No genre is mightier than hip-hop in 2015.
Like Taylor Swift last fall, who switched up her sound and lapped her pop peers in year-end sales, rappers such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar have revitalized the industry with bold moves that fly in the face of traditional radio. With innovative styles that have paved the way for new artists, a timely new emphasis on social commentary, the muscle of social media and a mastery of the surprise release, rap’s surge has fans listening in big numbers.
Last week, Drake’s surprise If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late became the first album of the year to sell more than 1 million copies — on top of the more than 570 million streams it has accumulated across platforms since February, according to Nielsen Music. The Toronto native reached the milestone just days after Dr. Dre released his first album in nearly 16 years, Compton, which shocked music fans when it was announced last month and could sell as many as 300,000 copies in its first week, Billboard predicts.
Drake has 2015’s first platinum release
Unsurprising, given how rappers have run the tables the rest of the year. Of Spotify’s 10 most streamed albums this year, seven are hip-hop, led by Kendrick Lamar (To Pimp a Butterfly), A$AP Rocky (At.Long.Last.A$AP), Meek Mill (Dreams Worth More Than Money) and Future (DS2). Each bowed at No. 1 and has sold more than 200,000 copies (or in Pimp’s case, triple that).
Almost as impressive, three of 2015’s most streamed songs have also been rap, including Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen, Omarion’s Post to Be and Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again (a No. 1 champ for nearly three months on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart). Factor in newcomers such as Silento (Watch Me) and T-Wayne (Nasty Freestyle), who have translated viral successes into top 10 hits, and hip-hop has rarely been more pervasive or diverse.
“What we’re hearing now is a whole range of styles,” says Erik Nielson, an assistant professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond who teaches classes in hip-hop culture. “Some of the major players that have dominated for a number of years — Jay Z, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne — they’re less influential than they were. What you’re seeing in some sense is not so much a changing of the guard, because they’re still really important in the industry, but it’s opened up this space for a bunch of new acts to enter the scene.”
The movement also has paved the way for more experimental, incisive music this year as rappers become less reliant on radio singles and more invested in the art of the album as a whole. New releases from Joey Bada$$ (B4.Da.$$), Tyler, the Creator (Cherry Bomb) and Wale (The Album About Nothing) all started in the top five of the Billboard album charts, despite little promotion and no crossover hits.
“These albums are all unapologetically uncommercial — they don’t make concessions to the radio or music industry,” says Billboard senior editor Alex Gale. “If you’re a Kendrick Lamar fan, you need to listen to the whole album. You can’t digest it from a single. … To me, it’s kind of fascinating to see rap waving the banner for the album.”
via Why 2015 is the year of hip-hop.