Charting Black Excellence | 8 narratives the Billboard year-end charts reveal about black artistry in 2018

Da’Shan Smith

 // Dec 15, 2018

Google // Free use

'Charting Black Excellence' celebrates black artists and their current accomplishments on the Billboard charts, which often don't receive the proper recognition and attention.

When I first pitched this column to the editorial staff of REVOLT, I had been angry to say the least. I knew the news of Normani and Khalid reaching the No. 1 spot on pop radio wouldn’t receive as much celebration and in-depth analyses from most publications. I knew this to be fact from previous experiences, witnessing the disrespect our black artists receive first hand from an editorial standpoint.

Our first column received over 1000 likes when published on Twitter, showing that I was not the only one feeling some type of way. Since then, Charting Black Excellence has become one of my favorite contributions as a relatively new journalist analyzing the music scene. These narratives have been quite impressive; even when others try to silence, downplay, or ignore them!

In my first year of professionally covering music for mainstream media, reports came out in 2017 that hip hop and R&B are collectively the two most consumed genres in American music. Now, it seems 2018 is accurately reflecting that with Billboard’s year-end roundups revealing why this column is still important.

Without further ado, let’s wrap all this up with eight final charting takeaways from 2018!

The Year of Drake

This year’s top artist, Drake, has always had an eerie ability to foreshadow his future career trajectory through his hits. At the end of January, he warned us his (eventually titled) Scorpion era would have an impressive run according to “God’s Plan.” That song is the most popular of 2018 according to the year-end Billboard Hot 100, Streaming Songs, On-Demand Songs, Hot R&B and Hip-Hop Songs, and Rap Songs charts.

This year, Drake had the number one spot on the Hot 100 for 29 weeks, which could have been 30 if he was a featured credit on Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE.” Despite the still, on-going drama of Drake VS G.O.O.D Music— which revved up since May— the 6 God reigned victorious chart-wise with “Nice For What” (No. 11, year-end) and “In My Feelings” (No. 9). In addition to those three songs, three of his more street-oriented singles; the BlocBoy JB co-signing “Look Alive,” Lil Baby’s “Yes Indeed,” and Scorpion’s “Nonstop” hit No. 23, 25, and 52, respectively.

These six singles reveal that Drake’s on the pulse of what’s hot for streaming and the streets in 2018. He’s able to cater to his former nostalgic sound of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late trap (“God’s Plan”), while inserting his brand of crooning on bounce anthems “Nice For What” and “In My Feelings,” which have all dominated pop culture.

But, another successful formula to Drake’s run amid the drama is how he successfully tapped into various regional sounds and the upcoming talents breaking from those locations. This year’s Top Radio Artist utilized his skill of tailoring anthems for club and house parties, while also reformulating the sounds and ideas that drive mosh pits of this generation’s lovers and foes crazy.

… And The Year of Cardi B

What queen from New York City do we know that can steal some of the spotlight from Drake’s massive 2018 run, creating her own narrative and lane in the process? If we asked this question at the beginning of 2017, many would have had a different answer (oh boy!).... Hell, even if we asked this question at the end of 2017, after “Bodak Yellow” made the year-end chart at No. 24, the answer would still be different for some.

By the end of 2018, Billboard’s Top New Artist, Cardi B is awarded for her impressive debut run, Invasion of Privacy. Before Drake came running in with “God’s Plan,” Cardi B had music listeners “drippin’ in Finesse” alongside Bruno Mars. That song ended up at No. 14 on the Hot 100 year-end and No. 1 on the R&B songs chart. From there, Cardi B played the pop game just as well as Drake, earning two No. 1 singles this year with the reggaeton-pep of “I Like It” and the Maroon 5 collab “Girls Like You,” which sit at No. 7 and 10 on 2018’s Hot 100 respectively.

Cardi managed an excellent tightrope walk of infiltrating the pop scene and gaining more credibility in the streets. Most of her songs released in Q3 and Q4 of 2017– G Eazy’s “No Limit,” Migo’s battle-of-the-titans “MotorSport,” “Bodak Yellow,” “Be Careful,” and “Bartier Cardi”—all made the 2018 year-end Hot 100, all in the Top 70! In fact, Cardi B’s competition is not Nicki Minaj as many think. It’s actually Taylor Swift, who placed one spot higher on the Top Female Artists year-end chart.

14 Rap Albums Make Up The Top 20 of the Billboard 200

Taylor Swift may be holding down the top spot of the Billboard 200 year-end chart with 2017’s reputation, but it’s evident albums containing rap cadences are what most people consumed in 2018. Scorpion expectedly sits at No. 2 with Post Malone -- who has tried many times to disown his obvious rap influence -- a spot behind. Invasion of Privacy is the highest-charting album for a black woman on the year-end chart, being the ultimate representative for the state of female hip hop in 2018.

