How do we currently define a “rock star”? The term “rock star” used to refer to a member of a popular Rock & Roll band or a Rock recording-artist whose celebrity was more renown than the rock music genre. But rock music has clearly taken a back seat to rap music and so have our traditional “rock stars.” Although many debate over whether today’s rap artists should adopt the famed title of “rock star” and the lifestyle that the term connotes—the current use of the term undoubtedly indicates a shift in the American music scene. Like the “rock stars” of the 1980’s, rappers are the dominant force in the music industry—the headline makers, the trendsetters, and the mega moguls.
However, many tried-and-true old-school Hip-Hop artists, fans, and followers view the term “rock star” as an anti-Rap word that has no place in the Hip-Hop world because it diminishes the authenticity of the genre. Old-school rappers have openly opposed new-school rappers who define themselves as “rock stars” and adhere to the stereotypical characteristics that the word represents as a crossover tactic to sell records. Popular rap songs like the Shop Boyz’ “Party Like A Rock Star,” for example, is a bold testimony of the Hip-Hop culture’s oneness with the “rock star” image. And let’s not ignore the blatant changes in Hip-Hop fashion—the super tight skinny jeans and T-shirts, Mohawks, the full-sleeve and full-body tattoos—all popularized by top-selling artists like Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West. The look is a far cry from Adidas tracksuits, shell toe kicks, and bucket hats.
Rap music has also become more rock influenced. Hip-Hop tracks rarely garner widespread recognition if they aren’t made with an auto-tune, synch, or metal beat. Rap/Rock collabos have become an increasingly bankable trend in Hip-Hop as well, such as Jay-Z and Linkin Park’s “Numb/Encore” single and Kanye West and Iver on his “Lost in the World” track. A few rap artist, including Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne, have also used electric guitars during performances.
However, record sells seemingly have a bigger place in this discussion than the authenticity of the Hip-Hop music genre. The belief amongst many is that, low-selling rap artists, like 50 cent, who maintain a hard-core street image/style are unable to transition into the alternative “rock star” movement—therefore—they reject it. Rappers who continue to abide by traditional rap styles view those who don’t as sell-outs to the craft.
But Hip-Hop is more than a music genre; it is a flourishing and evolving culture. The fashion, the sound, and the influences are ever-changing. Those who are able to evolve as the culture does—are likely to maintain the larger-than-life personas that we see in Hip-Hop today. When we compare “rock stars” of the past to our current Hip-Hop stars, I think that it is safe to say that rap artists are the music industry’s new “rock stars” and they have found a solid spot in the industry because of it.