​the hip hop revolution saved pop music in 1991

A new study suggests that hip hop saved us from monotonous stadium rock.

by Charlotte Gush
07 May 2015, 12:15am

Hip hop was the saviour of the charts in 1991, when pop music had become stuck in a rut of monotonous stadium rock, claims a new study from university scientists in London. Researchers at Queen Mary University and Imperial College London analysed more than 17,000 songs from the US Billboard chart between 1960 and 2010, finding three pop music revolutions in 1964, 1983 and 1991.

The British Invasion accounts for the first revolution in 1964, when UK rock and roll bands like The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones created a new sound for teen America. In 1983, new tech like synthesisers, samplers and drum machines changed the musical landscape again, creating a second revolution. But the third revolution in 1991 was by far the most seismic sonic shift, when hip hop changed what pop music could be again.

The hip hop revolution was the biggest revolution of the three, according to Dr Matthias Mauch from Queen Mary University, because, "rap and hip-hop don't use a lot of harmony. The emphasis is on speech sounds and rhythm." Speaking to the BBC Today programme, he explained that, "This was a real revolution: suddenly it was possible that you had a pop song without harmony."

Hip hop groups like NWA, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy recalibrated pop in the 90s, and since then hip hop, rap and R&B have dominated the charts, creating some of the richest musicians on the planet in the process. Forbes' 2015 list of hip hop's wealthiest artists was released just yesterday, ranking Diddy no.1 at $735 million, Dr Dre second with $700 million (with a huge amount of that coming from his sale of Beats to Apple) and Jay Z third on $550 million.

If you think that pop music is getting progressively more boring and same-y, then your pub argument just got a little weaker, as Dr Mauch also said, "we can measure whether the charts have become more bland … and we didn't really find anything like that. There is not an overall trend for the composition, the musical ingredients of the charts, to become less diverse."