Words by Jibril Osman
On Weston Road Flows, from Drake’s massive 2016 album Views, he raps “You platinum like wrappers on Hershey’s boy, that shit is worthless.” The Toronto rapper was referring to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and how their new certification rules will affect music. Back in February of 2016, the RIAA announced that, “For the first time in the album award’s 58-year history, the record industry trade group began including on-demand audio and video streams in its calculations, with 1,500 on demand song streams holding the same value as 10 individual track sales or 1 full album sale.”
Artists less concerned with physical album sales can now focus their marketing attention on streaming, while albums that were never certified physically can now be certified digitally. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was certified platinum, while Wale’s Gifted was named gold immediately upon the announcement.
It all started with Napster, which completely changed the way music was consumed. Not only was music easily downloaded, but digital became the delivery norm. Previously, fans would have to purchase an entire album to be able to get their hands on a song they liked. Vanilla Ice’s album To The Extreme was certified platinum mainly because of his hit single “Ice Ice Baby.” With the present-day popularity of streaming, Post Malone’s sophomore album Beerbongs & Bentleys was certified platinum by the RIAA mere hours after its release – driven by the pre-album release streams of the hit singles “Rockstar” and “Psycho.” Streaming rules allow for inclusion of popular songs that have been streaming for months – sometimes even a year – on an album. Had Vanilla Ice released his album To The Extreme in 2018, it would’ve been certified platinum on the day it dropped instead of the 4+ months it took back in 1990.
This streaming economy has certainly divided the hip-hop community. CEO of TDE (home of Kendrick Lamar), Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith tweeted out in 2016, stating: “We don’t stand behind this @RIAA bs. ole skool rules apply, 1 million albums sold is platinum. until we reach that #, save all the congrats.” The issue lies in authenticity. When artists started to realize and understand the streaming game, some teams go to lengths to capitalize. Lil Yachty put 21 songs on his debut album, Teenage Emotions, while Chris Brown’s album Heartbreak on A Full Moon clocks in at 45 songs. Brown even gave specific instructions to his fans on how to properly stream the album so as to create more sales.
In an era where album sales are not promised unless your name is Taylor Swift, Beyoncè, Adele or Drake, artists have found a way to sell albums again. Drake recently released his fifth studio album, Scorpion, and shattered records left and right partially by releasing it as a double album. In its first day of release, Scorpion broke Spotify’s one-day global record for album streams with 132.45 million streams, more than 50 million plays greater than the previous record, set by Post Malone’s Beerbongs & Bentleys two months earlier. It also broke Apple Music’s single day record with 170 million streams, breaking Drake’s own record set with More Life. It’s clear with numbers like these the 6ix God has perfectly adapted to the new age of streaming and the truth of the matter is other artists in the music industry have to evolve in the streaming economy or get left behind. The reality is most of an artist’s revenue is derived from touring so even though adding 20+ songs to an album or other “tricks” aimed at boosting sales seem shady, its the label that sees the bottom-line benefit. Regardless, at the end of the day, in an age where the fans talks as much about sales as artistic merit, artists must keep up the numbers if they’re to keep up and consistently get that bag.