Hip-Hop In The Digital Age: The Truth About Streaming

In the last decade, countless albums have gone platinum several times over. No matter what genre, you can always count on seeing a handful of albums that have commercially stood out from the rest. But a feat that is almost rare, especially in this day and age, is achieving Diamond-certified status. In order for an album to receive diamond certification by the RIAA, the album must sell ten million units in albums and song sales. The album of course with the highest recognition, is Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which has gone platinum 33 times over. Interestingly enough, the last Hip-Hop album to ever receive Diamond-status was Nelly’s debut album, Country Grammar released in 2000. The only other rap album from this decade close to Diamond status is 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (8.3 million units), released back in 2003. From there, the difference in closeness is roughly less than half of the units the latter album has sold.

This of course poses a very important question: Is Hip-Hop suffering from a lack of classic albums? That answer of course depends on the Hip-Hop fan(s). Even though there are rappers with huge followings from social media to brand influencing, the stark reality is that albums aren’t selling. This can be blamed on a shift in audience demographic, as what was once considered trendy no longer applies. A 2016 Entertainment Retail study concluded that millennials on average listen to 75 percent more music than their baby boomer counterparts. Millennials also stream and pirate music more often than baby boomers. This is possibly part of the reason that the RIAA didn’t count streams as album sales until last year. Streaming music causes songs to debut at lower numbers on music charts like Billboard. On the flipside, streaming deals have become increasingly popular with platforms such as TIDAL and Apple Music, but also negatively impact the sale of physical albums. In fact, physical albums are now released after the streaming version of the album is released.

According to the RIAA, in order for album streams to count as record sales, it must have over 1,500 streams, or ten individual track purchases. Though the method of recognizing streams has potential, it is still fairly new and must be understood on a greater scale before it can be modified to better suit the music industry.

This now poses the other question if whether or not streams will be able to help sustain album sales. Streams also target those who don’t buy physical copies of a rap album, or any album for that matter. Though ironically, Hip-Hop was one of the first genres of music to embrace streaming, as it coincided with the rise of mixtapes and the decline of albums. In the meantime, only time will tell whether Hip-Hop should expect to see a diamond-ranking album anytime soon.