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Has Mainstream Rap Fell Off?

It seems like it has been just a couple of years since rap was the most popular genre there was, with every new rap album becoming #1 and multiple rap songs going #1. Fast forward to today, and we have no rap songs peaking at #1 on the Hot 100, and Lil Uzi finally has the first #1 rap album of the year, 7 months in. I want to take a dive into what happened in the last few years to see what made this "fall off" happen.

In 2016, rap's biggest star Drake dropped Views, which sold 1.04 million units in the first week, something we hadn't seen since 2008 when Lil Wayne did it with Tha Carter 3. Views set multiple records for its time, including most songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time with 20 (later beat by Drake in 2017 and 2018 with More Life and Scorpion). It also gave Drake's first #1 hit with "One Dance." Views was a massive album, and Drake followed up with the aforementioned Scorpion. Drake had three #1 hits off of Scorpion ("God's Plan", "Nice for What," and "In My Feelings"), and it really felt like 2018 was the year of Drake. Even though Drake is still the most popular rapper but his popularity is dwindling, and that is not a good sight for other rappers.

Timeline of Drake's Sales:

2016: Drake releases Views, sold 1.04 million units in the first week. "One Dance" becomes Drake's first solo #1 song

2017: More Life breaks the record for most songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, breaking his own record.

2018: Scorpion sells 732K in the first week, Drake gets 3 solo #1 songs, Drake is the first artist ever to have debuted four new songs in the top 10. Breaks Billboard record for most songs on the Hot 100 at the same time, previously set by More Life and Views. 7 songs in the top 10 (fourth artist to ever do that).

2020: Surprise releases Dark Lane Demo Tapes; "Toosie Slide" goes #1, and it sells 223K in the first week, showing signs of some decline. "Laugh Now Cry Later" gets blocked at the attempt of #1.

2021: Releases Certified Lover Boy; sells 613K units in the first week; 14 songs debut in the top 20 on the Hot 100, "Way 2 Sexy" and "What's Next" go #1. Scary Hours 2 has all three songs debuting in the top 3.

2022: Drake releases Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss, Honestly, Nevermind sells 204k in the first week, the lowest for a Drake album in recent memory; only "Jimmy Cooks" goes #1. Her Loss sells 404K units in the first week, and all 16 songs charted in the Hot 100, with 8 being in the top 10.

2023: "Search and Rescue" releases as a single and debuts at #2, being blocked by Morgan Wallen's "Last Night."

While Drake's decline has been very insignificant and his numbers are still the best in the game, I do feel like this decline did spell doom for other rappers and their ability to chart in the future.

While Drake has been the poster child for popularity in rap, other rappers have become successful in this new streaming era. Travis Scott was on top of the world in 2018, with the highly anticipated Astroworld becoming #1 for two weeks in a row, not without controversy. Astroworld sold 537K units in the first week and then 205K units in the second week. Travis was accused of using bundles on his merchandise to sell his albums and inflating his numbers by Nicki Minaj, whom he blocked from getting #1 in Astroworld's second week. Billboard would eventually stop counting bundles and the sales that come with them towards first-week album sales(a decision they would change slightly). Travis used the popularity he got from Astroworld to catapult himself into the upper echelon of rappers, as he secured three #1 songs after its release: "The Scotts", "Highest in the Room" and "Franchise". Travis would see his popularity and overall image decline in 2021 after the incident at the Astroworld Festival, with singles "Escape Plan" and "Mafia" going #11 and #26, respectively. We hope that the highly anticipated new album "Utopia" will put the genre back on track in terms of popularity.

Timeline of Travis Scott's Sales:

2015: Rodeo releases and sells 85,000 units in the first week, "Antidote" peaks at #16, becoming his first real hit.

2016: Birds in the Trap Sing Mcknight releases and sells 88,000 units in the first week.

2017: Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho sells 90,000 units in the first week.

2018: Astroworld sells 537K units in the first week and 205K in its second week, all 17 songs charted, and "Sicko Mode" becomes Travis's first #1 song. Accused of using bundles to inflate numbers, and Billboard eventually made selling bundles not count towards sales.

2019-2020: Travis scores three #1 songs, with "The Scotts," "Highest in the Room," and "Franchise."

2021: Travis comes under fire after the crowd crush incident on November 5th, 2021, which happened at the Astroworld Festival. "Escape Plan" and "Mafia," songs that were released at the same time as the festival chart at #11 and #26. Utopia gets pushed back.

We hope that after 5 years, Utopia brings Travis back in a new light after the incident and gets a genre that is struggling to get anything to stick on the charts right now back on the charts and has staying power while doing it.

I believe Drake and Travis Scott are the two heads of rap in the streaming era. Drake became one of the most popular artists in this era where most of them are pop stars like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Travis had a meteoric rise and used very clever tactics to boost his popularity and increase his sales. Travis's teasing of albums and giving his fans something to look forward to helps his case when trying to sell an album. If Utopia doesn't sell well, it will not be a good sight for anyone in this space.

Travis Scott at the VMA's
Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Before 2023, rappers would usually lock up the #1 spot on the Hot 100, and when they would drop an album, it would also be #1. In 2018, 42 weeks included a rapper at #1 on the Hot 100, led by Drake with 29 weeks. In 2019, the rap-country hybrid song "Old Town Road" became the longest-running #1 song ever. In 2020, 34 weeks had a rapper be #1 on the Hot 100, led by Roddy Ricch's "The Box," a song I believe would not be #1 if it wasn't for a guy like Drake, who popularized rap in the streaming era. In 2021, you'll see a decline in rap at the top of the charts, with only 15 weeks featuring a rapper at #1. In 2022, only six weeks had a rapper be featured on a #1 hit. And finally, in 2023, no rapper has been featured on a #1 song, and we are seven and a half months in.

And then we take a look at the Billboard 200 and in 2018, 26 weeks had a rapper's album be #1. In 2019, 23 weeks had a rapper have the #1 album in the country, that is without having an album like Scorpion. In 2020, 25 weeks had a rapper's album be on the top of the chart, led by Lil Baby's My Turn, as this was a year where no top artists wanted to drop. After the pandemic, 2021 was the year everyone came out to drop, and we saw Drake, Kanye, J. Cole, and Tyler all drop albums, which led to 20 weeks where a rapper had #1. In 2022, the decline really started to show with only 13 weeks, and as we know 2023 has had only 1 week of a rapper being atop the chart, with Lil Uzi's Pink Tape.

I think the way the chart is, if you are not an artist in that top tier of popularity, you will be left in the dust. That's why we don't see rappers like Polo G, Roddy Ricch, and DaBaby have #1 albums or #1 songs. One of the biggest problems the genre faces is rappers sounding the same and not pushing their sound to do something different. In this era, you have to be innovative, especially if you want to be put in the upper echelon. The only thing rap fans can hope for is For All The Dogs and Utopia to have great runs on the charts and are good music. Most of mainstream rap's effort and output in the last 2 years have not been great, which is one of the reasons rap has declined in popularity. To answer the headline, I would say mainstream rap has fallen off, but it's not too late to stop it.


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