If You’re Reading This, Rap Has Changed

This post appeared on The Cut Magazine’s online website in July of 2015.

J. Cole released his most recent and most successful album, 2014 Forest  Hills Drive, this past December without a single and with almost no promotion.  Drake released the Internet­shaking If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late via a  tweet to an iTunes link this past February, selling over 500,000 digital copies within  three days. What began in 2013 with Beyonce’s overnight release of seventeen songs and music videos has been adopted by the biggest stars in hip­hop. The traditional, lengthy album release process that often includes radio­friendly singles gaining consumer attention before a marketing blitz around the album release date is clearly being replaced.

Even smaller hip­hop acts have abandoned the traditional album release and opted for something unique. Nipsey Hussle’s past two projects have been priced at $100 and $1,000 respectively. Wu­Tang Clan shocked everyone when they came out and said there would only be a single copy of their next album that would be put up for auction. Currency released his latest album this month for free, but also offered fans a $100 package that included the album, a look book, and clothing.

This odd behavior surrounding albums and their release has been a long time coming. While albums have historically been the cash cow of the music industry, music sales have fallen to account for only 6% of musicians’ yearly earnings. This number is likely even lower in hip­hop, where the release of free mixtapes is the norm.

Today’s music world exists as a part of social media, a place where Drake can reach 22.3 million followers with a single tweet, all of whom can spread the news to their friends (the release tweet currently has over 110,000 retweets). The ridiculousness of Nipsey Hussle and Wu Tang’s album releases are designed to be blogged about and turned into click­bait headlines all across the Internet. For many hip­hop artists, the time and effort involved in a formal album release is increasingly diminishing. With the success of J. Cole and Drake’s recent albums, it has become clear that a change is occurring in how rappers release their albums.