R&B and Hip-Hop in 2014: A Lackluster Year for Some, But Not All

Johnny Nunez/WireImage
DeJ Loaf backstage at Santos Party House on October 21, 2014 in New York City.

Throughout the week, Billboard will be publishing pieces from our staff writers, each an outstanding authority on their specific area of coverage. From Nashville to Miami, the industry at large, publishing and retail, and the year in touring, we'll be taking comprehensive looks at the biggest stories -- good, bad and in between -- from 2014. Today, we continue with the analysis of senior correspondent Gail Mitchell, in charge of keeping an eye on the worlds of R&B and hip-hop.

VETS, EXECS

-- At 34, Ethiopia Habtemariam earns dual presidential promotions at Universal Music Publishing Group and Motown Records in wake of Motown, Def Jam Recordings and Mercury being spun off as separate Universal divisions.

Billboard's Business Year-End

-- Industry veteran Sylvia Rhone continues her pioneering legacy as a senior, female major label executive after being appointed president of Epic and still maintaining her Epic-distributed imprint Vested in Culture. Label snares No. 1 R&B/hip-hop hit with breakthrough rapper Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Boy."

-- Producer No I.D. appointed executive vp of A&R for Def Jam Recordings and maintains his Artium imprint (Jhene Aiko, Common).

-- Gee Roberson and Cortez Bryant of the Blueprint Group (Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne) and Caron Veazey of I Am Other Entertainment (Pharrell Williams) join new Guy Oseary/Live Nation management collective Maverick.

DOWN, THEN WAY UP

-- Satirical essays about black artists "no longer being needed" made industry rounds in March after chart stats showing that no black-led R&B/hip-hop artists had topped the Hot 100 for more than a year. A few weeks later John Legend scores his first Hot 100 No. 1 with “All of Me” and Pharrell Williams follows suit with “Happy."

-- R&B also makes some noise with breakthroughs by Jhene Aiko, Tinashe, August Alsina plus Chris Brown’s return (only No. 2 on Billboard 200, stymied by Barbra Streisand), Kem and Trey Songz. And Beyoncé remains strong throughout the year. But the genre is also plagued by delays of expected albums from Ne-Yo and Usher plus underwhelming response to various projects (including Keyshia Cole, Jennifer Hudson) as Robin Thicke implodes. Still, R&B finds a savior—and rings out 2014 on a high note—thanks to D'Angelo's 14 years-in-the-making Black Messiah. The critically accliamed surprise release is poised to make a strong debut on the Billboard 200 and continue to ride the charts well into 2015.

-- Despite success of projects by YG, SchoolboyQ, Iggy Azalea, 2014 was basically a lackluster year for hip-hop. But another surprise release, J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive, gave hip-hop a major booster shot. The rapper's third album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his third consecutive chart-topper. Its 354,000 in first-week sales, per Nielsen Music, marked the fifth-largest sales week for an album in 2014 and the largest for a hip-hop album in over a year. Will long-awaited albums by Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne fare as well? Will end-of-year female newcomers like Tink and Dej Loaf change the tide in 2015 and rejuvenate the female rapper ranks?

RADIO GAINS, TV LOSES

-- Classic hip-hop gains ground as a radio format in November/December. Branded as BOOM by Radio One, the throwback format also finds an indie-owned station and one owned by Cumulus following suit. Stations have popped up in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Philadelphia so far.

-- BET shutters long-running network staple 106 & Park.


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