Billboard unveils new methodology today for the long-standing Hot Country Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Latin Songs charts. Each receive a major consumer-influenced face-lift, as digital download sales (tracked by Nielsen SoundScan) and streaming data (tracked by Nielsen BDS from such services as Spotify, Muve, Slacker, Rhapsody, Rdio and Xbox Music, among others) will now be factored into the 50-position rankings, along with existing radio airplay data monitored by Nielsen BDS. The makeovers will enable these charts to match the methodology applied to Billboard’s signature all-genre songs ranking, the Billboard Hot 100. (emphasis mine)
I placed emphasis on that last sentence for a reason.
That is: the genre charts are now solely about reflecting how each genre is selling (or being listened to) everywhere, rather than reflecting (albeit imperfectly) the different music listening habits of different demographics. It will now be a mistake to look at the R&B chart or the Country chart and make assumptions about what black people or people in Nashville like the most. People should be aware of that.
That loss is significant, but it’s not as tragic as it sounds because this is a process that’s been occurring for more than 30 years. People have always listened across genres, at least to some degree. But in the 30 or so years since Michael Jackson basically destroyed the radio format and made crossover the only way to measure success and media consolidated so that there are no longer any independent (black and other) radio stations that cater to their communities rather than push a national playlist, the non-Hot 100 Billboard charts have increasingly measured something that exists less and less each year.
Even the fact that people are upset about the fact that Rihanna isn’t “R&B” is an example of just how little the chart reflects what it used to reflect – and how little people know what the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart has been for its entire existence: a measure of what is popular in black neighborhoods and hangouts. Without independent black radio (as well as black folks’ total allegiance to crossover), it hasn’t really been that for a while so it makes sense that Billboard would go ahead and make it (along with the other genre lists) a straight “ranking of how many people in America listen to songs of this type” chart.
I am endlessly fascinated with the way the record-buying public views Nas with a mixture of amusement and indifference. Unlike Kweli or Mos or Common or Tip, something about Nas's overtly political and heartfelt messages doesn't connect even though he's a better emcee by half.
I say this because as usual people don't really like Nas' new song.
I don't like it – mostly because wishing the vocals weren't run through Pro Tools prevents me from thinking much of anything else – but I don't hate it like so much music made by millennial black artists. Which is truly an accomplishment.
That he seemed to know exactly who he was, even as his evolution over the last 20 years suggests he also knew that he could expand our understanding of who that person is. In other words, he was an artist in a way so quiet, and so powerful, that we can only fully appreciate it by listening to his amazing body of work in hindsight.
Two of my favorites:
Queen Latifah (ft. Treach, Heavy D & KRS-One) – "Rough"