Last November, HipHopDX took a closer look into one trend rising out of Hip Hop’s steep commercial decline: the emergence of a Hip Hop One Percent. These emcees have seemingly become recession proof as peers around them dwindle in numbers sold. The few at the golden roundtable occupy a space where the wine is top-notch, food is plentiful and everyone either wants to be them or bait them for replacement. Everyone else must essentially make due with less resources while those upper echelon emcees enjoy big budget videos, production from wildly established hit-makers, widespread media coverage and other luxurious perks. Those desperately crawling their way to relevance may have found one technological ally that has caused a rift within the music industry.

2014 was the year Hip Hop tanked commercially despite exceptional releases from many including Run The Jewels, J. Cole, Y.G., Logic and Freddie Gibbs & Madlib among others. In terms of quality, the culture is as healthy as ever. When it comes to music though, critical acclaim doesn’t always pay the bills. Compared to other genres, rap sales took the hardest blows according to Billboard. Total sales across the board dropped 25.1 percent while CDs caught a 29 percent drop and the once savior — digital — fell around 19.6 percent as well. The sad truth is that Hip Hop is roughly double the percentage for the overall historical loss within music last year through 24.1 percent drops in total sales. Looking deeply into a much larger problem, total album numbers declined 11.2 percent and singles were chopped further by 12.5 percent. Reasons for Hip Hop’s downward sales could be numerous; ranging from various trends to the one percent not releasing anything. On a commercial level, Rap was relatively dry due in part to how massive 2013 as Drake, Jay Z and Kanye released albums that year.

Whether some may agree or not, statistics place streaming as the future of music. People are going to listen to free music whether artists like it or not. There’s nothing an artist can do to recondition consumers unless another idea is brought to the table and current statistics prove just that. In a recent Nielsen Music release reported by Rolling Stone, overall audio and video streams hit a 54.5 percent increase over 2013; In terms of audio streams, there were 78.6 billion listens. Because of those enormous amounts of streams, Nielsen counts numbers differently through their “Stream Equivalent Albums” calculations as 1,500 streams equates one LP. Along with “Track Equivalent Albums” where 10 track purchases equal one album, “Overall Album Consumption” sales in 2014 were 476 million and “Total Digital Music Consumption” gained a 3.7 percent raise. A 2014 recent report conducted by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reported subscription revenue for streaming services grew 51.3 percent and numbers of paying subscribers jumped around 28 million. Relating to an era of the “connected generation,” 61 percent of internet users between ages 16 – 64 utilize some form of licensed digital music services. It’s effect on Hip Hop? Pretty noteworthy if the numbers have anything to say. Streaming for Hip Hop (lumped together with R&B) swelled last year to a staggering 54 percent. For self preservation of the culture, it may be time to cautiously embrace technology that works. It’s either that or, perhaps, face extinction from those who are better able to adapt.

Can Spotify Help Stem The Tide?

One streaming outlet overwhelmingly dividing the music industry is none other than Spotify; and it is winning by large amounts. Someone already benefiting from this is Roc Nation’s own J. Cole. When his third studio album 2014 Forest Hill Drive dropped last December, the project reached a record making 15.7 million streams in one week on Spotify. Selling 371,228 copies in total, streams accounted for around 10,466 of his total first week numbers. Those could be seen as relatively low in terms of Cole being a major artist revenue wise depending on who one asks but those numbers are something to consider. Outside of J.Cole, Hip Hop has its fair share of Spotify winners. For example, Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet single “3005” was the number one streamed track in the United States with around 44 million streams. Do the math, he’s eating good (no pun intended). Jumps in music streaming also seems to revolve around trends in Pop culture. Legendary figures in Hip Hop like Nas have benefited as well as Illmatic saw a 300 percent jump in streams during its 20th anniversary last year. Earlier that same year, streams of Kendrick Lamar’s groundbreaking debut Good Kid m.A.A.d City grew by 99 percent following his performance alongside Imagine Dragons. The more someone is in the public eye, the more people are beginning to find instant context through music. The Swedish-based company could become a game-changer in terms of Hip Hop’s survival in terms of radio, mixtapes and of course albums. Most importantly, the remaining 99 percent of artists excluded from Rap’s upper echelon stands to benefit tremendously; serving as a potential equalizer in result. To understand what exactly makes the service so important, one must understand exactly why users flock to Spotify.

Their music catalogue of 30 million songs is big enough to find something for everyone. Surely a few classic Hip Hop albums like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, Big Daddy Kane’s It’s a Big Daddy Thing, LL Cool J’s Walking Like A Panther and a large chunk of De La Soul’s albums aren’t available but, who really needs Timbaland & Magoo’s Welcome To Our World? That last one was a small exercise in trolling but the catalogue is large enough to satisfy all corners of Hip Hop. Those who want to pay $10 bucks for premium membership get higher quality music which many won’t notice with zero ads. Plus, it’s easy as shit to use on both mobile and desktop due to an intuitive user interface. Add iTunes integration and music format playback and their also lies an incredibly functional music player. There’s a good reason why storied label Def Jam, mega fast food corporation McDonalds and publication Fader all have integrated apps. Spotify offers music streaming that really caters to varying types of music listeners and that’s why it’s dominating tremendously. 

