RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM
Photo: Ryon Horne
Photo: Ryon Horne

Opinion: How Hip Hop fuels Atlanta’s tech takeover

Hip-Hop has evolved to become the biggest genre in America, further expanding to become the most influential culture in the world. Beyond establishing a global footprint by ascending atop mainstream music, Hip Hop is the lifeblood of modern Black America — capturing the trials and triumphs of a community fueled by aspirations to overcome struggle in pursuit of prosperity.

Hip-Hop transcends a heightened entertainment value, further representing a cornerstone of black economic abundance and industrialization; birthed from decades of labor that has collectively engineered a thriving global industry. Nobody goes pop anymore. Instead, they go Hip-Hop when searching for relevance. This is because it is no secret that Hip-Hop is pop culture, and with that status comes the ability to set the barometer to which the world measures its cool. However, that cool comes with a price-tag projected to exceed $131 billion by 2030.

As the number-one genre in music increased streaming by 72%, Goldman Sachs predicted that music industry revenue will more than double in the next 10 years, with Hip Hop to thank for a majority of the cash flow.

For context, in the 1800s, our labor generated the equivalent of $6.5 billion, as black people fueled America’s control of 60% of the world’s cotton industry. Meanwhile, only 2% of us were granted ownership of land upon which to grow our chances of economic freedom. Ironically, the U.S. holds the largest market share of the global music industry. Just last year, the top Hip Hop acts responsible for powering an industry approaching a $131 billion valuation saw just 12% of the recent $43 billion generated from its popularity.

We are decades from the plantation, but the industries we influence still interact with us like we’re sharecropping. The difference is that this isn’t the 1800s; we know our power and influence. Instead of waiting for opportunities at ownership within one space, we’re simply harnessing that power and influence to spread across other industries. The tech industry is a great example, with that takeover happening in the same city that has crafted the sound of Hip Hop for the last decade — Welcome to Atlanta.

In the ATL, the black population has risen by 17% since 2010 to about 1.7 million. About 20% of the city’s black working population is self-employed, the highest proportion in the nation as of 2018. Decorated with historically black colleges and a strong black middle-class, Atlanta is what it looks like when the spirit of entrepreneurship and collaborative community intertwine as fundamental elements, resulting in an ecosystem in which education, opportunity, and reciprocity interact with one another to create a bountiful environment. There’s something in that Atlanta water, it’s called possibility. Media and entertainment played an instrumental role in preparing Atlanta to absorb and dominate a new industry. Technology is that new industry and as history proves it - if Atlanta builds it, the world will come.

Silicon Valley has been less than inviting to the idea of diversity. Just 6% of employees are black. Word? Cool, we don’t need a seat at that table. We’re building a compound with plenty of room to incubate the best and brightest. Instead of trying to force tech giants to embrace inclusion, Black tech founders like Tristan Walker are relocating to Atlanta, where there is an exciting excess of black talent to mirror a charged political landscape spearheaded by a black mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, openly supported by Atlanta’s Hip Hop community.

According to Fast Company, the list includes, but isn’t limited to: Russell Stokes, President and CEO of General Electric’s energy-generation business. Ryan Glover, who sold his African American–focused digital broadcast network, BounceTV, to Scripps in 2017. Kasim Reed, Atlanta’s mayor until 2018. Jewel Burks Solomon, co-founder and CEO of Partpic, a computer-vision startup that Amazon bought in 2016, and George Azih, founder and CEO of LeaseQuery, an accounting app with more than $100 million in revenue. As well as Paul Judge, co-founder and chairman of Pindrop Security, which develops voice-based anti-fraud technology, and one of the city’s most prominent venture investors. His firm TechSquare Labs, has invested millions into about 30 seed-stage companies specializing in everything from blockchain and finance to marketing technologies.

Let that sink in. There are millions of dollars being invested in black talent throughout the tech space, in a city where black leadership is in place to ensure a promising socioeconomic infrastructure, as 21 Savage and Gucci play in the background. Hip Hop is the connective tissue between Atlanta’s pop cultural appeal and multi-industry access, making it prime real estate for networking between cross-generational innovators. Atlanta is the fertile ground where Hip Hop has evolved into an inclusive world of its own, embracing hybrid artists just as likely to go platinum as they are to launch lucrative business ventures. It’s a microcosm of the industrial convergence we’re witnessing globally. It’s only right that Atlanta is becoming the launchpad for our collective push into the tech industry.

According to Nielsen, black America streams videos more frequently on all devices than the total population. A whopping 90% of African Americans live in a household that owns a smartphone and have a higher weekly reach for social networking. Twitter would literally capsize without Black Twitter, we make up nearly 30% of the platform’s total users. African Americans 18+ have also shown a 70% growth in podcast engagement. Meanwhile, 73% of African Americans 13 and older identify as gamers compared to 66% of the total population. All of this money being generated by black consumers, while 83% of tech executives are white. Google, Twitter, and Facebook alone only average black employment of 3.2%.

As a marginalized people, we leveraged music to create economic access for ourselves. Now, as tech and Big Data have become America’s modern metaphor for the cotton industry, we are creating access and opportunity for ourselves again in the very place where we built our leverage in the first place. Just as the music industry had to embrace Atlanta to survive, Silicon Valley will do the same. After all, Black culture creates the trends that big tech uses to generate billions. Watch what happens when we make the trends and the technology to match it.

Dev T. Smith is a writer and contributor for REVOLT TV. Founder Sean “Diddy” Combs’ REVOLT summit will be in Atlanta Sept. 12-14.

X