Hey! Lookout for two updates coming soon. One on the Slack group and the other on Trapital t-shirts.
This update covers Nicki Minaj’s ‘retirement’ and her likely next steps, the business moves by Ciara (thank you to Trapital Member Fredia Lucas for reminding me to cover this), and Post Malone’s sales tactics for his new album Hollywood Bleeding.
Nicki Minaj’s Future
Hip-hop retirements rarely get taken seriously. Jay Z, 50 Cent, Lil’ Wayne, and others have told the public that they hung up their cleats, only to get back in the game soon after.
There are a few reasons why artists do this:
- Create publicity stunt – generate buzz. Build excitement behind an upcoming project or release. The thought of missing the rapper’s content will elevate the discussion and create more holistic dialogue. (Jay Z’s rollout forThe Black Album is a perfect example of this)
- Control the narrative – this is related to publicity but different because the artist wants a specific message to come through. Retirements build nostalgia for all the important moments that an MC has had.
- Retire legitimately – the artist has moved on from rapping and has plans to move on to something else.
Nicki plans to share more soon, but her rationale seems most-stemmed in #2 and #3. Over the years, she’s been very vocal about her frustrations with the media. In 2015, she clapped back at the MTV VMAs for “Anaconda” not getting nominated for Video of the Year. She called out that ‘women with very slim bodies’ get nominated instead of her, which caused a frenzy with Taylor Swift and others. During the VMA discussion, Nicki shared articles that described why she was justified to call out underlying racism in the music industry’s media outlets.
It’s a push that Nicki Minaj has been on ever since. The Barbz, her rabid fanbase, have emphasized this notion by attacking journalists who critique The Pinkprint rapper. And recently, Nicki Minaj lashed out at Joe Budden for his ongoing criticism and questioning of her motives.
Nicki’s radio show Queen Radio has been her outlet combat the representation. She justifies her frustration as a powerful black woman who is damned if she responds and damned if she doesn’t. She sticks up for herself because she believes that no one else will.
This is why her “retirement” is strategic. When a rapper retires, media outlets—including those that have previously criticized Nicki— will reflect on her accomplishments. They write stories and compile videos that celebrate the strong decade that Nicki has had. These narratives elevate her greatness and ranks amongst Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and others who also top those lists. As the “end of the decade” countdowns start happening, the notion of her retirement will elevate her place in those discussions.
The media’s response to her retirement will build momentum for her to transition into her next chapter. Nicki hasn’t declared it yet, but all signs point to a stronger focus on her Queen Radio show.
The most listened to program in Apple Music history is an episode of Queen Radio. There’s a ton of potential to grow it further—especially with the backing of Apple Music. If played right, Nicki Minaj’s Queen Radio could be Apple Music’s answer to Spotify’s partnership with The Joe Budden Podcast.
If this is Nicki’s next move, it’s a smart one. We’ve seen LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and others launch media outlets to control their narratives. The rise of these outlets has frustrated those who enjoy “objective coverage”, but that in itself is a subjective take!
I’ve been critical of Nicki Minaj’s strategy in several Trapital articles. And I stand by those critiques. But I also acknowledge the empowerment of a voice that Nicki feels is missing. As long as she doesn’t amplify her fanbase’s bullying, she should take this opportunity to build Queen Radio into something special.
Ciara’s Beauty Marks Entertainment
Earlier this summer, Ciara completed the Harvard Business School’s Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports program. It’s a four-day program that has attracted celebrities like LL Cool J, Kevin Love, and countless others.
Ciara business ventures fall under her Beauty Marks Entertainment company. Here’s the description from her website:
Founded and led by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Ciara, Beauty Marks Entertainment (BME) is a company at the vanguard of the fast-changing music industry. With a business model built on fully supporting the artist, the female-led enterprise places Ciara at the forefront of forward-thinking entertainers taking an entrepreneurial approach to their careers.
BME also fulfills all the functions of a record label and provides an outlet for Ciara to achieve her many far-ranging ambitions. To that end, the company positions music at the intersection of Ciara’s other passions: film, fashion, technology and philanthropy.
It’s similar to Parkwood Entertainment, Beyonce’s management and entertainment company that’s centered around the business of Beyonce.
Most major artists have “teams,” but only a handful have incorporated those teams into companies like this. There are plenty of challenges and opportunities with this approach. From a management perspective, these teams need to assess the broad range of entertainment opportunities. As Ciara’s business interest span a wide range, her team needs to be open but focused. BME’s staff of seven is much smaller than Parkwood Entertainment staff (which I don’t have exact numbers, but it’s well over 50). Maintaining focus is easier with a more nimble team, but the specific expertise may not always be there.
