Hey! Today I went back to the old format for Trapital updates. I did this for a few reasons:
- I got feedback from several folks who missed my analysis on three topics.
- Content curation is more time consuming than expected! I couldn’t recommend just anything. It took time to sift through it all. It didn’t save me much time.
- It’s not my core competency. You can get content curation elsewhere, but you can’t get this analysis elsewhere, and that’s why you bought this membership!
I might add it in the future, but as an ancillary offering. Thanks again for your patience as I’ve experimented with the model.
Today’s update covers Lil’ Uzi Vert’s strong commercial performance and rollout strategy for Eternal Atake, whether he meets my definition of a superstar, and the tactics behind Donald Glover’s 12-track project that dropped and disappeared soon after.
Lil’ Uzi Vert’s “Deluxe” Album Strategy
This pandemic has shaken all of us here on planet Earth, but it hasn’t stopped our boy Baby Pluto. Lil’ Uzi Vert put up some strong numbers with his sophomore album Eternal Atake.
From The Fader:
Eternal Atake sold 288,000 equivalent album units in the week ending March 12. Uzi’s previous album, Luv Is Rage 2, also debuted at No.1 following its release in 2017 with 135,000 units. Of those 288,000 units, 278,000 were down to streams of the album. This equates to songs from the album being played 400 million times in its first week of release.
The last album to achieve streaming figures of that volume was Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V, which debuted with 433 million in 2018.
For context, Eternal Atake had the fourth-largest streaming week ever in music. Across all genres. Only Wayne, Drake, and Post Malone have streamed more. Sure, there’s inflation in streaming stats given the rapid growth in recent years, but that’s still impressive. He did it without relying on album bundles. He has one sweatshirt + digital album available, but you have to search for it on his website. There were also no major features. Outside of an appearance by Syd, all the music came from the 25-year-old rapper.
It’s technically a surprise drop, but that’s semantic. There was plenty of build-up despite the unannounced release date. Uzi’s fans have patiently waited since 2018. He engaged fans with Twitter polls to pick the album cover. Got other artists to tweet about his album. It was the organic, “own your audience,” don’t rely on press and other companies, approach that’s been preached by the entire music industry. This was Uzi’s Astroworld moment (without the big name features and gamified 24-hour merch model).
A two-minute short film for Eternal Atake. Give that boy his Oscar!!
The “XO Tour Llif3” rapper capitalized on the moment and followed up on Friday with a deluxe version of the album. From Billboard:
Uzi’s meaty 14-track collection comes after he shelled out 18 songs on EA last week, with The Internet’s Syd billed as the lone feature. This time around, his deluxe boasts guest appearances from the likes of Young Thug, 21 Savage, Gunna, Lil Baby, Chief Keef, and more.
Traditionally, deluxe albums are made to monetize the superfans willing to buy a physical collectors edition with a few bonus tracks or visit their local Target for the exclusive special edition. But Uzi’s deluxe had none of that. There is no additional physical copy or exclusive retail agreement. It was a whole next album worth of music with some of the biggest names in rap.
Guest features from A-Listers can be a safety net for rappers who want the credibility that their verse may bring. That “double platinum no features” life ain’t built for everyone. But Uzi proved he can sell without the big names, but still benefit from them the following week. It’s the best of both worlds.
Is Lil’ Uzi Vert a Superstar? Not Yet.
It’s time to see if Lil Uzi Vert passes the Trapital Superstar Test.
“Superstar” gets thrown around loosely, especially in hip-hop.
Gotta currently check these boxes:
– sell 250k+ albums first-week
– get top coverage on major outlets
– headline an arena/stadium tour
– headline major festival/event (Coachella)
– pass The Mom Test
— Dan Runcie (@RuncieDan) January 16, 2020
When I tweeted this, there were 9 names who qualified: Drake, Cardi B, Rihanna, Beyonce, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Jay Z, and Kanye West (yes, still). There’s a case to make for Post Malone and Childish Gambino, but not today. This about Uzi.
He passed the album sales threshold. Easily. Uzi could outsell some of those superstars I listed. Eternal Atake outsold Jesus is King in its first week even though over 40% of Kanye’s sales came from bundles.
