lot about just how deeply rap offends some people — they’d love for rap itself to be a crime, but until they get that law passed, they come after us however they can.” 

Products Instead of People

Secondly, I think the commercial capitalization over hip-hop can make large labels look at artists as disposable machines instead of real people and this can destroy artists. Going back to the Billboard article, one of the biggest reasons cited for hip-hop’s lack of commercially successful new pioneers is the amount of disproportional deaths in hip-hop due to upbringing and lack of adequate support from labels. 

Disproportionate Deaths

Because there are focuses of gun violence, gang relations and drug use in modern hip-hop subgenres, labels should be prepared to deal with people with some demons. Today though, you don’t need a person to be alive to make adequate money off them. Successful posthumous releases of music by late artists Pop Smoke, Juice Wrld and XXXtentacion showcase this, but where was the support when these people were alive? Pop, X and Juice all had huge potential for being leaders of the next generation of mainstream hip-hop, but they were all gone too soon from preventable instances. 

The Future

While the trends like this in the genre of hip-hop may seem worrisome, the Billboard article I mentioned above made a good point about the emergence of club and house music creating this new popular sub-genre of hip-hop that is promising. In reality, hip-hop isn’t going anywhere. The creative expressions in the genre adapt to the times we’re in, and as we experience this bout of stillness, I’m excited to see what will be produced from it and which artists will show out. 

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