Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Arts


Popular Music and Culture


Keightley, Keir

2nd Supervisor

Coates, Norma


2017 marked the year in which hip-hop officially became the most listened-to genre in the United States. This thesis explores hip-hop music’s rise to its now-hegemonic position within the music industry, seeking to provide insight into the increasingly popular sentiment that hip-hop is “the new rock & roll”. The “new-school” hip-hop artists of the last six years or so have also been the subject of widespread critical disdain, especially for their heightened degree of emphasis on conspicuous consumption. This study will track hip-hop’s ascent from the mid-1980s through to its current position as both a political vehicle and a commercial product. This will result in a historically informed discussion of Migos’ 2013 hit “Versace,” a song that can be read as a signpost pointing towards many of new-school hip-hop’s most prominent characteristics. Analysis of “Versace” will then inform a broader examination of new-school hip-hop as “the new rock & roll”. This discussion will seek to better understand hip-hop’s new-school artists not necessarily as the harbingers of hip-hop’s death, as has been claimed by so many, but rather as agents of social reorganization, which, I argue, has always been one of hip-hop’s most valued characteristics.

Summary for Lay Audience

This study examines hip-hop’s rise to popular music hegemony both as a political vessel and as a commercial product. It uses a chronology of hip-hop history in order to bring about a more nuanced understanding of new-school hip-hop’s position as both the current dominant industry force and as “the new rock & roll.” By following hip-hop’s gradual ascension to hegemony beginning in the mid-1980s, a helpful context can be considered with the goal of answering several questions: How have the terms of what constitutes “real,” authentic hip hop changed as a result of hip-hop’s newfound hegemonic position? How can new-school “swag rap” be understood not as the “death” of hip-hop, as some critics claim, but rather as an indication of hip-hop’s implication in the larger historical trajectory of Western society? On one level, this thesis operates as a defense of new-school hip-hop. But, on a broader level: when do old models of criticism lose their utility in the discussion of new music?