On Friday, hip-hop legend Dr. Dre changed history when it was revealed that he would be selling his company, Beats Electronics, to Apple Inc. The acquisition, one of the largest in Apple’s history, was set to cost Apple around $3.2 billion dollars, making Dre the first billionaire in the history of hip-hop. Within hours, a firestorm began to brew. Forbes Magazine released a statement that the man behind the album The Chronic would actually bring in around $800 million before taxes, as he only owns 25% of Beats Electronics. Whatever the amount of money, it did not negate the true impact of the sale. With this acquisition, Dr. Dre and Apple have shown the true power of hip-hop.
It may be hard to imagine in today’s world, but once upon a time, hip-hop was considered a lot more underground than it is now. With origins tracing back to the late 1970s (and even sometime before that), the original vision and nature of hip-hop was an expression from a community that rarely had a chance to be heard. That expression has changed many times over the years, but it was rarely publicized or noted outside of urban areas at that time. For example, although there was an increasing popularity in hip-hop, MTV didn’t give it much notice until Yo! MTV Raps began airing in 1988. The first Grammy for a rap artist was not awarded until 1989. The influence of hip-hop in society was constantly growing and showing itself, but most failed to notice.
Rap mogul Russell Simmons used the true power of hip-hop and brought forth a huge change in society. The co-founder of Def Jam Records believed there was more that he could do other than to bring forth the next LL Cool J or Public Enemy. Beginning in a small New York City showroom, Phat Farm clothing would change the landscape of America and the world, while proving just how much power hip-hop really had. Considered “an upscale mix of sporty urban fashions,” Phat Farm and its female clothing counterpart, Baby Phat, was proof positive that there was a place for hip-hop in the mainstream. It brought in money outside of urban communities as well as in. When Simmons sold the company (known in whole as “Phat Fashions”) in 2004, he did so for a whopping $140 million.
With that, the floodgates opened. Sean “Puffy” Combs, the CEO of Bad Boy Records, added to his success with his Sean John clothing line, which has since grown into a full lifestyle brand. Jay-Z not only owns his own clothing line with RocaWear, but he also co-owns a line of nightclubs with locations in New York City, Chicago and Atlantic City. He is even credited as the executive producer of the video game, NBA 2K13, which is part of a popular sports game franchise. What began as such a minor part of music has started to make big moves in the world beyond it.
It is interesting that Apple and the Beats Electronic company are so closely tied to music, and in a sense, bringing things full circle. Back in its early days, hip-hop always pushed the notion that although it may have been cut from a different cloth of other music genres, there were strengths and dreams that could be attained through it. Hip-hop is a part of American culture and even if one is not a fan, it is everywhere. It is more than just a genre of music. Wherever one looks, the way the once underground section of music has changed the world and continues to do so is obvious. This is more than just a huge pay day for Dr. Dre. This acquisition by Apple shows the true power of hip-hop.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown