As the halfway point of 2023 approaches, hip-hop has yet to grace the top of either the Billboard Hot 100 or the Billboard 200 albums chart. By the beginning of last June, 2022 already boasted No. 1 albums from six different rappers: Gunna (DS4Ever), Lil Durk (7220), Tyler, The Creator (Call Me If You Get Lost), Pusha T (It’s Almost Dry), Future (I Never Liked You), and Kendrick Lamar (Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers). Over on the Hot 100, even amidst Harry Styles’ historic 15-week “As It Was” reign, rap hits from Jack Harlow (“First Class”) and Future and Drake (“Wait For U”) secured runs at No. 1 by last year’s halfway mark.
Just one year later, hip-hop has been curiously absent from the top of Billboard’s marquee album and singles charts. While each of the four albums released in 2023 that have hit No. 1 — The Name Chapter: Temptation (Tomorrow X Together), Mañana Será Bonito (Karol G) and One Thing at a Time (Morgan Wallen), and 5-STAR (Stray Kids) — have clear hip-hop influences, none are by traditional rappers, the longest we’ve gone into a calendar year without a rap album at No. 1 since 1993. Hip-hop hasn’t fared much better on the Hot 100 this year; just six hip-hop singles have cracked the chart’s top ten.
So, what gives? How did a genre that largely ruled the last decade end up having such a quiet start to the year on the charts? Is the downscaling of hip-hop’s commercial dominance indicative of a new era for both the genre itself and popular music in general?
Here are five reasons why hip-hop has yet to produce a No. 1 album or single this year.
1. A Not-So-Starry Night
It’s a lot more difficult for any genre to reach the top spot when their most popular and reliable artists are not releasing projects. Early last year, hip-hop’s heavyweights flooded the charts with a bevy of albums. Future, Kendrick Lamar, Drake (twice), and Tyler, the Creator all collected No. 1 albums last year, to no one’s surprise. They are four of the most established names in contemporary hip-hop, and they’ve each collected previous No. 1 albums with robust streaming numbers and overall consumption tallies.
This year’s hip-hop releases have come from artists with less consistent track records on the Billboard 200. Instead of guaranteed album sellers like Kanye West or J. Cole, 2023 has seen records from artists like Lil Durk, Moneybagg Yo, and YoungBoy Never Broke Again — all artists who have previously scored No. 1 albums, yet still lack the gravity of a crossover hip-hop superstar.
The genre is in an awkward place where a new class of superstars has yet to supplant the Drake-J. Cole-Nicki Minaj-Kendrick Lamar Mount Rushmore of the 2010s. As a matter of fact, all four of those artists are still going strong and outperforming the genre’s younger stars; each of the four, bar Kendrick, has already reached the Hot 100’s top 10 this year. While stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, 21 Savage, and Lil Durk could all rule the genre for the 2020s, lengthy gaps between solo albums, capricious commercial pull and inconsistency when it comes to genuine blockbuster records prevent them from being as surefire bets.
Part of this is due to the ever-increasing vastness of social media. Artists and fans now have an unprecedented relationship where their intimacy anchors the fans’ steadfast dedication. With fan bases that devoted, rappers can still pull astonishing numbers — YoungBoy Never Broke Again has collected 15 top 10 albums in just five years — without necessarily having a major impact on the larger mainstream. With this kind of relationship, however, fans can also be incredibly fickle and switch on artists as quickly as they support them. As interest in his music started to waver post-Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, Roddy Ricch can attest to the volatility of broad fan support.
2. Views From the Top
It is well-known that hip-hop has reigned as the biggest commercial genre in the United States since 2018. Current tallies for this year show that the genre remains the country’s biggest music: In fact, R&B and hip-hop is up 6.3% in overall units this year compared to 2022. Nonetheless, it is slowly losing its dominance in terms of market share. R&B and hip-hop currently account for 26% of this year’s market share compared to 27.8% last year. It’s a relatively small dip, but when coupled with the rise in market share for country (8.26% this year compared to last year’s 7.72%) and Latin music (6.68% this year compared to last year’s 6.17%), it looks like hip-hop is slipping a little in its footing as the near-unchallenged most-consumed genre in America.
Given the increase in overall consumption units, however, this is really a case of hip-hop having less room to grow in comparison to other genres, because it has already been so dominant for such an extended period. When the exploding popularity of Afrobeats, regional Mexican, and K-pop are factored in, it is simply getting more difficult for hip-hop to remain unchallenged at the center of the conversation. Audiences have more options and access than ever before, and they are naturally exploring genres they might have previously paid less attention to over the past few years.
3. Old Opps & New Opps
Part of the reason hip-hop has struggled to truly cement a new class of superstars is that some of the genre’s most promising talents have fallen victim to gun violence, incarceration, drug abuse, or excessive police surveillance.
