Who’s afraid of a pandemic-impacted market? Hip-hop artists aren’t, and neither is country star Kenny Chesney.
Rap has dominated both the album and single charts in recent weeks and will again for the one that will be generated by the current tracking week, even as Chesney’s new “Here and Now” represents a conspicuous interloper .
On the Rolling Stone album chart for the period of April 24-30, rap acts owned nine of the top 10 slots — including a No. 1 debut for YoungBoy Never Broke Again — and eight of the top 10 on the songs chart.
Rap also locked eight of the top 10 albums in the prior week, when DaBaby ended a four-week reign by R&B/pop singer the Weeknd. And, the last week that Weeknd’s “After Hours” led the list, rap held seven of the top 10.
Although Kenny Chesney’s second Warner Music album held what looked like a commanding lead through the first four days of the chart cycle that ends today, huge streaming activity for a new “mixtape” album by Drake, which saw a surprise release May 1, might catch the summit by the time Alpha Data crunches all the numbers.
Through the end of Monday, Chesney led Drake’s “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” by 88,000 album project units (216,500 to 128,400), but at that point, the Canadian rapper’s latest clocked 12 of the 20 most streamed tracks.
Album project units include digital and physical album sales, combined with equivalent values from song sales and streams, and that last ingredient works in Drake’s favor. None of Chesney’s new songs even crack the top 100, leading two chart prognosticators to predict Drake takes the lead, with both artists’ albums tracking in the neighborhood of 230,000-235,000 project units.
Even if Chesney stays in front, it appears rappers will hold 12 of the top 15 albums on next week’s chart, including eight of the top 10. Among those keeping Drake company in the top 10 will be Megan Thee Stallion, whose recent “Suga” has been supercharged by a new mix of her “Savage” track, adding a featured vocal by Beyonce. Recent chart toppers Lil Baby, DaBaby and Lil Uzi Vert are also top 10 contenders.
It’s common to see hip-hop monopolize the top of the songs charts. For the year to date, rap owns six of the 10 most streamed songs, just as it did in calendar year 2019. The genre also held eight of the top 10 songs two weeks in a row and at least seven of the top 10 in all but two of the past seven weeks. But it is unusual to see it dominate the top of the album list to the extent that it has in recent weeks.
Several high-profile releases got pushed to later dates in reaction to the market’s stay-at-home environment — the new Lady Gaga album prime among them (it got bumped from April 10 to May 29) — and that’s one of the factors that creates space for hip-hop. A senior executive at one major label says the rapid “cadence” of several rap acts is another.
“A lot of these artists can bang these out quickly and for not a lot of expense in their home studios,” the exec says, “so it’s a whole different rhythm compared to the time it takes to release and develop a marketing plan for a big pop artist. In hip-hop, it’s almost as in the music is the marketing.”
Among those with fast output: YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s new charttopper is his third album in eight months. DaBaby, whose recent chart topper “Blame It On Baby” was his third release since March 2019, has another planned for later this year. Rod Wave has released three sets since June 2019, his latest April release “Pray 4 Love” arriving a mere six months after his last studio album. A mere six months was also the gap between Tory Lanez’s April 10 mixtape set “The New Toronto 3” and his last studio album. And while A Boogie wit da Hoodie’s February release “Artist 2.0” was his first since 2018, he’s scheduled to drop two more collections before year’s end.
Surprise releases (like the new Drake “mixtape”), special collaborations and video games are among the drivers that spur rappers’ visibility. Travis Scott ticks all three of those boxes with his No. 1 song “The Scotts,” sharing the bill with Kid Cudi on the track that announced its arrival on the new Fortnite game “Astronomical.” While it’s not part of his “Astroworld” album, the song’s exposure helped push that 2018 release back into the top 10.
Megan Thee Stallion’s March release is on the rise, thanks to her aforementioned collaboration with Beyonce. Preceding the new Drake mixtape as a surprise arrivals was Eminem’s January release “Music To Be Murdered By.” The latter debuted at No. 1 on the album chart, moving more than 280,000 project units in its first week.
The current battle for No. 1 hinges on old and new consumption models. Of the 216,500 units Chesney clocked through Monday, 210,000 came from album sales, most of them physical units tied to ticket sales of a forthcoming tour.
By contrast, when Drake’s compilation “Care Package” bowed at No. 1 last August on 105,000 project units, that total included fewer than 16,000 album sales. Similarly, when his last studio album “Scorpion” raced out of the gate in 2018 with 658,000 project units in its first week, album sales only accounted for 23.3% of that total, the overwhelming majority of those from digital downloads, while massive streams provided the bulk of the album’s consumption.
Hip-hop’s hooray happens as the industry continues to regain its footing after stay-at-home orders in many major markets caused a week-over-week decline of 7.6% in audio streams for the chart week that ended March 19. In that same week, rap streams dropped by an even steeper 8.5%. The overall streaming market dipped again the following week before turning around in the frame that began March 27, a week before rap started its big turnaround.