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New study: Hip-hop, not Brit rock, is the most influential genre since 1960

hip hop most influential music last 50 years salt n pepa
Randy Miramontez /

Think the Beatles-born British invasion is the most influential musical genre in the last 50 years? Think again. According to a new scientific study, it’s hip-hop that has made the biggest imprint on music in the US since 1960.

Researchers at the University of London and Imperial College used music recognition technology to analyze variation in chords, instruments, and harmony in roughly 17,000 songs from the US Billboard Hot 100 charts from 1960 to 2010 in order to draw a picture of which genres had the most impact, according to an Associated Press report.

“For the first time we can measure musical properties in recordings on a large scale, explained lead author Matthias Mauch. “We can actually go beyond what the music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their make-up, and understanding how they have changed.”

The authors found three major “stylistic revolutions” in American pop music: rock and roll around 1964, new wave circa 1983, and hip hop in 1991. The study notes that the analysis doesn’t pinpoint the origins of musical styles, instead focusing on when the style infiltrates the Billboard charts.

The report certainly hits a tender spot in the pop music canon, noting that the Beatles and the Stones didn’t start the American rock revolution. “While the British may have contributed to this revolution, they could not have been entirely responsible for it,” said the report. “…they did exploit it and, to the degree that they were imitated by other artists, fanned its flames.” Of course, anyone who’s ever heard of a man named Chuck Berry could tell you that.

So, what did these researchers attribute as being the key to hip-hop’s significance? Its fundamental differences from other pop music including the lack of features like vocal melodies and harmony, as well as its overwhelming chart prominence that began to spike in 1991. “Hip-hop just sort of blasts out of nowhere,” explained co-author Armand Leroi to ABC Science Australia. “In retrospect it was there all along, it was there since the ’80s bubbling underneath the chart down there wherever hip-hop came from in the streets of New York and Los Angeles. And then suddenly it goes mainstream and it’s all over the charts.”

Hip-hops’s commercial popularity certainly spiked as artists like LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Tupac, and Salt ‘n Pepa rose to prominence in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And as the study focused in on how rising genres changed the pop music landscape, it’s not too surprising that hip-hop led the pack. Regardless of your opinions, the researchers certainly have faith in their findings. “I think that hip hop saved the charts,” said Mauch to the BBC.

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