Ed Crooks in the Financial Times:
Rap music is the defining American art form of our time. In its showmanship, its exuberance, its hunger for innovation, its love of technology and its ruthless competitive discipline, it represents mass culture in the US like no other medium.
Country music, the only other contender, showcases a different set of equally American values: community, tradition, compassion, patriotism, resilience, faith. But it is principally a domestic phenomenon, largely ignored overseas. Hip-hop, meaning rap music and its associated culture, is both a global force and a central feature of the face America presents to the world. In Russia, for example, Vladislav Surkov, the powerful aide to prime minister Vladimir Putin, keeps on his desk a picture of Tupac Shakur, the Californian rapper murdered in 1996 who has become a global icon of non-specific militancy.
Artistically, rap is often said to be in decline. Aficionados talk wistfully about a golden age, typically dated from about the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and now forgotten by today’s performers. Commercially, too, the music has slipped back from its peak around the turn of the millennium, with steadily declining sales through the second half of the 2000s. In 2010, though, hip-hop record sales made a comeback, and this year rappers provided eight of the 31 US chart-topping albums.