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Trapital Recap 2019

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Dan Runcie

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A recap on the year that was for the business of hip-hop at Trapital.

Rihanna (via Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

How is it December already?! What a year. Hip-hop continued to dominate both on and off the mic, and Trapital was here for all of it. This year I published 48 articles, 77 member updates, 17 podcast episodes, 4 in-person meetups for members.

Last year, I did a Top Five Articles compilation. It was a fun project, but there was more to dive into.

This year’s Trapital recap is broken down in a few categories: most-viewed articles, best charts, best member updates, most-downloaded podcasts, most-popular themes, and takes that aged the best and worst. Some things I wrote made me wanna yell “I called game!” like Paul Pierce. Other things made me say “Wow. Did I really write that?!” Ha! It’s all part of the process.

Let’s get to it.

Most-viewed articles

  1. Why Death Row Records Was Bound to Self-Destruct – Hip-hop often blames Death Row’s demise on the crime-ridden life it portrayed, but Suge Knight’s management theory was doomed from the start.
  2. How Jay Z and Damon Dash’s Split Still Impacts Hip-Hop Hip-hop’s misguided perception of Jay Z’s success and Damon Dash’s struggles has influenced how the next generation of artists approach business.
  3. How Megan Thee Stallion Grew Her Fanbase – The 24-year-old rapper grew by doing things that don’t scale, but her business partners need to find the right balance to get Megan to the next level.
  4. Why Rihanna Partnered With Amazon – The Fenty founder teamed up with Amazon to distribute her products and video content, but she could have earned more elsewhere.
  5. How Tyler Perry Built a Customer-Centric Empire – The Atlanta mogul is rightfully praised for his high volume, low-cost model, but his focus on customer experience made the difference.

Anyone who reads enough Trapital knows that virality is more random than most think. The same is true here. These aren’t necessarily the five BEST articles of the year, but I understand why each gained traction.

For instance, Death Row Records former CEO Suge Knight has become a borderline mythical figure at this point. He has more in common with New Jack City’s Nino Brown than Roc Nation’s Jay Brown. When the content on him is done well, it draws attention. It also helped that DaBaby’s “Suge” was one of the biggest songs this summer.

The article’s headline picture likely drove traffic too. It’s one of the few photos of Suge with hair:

(Los Angeles Times)

Or maybe it’s Bigen?! No, it’s natural hair… Well— You know what, let’s just move on.

Best visuals

This year I made more charts. You asked, and you got more! The visuals force me to synthesize takeaways, which strengthens the content. These are the ones that resonated the most:

Beyonce Sales Funnel
Three levels of Beyhive fandom and the content consumed at each stage:I actually drew one out with a straight edge and everything. This was before I used the iPad. (As someone who attended On the Run Tour in 2014, I’m technically in the Casual Beyhive)

How Rappers Started Getting More Mileage Out of the Music
The “new” model reminded me of the well-known 1957 Disney synergy map, which reinforces itself with each theme park, film, merchandise licensing, music, and TV deal.


The “Old Town Road” playbook
The song’s success was dependent on a mix of factors both in and out of the 20-year-old rapper’s control. A lot of artists have now flooded to TikTok to copy Lil’ Nas X, but it’s not that easy. I broke down what he did in this framework:

Roc Nation Restructure
With three record labels/distributors under its umbrella, it makes sense for Roc Nation to segment its labels and take advantage of the long tail opportunity:

The Tyler Perry Studios Customer-Centric Model
Three phases to building the Madea fanbase. Perry didn’t just transition from phase to phase. He still focused on the core as he stretched to new opportunities.

Top Member Updates

The Trapital membership launched in May and has kept up with the essential news that impacts hip-hop and the businesses that partner with it. Here are some of the popular ones that were exclusive to Trapitalists:

Most Popular Trapital Podcasts

The Trapital Podcast launched in July. There’s been some great episodes and conversations. Here are the most downloaded ones:

  1. Mathew Knowles on Beyonce’s Streaming Strategy, Solange’s Marketing, and Dinner with Jay Z or $50,000?
  2. Mike Weissman (President of SoundCloud) on the company’s Creator Strategy, How it Compares to a Startup Accelerator, and What it Means to be a SoundCloud Rapper
  3. Shea Serrano on the Economics of Book Publishing, Movies (and Other Things), and How DJ Screw Inspired His Promotional Tactics

Jay Z and Roc Nation dominated headlines in 2019 (via Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Popular themes

Building a Customer Base:
“The Pump Plan” and other clout-chasing tactics haven’t taken over hip-hop the way that some feared. Many artists still start with organic growth and logically expand from there.

Distribution Tradeoffs:
“Own your master, own your publishing, say no to the majors,” became a stronger beat in 2019. The notion has understandable roots, but the decision comes with tradeoffs that every artist needs to account for.

Strategic Partnerships:
Hip-hop’s biggest artists don’t get on top alone. They partner with the biggest brands and companies in the world to maximize reach. The companies enjoy these partnerships because it boosts relevancy with the artist’s audience too.

Best prediction

There’s a few low-hanging-fruit takes that I called early, like Reasonable Doubt’s return to Spotify, J. Lo performing at the Halftime Show, Jay Z becoming a billionaire, but this article takes the crown:

Five months later:

Change was inevitable for Roc Nation Records. While the company hasn’t technically moved on from the label, it did a hard reset and announced new leadership this summer.

I spent a lot of time assessing Roc Nation this year. It’s the most written about company of the year for Trapital (and in turn, Jay Z was the most written about artist). It wasn’t intentional, but if a prominent hip-hop company fires its executive staff, promotes internally to replace, launches a new JV, makes a questionable partnership with the NFL, and gets a new CEO, it’s probably gonna get covered in Trapital!

Worst prediction

Beyonce’s Streaming Strategy, Explained: (Trapital | April 18, 2019)

“I predict that the next Beyoncé album will be a Tidal exclusive… The decision to release on Tidal will also reinforce Beyoncé’s ownership stake. A large portion of subscribers are there for Bey and are holding out for this next album… But if Beyoncé was truly done with Tidal, she would have sold her stake and made Lemonade available on all platforms…At the moment, current subscribers might be annoyed that Homecoming and its live album weren’t exclusive theirs. But they shouldn’t worry. The album they really want should be on its way.”

Lemonade was put on Spotify FIVE DAYS LATER on April 25! Hey, you can’t get them all right. I highly doubt that this has led to as much Tidal churn as people think, but the promotional offers are pretty steep. Time will tell.


Thanks to all the readers and listeners. Special thanks to the paid Trapital members who make this possible. If you’re not a member yet, what are you waiting for?! Join us here. If you need a holiday gift for someone who would benefit from these insights, gift a membership.

I’ll be back in 2020. Enjoy the holiday season!

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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