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Why NBA YoungBoy is the YouTube King

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NBA YoungBoy (via Until Death Call My Name)

by Dan Runcie

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Two weeks ago, NBA YoungBoy was named the ninth highest-earning musician of 2020 on Billboard’s Money Makers list with $11.9 million. It’s a perfect time to break down how the young rapper makes his money.

My own bias. In my three years of Trapital, I have never written a word about NBA YoungBoy. Not one! I’ll admit my bias. I don’t listen to his music and I know most Trapital readers aren’t his target demo. The people I’ve talked to the most about NBA YoungBoy are my 11-year-old nephew and my friend who’s from Baton Rouge—NBA YoungBoy’s hometown. Plus, I had heard much more about his legal troubles than his music. I was fine holding off.

But the 21-year-old rapper’s business model says a lot about the streaming era. Since others artists are studying his moves, it’s time to break it down.

Drop music early and often. Since 2015, YoungBoy Never Broke Again has dropped 24 projects and 350 uploads to YouTube. In 2020 alone he had 8 singles, 4 mixtapes, 1 studio album, and 1.4 billion video streams (ranked no 1 for the year). He’s a machine. In a year without touring revenue, it’s no surprise he jumped up Billboard’s earnings list ahead of artists like The Weeknd, Eminem, and Bad Bunny. Those artists earn more per project, but NBA YoungBoy is a volume shooter. He has more in common with MrBeast than he does with most other rappers.

When Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said that artists, “can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough,” what he’s really saying is “NBA YoungBoy can do it. Why can’t you?”

A YouTuber with a record label contract. NBA YoungBoy has been one of the platform’s best artists since 2017. He releases videos on the platform before any other streaming service.

Like many YouTubers, his videos reflect what he’s doing at that particular moment. YouTuber subscribers are just as bought into the content as they are the creator. Within the first few seconds of an NBA YoungBoy video, you know exactly what you’re gonna get—with title cards and captions as needed. If Soulja Boy represents the innovation period of YouTube’s music, then YoungBoy is YouTube Music at its growth stage.

According to his music video director, he never set out with a YouTube strategy, but once he saw the success, he leaned in.

The path for the “cancelled.” Like many big YouTubers, NBA YoungBoy has his fair share of controversy. YouTube viewers love the platform because they’re getting content they can’t get anywhere else. That’s part of the appeal. A lot of the big brands want nothing to do with NBA YoungBoy and his YouTube peers, so the most lucrative revenue opportunity is to stay on the less restrictive platform and monetize directly.

This also highlights YouTube as a low-key home for the “cancelled.” Even if the bigger brands don’t call him, even if the streaming playlists don’t show him love, he can still get $11.9 million per year through YouTube.

Read more about NBA YoungBoy in this Wall Street Journal article by Neil Shah.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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