Hey! Today’s update is a little later than intended. Had a deal with a few changes, so thanks for your patience.
Friendly reminder – if you’re based in the Bay Area, reply to this email and let me know by end of day today if you can make the Trapital Brunch in San Francisco this Saturday 12/7 at 11am!
This update covers Noname’s comments that she might quit music, where the black audiences are, and Pandora and Uninterrupted’s partnership on athlete-curated playlists.
Noname and White Crowds
Last week, Chicago rapper Noname shared some honest thoughts about her fans at her shows.
Many of these tweets have since been deleted:
me consistently creating content that is primarily consumed by a white audience who would rather shit on me than challenge their liberalism because some how liking Lizzos music absolves them of racist tendencies.”
Y’all really pushing the idea that black people can’t come to my shows because of black death and financial restraint ??? As if Dababy, Megan and Smino shows ain’t black as hell? Say you don’t like my shit and move around lol
whats funny is most black artist are just as uncomfortable performing for majority white crowds but would never publicly say that out of fear and allegiance. Which isnt a bad thing necessarily cause niggas gotta eat but yall wouldnt be up and arms if I quit workn @ McDonalds.
when I go to work, thousands of white people scream the word nigga at me. and no I’m not changing my art so it is what it is. catch me @nonamebooks ✌🏾
These comments are several layers deep, but let’s focus on the part about majority-white crowds.
Noname’s frustrations aren’t unique. Since the 90s, hip-hop’s biggest stars have attracted a majority-white fanbase. This demographic mix is further pronounced with live performances. The underlying theme of my article The Globalization of Hip-Hop, Part I is that American rappers often earn more money per night from international music festivals than domestic tour stops. Those festival audiences are typically whiter than the rapper’s already predominantly-white concerts. Coachella’s audience is less than 5% black despite its headliners being mostly hip-hop artists, or pop artists who rely heavily on hip-hop-inspired production or cosigns. Cardi B’s biggest festival guarantee came from her stop in Switzerland, where black people make up less than 2% of the population.
Private event performances follow this trend too. When Beyonce rapped about getting paid in equity, she’s referenced a 2013 private Uber concert where she got a $6M stake as payment. Uber’s leadership team—who are the folks most likely to attend these events— is currently over 92% white and Asian, and 3.3% black. That means that those stats were likely even more profound in 2013—when diversity in tech got far less media attention.
It happens in the “truly private” events too. The Migos get paid to perform at bar mitzvahs. Beyonce got a rumored $15 million to perform at a private Indian wedding. In both cases, the performers are often in the extreme minority.
In Noname’s tweets, she mentioned Smino, Megan the Stallion, and DaBaby as artists with “black as hell” shows, but I wouldn’t go that far. Megan the Stallion core Hotties fanbase is mostly black women at the moment, but that will change as she gets more famous. This year, “Hot Girl Summer” became a popular tagline for the brands with majority white customers. Meg, who has signed a management deal with Roc Nation, has taken steps to become a superstar. Her expansion is inevitable. She might be driving the boat at private international weddings soon enough.
The same can be said about Smino, who joined Noname on stage at a Jimmy Fallon performance earlier this year. This should go without saying, but anyone who performs on Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, or any of those late-night shows will attract a mainstream white audience! The same can be said for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, which Noname did back in 2017.
And DaBaby, who told us that his latest album KIRK was going to be a generational moment like Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, wants the attention too. Moments like Tha Carter III don’t happen with the mainstream hip-hop audience.
Finding Black Crowds
As fragmented as the hip-hop landscape is, there’s still a strong tendency to push burgeoning stars toward standard paths to stardom. Noname and others can still rise while focusing on black fans, but everyone on her team needs to be on the same page. They need to say “no” to opportunities as much as they say “yes.”
A majority of music festivals view Coachella as the industry standard, but it’s not the only way. Since 2003, the Afropunk festival has branded itself as an outlet for the black folks who were fans of punk rock. The event has expanded its base—much to the frustration of hipster purists—but it’s still a predominantly black event that has expanded to several cities.
