Why Alt-Radio Is Suddenly Embracing Hip-Hop

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El-P and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, which collaborated with DJ Shadow on one of alt-radio's most-spun rap tracks of the past chart year.

Last November, “Falling Down” -- a collaboration between Lil Peep and XXXTentacion, two rapper-singers who had died within the previous 12 months -- debuted at No. 40 on Billboard’s 40-spot Alternative Songs ranking. Its cameo on the chart was brief, peaking at No. 35 in December and falling off altogether by the end of the month. But as the first entry on Alternative Songs for both artists, neither of whom had ever been fully embraced by hip-hop radio, it was a sign of things to come.   

As traditional rock becomes ever less synonymous with pop music, alternative radio has been forced to expand its definition to include more left-of-center artists from other genres. “This generation has maybe never even gone to a record store or CD store where there was a hip-hop section and a rock section -- it has all been in front of them on a screen,” says Jeff Regan, senior director of music programming for SiriusXM’s Alt Nation channel. So he’s starting to place acts traditionally seen as rappers on his still largely rock-based playlist: “Whether it’s Lil Peep or Brockhampton or Post Malone, we have tried records from all those artists.”  

The rap acts getting spins on terrestrial alt radio in 2018 (see chart, below) should continue to swell in 2019. Regan sees alt/rap-straddling acts like nothing,nowhere., L.I.F.T. and Dominic Fike potentially leading the way. “We need some depth perception in the music we’re presenting,” he says. “Whether it’s done on a laptop or on an amp and a guitar, I just want to find something new -- that’s what alternative is supposed to be.”

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 12 issue of Billboard.