Black Star with their podcast and Kanye West along with his Stem Participant are among the many acts rolling out albums in new unprecedented methods. However do their experiments level towards hip-hop’s future?

Within the late ‘90s, Brooklyn rappers Yasiin Bey (then often known as Mos Def) and Talib Kweli united as a duo earlier than both had launched a solo album. The outcome, 1998’s Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, launched profitable solo careers for each artists, a basic of the acutely aware rap resurgence that helped make Rawkus Data one of many period’s most essential labels.

Over the following couple many years, a long-promised second Black Star album felt like an city legend. However in 2021 the duo united with one among their most well-known pals and followers — comic Dave Chappelle — to launch a brand new podcast, The Midnight Miracle. In April the next 12 months, Black Star introduced that their sophomore album No Worry of Time, produced solely by legendary beat maker Madlib, could be launched solely through Luminary, the podcast community that additionally occurs to supply The Midnight Miracle. In a 12 months that has already seen Kanye West releasing his Donda 2 album solely on his personal Stem Participant gadget, and Dr. Dre releasing an EP that originally might solely be heard whereas taking part in a Grand Theft Auto sport, change is within the air as rappers proceed to make use of different technique of distributing their music past the music streaming platforms generally used.

Yasiin Bey isn’t any stranger to disruptive new album launch strategies. His final solo album, 2019’s Negus, was out there solely as a 10-week sound set up on the Brooklyn Museum. However because it seems, the concept for Black Star’s launch was really hatched by their non-musician co-host. “The thought for the collaboration was really initiated by Dave Chappelle throughout the first season of The Midnight Miracle,” Luminary CEO Rishi Malhotra defined. Malhotra, who based the Indian music streaming service JioSaavn earlier than becoming a member of Luminary, stated that he sees No Worry of Time as a pure extension of the corporate’s present enterprise.

“Our reveals are supposed to string collectively a wide range of artforms – from the artwork of communication to music to comedy,” he stated.

In fact, the podcast business has been deeply tied to the music business since its inception, with audio usually distributed through the identical channels. There have been conflicts between the 2 worlds, most notably in January when Neil Younger pulled his music from Spotify in protest of the streaming service’s main funding in controversial podcaster Joe Rogan. There are a number of methods to listen to No Worry of Time, however Luminary subscribers get the perfect deal. “On Luminary, it is going to be accessible as particular person tracks. On Apple Podcasts, the album might be one prolonged podcast,” Malhotra stated.

Arguably, Black Star are a great check topic for a launch like this. The 2 rappers have by no means offered big numbers whether or not collectively or aside – Yasiin Bey has two Gold albums and Talib Kweli has one – however they do have a fanbase giant sufficient to convey spectacular numbers to a enterprise with completely different expectations. And there’s been some controversy that might get in the way in which of a extra standard album rollout. Talib Kweli has been completely suspended from Twitter since August 2020, after violating the positioning’s guidelines of conduct in a long-running and ugly feud with a girl who’d criticized him on the positioning.

There’s a hazard in a splashy unorthodox launch by way of a company accomplice, although. In 2012, Busta Rhymes launched a star-studded album, Yr of the Dragon, solely by way of Google Play. A decade later, it’s prefer it by no means existed. It left no footprint on the charts, and with the Google Play Music app unceremoniously shut down in 2020, you possibly can solely hear it through pirated copies elsewhere. Billboard normally declines to chart releases that aren’t out there in commonplace codecs, and the Black Star album will seemingly not ever seem on any charts. Nevertheless, Malhotra did share that Luminary “might launch knowledge down the road that’s related or vital to the broader business,” with reference to how many individuals listened to No Worry of Time.

Donda 2 and the Stem participant

Stakes had been a bit of greater for Kanye West when he launched Donda 2 in February. The album’s predecessor, 2021’s Donda, topped the Billboard 200 and gave him a complete of ten consecutive no. 1 albums, a document he shares with Eminem. Had Donda 2 been launched conventionally, he might’ve damaged the tie with Eminem and gotten nearer to catching up along with his mentor JAY-Z’s document of 14 chart-toppers, essentially the most of any solo artist. However with the album solely out there on the dear $200 Stem Participant, West sacrificed Billboard numbers in favor of each technical innovation and revenue. “To earn the $2.2 million we made on the primary day on the Stem Participant the album would have needed to stream 500 million occasions,” West posted proudly on Instagram.

