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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Unprecedented Platforms: A Flux in Music Acquisition

Streaming outlets provide musicians with means for true recognition

Last year was good for the hip-hop supergroup Migos. Their most recent album, “Culture II,” debuted at No.1 on the Billboard 200, while 13 songs from the album charted Billboard’s Hot 100. “I Get the Bag” by Gucci Mane, which features Migos, also charted, giving them 14 appearances on the Top 100 chart. To put this into perspective, the last time a feat like this was accomplished was in 1964, when The Beatles became the first musicians to have 14 of their songs featured on a Top 100 chart.

There have been other solo artists to match this level of popularity (give it up for Post Malone), but for a group of musicians The Beatles and Migos have been the only two. This speaks volumes about the popularity of rap music in the new era as well as the means to become a chart topper in the age of streaming music.  

Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, the members of the trio and close relatives from Lawrenceville, Georgia, have been making nothing but money moves from the get-go. Honing in on their rap potential and aesthetic flare, Polo Club (the name they went by originally) started filling Atlanta nightclubs in pre-2010. Now their arena shows sell out regularly.

In their decade of activity, the rappers have seen many changes in the music industry. The means by which their music is heard has changed dramatically, as they are receiving copious amounts of attention due to the ability to stream their music in an instant. Unlike the old days, when passing out CDs and hoping for radio plays were the way to get recognized, these musicians can now watch their numbers grow by the millions on any given streaming outlet, sit back and collect the check.

This universal shift in how music is acquired began with the earliest efforts to stream in 2003, via Apple’s iTunes. Flashforward to 2019, and there are upwards of 200 million music streaming subscribers worldwide. Hard copy sales are down, while streaming is way up. However, for the sake of nostalgia, there remains a hot surge in vinyl sales. Other than that, CDs and tapes are near extinction.

Migos has first-hand experience with this transition in music acquisition. At the start of their career, they were passing out CDs on the street and buying drinks for DJs in exchange for playing one of their songs in the club. Since those days and the switch to streaming devices, Migos have enjoyed a deal with Spotify that allows their music to be streamed instantaneously with every new release. Not to mention the countless services (Apple Music, Soundcloud, Youtube, etc.) which offer their music free of charge.

Despite streaming capabilities, Migos’ most recent album went double platinum, selling 2 million certified units. It would not be wrong to expect the same for their upcoming album, “Culture III,” in which there is rumored to be over 50 songs, full of features and full of fire.  

It’s hard to imagine where Migos would be today without Spotify, but to entertain such an idea is to imagine a world without streaming altogether. An easier concept to wrap one’s head around is where The Beatles would be today without the following outlets. On Spotify, The Beatles sit at No.108 on the world’s most streamed artists charts and the last song they released was in 1969. Think of where the Migos are right now, andimagine where they’ll be in the next fifty years — probably somewhere still on that chart.

In light of the endless ways to stream and promote music online, the approach that Migos once took to be recognized may seem a bit old school. Now, take a walk down Hollywood Boulevard and rappers are no longer passing out their mixtapes, but instead business cards with links to their Soundcloud or Spotify pages. This allows them to easily rack up more followers and their followers don’t feel bad when they can’t slide them a 5 dollar bill for their CD.

In the age of dreamers, a career in music no longer seems so unattainable, especially with rappers like Skepta, Noname and Chance the Rapper who have had the ability to release music and make money doing it, all without signing any kind of record deal. Before, a career in music would’ve required the traditional record deal route, which is now far from the case.

The implications of streaming for future artists is unprecedented. Anybody can break into the industry and amass a fan base regardless of the style of music they release. Datpiff.com, a website that solely offers free mixtapes, has an incentive for artists, who can pay 50 dollars for a sponsorship and their mixtape will sit on the front page of their website for a number of days, depending on its popularity.

This new wave of rap does not sit well with everybody though, especially the rap elders. Migos, along with Future, have pioneered “mumble rap,” and inspired tens of dozens of artists.

Mumble rap has connotations that there is a lack of lyrical ingenuity in comparison to classic rap. How, then, can rappers with such negative connotations reach the level of stardom once only attainable by those who walked the Abbey Road?

One explanation, is that times have changed. More important than a hyperspeed flow is having a group to vibe with; more important than a lyrical novella is a taste of the culture. It’s not that expectations have lowered to where listeners are more concerned with 808s knocking their hearts rather than a rapper’s message, but instead, what’s more important now is the culture associated with “mumble rap.” The story is there, no matter the song, no matter the musician.

Another explanation: the means of acquisition for this music is much easier than that of the 1960s. A song can be uploaded to Soundcloud, and in the blink of an eye, the next day it could be a hit. That being said, anybody with a flicker of flame inside them can accomplish the same feat as the Migos or The Beatles. The tools to get there are readily available and the inspiration to use them are in the air.

A final theory: people love triplets. No, not three related rappers dressed in Versace, but the unique rap flow that happens when three syllables are rapped over one beat. Although the triplet is often referred to as the “Migos flow” its roots can be traced back to Tommy Wright III and Mac Dre. To hear the triplets in effect, load up the Migos song, “Versace,” (or almost any of their songs) and listen to the chorus. Rap fan or not, the triplet is catchier than it may seem.

But on the topic of mumble rap, Migos were sure to level the playing field in their last album, where they sing in the chorus of their song, “Narcos,” “Straight out the jungle / This real rap, no mumble.” And right they are, for there is no such thing as the derogatory “mumble rap,” only rap, only music and its evolution to a brighter generation.

Written By: Clay Allen Rogers — arts@theaggie.org


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