Why Do Rappers Love Apple Music
6 min read

Why Do Rappers Love Apple Music

Hey y’all, so if you've already got this email this morning and you could read it okay, then ignore this! I'm just sending it again, because it looked really off on my end and others also experienced the letter being hard to read. I also made a few typo corrections, because I could always use another round of edits. Anyway what a way to start the new year.

Apple Music’s impact on rap is best seen on Instagram. Cardi B, 2017’s favorite rapper, expressed a bit of concern when she looked at the Apple Music charts after her latest single “Bartier Cardi” was released. She wrote on Instagram: “sooo ya just going to take over the whole damm apple top charts 😒😩😩😂💪🏾💪🏾Well at least Bartier Cardi the follow up !! Make sure ya check out Bartier Cardi on Apple Music !!and the new Huncho jack album ..This is ALL GENRES TOP CHARTS on apple !You know what that means ?HIP HOP DOMINATES this shit !!!!!!! 😤😤😤We are the influence !!!. [sic]”

She was talking about Quavo and Travis Scott’s joint project Huncho Jack Jack Huncho, which took over the Apple Music streaming charts knocking her would be no. 1 song down to the 13th slot. Cardi B’s watchful eye on the chart demonstrated a trend I’ve noticed the last twelve months of rappers keeping obsessive tabs on the Apple Music charts. Even if RapCaivar is said to be the most important playlist in music, all rappers are know their position in Apple ecosystem.

Last week Carl Chery, Apple Music’s head of artist curation, joined Complex’s successful daily show “Everyday Struggle” for an interview. DJ Akademiks, one of the show’s hosts, pointed a finger at Apple Music and other streaming platforms for killing the traditional mixtape sites—think Datpiff and Livemixtapes. Chery struggled to answer the question, because to Akademiks’ credit, he was right. Once the interview was coming to a close, Akademiks asked a specific question about Apple Music’s demographics, which again Chery shrewdly avoided.

Legally there might be a reason Chery held his tongue, but one just needs to see what artist they’ve worked closest with the last few years to understand the platform’s core fanbase. He mentioned how Apple worked even pre-Apple Music to distribute Chance the Rapper’s side project Surf for free on iTunes, then with Apple Music Drake came along with with OVO Radio, and even last year in the waning days of exclusives they got (2) two albums from Frank Ocean. Even artists they claim—6lack, Daniel Caesar, and Sabrina Claudio—are almost all exclusively r&b singers Demographics don’t need to be public when such taste biases are so obvious.

I give this background to argue that if streaming is the future of music, then this moment of rap hypervisibility will be fleeting. Chery mentioned that labels are scrambling to adjust to this new normal and even said that Apple Music’s Pop music editor wondered if pop artists should shift towards a more rap like distribution strategy. That short-sighted idea overlooks the fact that when pop consumers move into the streaming world they may not want music at the pace of 2000smixtape rap. Still their conversation helped contextualize why rap over indexes on streaming platforms.

Datpiff and Livemixtapes, two of the largest online mixtape sites, peaked in the late 2000s and early 2010s when they were the alpha and omega for rap fandom. Rappers were not only flooding these services with free music, but in a pre-social media era these tapes offered direct, non-label filtered, communication between artists and fans. Lil Wayne’s stoned mixtape ramblings might sound tired in 2018 when rappers are constantly on Instagram Live and Snapchat, but those words were a side of Wayne that fans rarely heard or saw.

That quality about mixtapes started to wane just as social media grew and YouTube started to become the place where songs and videos were re-establishing themselves as the way artists expressed themselves. Even though Chief Keef and many Chicago rappers put out excellent free mixtapes, it was their music videos that sparked the drill movement and spread that music beyond a single city. Downloading mixtapes as result started to feel more antiquated, then as users migrated from desktop to mobile these platforms were being beat by younger sites like Spinrilla and MyMixtapes, who were ready with higher quality apps.

Soundcloud, an even more frictionless space where one could upload one’s music, also gained a foothold among rappers like Drake and Future. Then in 2015 as Apple Music launched it lured away Chance the Rapper and Drake, two of SoundCloud’s biggest advocate and most exciting users on the platform. Within ten years an entire digital underground ecosystem was swept away into a handful of platforms that are controlled from by major labels rather than existing outside of that system. The biggest performers on these services—traditional street rap: Future, Kevin Gates, Youngboy Never Broke Again—saw their old ecosystems wiped away by natural and market forces.