Top coverage on major outlets? Well, he hates interviews. “That shit’s whack,” he said on Hot 97 back in 2016. It’s no surprise he hasn’t been on The Breakfast Club, Everyday Struggle, or other main spots. His lack of press makes the commercial performance of Eternal Atake that much more impressive. It’s organic hype. I’ll say yes since he can get that coverage if he wants it.
Can he headline an arena tour though? No. In 2018 he was supposed to tour with Playboi Carti at music halls and ballroom-size venues (under 10,000 capacity), but the tour got canceled. Now, he might be able to fill up 10,000 at a concert in Philly or Atlanta, but not the rest of the country.
Can he headline a major music festival like Coachella? Not yet. He was on the second row of Coachella’s 2020 lineup, where Travis Scott is the headliner and Lana Del Rey is listed before him. He’s on the second row of Rolling Loud’s 2020 lineup, under Post Malone. This can change quickly though. Travis Scott was on the second row of Coachella’s lineup back in 2017, and I’d say that Uzi in 2020 is as big as Travis was in 2017.
Does Lil’ Uzi Vert pass the Mom test? My gut was no, but I texted her to double-check. Still waiting to hear back. I’ll keep you posted!
Uzi only met two of the five. Not bad, better than most of his peers, but he’s not a superstar. That could change though. He’s a Roc Nation client. That team will capitalize on this moment and try to boost his exposure. Whether Uzi wants that exposure is a separate issue, but he clearly got Roc Nation management for a reason, right? Let’s see how the rest of the year plays out.
Donald Glover’s Scarcity Tactics
The link leading to a site called donaldgloverpresents.com was first tweeted early Sunday morning by a Twitter user and eventually retweeted by some of Glover’s management. At first, fans were skeptical, but then they realized the link actually leads to a bunch of brand new songs from the elusive artist.
Childish Gambino–if that’s what he still goes by– always has a new tactic up his sleeve. Scarcity drives demand, which will likely heighten sales when (if??) these songs become available on all the major digital streaming providers.
Here’s what I wrote about the 36-year-old artist last year:
Despite all those accolades, his biggest move came from his partnership with Google. On Friday, he launched a new AR app called “Pharos” on Android. From Variety:
“The app allows users to open up an AR portal in their living room (or where ever else they happen to be), and then step into the outer space world of “Pharos.” Once in space, they can unlock several elements of the song with the help of some mystical dancers, until it is finally time for a musical lift-off.…What sets the AR experience apart from other AR audio apps is that it comes with a multi-player option, giving multiple users a chance to enter the experience together.”
This is noteworthy for several reasons. First, the Pharos app has exclusive songs that have only been heard by Gambino’s closest fans. Last fall, an incomplete version of his song “Algorhythm” was sent to those who attended past concerts. The song has since been performed at recent concerts and is now available on the app. It is not available on streaming services. The app helps Gambino track and better understand who his fans are (which has been a theme in this month’s Trapital articles on Nipsey Hussle and Beyonce).
Second, the multi-player option builds community. The Atlanta star occupies a unique space in the entertainment landscape. The app’s users are predominantly fans of Glover’s music, but his reach across TV and film attracts others. This bond should help Gambino down the road.
Similarly, only Glover’s true fans listened to this weekend’s album. If you had the desire to listen that 12-track project while the world is in crisis mode this weekend, you are definitely a day-one Childish Gambino fan. That’s not shade, it is what it is.
Glover’s tactics are especially notable given his status. He’s a borderline superstar who passes most of those tests (more than Uzi currently does). At his stage in the game, most of his peers take the safe road. Their promotional strategies and sales tactics are risk-averse. Even Jay Z’s cell phone partnership strategy has guaranteed his commercial success. On the Trapital Podcast with EMPIRE’s VP of Digital Moody Jones, he said Childish Gambino is the artist he would most love to work with because of his creativity and willingness to try new things.
He’s one of the best examples of this chart I made last August in How Rappers Started Getting More Mileage Out of their Music:
He’s always been willing to try new things. He’s not the first artist to use scarcity as a promotional tactic with his music, but I bet that more artists will follow his lead soon.