Cardi B’s first charting single, “Bodak Yellow,” took just six weeks to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs chart, making it the fastest debut to top that chart since PSY’s 2012 viral hit, “Gangnam Style.” The song — whose 36.2 million U.S. streams pushed it to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on Streaming Songs, behind the all-time record-breaking “Despacito,” in the week ending Aug. 17 — is the latest, and largest, triumph for Atlantic Records and its roster of next-generation MCs.
During the past 12 months, Lil Uzi Vert (whose “XO TOUR Llif3” peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100), Kodak Black (“Tunnel Vision,” No. 6), D.R.A.M. (“Broccoli,” No. 5) and KYLE (“iSpy,” No. 4) have roared into the top 10, propelled by massive streaming numbers. And that’s just the young guns. Gucci Mane, Meek Mill and Kevin Gateshelped Atlantic jump to an industry-leading 15.1 percent R&B/hip-hop market share in 2017 (through the week ending Aug. 10), up from 10.8 percent over the same period in 2016.
“That Cardi B song is everywhere, and it started because people just like it,” says Ibrahim “Ib” Hamad, Dreamville Records president and J. Cole’s manager. “Nobody can tell you what to like anymore. If people love a song, you’ll see those numbers.”
For the first time since Nielsen started tracking the music industry in 1991, R&B/hip-hop officially dominates all other genres, claiming 25.1 percent of total consumption and 30.3 percent of all on-demand audio streams — dwarfing the No. 2 genre, rock (18.1 percent). It is streaming that has increased the music industry’s revenue by double-digit percentage points for the first time in nearly 20 years, and it is streaming that is motivating labels to build out their hip-hop and R&B departments. In cultivating a deep bench of next-generation rap talent, Atlantic’s A&R team is leading the way into the future.
“I have a roster of about 64 artists now that I’m responsible for on the urban side,” says Atlantic Records president of black music Michael Kyser. “We have staffed up for it, A&R-wise, marketing-wise. I have one of the biggest promotion staffs in the business.”
“Streaming was just a big reveal of what was already happening,” says Ethiopia Habtemariam, Motown Records president and president of urban music/co-head of creative at Universal Music Publishing Group, who helped Capitol Music Group relaunch legendary West Coast hip-hop label Priority Records as a hip-hop distributor in June. “[But] I don’t think people were equipped to handle it. Now I see [companies] hiring a lot more people that come from the culture.”
In June, Capitol tapped super-producer Dion “No I.D.” Wilson as executive V.P. responsible for A&R and production, while the historically rock-leaning Warner Bros. Records brought in Def Jam marketing veteran Chris Atlas as senior vp/head of urban marketing. (In recent years WBR also signed joint venture deals with Mac Miller’s REMember Music and Drake’s OVO Sound.)
Meanwhile, this year, Republic has enjoyed Drake’s More Life and Post Malone’s “Congratulations”; RCA has dominated alt-R&B, with albums from SZA, Khalid and Bryson Tiller all peaking in the top four of the Billboard 200; Kendrick Lamar, Rae Sremmurd and Cole have led Interscope to an 11.5 percent R&B/hip-hop market share in 2017 so far, good for third behind Atlantic and Republic (13.6 percent); and Epic has four of the Streaming Songs chart’s top six with tracks from 21 Savage, DJ Khaled, Yo Gotti and French Montana.