As we celebrate Black Music Month, NMAAM is reflecting on the past year in music. The state of Black music remains robust and continues to grow stronger. Its reach is larger than ever, spanning platforms, countries and genres. After overtaking rock as the most-played music last year, hip-hop’s dominance has only gotten larger. Eight of the 10 most-streamed artists last year were rappers.
Hip Hop asserted itself atop the global music landscape. Not only did it cement itself as America’s number one export, it proved that it is not the “fad” it was once perceived to be.
Drake ended 2018 as the most-streamed artist on the planet, an honor now held by R&B star Khalid. It’s a sign of slightly different sounds emerging. After a decade of resistance to the ever changing technology boom, the music industry has seemingly gotten somewhat of a hold of streaming. Black artists of all genres have embraced streaming and moved forward full steam with capitalizing the platforms.
Black artists were leaders in mixing genres and defying category. Lil Nas X became the most-streamed artist in a single week after a collaboration with Billy Ray Cyrus, and Cardi B’s “I Like It” topped the charts and was nominated for Record of the Year. Black artists have finally shattered the glass ceiling and expanded fully into a phase of a genre bending boom. With a decreasing reliance on traditional record labels, artists have been finally free to be as unique as possible. These artists have proven that, if given the chance, they can succeed at mass in any single or combination of genres.
Rhiannon Giddens, Jimmie Allen, Johnathan McReynolds and Wayne Shorter – himself a pioneer in challenging category – each brought new sounds and ideas into Americana, country, gospel and jazz this year. America’s music is rooting in blackness, and as these artist continue to reclaim their stake in multiple forms of music, the fans are rediscovering what was once considered lost arts.
Forms have also changed this year: The performative powers of Quincy Jones, Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin were brought to new audiences through long-awaited documentaries this year.
Black music proved this year that it’s more viable than just a 3-4 minute song. Fans of all cultural backgrounds tuned into nearly 3 hours of Beyonce’s highly anticipated and well received Netflix documentary “Homecoming.” Other documentaries included long overdue documentaries of both Quincy Jones and the late legendary Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
Kanye West’s Sunday Service at Coachella was part concert, part church. Solange accompanied her album with a performance at the Guggeheim. The days of the mysterious artist are over. Fans want an inside peek at what makes our favorite musicians tick. Black music stepped up to the plate to give an inside glimpse into their world while simultaneously providing added value to their projects.
The past year has also been tough for those we’ve lost – Aretha, Nancy Wilson, James Ingram, Roy Hargrove, Nipsey Hussle, among others. Artists whose legacies touch the last 60 years of popular music and will continue to reverberate.
Just as we’ve been given, some have been taken away. Black music lost pure icons like Aretha Franklin, as well as emerging greats like Nipsey Hustle. Though they have passed on, they’ve left legacies that not only span music, but humanity overall.
For some like Aretha, we had nearly all of those glorious years to share her talents. Others like Nipsey we lost too soon – but the dedication to his community is still being felt today. Their music and messages are reaching new ears and will continue to inspire generations. Nipsey’s businesses employ more than 40,000 people.
Black music has never been more influential. Take Missy Elliott – inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and recently awarded an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music.
Or Childish Gambino – whose song “This Is America” became the first rap song to win Record of the Year.
It was a year for pushing boundaries, finding new audiences and innovation. The next year will likely bring something unexpected – a collaboration, a song, a performance, a loss – but black music’s popularity and impact will continue to grow and shift.