According to Nielsen Music, a plurality — 29% — of all on-demand streaming in 2014 was of hip-hop and R&B. This includes activity on services like Spotify, YouTube, Rdio, and Rhapsody, but not Pandora or SoundCloud. Hip-hop and R&B’s share of streaming put the genre ahead of rock (25%), pop (21%), EDM (7%), and country (6%). And data provided by Nielsen to BuzzFeed News shows that the trend held for the first quarter of 2015, with hip-hop claiming a 25% share of streaming, compared to 23% for rock and 20% for pop.
Over the past six months, four of the top five most streamed albums on Spotify globally belonged to hip-hop (Drake, Lamar, J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise), with only One Direction’s Fourpreventing a sweep. And last month, the Spotify record for most streamed song in a single week went to the rapper Wiz Khalifa, whose hit “See You Again” featuring Charlie Puth received 21.9 million plays from April 6–12.
Hip-hop’s lead in streaming is remarkable, considering that the genre has historically lagged behind rock and pop in other metrics used by the music industry as barometers of success. When it comes to album sales, for instance, hip-hop and R&B was still a distant second to rock in 2014, accounting for 14% of sales compared to rock’s 33%, according to Nielsen Music. In song downloads, hip-hop and R&B came in third place behind both rock and pop.
As the music industry has shifted to a more streaming-focused model, with both physical and digital music sales continuing to decline, there are signs that hip-hop artists are reaping the benefit. More than a third of the 14 albums to top the Billboard 200 this year, which last November began to include streams as a factor, came from the hip-hop category, including the aforementioned albums by Drake, Lamar, and Big Sean, plus theEmpire soundtrack and Wale’s The Album About Nothing.