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Don’t be fooled by the streams that it’s got, it’s still hip hop from the block

Cover image for Don’t be fooled by the streams that it’s got, it’s still hip hop from the block

Photo: Matty Adame

Photo of Kriss Thakrar
by Kriss Thakrar

Over its 50 years, hip hop has gone from a block party in the Bronx to a conquering global culture. It now accounts for almost a quarter of Spotify streams, with three-quarters of users listening to hip hop this year. However, its dominance in the live world has since fallen short, despite its roots as a live experience. 

The biggest tours over the past few years have typically been big pop acts like Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran, or legacy rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N’ Roses. But more modern genres are still breaking through. Reggaeton’s Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee outgrossed Kendrick Lamar and the Weeknd, who may be a pop act but still originated from an R&B and hip hop background. 

This dynamic is echoed In MIDiA’s latest live music report where we took a dive into the state of live music. When it comes to hip hop, we found that only 12% of live music fans chose hip hop among the genres they see live. So why are hip hop acts not conquering live music in the same way they have with streaming? 

Who are hip hop’s fans?

In the live world, hip hop’s live music fans look very different from the bigger picture. Whilst much of live music is dominated by older male rock fans, hip hop is on the other end of the spectrum. Hip hop attendees are more likely to be younger, with a significant skew toward under 24s. They are also more likely to be female and have a strong fandom overlap with pop and R&B.

Being so demographically different to the typical live music fan leads to different behaviours. The biggest is that hip hop attendees are far less likely to go to see live music. These are not live music regulars, unlike many rock and indie fans. However, when it comes to spending, the difference is not as significant as hip hop attendees are only slightly less likely to spend $700 or more on concert tickets annually than other genres. 

Underpinning this behaviour is the preference for arenas, stadiums, and festivals. Hip hop attendees may not go to see live music often, but when they do, they go big. When asked what they would do with a $300 annual concerts budget, hip hop attendees were the most likely to say they would spend it all on one show. Additionally, if an attendee decides to buy a ticket attend, it is likely that they were influenced by TikTok and other social media platforms to do so.

What this means for the future of hip hop

The popularity of rock music in live is dependent on ageing fans and artists. Whilst many of them will be fans and artists for years to come, hip hop audiences are a better representation of what the future of live holds.

Unlike other genres, hip hop acts are not going to make their way to the top by grinding it out on the live circuit. They have a much better shot at success through building their profile online. The female skew is also giving momentum to a new generation of female rappers like Ice Spice, Glorilla, and Little Simz. However, these artists are competing against the titans of pop and R&B for their fan's spending. When your fans are only buying one or two tickets a year, it might be hard to pull them in when the likes of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are touring. 

This creates more incentive to collaborate and share the stage. If fans have to make a choice on what ticket to buy, they will be getting more value with more of their favourite artists featuring in a single show. However, co-touring may not be the only solution. 

Hip hop can build fandom block by block

MIDiA’s live music report found that, just like any other live music fans, the number one reason hip hop attendees buy tickets is because it is their favourite artist and they cannot miss it. However, these fans are typically only seeing their favourite artists when they reach a stadium level of prestige. There are plenty of fans across other genres who feel the same level of devotion to acts at a much lower level. Hip hop needs more grassroots and underground support to build enduring fandom from the bottom up, as opposed to relying on viral fandom from social media.

If hip hop can create more opportunities for fans to engage with artists live in an affordable and accessible way, it might just conquer the live world in the same way it has in streaming. Hip hop attendees are more likely than any other genre to say they are going to more shows this year. Out of all the genre attendees, they are the most likely to say this is because there are more opportunities to see live music in their city. They also like to party and are the most likely after electronic music fans to say this is why they buy tickets. 

Sales of club tickets have been on the decline, but hip hop could be the key to revitalising that. It may be time to return to the good old days and bring back the block parties that started this story in the first place.

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