In 2017, R&B/hip-hop established itself as the leading genre in the industry for the first time since Nielsen started tracking sales in 1991, outperforming all other genres, claiming 25.1 percent of total consumption and 30.3 percent of all on-demand audio streams. (The No. 2 genre, rock, accounted for 18.1 percent.)
It’s streaming that has increased the music industry’s revenue by double-digit percentage points for the first time in nearly 20 years: Seven of the 10 most-streamed songs in the United States in 2017 were rap songs, according to Nielsen Music, and they accounted for nearly 65 percent of the roughly 8.2 billion on-demand total streams.
For Apple Music head of artist curation Carl Chery, the latest metrics are an eye-opener to those in the industry who had once doubted hip-hop’s ability to move the needle. “My reaction when those conversations started happening was like, ‘Duh,’?” he says. “Hip-hop has been the most influential genre arguably in the last 20 years.”
The genre’s streaming success has helped mint a slew of new superstars: Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, becoming the first song by a solo female rapper to top the chart in 19 years, while 21 Savage’s debut LP, ISSA Album, landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Also, Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” reached No. 3 on the Hot 100, and Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO Tour Llif3” peaked at No. 7.
The established stars played their parts in a major way as well: Drake and Kendrick Lamar, two of the industry’s most-streamed artists, accounted for the five biggest streaming weeks for albums in 2017, with Drake’s More Life logging 384.8 million streams for its songs in its debut week (the most in one week for an album’s songs), and Lamar’s DAMN. notching 340.6 million. Streaming has also catapulted unconventional artists like Uzi and Lil Pump into the spotlight. “They weren’t the norm of what was being played at radio,” says John Fleckenstein, executive vp at their label, RCA Records. “But now there is this -massive audience [through streaming] that can find stuff and take tests of it so easily.”
Hip-hop and R&B had long generated large streaming numbers, but “there used to be a much bigger gap between what was considered a streaming and traditional hit,” says Apple Music’s Beats 1 DJ Zane Lowe. “It’s why I say that 2017 is the year that streaming really arrived.”