Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar and Other Acts Who Helped Rap Rebound in 2015

Illustration by Kirsten Ulve

Mic Check: Rap On The Rebound

Hip-hop had a lackluster 2014, but 2015 is shaping up to be a banner year for the genre. Not only does it have two 500,000-plus-selling albums -- Drake's If You’re Reading This It's Too Late and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly; in 2014 at this time there were none -- but Wiz Khalifa's "See You Again" and Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" have respectively hit Nos. 1 and 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first time since 2009 that hip-hop tracks have held those spots.

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Even more impressive? Streaming, rather than radio or sales, is the prime mover behind rap’s growing Hot 100 presence, led by viral hits like "Trap Queen," T-Wayne's "Nasty Freestyle" and Silento's "Watch Me." For example, on the May 23 Hot 100, 55 percent of the points for "Trap Queen" is from streaming -- more than double its sales share (27 percent) and triple its airplay (18 percent). By comparison, Jason Derulo's pop hit "Want to Want Me" (No. 8) breaks down into 41 percent airplay, 35 percent sales and 24 percent streaming.

Also bubbling on the Hot 100 are viral singles by Silento ("Watch Me"), Bandit Gang Marco ("Nasty") and Chedda Da Connect ("Flicka Da Wrist").

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But do these viral hits have a chance at pop radio? "It's always tough for the harder songs, as they are generally very polarizing," says John Ivey of iHeartMedia and KIIS in Los Angeles. "On pop radio, it's probably one of these at a time -- if there is one that is palatable."

Additional reporting by Amaya Mendizabal and Gary Trust.

A version of this article first appeared in the May 23 issue of Billboard.


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