Also, it’s hard for larger businesses to practice disciplined decision-making when the brand’s sole figure is also its leader. It’s harder to push back on that figure the same way that a board of directors or management team can challenge a CEO. The media often jokes about Beyonce’s power and control, but can anyone at Parkwood truly tell Bey “No” if she wants to do something? The same challenges exist at Roc Nation. Jay Z is technically just the founder, but he’s as involved in decision-making as CEO Jay Brown and COO Desiree Perez. (Note – Jay Brown didn’t say an entire word during that Roc Nation-NFL press conference).
Jay Z is there to be the public figure, but he’s still a cog in the organization’s leadership structure. This may be less of a challenge for Ciara’s BME since the team is smaller, but a team is still a team.
One of the more unique aspects of Ciara’s public image is her relationship with Russell Wilson. Ciara and Russ leverage social media to brand themselves as a power couple. Earlier this year, the two signed with CAA to rep their film and television endeavors. Wilson has his own media company, West2East, and his lifestyle brand, Good Man Brand. The joint representation will help them continue to find synergies where their brands can best support each other. A few weeks ago, they became part owners of the Seattle Sounders. They are a management group with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Macklemore, and others.
The great thing about Ciara and BME is that it can be successful without becoming a large enterprise. Ciara is self-aware enough to know that her commercial moment has largely passed. Her May album Beauty Marks, debuted at 87 on the Billboard 200 charts, her lowest yet. But in recent interviews, she’s spoken about the desire to connect more directly with her fans and pursue the avenues she wants to. It’s a position of power that no one can take away from her. And now that she’s at the helm, she can more easily call her shots .
Post Malone’s Sales Tactics for ‘Hollywood Bleeding’
Post Malone consistently puts up numbers. His Grammy-nominated Beerbongs & Bentleys was one of the highest-selling albums of 2018. This year’s follow-up Hollywood’s Bleeding is expected to carry that same momentum with features from everyone from DaBaby to Halsey to Ozzy Osbourne.
To ensure his success, Post did something that’s common among hip-hop’s biggest names. His album includes songs that were previously released as loosies, on a movie soundtrack, or similar. “Sunflower”, his song with Swae Lee, has been in the pop rotation for a LONG time. It first premiered on the Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse soundtrack in December 2018. The new album also includes, “Wow” another commercially hit that first came out in December 2018.
Drake famously did the same when he included 2015’s “Hotline Bling” on his 2016 album Views.
Forbes‘ Gary Suarez broke down the technicality:
“Views’ tracklisting truly games the revised RIAA gold and platinum system by exploiting how the organization now factors in the streaming performance of pre-release songs following an album’s release. On just Spotify alone, recently released singles “One Dance” and “Pop Style” have amassed 67 million and 18 million global plays, respectively. Upon Views’ release, any of those plays that occurred in the United States will apply not only to those songs’ qualifications towards RIAA digital single certifications, but towards the album certification as well. By the RIAA’s new methodology, that amounts to potentially tens of thousands of applicable and attributable sales the second Views drops, though notably it won’t factor into its placement on Billboard’s album charts.
Furthermore, the inclusion of 2015 single “Hotline Bling” as a bonus track could send Views’ RIAA numbers skyrocketing. With well over 400 million Spotify streams worldwide and close to 700 million official YouTube plays globally on Drake’s Vevo channel, this aging hit could be the infusion that sends Views well on its way to multi-platinum status before year’s end.”
I’ll spare you from another post about issues with the Billboard charts, but I included this to call out the trend. Travis Scott did the same when he included “Butterfly Effect” on Astroworld, even though the song dropped 15 months before the album.
This promotional plan has become essential for artists who want to sell a lot of records. A year before the album launches, the artist will now drop three to four loose singles. The songs that pop may get a music video. If the music video does well, then the song gets a spot on the artist’s forthcoming album. It’s a very different promotional cycle than what was common in the pre-streaming era. Back then, the lead singles on the album were already determined. A single or two would get released in advance of the album, but it was usually only a few months before.
Commercially successful albums now need 1-2 spots reserved for songs that might not necessarily flow with the album, but need to be slotted in for sales purposes. The song may not flow with the album, but the artists don’t seem to mind.
Hollywood Bleeding technically has four singles that have been released for an album that just came out today! But that’s the norm. Don’t be surprised when Drake’s “Money in the Grave” becomes an awkwardly placed lead single on Drake’s next album in 2020.