After Tuma Basa, global programming head of hip-hop at Spotify, featured Lil Uzi Vert prominently on Rap Caviar -- the service's second-most-subscribed playlist, with more than 4 million followers -- the rising Philadelphia rapper's music soon jumped from an average of 442,000 Spotify streams per day to more than 1 million.
As competition between streaming services intensifies, Spotify -- the industry leader with 35 million-plus paid subscribers to Apple Music's 15 million -- has become instrumental in breaking new artists like Vert through its expert playlists. Since joining the company in April 2015, Basa has built Rap Caviar into the type of hitmaking platform once exclusively the domain of powerhouse radio stations, in the process growing its base by more than 3 million followers in a year.
"When you go on Rap Caviar, you trust it -- almost like Walter Cronkite on the evening news," says Basa, who previously served as vp music programming at Revolt TV and director of music programming initiatives at MTV. In February, Basa added Desiigner's "Panda" to two playlists before the Brooklyn artist signed to Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music. "There was a little buzz here in New York. I was like, 'Wow, what's this?' " remembers Basa. In April, "Panda" made an astronomic climb to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Today, the track has 348 million listens on Spotify.
To Basa, creating a destination of soon-to-be hits is more than just dragging and dropping songs. "[Music curation] is not generally recognized as a full-fledged art form," he says. "Spotify realizes it will be one day."
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 20 issue of Billboard.