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The 10 Biggest R&B/Hip-Hop Stories & Trends of 2022: Kanye, Rihanna, Young Thug & More

It was another busy and oft-tumultuous year for the genres, with high-profile court cases, big tours and the crushing loss of several young rappers to gun violence.

Looking back at the fast-paced year that was 2022, R&B/hip-hop experienced its share of wins from a successful post-pandemic touring season starring The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige to Rihanna’s long-awaited return with new music and the Super Bowl LVII halftime gig. But also sharing headline space were high-profile court cases involving Young Thug and others plus the loss of more young rappers to violence. Here are 10 business stories and trends that resonated during the genres’ tumultuous year.


Building Equity in the Live Music Industry

Moving forward on its mission two years ago to bring more diversity and equity to the live music industry, the Black Promoters Collective finished at No. 13 on Boxscore’s year-end list of top 25 promoters — headed by Live Nation — with a total gross of $100.7 million. The eight-member collective also scored three tours in the top 100 year-end tally: New Edition’s 30-city The Culture Tour with Charlie Wilson and Jodeci (No. 52), Mary J. Blige’s 23-city Good Morning Gorgeous fall outing featuring Ella Mai and Queen Naija (No. 54) and Maxwell’s 25-city The Night Tour with Anthony Hamilton and Joe (No. 86). Among Boxscore’s top 10 tally of R&B/hip-hop tours, New Edition placed sixth grossing $37.7 million and Blige claimed seventh place with $37.2 million. Holding down No. 1 on the list was The Weeknd (gross not revealed), followed by Kendrick Lamar in second place ($70.4 million) and Post Malone in third ($53.5 million). Calling 2022 a banner year for the BPC, CEO Gary Guidry notes, “We’ve only just begun.” Adds CMO Troy Brown, “There needs to be a home for voices of color, owned by voices of color, led by voices of color, steeped in the culture with a keen understanding of creativity, programming, data, insights and innovation.”


Young Thug, Gunna Indicted on RICO Charges

Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Gunna were among 28 people indicted on May 9 in Georgia on conspiracy to violate the state’s RICO act and street gang charges. According to the indictment, Young Thug is allegedly one of three founders of the Young Slime Life, “a criminal street gang that started in late 2012” with ties to the national Bloods gang. Charges against him, Gunna and other alleged gang members include “preserving, protecting and enhancing the reputation, power and territory of the enterprise through acts of racketeering activity including murder, assault and threats of violence.” Strongly refuting the charges, both rappers have been jailed since May after being denied bond multiple times. In November, a Georgia judge rejected prosecutors’ request for a three-month trial delay until March 27, 2023. Jury selection is set for Jan. 5 with the trial to commence on Jan. 9. 

In the latest update: Gunna was released from jail on Dec. 14 after pleading guilty to a single charge against him and was given a time-served, suspended sentence. In a statement released by his lawyers, Gunna said he took the plea deal to “end my personal ordeal.” He also stated, “I want to make it perfectly clear that I have NOT made any statements, have NOT been interviewed, have NOT cooperated, have NOT agreed to testify or be a witness for or against any party in the case and have absolutely NO intention of being involved in the trial process in any way.”


California Legislates Rap Lyrics Bill

In September, California became the first state in the nation to sign a rap lyrics bill into law.  The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act will restrict when prosecutors can cite rap lyrics as criminal evidence against the artists who wrote them. California’s enactment comes after years of criticism over the practice of citing rap lyrics in court cases, opening the door to unfair racial bias. New York lawmakers came close to passing similar legislation (Senate Bill S7527 or “Rap Music on Trial”) earlier this year and plan to revisit those efforts when they reconvene in January. Democrats also introduced a federal version in the U.S. House of Representatives. The push for state and federal legislation has been fueled by the upcoming trial against Young Thug and Gunna, whose indictments heavily quote from their lyrics. Among artists supporting the need for a rap lyrics bill are Jay-Z, Meek Mill and Killer Mike. 300 Entertainment chairman/CEO Kevin Liles — whose company houses Young Thug’s Young Stoner Life Records imprint — and Atlantic Music Group chairman/CEO Julie Greenwald also launched a Change.org petition, “Rap Music on Trial: A Petition to Protect Black Art.” In their petition, which currently numbers more than 67,500 signatures, the two executives urged signees “to step up, support these efforts, and get this [New York] bill across the finish line.”