In 2018, hip-hop lost XXXTentacion, a controversial young rapper who had sizable commercial pull while he was alive. The “Moonlight” rapper put up blockbuster streaming numbers post-death, becoming the first hip-hop act to posthumously reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 since Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. The following year, Juice WRLD, one of the genre’s most promising new stars, died by way of an accidental drug overdose. The “Lucid Dreams” rapper has notched nine top ten hits to date, seven of which he collected posthumously. A few months after Juice WRLD’s passing, Pop Smoke, the rising Brooklyn drill rapper poised to conquer rap, top 40, and the film industry alike, was shot and killed. His debut studio album, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, became one of the biggest albums of 2020, helping Pop become both the first hip-hop act to posthumously debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their debut studio album.
The hip-hop community has also lost a slew of other promising young artists who had yet to truly bask in their commercial prime. The deaths of Drakeo the Ruler and King Von sent shockwaves through the hip-hop community. The losses of more veteran rappers who were reaching new commercial peaks — Nipsey Hussle and Young Dolph, even Takeoff, who was just starting to establish himself as a solo hitmaker outside of Migos — have also left the near-future of the genre feeling particularly fragmented. Even in non-fatal incidents, gun violence can still impact the ways artist approach releasing music. Megan Thee Stallion recently announced that she is taking a break from recording music to focus on her healing after dealing with the medical, emotional, legal and psychological tribulations that plagued her life following her shooting at the hands of Canadian rapper Tory Lanez in 2020. Meanwhile, “Calling My Phone” hitmaker Lil Tjay suffered seven gunshot wounds last summer, and while he has dropped standalone singles and featured on songs from other artists, he has yet to release a full-length project since the incident.
Lil Tjay hails from The Bronx in New York, the city with one of the most robust hip-hop police units in the country. Launched in 2019, the task force aggressively stalks and monitors hip-hop shows and artists across the city. In recent years, the task force has focused on the city’s bustling drill scene, which Pop Smoke and fellow Brooklynite Fivio Foreign helped bring to a mainstream stage. Promising young drill artists such as Kay Flock, Sheff G, DThang Gz, and Bizzy Banks are all currently incarcerated. There is also law enforcement’s obsession with criminalizing hip-hop lyrics, as Atlanta rapper Young Thug battles a slew of RICO charges supported, in part, by his lyrics as evidence.
No other American music genre sits at this particular intersection of racialized persecution, gun violence, drug abuse and surveillance.
4. Chart Stagnation
To cut hip-hop a bit of slack, the genre’s absence at the top of the charts this year is also due, in part, to how relatively stagnant the charts have been. With just five titles reaching the top spot on the Billboard 200, and only five new songs hitting the summit of the Hot 100, it is not like there was much room for hip-hop to nudge its way in.
Outside of one-week runs at No. 1 from The Weeknd & Ariana Grande (“Die With You”), Jimin (“Like Crazy”) and SZA (“Kill Bill”), lengthy stays at No. 1 from Miley Cyrus (“Flowers,” 8 weeks) and Morgan Wallen (“Last Night,” nine weeks), have kept the top of the Hot 100 away from basically everyone else. The same is true for SZA’s and Wallen’s respective double-digit-week chart runs with their most recent studio albums. It was always going to be difficult for hip-hop to compete with the rapturously received comeback of a modern pop icon like Cyrus, or the 36-track new album from the biggest country artist in a decade in Wallen, while its own heavyweights were laying low.
Although a rap song has yet to hit No. 1 this year, the genre has not been completely absent from the Hot 100’s top ten. New tracks from Toosii (“Favorite Song”), Drake (“Search & Rescue), Lil Durk & J. Cole (“All My Life”) and Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj (“Princess Diana”) have all reached the chart’s top five. It is worth noting, however, that outside of “Favorite Song,” each of those songs debuted in that region, and slipped out of it shortly after.
5. A Gradual Return to the Club Scene
If there is any genre that is well-equipped to adapt to change, it is hip-hop — and the genre already seems to be angling itself toward its next pivot. Since the beginning of 2020, top 40 has revived its love affair with nu-disco, synth-pop, and all the other pulsating subgenres in that vein. From Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia to Beyoncé’s Renaissance to Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind, A-listers have spent most of the 2020s decade satisfying our collective desire to dance.
Most of hip-hop’s biggest records in recent years deprioritized the dancefloor, but that is already changing. Two of the year’s biggest rap songs — Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock” and Coi Leray’s “Players,” both Hot 100 top 10 hits — both pull from Jersey club, a thumping division of dance music heavily inspired by the Baltimore club scene’s innovative fusion of house and hip-hop. Traces of the style can also be found in such 2023 hits as Ice Spice’s “In Ha Mood” and Pinkpantheress’ “Boy’s A Liar, Pt. 2,” which also features Ice Spice.
It’s not entirely there yet, but if hip-hop can continue to innovate across dance-centric genres that are growing more and more popular around the world, that may be the key to remaining present atop the Billboard charts. Whether it is Baltimore club or amapiano, continued forays into dance could be a viable path forward for America’s biggest genre.