Available in 58 countries, the company recently announced their subscribers grew to 15 million. Interestingly enough, 52 percent of those subscribes use the streaming service on mobile devices according to TechCrunch. To put bluntly, Spotify could potentially eat into celestial music radio or at least be a formidable alternative. The world may be finally entering an era where music choice is completely up to them. There are already some noticeable signs of the streaming service’s infiltration last November when they partnered with Uber, giving passengers the ability to play music. That means Spotify isn’t alone either. 80 percent of users listening to streaming radio service Pandora use the platform on mobile devices as well. Listeners of Hip Hop complaining about the lack of diversity on current celestial radio may have found the perfect ally. Out of 91 percent of American adults, 58 percent are owners of smartphones capable of running music streaming applications. Add more competitive pricing in mobile data plans and choices are damn-near infinite; something modern radio doesn’t offer. If exposure is the game, take into considering that Urban Adult Contemporary radio makes of 3.9 percent of celestial radio in comparison to Pop Contemporary Hit radio’s 7.6 percent according to a Pew Research Center’s report. For artists, getting music on Spotify is fairly easy and alleged issues of payola become almost non existent.

How Spotify Can Help The 99%

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Any independent artist familiar with the process of getting music on Pandora or iTunes should understand the concept of “Aggregators.” These services such as CDBaby and Record Union act as middle-men in getting music out digitally as outlets don’t have the capacity to deal with artists directly. Speaking with a customer service representative for CDBaby, the total price for submitting an album is only $59. Many artists use Spotify like Cole and Gambino to supplement sales through other outlets. However, one Hip Hop staple potentially can forever be changed if used properly; the mixtape. In this day and age, giving out free music through typical outlets like Live Mixtapes and Dat Piff has at least a significant amount of competition. For example, prices for hosting mixtapes on Live Mixtapes cost $50 for a single project and $250 to post one per quarter. Keep in mind that there isn’t residual income associated with mixtape hosting sites; those “per stream” payouts between $0.006 and $0.0084 start to sound a lot better. As a matter of fact, Nipsey Hussle, Rapsody, Big K.R.I.T., Lil Wayne, Cassie Veggies, and Joey Bada$$ among others all have mixtapes normally just available for simple download. With that in mind, there really isn’t an excuse for artists to release free music anymore. The time honored tradition of passing out burned CDs of mixtapes may find itself becoming delegated to fan merch tables beside stickers and t-shirts. Plus, who still uses those round discs primarily anyway? The goal is to use the platform for exposure, added with other promotional tools and an artist may get a buying fan they want.

Spotify is beginning to also add experiences going past the actual listening experience. Around 2014s end, their “Top Tracks in Your Network” feature delivers a fascinating social media experience to music consumption. This takes music discovery to new lengths through people within one’s own network outside of finding out whose taste is necessarily better. Then there’s something that could subversively draw music fans in general; exclusive album audio commentaries. Though Mac Miller is the first artist in Hip Hop to offer commentary through Spotify for Blue Slide Park, Def Jam emcee Logic recently offered his own track-by-track analysis of Under Pressure after its release in October. As time goes by, don’t get surprised when higher profile acts join in on the fun; especially as media-runs become tightly exclusive.

Regardless of Taylor Swift removing albums from Spotify, 2014 saw tremendous growth for the platform. Their biggest issue, payouts. In terms of independent artists, there may be an issue. The remedy for those without a major label machine use Spotify for supplemental sales that otherwise would face pirating anyway. Those with corporations behind them are better off going at rights holders. And of course they’re not going to do that. When it comes to major label artist, record companies normally take more than 50 percent of residuals from album and single sales anyway. Why ask record companies to lessen their percentage when making an enemy out of the new guy is easier? Music consumption has changed much within the decade and everyone is scrambling to find someone to blame. That transition has hit other industries before. Before the 1973s gas crisis, Americans were totally fine driving huge V8 machines which had worse mileage than SUVs today. Then Japanese cars with their lighter frames and efficient four-bangers arrived to total domination. Moving to current day, American automakers and lobbyist have set their sites on electric vehicles through ridiculous franchise laws. The point? Blaming consumers for overwhelming choosing something that works for them economically isn’t always the best idea. Playing that card always makes the one losing look weak. Unless a better alternative is presented, the excuse of monetary losses aren’t going to be enough. People are going to download music any way they like; legally or illegally. Spotify is becoming the natural product of this argument.

The core essence of Hip Hop was created through ingenuity in a timeless ideal for its pioneers. As the culture and music industry evolved, technology became a huge factor. When many producers were faced with issues over the decline of sampling, the rise of Protools and other music making software pushed forward. Some preserved, some expanded their skill-sets and some, emerged displaying new creative abilities and others were left dealing with obscurity. It’s the same distribution. Everybody wants sample rooted DJ Premier beats when DJ Mustard’s “simple” sound is economically better. The same goes for this digital consumer era. Many streaming services have come into play from Beats Music to Google Play and none have stopped Spotify’s expansion into the mind of consumer’s consciousness. Maybe it’s time Hip Hop took notice.