Rihanna Returns

Fans may still be awaiting Rihanna’s hotly anticipated next album. But in the meantime, they received a welcome one-two punch. First, when the new mom and Savage X Fenty chief posted a photo of herself holding an NFL-branded football on Instagram to confirm that she’ll be headlining the 2023 Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show on Feb. 12, 2023. And second, when the Grammy-winning artist released her first new single in more than five years: “Lift Me Up” from the Black PantherWakanda Forever soundtrack. Debuting as her eighth No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart — and No. 2 on the Hot 100 — “Lift Me Up” is a newly minted Golden Globes nominee for best original song, motion picture.


Brent Faiyaz, Indie Disruptor

Repping for R&B’s vibrant independent scene, singer-songwriter Brent Faiyaz went head-to-head against Bad Bunny in July — and bowed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 with his debut album Wasteland, accumulating 88,000 album-equivalent units. Released on Faiyaz’s Lost Kids label with distribution through indies Stem and Venice, Wasteland features the single “All Mine” which reached No. 4 on the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. He’s managed by Colture (an acronym for Can Our Leverage Teach Us Real Equity), co-founded by Ty Baisden and Jayne Andrew. “Being able to really do things that even major-label artists haven’t been able to accomplish from an independent perspective is important,” Baisden noted in Billboard’s 2022 R&B/Hip-Hop Power Players issue. Added fellow power honoree Andrew, “Colture is for the alternative thinker. We don’t do things the normal way because we aren’t normal, and we like that.”

Changing Lanes

Hip-hop also witnessed some high-profile signings in 2022. Youngboy Never Broke Again signed with Motown (whose chairman/CEO Ethiopia Habtemariam recently announced her impending exit) while Kodak Black (“Super Gremlin”) is headed to Capitol. Youngboy’s move came a year after he entered into a joint venture between his Never Broke Again collective and Motown; his first album for the legendary label is due in 2023. Youngboy and Black were labelmates at Atlantic. Billboard reported in October that Black still had two releases left under his Atlantic agreement, the first of which was the Oct. 28 compilation Kutthroat Bill: Vol 1.  It debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200. Meek Mill also exited Atlantic earlier this year and is now an indie artist on his Dream Chaser Records.


Kanye West Officially Loses Billionaire Status

2022 was a turbulent one for Ye. His egregious antisemitic comments from October’s Drink Champs interview resulted in Adidas and Gap terminating their partnerships with the controversial rapper. According to Forbes, those losses shrank Ye’s bank accounts, officially disqualifying his billionaire status. Along with being dropped by Adidas and Gap, Balenciaga and Vogue magazine curtailed their relationships with Ye following the interview. His divorce from Kim Kardashian was finalized in November, with court documents detailing that the former couple will share physical and joint custody of their four children and that Ye must pay $200,000 monthly in child support.

Verzuz Vs. Triller

After making news a year earlier via its March 2021 partnership with Triller — under which they allocated a portion of their equity in the new entity to 43 artists who initially performed on the platform — Verzuz co-founders Swizz Beatz and Timbaland appointed Steve Pamon, former president/COO of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s Parkwood Entertainment, as president. His purview includes overseeing production and logistical operations for the livestream series. Several months later, Beatz and Timbaland sued Triller, alleging that the latter still owed them $28 million from the 2021 sale. Triller countered saying the pair had already been paid “over $50 million in cash and stock to-date” and that the company believed the pair had not yet met certain required thresholds for further payments. The lawsuit was settled amicably in September with no further details revealed. 

More Rappers Lost to Gun Violence

Continuing a sad — and preventable — trend, this year witnessed the untimely deaths of several more young rappers owing to gun violence. Among those lost: Migos founding member Takeoff, PnB Rock and Young Dolph. In an article titled “Hip-Hop Needs an Intervention” for The Atlantic, northern California rap pioneers Too $hort and E-40 said, “We just need to find better ways to support each other. This is our generation’s responsibility as much as it is for the young MCs … We have to turn the corner.”


Megan Thee Stallion, Tory Lanez Case Goes to Trial

Two years have elapsed since Tory Lanez was accused of shooting Grammy-winning rapper Megan Thee Stallion in the foot on July 12, 2020. Now, as the year winds down, the closely watched trial finally got underway with opening statements in a Los Angeles court on Dec. 12. On the second day of the trial (Dec. 13), an emotional Megan took the witness stand before a packed gallery that included Desiree Perez, CEO of Megan’s management company Roc Nation, activist Tamika Mallory, Lanez and his family. Noted a tearful Stallion at one point, “I wish he had just shot and killed me.” On days three and four, Megan’s former friend and assistant Kelsey Harris offered conflicting testimony about the incident. The trial is expected to last eight business days, with a verdict due around Dec. 21.