fbpx

Drake and the Monetization of Hip-Hop

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on whatsapp
via YouTube

by Dan Runcie

Every Monday, Trapital's free weekly memo will give you insights on the latest moves in the business of hip-hop. Join 15K+ readers who stay ahead of all the trends:

We should have known a new Drake album was coming.

Once Aubrey Graham said goodbye to the Certified Lover Boy heart-shaped cut-out haircut and said hello to the cornrows, he was on to the next project. There’s a new hairstyle for every Drake album.

We should have known a new Drake album was coming.

He just signed a new deal with Universal Music Group which could be worth $400 million. The streaming king now has better economics from recorded music revenue than he ever did under Cash Money Records. If you stream 2011’s Take Care, you’re paying Birdman first. But if you stream CLB and Honestly, Nevermind, you’re giving more money to Drake, who likely hopes this ‘LeBron-sized deal’ will make him a billionaire too.

We should have known it was coming.

And we should have known that the most common response to Drake’s surprise album, Honestly, Nevermind would be, “ehh, this shit is mid.”

This era rewards consistency more than it rewards greatness

Drake has talked about this before. His response to early criticism for Honestly, Nevermind felt pre-meditated, much like his anticipation of criticism before CLB’s release. The truth for each album fluctuates between his haters’ desire to go viral and Drake’s “It’s all good if you don’t get it yet,” pushbacks. But what’s been consistent for nearly a decade is the shift in Drake’s music since the streaming era took off.

Shortly after Scorpion’s release in June 2018, I wrote Nothing Was The Same After Nothing Was The Same. That 2013 album was the last time Drake really went for a classic album. It’s his tightest and most complete project. But since then, each project has felt like a piece of content that tries to please everyone, which is impossible. It ends up being liked enough by the most amount of people, but that leads to the most money.

It’s hard to blame Drake for optimizing for money though. If he wasn’t doing it himself, then someone else would be doing it off of his work. Most classic hip-hop albums are owned by major record labels, not by the artists who made them. Plus, it’s harder than ever for a classic album to maintain long-term mindshare in the age of social and streaming. Art is art, but this is still the music business, and Drake is aware that he’s still the biggest draw.

Drake accounted for 1 out of every 131 music streams in 2021. He gets prominently featured on Spotify’s playlists, like how Procter & Gamble products get prime placement on Walmart shelves. If he doesn’t care about the money, then who should?

A business decision

But the understandable frustration for Drake fans is wondering what could have been. Drake is not like The Rock — a box office star who has maximized his acting to the best of his abilities. He’s more like Tom Cruise — an actor who had the complete package and chose the action hero route.

If you watch Born On The Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire, or Magnolia, it’s clear that Cruise can act. If he kept stretching himself, an Academy Award was inevitable. But Cruise chose to lean all the way into his Ethan Hunt, Mission Impossible bag.

We know what we’re getting every time Tom Cruise is on screen. No surprises. But you know who can control their own destiny in Hollywood, not rely on Netflix‘s opaque data to tell him if their movies performed well, and who will likely earn $100 million from his latest blockbuster? The 60-year-old actor understands the formula.

Today’s hip-hop generation reveres how Master P handled business with No Limit Records. He signed a lucrative record deal and maximized the hell out of it. Did No Limit produce classic music? No. But P got his money. So when a popular rapper today has his version of that strategy for the streaming era, we should keep this in mind.

Is Honestly, Nevermind Drake’s best work? It is not. Is any Drake album since Nothing Was The Same his best work? No. But the streaming era has made it more lucrative to be consistently good than occasionally great. The Certified Lover Boy has long adapted. At least until his next hairstyle change.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

Want more? Trapital's free Monday memo will keep you posted on the latest trends in the business of hip-hop:

Like this memo? Share it!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
"The stuff that Trapital puts out is fantastic. Really interesting insights into the industry, artists trends, and market trends."
Mike Weissman
CEO, SoundCloud
“You tell the true stories. Not just the end product, but how you get to the end product. Your point of view on it is dope.”
Steve Stoute
CEO, UnitedMasters and Translation