Rock Bottom?: CHS students, head of WHJE examine rap recently overtaking rock music for most popular music genre


Shruthi Ravichandran

Sophomore Ella Carlson plays the guitar in front of her vinyl collection and her record player. Carlson said she learned to play the guitar on her own last summer.

Jesse Cooper, Isabella White

Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Little Richard, Ray Charles, and The Rolling Stones—these are the names of the people and bands who contributed to the birth of the rock genre. The electric guitar, the bass, the drums and the lead vocals all create the sound that can make people so excited that they break into air guitar solos and sing off-key. However, although still popular, according to the latest Nielsen Music Report, rock music is less prominent with younger age groups, and rhythm and blues (R&B)/hip-hop has taken its throne. The report shows that eight of the 10 most listened to artists in 2017 came from the genre of R&B/hip-hop. Drake and Kendrick Lamar led the way with combined album equivalent units (album sales, song downloads and streams) of 8.5 million.

Shurthi Ravichandran, Lily McAndrews
(LEFT) Sarim Hassan, SoundCloud rapper and senior, holds up a sweatshirt he bought in Cincinnati at Drake and Future’s Summer 2016 Tour. Hassan said he has released two mixtapes himself that are available on many streaming services.
(RIGHT) Sophomore Ella Carlson holds up a vinyl called “The John Lennon Collection.” She said one of her favorite albums is “The White Album” by
The Beatles.

However, this development does not mean rock has completely disappeared, and many students here said they still hold on to their love for the aged genre. Ella Carlson, rock music enthusiast and sophomore, is one of these students and explained why she feels so invested in this music.

“I don’t like hip-hop or rap or anything like that. So I think for me, rock is an escape from the world,” she said. “(When I first started listening to rock music), I really loved the rhythms of it. It was amazing, and I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the bands and the stories, and I really connected with the lyrics.”

While there is still a dedicated group of the student body who retain a love for rock, there is also a substantial number of students who enjoy R&B/hip-hop. Sarim Hassan, SoundCloud rapper and senior, is one of these students. He said he is aware of the uprise in R&B/hip-hop, which includes rap music.

“I feel like rap music is the new punk music for our generation. Rock was an escape for people in the late 1900s, and I feel like rap has filled that space,” Hassan said. “I think it’s because so many rappers are young people that people can relate to. A lot of the younger rappers nowadays are around 17 and 18—my age—and I feel like people can relate to that a lot easier than some other musicians who have been established for years and are in their 40s and make music for older folks.”

WHJE adviser Dominic James said he personally likes rock music more than rap, but he said rap music is just the current way teenagers express themselves.

Lily McAndrews
Sarim Hassan, SoundCloud rapper and senior, works on his latest song. He said he uses the computer software FL Studio 12. He also said he has released 20 songs and has been making them since May 2016.

“I think, in the same way that rock used to be, it’s about young people finding new means of expression, and I think that is really important. I wouldn’t want to diss any form of art movement just because it was different from what I liked,” James said. “I think that it is really important that young people challenge the status quo and find new ways of expressing themselves, and rap, at the moment, is how young people express themselves, and they connect with rap artists. In five, 10 years time, there will be a different musical genre people can connect with. And people who love rap at the moment, will hate whatever that’s going to be; the same way how most older people dislike rap at the moment.”

Hassan said he agreed with James when explaining his passion for rap.

Hassan said, “The thing I like most about rap is the different ways people are able to express themselves through the music, and I like the different variety you see within the genre. There are so many subgenres like new popular music and some of the older stuff, too, that’s more lyrical. Overall, I like the different styles and the different intricacies of the genre.”

Hassan explained why he believes R&B/hip-hop is now more popular than rock music.

“Personally, the reason I don’t listen to rock is because it’s easier to listen to music that everyone around you is listening to. It’s easier to discuss, but if you’re listening to music nobody else listens to, you can’t really talk about it. In some situations, it’s easier to go along with the crowd in terms of music, and the fact that rock is more geared toward an older generation makes it difficult for younger listeners to get into,” Hassan said. 

Shruthi Ravichandran
Sophomore Ella Carlson sorts through her expansive collection of records. She said she gets most of her vinyls from Crosley, a popular record manufacturer from the 1920s.

This feeling of musical isolation from the mainstream, however, is another aspect Carlson said she enjoys about the rock genre.

“I like rock because I like going against the odds and what other kids like,” she said.

Carlson said the reason rock is becoming less popular is because it’s not what it was when at its peak.

“There’s a lot of people who think Cardi B or some K-pop artists are going to be the next Beatles. They’re not. Rock is rock because of the heavy guitars, drums and bass. Every rock song is a love song, and we are losing the fact that these rock love songs are becoming about other subjects that veer away from the love. True rock is becoming nonexistent,” she said.   

On the other hand, according to Hassan and James, much of the attention and success rap gets is from the relatability in the lyrics and its reflection of the current times.

Hassan said, “I feel like a lot of rappers rap about superficial things like money, cars, all that stuff, and a lot of high schoolers are superficial and into those basic things that they want to show off to everybody, so rap appeals to them in that sense.”

James highlighted how rap music’s lyrics seems to follow what problems there are in contemporary society.

“If you think about some rap music today, much of it seems to focus around urban issues, inner city issues, issues with drugs,” he said. “Whether or not they do actually affect a large number of people in society, I do not know, but there is always focus around those issues in the media, so maybe people do connect with those things in some ways.” 

Hassan said rap is now opening the doors for conversation on these intense and prevalent topics, just as rock music was once able to do.

“Rappers go on for minutes in their songs talking about their life and things they do, which leads to open discussions. I feel like rappers can have some real conversations within their music,” Hassan said. “While some make music more for the party-scene, there are rappers who are able to convey messages to people, and (rap) is a good medium for that. Instead of a pop song where it’s the same three themes every time, and they barely sing about anything, rap allows people to express themselves in different ways and helps people get a message across to a wide audience.”

Carlson said she shares similar feelings toward the rock genre, saying how now most people hold nostalgia in regards to the music.

Shruthi Ravichandran
Sophomore Ella Carlson plays a record from the album, “The Beatles.” She said one of her favorite songs is “Julia” because the song is undeniably beautiful and it reminds her of one of her old friends.

“You’re listening to a random station and your favorite rock song just comes on. You go into this deep nostalgic state and these feelings for the song just come back up,” she said. “For me, I am me because of rock music.” 

Similarly, Carlson said she believes that although R&B/hip-hop is now statistically the most popular music genre, the deep-rooted feelings and love associated with rock will not fade. 

She said, “You could be in a super random place—like a restaurant—a song comes on, and you can just see all these people’s reactions. At that moment, you know that those people’s lives have changed because of that song. It’s just a little random and strange thing about rock music. It changes people.” 

James said although one is now more popular than the other, the two genres have more in common than it may at first appear.

“I think ultimately both types of artists are trying to do the same thing. (Rock and rap artists) are trying to engage large numbers of people, having a good time, affect the way we feel and think about certain things,” he said. “Music just gets to you somehow. They are trying to do the same thing, but they are just doing it in different ways. Ultimately, their aims are the same.”

To Carlson, no matter what genre comes next, music will always hold a place in the soul of society, able to touch people in a way not much else can and able to reach the minds and hearts of people everywhere.

“Music is for everyone and it impacts people in different ways,” Carlson said. “I think that it is fine (that rap has surpassed rock) as long as it gives across the message of inspiration and passion for something just like rock did. Rock is not dying, it is just being reformed and is evolving into a new form of music, which is rap.”

Click here to read a story on stereotypes surrounding the rap genre.