Radio Hits One: Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, And Young Money Bring Crew Love Back To Rap Radio
If you've listened to much urban radio lately, or even a little, you may have noticed that Lil Wayne and his Young Money Entertainment labelmates, particularly Drake and Nicki MInaj, are quite popular. You may have also noticed the same thing in 2011. And in 2010. And 2009. But perhaps nothing underscores the staggering extent of their domination of the airwaves quite like their presence on the top 100 songs of Billboard's 2011 year-end R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. No fewer than 25 songs, a full quarter of the list, feature at least one of those three Young Money stars. Wayne has the most, with 13, with Drake coming in with 11, and Minaj boasts 5. Add labelmate Tyga's appearance on Chris Brown's 2010 holdover "Deuces," and you've got 26. (I'm also counting Ace Hood's supposed solo hit "Hustle Hard," which was only ever played on the radio in the form of its remix that features Wayne, in those figures.)
The 25% Young Money market share on urban radio in 2011 is only a slight uptick from 2010, when the label held strong with 20%. And with Drake rising to prominence in early 2009 and Minaj following soon after, we've now had three consecutive years of Young Money domination, which had already been preceded by Lil Wayne's decade-long climb to becoming arguably the biggest star in hip-hop. In a way, the Young Money triad's success is nothing new; hip-hop has long thrived on crews and labels in which several popular acts stand shoulder to shoulder, from the Juice Crew to the Native Tongues. And in the modern era of corporate-minded rap, every star has his own label imprint with a roster full of loyal friends and collaborators. Mainstream hip-hop can almost be divided into eras defined by the biggest labels of the moment, the '90s cycling from Death Row to Bad Boy to No Limit. By the end of the decade, Lil Wayne had gotten his first taste of fame as part of the Cash Money Records hit factory, from which of course he later spun off Young Money as his star rose.
It's possible, however, that no label has ever lorded over urban airwaves the way Young Money has the last couple years, with three of the genre's biggest rappers all on the same label and churning out back-to-back hits together and apart. Earlier in the 2000s, Dr. Dre headed up a trio of rap icons with his Aftermath roster including Eminem and 50 Cent (who each spawned their own respective vanity labels, Shady and G-Unit). But they never released albums in close proximity to each other; Dre's last album, 2001, preceded 50 Cent's debut by over three years, so all three Aftermath superstars were never had big releases in the same timeframe. By comparison, Nicki Minaj's new Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, Drake's Take Care and Wayne's Tha Carter IV have all dropped in the last 8 months.
In fact, after the twin titans of the New Orleans hip-hop explosion, No Limit and Cash Money, began to wane in the early 21st century, it's fair to say that few rap labels have thrived with multiple stars enjoying lengthy, simultaneous reigns. For much of his early career, Jay-Z made Roc-A-Fella a household name without any other acts on the roster coming remotely close to matching his success; Cam'ron's brief platinum success on the label was tumultuous and short-lived. By the time Kanye West finally gave the Roc a second multi-platinum star, Jay was retired, albeit temporarily, and eventually left the Def Jam imprint to start the new Live Nation venture Roc Nation. 50 Cent enjoyed a couple years of massive success with his group G-Unit and its members' own solo ventures, but his most successful groupmate, The Game, was soon kicked off the label in a cloud of beef and controversy. Similarly, Ludacris's Disturbing Tha Peace spawned one other multi-platinum star, Chingy, who left the label in a huff after two albums. Meanwhile superstars like Eminem, Nelly and Nas treaded water with proteges and groups who would consistently fail to capture the public's imagination like they had. And many labels moved toward R&B, with Ja Rule remaining Murder Inc.'s only rapper of note even while successfully launching Ashanti.