Okay music trivia and hip-hop/R&B fans, brace yourself for this one. I’m about to give you a chart statistic that will blow your mind and have you saying, “uh what? wow!” and “really?”
As followers of this blog have known for months, 2015 has been a banner year for black music in general, and hip-hop in particular, as 15 albums by primarily black artists (eleven rap, four R&B) have reached #1 this year on the Billboard 200. That total is approaching an all-time record, set in 2006 when 19 albums by black artists topped the chart. And there are still two-plus months left in this year.
However, while black men have enjoyed nearly unprecedented success on the albums and singles charts this year, their female counterparts have been pretty much left behind. With the exception of #1 albums by Jill Scott and, most recently, Janet Jackson, black women have been all but left out of the equation, and they’ve been almost completely excluded when it comes to pop radio play and Hot 100 singles action.
Aside from Janet and Jill, men account for the remaining #1 albums in 2015 by black musicians (excluding soundtracks). Men have also accounted for over 90% of the songs by black artists on Billboard’s main singles chart this year. In fact, for the past five weeks, black men have accounted for ALL such songs, with the exception of one tune featuring a female artist as a guest.
Here are the facts: on this past week’s Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, dated October 17, 2015, there were an astounding 47 songs – that’s nearly half of the list – either by or featuring black recording artists. Every one of those tunes included black men in a lead or featured role. The only one that included a woman was “All Eyes On You,” the rap hit by Meek Mill with Nicki Minaj (and Chris Brown) in a featured role.
You read that correctly, the only song by a black solo woman on the Hot 100 was by Nicki Minaj – and that was in a featured, not a lead role.
And that chart fact is not an anomaly folks. Nicki Minaj has been pretty much carrying the crossover torch for women all year. Not since the September 12 chart, when Rihanna’s “B**** Better Have My Money” finished its run, has there been another solo black female on the Hot 100*. That’s more than a month where only Minaj has represented black women. And aside from her own “The Night Is Still Young,” which also ended its chart life on the September 12 list, the only other two African-American women to grace the Hot 100 in lead roles the past three months have been Janet Jackson, whose “No Sleeep” spent a measly two weeks on the chart, peaking at #63 in August, and Janelle Monae’s “Yoga,” which stopped at #79 in July.
Folks, that’s Nos. 63 and 79…oh and No. 31 if you throw in Minaj’s “Still Young.” That’s it.
There’s something to be said for this lack of representation in mainstream or crossover radio by women of color, and perhaps even more to be said about the fact that their lone representative, for the better part of the year, has been rapper Nicki Minaj (insert your own thoughts here about how stereotypically she’s been marketed to the public…it would be too easy for me to pile on, plus it’s a distraction from the larger point, which is the apparent shut-out of African-American women from today’s popular music scene).
Granted, this could simply be a matter of bad off-cycle timing for the ladies as several of this decade’s reigning big-name pop crossover divas have not released new material in years. Both Rihanna and Beyoncé have had moderate singles chart entries earlier this year, but neither has released a new full album since 2013 (or 2012 in Rihanna’s case). That reportedly will change for both artists before the year is over.
Still, the fact that the chart fate of African-American women lies in the hands of so few artists is amazing (and sad) to me…particularly in 2015, and even more so in a year when their male counterparts have enjoyed such astronomical chart success (as have their white female colleagues).
And it’s not that other women haven’t been releasing material. They just haven’t been releasing music products that labels are willing to promote to crossover audiences, or that the corporate radio conglomerates are willing to take chances on. Jill Scott, for instance, topped the album chart in August with her latest, ironically titled Woman, and even sold a respectable 133k units during its debut week. But her material is largely targeted to an adult R&B audience (who purchase less music than their pop-leaning counterparts) and none of her radio hits in that format were also expected to chart pop or urban mainstream.
Same with Tamar Braxton, whose sophomore release, Calling All Lovers, failed to repeat the out-of-the-box success of her debut album and moved less than 40k units upon its release earlier this month. Braxton, like Jill Scott and so many others, has had regular success with adult R&B radio, but can barely scratch the surface when it comes to more mainstream R&B or crossover play. You can add in any number of other contemporary names like Jazmine Sullivan, Vivian Green or even ’90s star Monica and the story repeats itself.
All of this makes clear that we’re not living in the ’90s or ’00s anymore. Gone are the R&B diva-dominated days when people named Ashanti, Alicia, Aaliyah, Brandy, Monica, Deborah (Cox), Mary J., Janet, Mariah, Whitney, Keisha, and Fantasia regularly appeared on the Hot 100, and very prominently at that. Their music was all over pop or urban mainstream radio, which translated to large sales numbers and, in turn, high chart placement.
Now it appears to be up to one person, Nicki Minaj, to carry the crossover torch for our African sisters, at least for now until the next Beyoncé or Rihanna singles are released, or until that cycle from decades past repeats itself and musical tastes expand beyond the current Taylor-Katy-Ariana-Selena-dominated pop fare that consumers are eating up in large numbers.
And while Minaj seems to be bearing this burden respectably, even recently taking a stand against the alleged bias against women that “look like her” in the music industry, and particularly in the awards circuit, it’s still ironic that the burden is now being carried by a woman who many thought in 2009 wouldn’t even be relevant three years later, much less six.
I guess it’s appropriate to use a variation on the title of that lone Hot 100 chart hit featuring a black woman (Minaj) and conclude that it’s true…
All eyes are on her.
*Editor’s Follow-Up Note: And now there are two women. After this article was pretty much written, the next Billboard Hot 100 chart, dated October 24, 2015, was published. On that list, new female rapper DeJ Loaf entered at #83 with “Back Up,” featuring Big Sean. That new entry broke up the Nicki Minaj one-black-woman-only stranglehold on the Hot 100, but did nothing (at least not yet) to suggest that our women have turned the corner.
Oh, and by the way, with the debut of “Back Up” and two other new tunes, there are now 50 (!) songs on the Hot 100 by black artists. And all 50 of those tracks include black men in a lead or featured role.
That also has to be some kind of record.
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