Now this isn’t a new trend. A decade ago, when the digital download was first added to the Hot 100 charts some of the first major hits came from what was dubbed “Ringtone Rap.” The catchy and digitally sounding southern rap that wasn’t gonna break into Top 40 through normal airplay, but was aided by digital sales. Though acts like D4L, Dem Franchize Boys, and Soulja Boy eventually made it traditional gatekeepers like MTV, BET, FM radio, and even early streaming sites the only way for fan to directly impact them was to buy the music, which they did. When D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” hit no. 1, it was already a top song on the digital sales chart, but still needed that extra radio push to make it to the top.

Eventually, the pop world with acts like The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry caught up and surpassed rap, but the shift took time. Now will the same transition happen with streaming, I would say not exactly. Not only are the platforms of music consumption more fragmented, but so are the splits among genres. The fact that so much of underground rap’s ecosystem went from illicit mixtape sites to legitimate streaming platform is an advantage that won’t easily disappear. Even considering that fact, pop won’t simply be trap rap going forward. The more people who use streaming will result in ever changing demographics and those who follow that wind, rather than what’s hot now will find success.

Country and pop, still see the value in the radio format and all those listeners haven’t migrated to streaming and it might be years before those millions of FM listeners leave the format. Rock effectively moved into a live genre, where traditional singles’ chart metrics don’t apply super well. The result right now in 2018  is an awkward transitional phase where the monoculture—radio and album sales—are slowly crumbling, as streaming takes off.

Yet, this isn’t quite a winner take all sum: digital sales still matter, radio still matter, streaming matters—and that’s even weighted paid vs. ad-supported. All of this is to say where it used to be only airplay, then airplay and sales, then airplay and variations on sale, at the moment nearly every major category can be further broken down into smaller market segments. The monocultural way of trying to view charts and music consumption is dying as the industry—particular Billboard—tries to put on an old system on a changing landscape.  

Sorry to got on a bit of journey, but I say all this to simple say: Rap isn’t inherently better at streaming than any other genre. There are a string of cultural reasons why the genre is in such a strong position that didn’t simply happen overnight. A generation of fans who downloads and streamed mixtapes were already acclimated to a streaming first world. Transitioning buying fans into digital subscribers might be a bit harder, though it is certainly taking place. The next few years will be interesting in seeing where fan bases go and what platforms will cultivate such fandoms. Will Selena Gomez be posting about the Apple Music charts one day? Perhaps, but right now artists in her world are better off looking at the radio airplay, while rappers are fine looking at streaming. The promise of streaming is that all voices can be potentially heard, but in 2018 there are a dozen voices yelling in that room.

How The Playlist Finally Usurped the Album - The Ringer
I’m gonna keep the commentary a bit snippier this week. I don’t think this piece particularly great, but when I rail against the “narrative” of playlists, articles like this are often in my mind.

Status update: Universal and Facebook seal huge global music deal - Music Week
The eventual video war between YouTube and Facebook will be interesting to watch. Unrelated to streaming music, there are so many way that the fan and artist relationship could be deepened by one of these music players and it’d be interesting if Facebook tried a hand in that relationship. I doubt they will, but a thought.

Amazon: Please Only Listen to Music Bought From Amazon, on Amazon Device - TrackRecord
Now, personally I never used this Amazon service, but it certainly always sounded cool to me. Them simply taking it away wouldn’t’ve been that interesting, but Amazon taking a way a feature of personal music usage just to push the Amazon Music ecosystem is a bit distressing. I own too many MP3s that’ll never enter to the official streaming ecosystem to have my devices lock me out of content, because of million dollar licensing deals.

With Open House and New Hires, Spotify Shows Drive to Win Nashville's Support - Billboard
The Spotify angle here is interesting, but the small fact that Amazon and Pandora are more popular in country streaming than Spotify is why I wrote this week’s post. The more one dives into this data the more complicated and fragmented the music world begins start to look.