Noname performed in at the Atlanta festival in 2018 which she right up her alley:
There’s also Essence Fest, one of the longest-standing festivals in the country with a majority black audience. The BET Experience, the “festival” before the annual BET Awards, has also become an attractive event. BET paid Cardi B $500,000 for her June performance.
For years, neo soul artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo thrived on these outlets that are far more tailored to their target audience. These artists have gotten mainstream acknowledgment, but never fully inserted themselves into the machine that tries to churn rappers into superstars.
Ironically enough, Erykah Badu has also done a Tiny Desk concert, and David Letterman, and Kimmel, but she came up in a different era. In the 90s, there were fewer options for her to get put on outside of the mainstream outlets. She still relies on these outlets because she was brought up in an era where mainstream exposure was all-or-nothing.
The artists who turn down mass audiences don’t necessarily have it easier. It can take just as much work (sometimes more) to build a sustainable system to attract the fans Noname wants to. But when it happens, it can be more valuable in the long run.
As she takes a break from music and focuses on her book club, she and her team should consider the options out there for her to continue her career and talent on her terms. It won’t be any easier, but she already has the name recognition to explore the numerous options out there. Turning down the major outlets doesn’t have to be a concession, especially not today.
UNINTERRUPTED, Pandora, and Athlete-Curated Playlists
From Sirius XM Holdings:
“SiriusXM and UNINTERRUPTED are teaming up to connect music and sports in an exclusive and innovative new way, bringing fans closer to the athletes they love through athlete-curated playlists available exclusively for Pandora listeners. Playlists from LeBron James, Rob Gronkowski, Odell Beckham Jr., Angel McCoughtry, Dion Waiters, Lexie Brown, Lonzo Ball, Mo Bamba, Draymond Green, Nate Burleson, Chiney Ogwumike and Adam Rippon are available now on Pandora, with more athlete playlists to follow.”
This is a follow-up to the Pandora Content Universe update I wrote last month. Athlete curation, and more broadly, celebrity curation, is an opportunity that most media outlets value. In an algorithmically-driven landscape (and an overabundance of content), curation is more helpful than most realize.
Aaron McClendon, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Detroit Venture Partners, shared an interview on Twitter with media investor Peter Chernin who spoke on this topic:
Last year Peter Chernin stated that the abundance of digital content has led to a wildly underserved curation & recommendation problem for consumers.
— Aaron McClendon (@faintflex) December 2, 2019
Both are correct. Algorithms aren’t nearly as effective as pushing us to watch content. (anecdotally speaking, algorithms seem more effective with social media advertisements than they are with content recommendations for streaming services).
This puts LeBron James as others in a valuable position as the tastemakers. It also puts Pandora in a valuable spot as the home for these playlists. But these playlists need to be integrated in ways that are natural to how these artists interact with fans. For instance, LeBron’s playlist needs to be part of his weekly Taco Tuesdays. It needs to be what he bumps during the workouts he posts to Instagram. He also needs to promote Pandora whenever possible.
The other challenge with these playlists—unlike the TV streaming landscape—is that Bron’s recommended music will likely be available on other digital streaming platforms. It probably won’t include any Pandora exclusive songs. That means that Bron needs to add exclusive commentary or videos to make it unique. Otherwise, someone can easily make the LeBron James Playlist on Spotify or the Dion Waiters Playlist on Apple Music and call it a day.
While Pandora likely has a plan for this, its differentiating factor will be the engagement and virality of the exclusive commentary. Here’s what I wrote last month:
The Drake and Uninterrupted moves are exciting, but the most successful Drake/LeBron content usually tackles hot topics that whelp it go viral. Here are some potential ones that would surely generate strong viewership:
– Drake discusses any drama from his past (Chris Brown, Rihanna, Adonis’ mother, etc)
– Drake on his current relationship with Kanye West
– LeBron revisits his Hong Kong/Daryl Morey comments
– LeBron talks about his hairline and hair regiment (I’m kind of joking here, but I’m really not)
If Sirius XM – Pandora can get those moments exclusive to its platform, it will serve the company well.
It’s hard for a playlist to go viral, but if LeBron added genuine commentary that would get folks talking about him, it works. LeBron has multiple outlets to share his candid thoughts, so Pandora will have to hope that some of the candid thoughts often shared on The Shop can be saved for the playlist!