The Stem Participant permits listeners to isolate particular person parts of West’s music — muting, rising or decreasingthe quantity of solely vocals, drums or different devices — to create a novel combine. That is the way in which musicians making a document have all the time been capable of hear a track, shifting faders up and down on a mixing board to create the best mix of sounds. However placing that sort of energy within the arms of the general public is a reasonably new thought, and West isn’t alone in exploring it. One vital participant in that area is Moodelizer, a Swedish tech firm that launched its “reactive music” Moodelizer cellular app a number of months in the past.

“I’m not stunned that Kanye West has executed this form of factor. There’s a logic to that,” Moodelizer CEO and co-founder Mathias Rosenqvist stated earlier than breaking down what reactive music is: a brand new sound format Moodelizer developed during the last eight years that permits customers to “work together with music on numerous tech platforms.”

“You possibly can contact the display screen and form of seamlessly transfer round throughout the track,” Rosenqvist stated, including that cell phones are the corporate’s primary focus in terms of the app.

For now, Moodelizer’s catalog provides a whole lot of songs, versus the thousands and thousands of songs supplied by standard streaming providers. However these items have been crafted particularly for Moodelizer to spotlight the enjoyable and novel interactivity of the format. “We’ve got fairly a big community of composers working for us, filling this catalog with reactive music,” Rosenqvist stated, including that he envisions a future the place Moodelizer could have reactive variations of main label releases, too.

The music on Moodelizer spans completely different genres, with no explicit deal with hip-hop. However Rosenqvist acknowledges that hip-hop pioneered the artforms of DJing, sampling and remixing that makes know-how like this doable and interesting to customers. “Hip-hop clearly is an effective breeding floor for something that permits individuals to take one thing that exists and make it higher,” he stated.

The return of Loss of life Row

The place innovations just like the Stem Participant function an entire different to music streaming platforms, some artists are merely making an attempt to create their very own music streaming service in hopes of not solely having higher management over their music however how a lot they earn from it, too. In February, Snoop Dogg introduced that he now owns Loss of life Row Data — the legendary label that had propelled him to stardom within the ‘90s — and it felt like a contented ending to the tumultuous Loss of life Row saga. However reactions had been extra blended when Snoop pulled Loss of life Row releases from DSPs like Spotify and Apple Music, saying he’d be launching a streaming service of his personal.

“I’m all the time gonna again an artist main individuals to their very own platform and getting their value in worth for the music,” Michael “Massive Sto” Stover, a publicist, artist marketing consultant and rapper, stated of Snoop’s plan. “In Snoop’s case, I actually do wanna see how that performs out, as a result of upon first announcement, I assumed it was factor…he has full possession of his music.”

However Stover can also be cautious of streaming music changing into an costly, fractured market like streaming TV is now, saying: “I believe it’s gonna damage if it finally ends up being each single label, each single model.”

Snoop’s transfer does, nevertheless, really feel like an inevitable pendulum swing away from everybody preventing for his or her small piece of the Spotify pie. “We’ve already seen what occurs when everyone has entry to the music: income go down and artists really feel slighted. Now we’re seeing the opposite finish: what if I’ve full possession of what I’ve and might cost no matter I would like? It has to fall within the center someplace,” Stover stated. “I assumed what Roc Marciano did along with his final couple releases is sort of the proper center floor the place you possibly can have that exclusivity — ‘OK, in the event you really need it, you should buy it from me for 40-50 bucks. After which when the merchandise promote out, then I’ll put it on streaming and everybody has entry to it.’”

The continually shifting digital panorama may even catch the shrewdest superstars off guard. Beyonce’s 2016 single “Formation” was out there solely from Tidal for 3 months, however Billboard didn’t issue Tidal streams into its charts till 2017. “Formation” ultimately peaked at #10 on the Scorching 100 as soon as it reached different platforms, however we’ll by no means understand how effectively the culture-shifting hit might have executed.

“‘Formation’ most likely ought to have been an even bigger hit,” Slate chart columnist Chris Molanphy stated. “Drake would have had his first no. 1 with ‘Hotline Bling.’ It peaked at no. 2 as a result of he made the video unique to Apple Music. Apple didn’t have the mechanism for reporting video views to Billboard, and Drake missed out on a #1 hit.”

A decade after the final main paradigm shift in direction of streaming, we may very well be on the cusp of recent and higher methods for artists to distribute their music. However regardless of the subsequent motion is, it’s going to want hip-hop’s big viewers and the style’s inherent sense of journey and adaptableness to get there.


Al Shipley is a Maryland-based author, producer and musician. You possibly can comply with him at @alshipley.

Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer