Hip-Hop: The Next 50 Years – What’s It Going To Be?

Stadium Bound: A Night at the Opera: Lil’ Cease performing as part of The Brooklyn Nets present an orchestral tribute to The Notorious B.I.G. at Paris Théâtre du Châtelet (built in 1862), on Jan. 10, 2024.
Photo by Kees Kees

New York City’s Lincoln Center, Paris’ Théatre du Châtelet and L.A.’s Beverly Hilton are three places one might not expect the 50th anniversary of hip-hop to be celebrated. Yet, they were. I produced or co-produced three events commemorating this incredibly influential culture’s spectacular journey dating back to 1973 in the South Bronx where Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell threw a party in the rec room of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. Half a century later, this milestone was honored across the globe and in the highest halls of culture.

Now, with its history, artists and culture celebrated at Super Bowls, Grammys, The White House and Yankee Stadium, and as our 50th celebration hangovers slowly recede, the lingering question is where do we go from here? And if one of the central premises of hip-hop is that it “can’t stop, won’t stop” and that hip-hop and its expressions are continuously evolving, what’s next after this pinnacle of a year?

Hip-hop, indeed, is ubiquitous, everywhere, all the time, all at once. Check out almost any pop song — say three of the biggest pop superstars in Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift (who can be seen rapping along to every hip-hop performance at any award show) — all incorporate rap, rhyme and lyrical flow into their hits and are eternally indebted to hip-hop. Much as last weekend’s Super Bowl LVIII halftime show featuring Usher (see page 19) incorporated hip-hop into a performance for the ages with iconic rappers Ludacris and Lil Jon making cameos.

Janet Jackson, a living icon influenced by hip-hop and who collaborated with the late-great Heavy D, will resume her “Together Again Tour,” a massive arena run that is “Alright With Me” and hundreds of thousands more people. As part of Pollstar‘s 2024 Black History Month special issue, her box office tallies are analyzed in depth. One can safely assume going forward hip-hop will in the foreseeable future remain at the top of the charts along with the top tours.

Witness this week’s cover story with Busta Rhymes, who perfectly encapsulates the “Hip-Hop Generation.” Born in 1972, the year before Kool Herc first rocked on the 1s and 2s, his life has mirrored the genre’s evolution. Leaders of the New School formed in the mid-80s Long Island where they worked with the Bomb Squad, Public Enemy’s groundbreaking production crew, and collaborated with the Native Tongues crew nearby.

As a solo artist, Busta worked with the great Chris Lighty, a pioneering hip-hop music executive who worked at Rush Management, formed Violator with leading exec Mona Scott Young and helped many artists, including Missy Elliott and A Tribe Called Quest. Busta’s career skyrocketed with his rapid-fire and finely finessed raps brought to life on MTV with strong color-saturated videos directed by the likes of Hype Williams. His star continued to rise through the decades with last year’s Grammy performance, which by many accounts stole the show. His Live Nation-produced tour heads out in March and will spotlight his excellent new Blockbusta album executive produced by hip-hop legends Pharell, Swizz Beats and Timbaland.

The growth of hip-hop isn’t exclusive to the States. Its reach is now global and influences sounds from the Middle East and Africa to South America, Asia and beyond. Break out your Duolingo next time you’re grooving to Afro Beats or reggaeton as lyrical hip-hop flows and cadences are as flavorful as gumbo. And check out this week’s interview with DJ Rashida, who was formerly Prince’s DJ. Her mother was a Spanish radio DJ, singer and flute player and her dad was a record collector who loved Brazilian music. Growing up in Atlanta, she synthesized these sounds while sneaking out to catch ska, hip-hop and drum-and-bass shows.

This week’s Pollstar Hotstar is 27-year-old Rebel Rae, who grew up in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia) where she was raised on an eclectic dose of pop, jazz, rock, hip-hop, R&B, blues, folk, go-go and more. She’s already toured with R&B star Ari Lennox and went to Macon, Georgia, where she channeled Aretha Franklin garnering the R-E-S-P-E-C-T of everyone at the Otis Redding Foundation Gala.

What all of this means is that the next generations of music fans are far more literate in different music forms and genres, which sit at their smartphone-calloused fingertips, social media feeds and hip-hop-filled playlists.

Women dominated Pollstar’s 2023 Year-End Boxoffice Charts and clearly are having a major impact on the live business and beyond. Women of color, thankfully, also have more representation in the industry than ever before, though certainly not enough. Featured in this issue is an executive women’s survey featuring a variety Black female executives from across the industry, including City Winery’s Grace Blake, Live Nation Urban’s Mari Davies, WMG Global’s Kara Hailele-Griffin Coleman, Femme It Forward’s Heather Lowery, xBk owner and NIVA’s Tobi Parks and CAA’s Yves C. Pierre. Talent is color and gender-blind, and hip-hop and this industry’s future will certainly benefit from more Black and female executives than ever before.

If the past is prologue, part of that answer to hip-hop’s future lies in looking to the past. In this Black History Month issue we look at the impact of the legacy of Sammy Davis Jr., aka Mr. Vegas. Davis, a groundbreaking entertainer who would have celebrated his 99th birthday this year (get ready, 2024!), crooned and hoofed so Usher could sing and skate. Perhaps best known as a member of the Rat Pack, Davis had a stellar solo career in his own right in music, film, TV and Broadway, winning a Grammy posthumously and Emmys and producing hit songs (“I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “Mr. Bojangles” and “Candy Man”) while breaking color barriers. Davis was the first Black entertainer to walk through the front doors of every casino in Vegas and did so while being surveilled by the Feds for his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement. When Martin Luther King Jr. sent a telegram, Davis was there every single time. Janet Jackson called him the MLK of the entertainment business. His star never faded as evidenced by the 1990 Kennedy Center Honors, the year he passed, in which his protege Gregory Hines literally kissed his feet. Las Vegas honored the beloved entertainer by dimming Strip’s lights for 10 minutes.

Davis’ career, much like hip-hop, ebbed and flowed for a century while steadily building a glorious catalog of work. It’s much like what will happen in 2073, when hip-hop celebrates its 100th anniversary, and for certain it will be multi-hued, global, wonderfully diverse, innovative, dominant and utterly glorious.

Geoff Walker is the guest editor of Pollstar’s Black History Month issue. He is also the founder of Kickstand World, LLC and an A&R consultant for the Warner Music Group.