What these 14 rap albums reveal is how far hip hop has come into diversifying it’s mainstream sound sonically. Not just one umbrella or one region is representing hip hop for the mainstream, it’s now a collective. Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD sits at No. 7 as a capsule of Houstonian cloud rap for the modern age. Both Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys and his 2016 debut Stoney (No. 8) occupy trap&B.

Two albums from XXXTENTACION and one from Juice WRLD exhibit lo-fi SoundCloud rap of Gen Z. Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv Is Rage 2 shows how that niche sound can be mastered for the mainstream. Migos mixed trap and pop for Culture II, which landed on the chart at No. 10. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN still remains on the year-end chart after being released in 2017, as his Black Panther: The Album soundtrack placed a spot above (No. 12).

Kendrick Lamar's paramour J. Cole is keeping golden aged techniques of hip hop alive for the new school as KOD combats today's SoundCloud culture with nurturing words of wisdom (at No. 14). Eminem was able to stand the fray of critics' widespread disapproval of Kamikaze, as it lands at No. 17. And right outside the Top 20– which contains three Album of the Year nominees for 2019’s pending Grammy awards— is the rapping soundtrack of the Broadway musical Hamilton and Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V.

Oh, and by the way, Taylor Swift does rap-sing on reputation, as evident by the Yeezus meets Rihanna’s Talk That Talk vibe on “... Ready For It?” and a Future-feature on “End Game.” And let's not mention the suspected digs at Kanye West that exist on wax and through visuals. So, in a way, this influence is another victory for hip hop, and we’ll correct the subheading to “14.25 rap albums make up the Top 20 of the Billboard 200.”

The Pop Hits Relied On R&B And Hip Hop To Keep The Genre Afloat

Once upon a time, Rihanna once asked, “How could you be so hood, but you so phuckin pop?” Well, looking at the Billboard year-end charts, I would love to ask the same question, too!

In the previous blurb, we got into the rap albums that dominated 2018’s Top 20. But, we should also shout out how Khalid’s American Teen managed to snag a No. 15 spot on the chart. He’s played an integral role in being at the forefront of today’s pop scene with an R&B sound. So much so that he and Normani released “Love Lies,” the first song featuring only black artists to hit the No. 1 spot of the pop songs chart since 2016. On the year-end Top Pop Songs chart of 2018, “Love Lies” hits at No. 6 (No. 19 on the Hot 100).

Looking at the Pop Songs year-end chart, it’s evident that black-rooted music is dominating that scene, even if black artists aren’t footing the bill or simply guesting. “Girls Like You” is No. 3 with Cardi B, and don’t forget Young Thug does have a guest spot and featured credit on Camila Cabello’s hit smash “Havana,” meaning Young Thug has a No. 1 Hot 100 song under his belt!

With Bazzi’s “Mine,” Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” Ariana Grande’s “God Is A Woman,” and a collective of Post Malone singles, trap&B took over pop radio according to the chart. Pure rap and R&B still has a ways to go in order to fully regain attention on the format, and that’s going to be left up to the station programmers and their executives. However, the presence of The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar’s “Pray For Me,” as well as DJ Khaled’s “No Brainer,” which features Justin Bieber accessing his Journals R&B style, indicate the tides are slowly turning.

Kane Brown Stands Tall Amongst Country Music Vets

Let’s make it clear that music from black artists is not only R&B and hip hop. That’s right, our artists are present on other scenes, and apparently in 2018, they are dominating country music, as well!

The 25-year-old from Chattanooga, Tennessee is making Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish type of history on the country charts. During 2017, Brown received his first country No. 1 single called “What Ifs,” a duet with Lauren Alaina— a song that ended Sam Hunt’s 34-week reign on the chart. His follow up single “Heaven” earned the No. 2 spot on the country charts, No. 1 for country airplay, and No. 15 on the Hot 100.

Continuing his momentum forward into 2018– similar to Cardi B— Brown received another country No. 1 hit called “Lose It.” For the year-end charts, “Heaven” places at No. 1 for Country Airplay, and No. 2 for Top Country Songs (behind the pop smash “Meant To Be”). As for Top Country Artists, Kane Brown makes second place to Chris Stapleton, but bests Florida Georgia Line. His self-titled album from 2016 falls one short to Luke Combs on 2018’s Top Country Albums, but bests those of Jason Aldean, Chris Stapleton, and Carrie Underwood.

J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, & Rihanna Have Classic 2010s Albums, According To The Catalog Albums Chart

The year 2018 saw many debates about which albums from the past are going to become classics and who we should be regarding as living legends. There’s many qualifications that need to go into consideration— and while the charts aren’t the end, they can help shift the narrative.

As we’re about to approach 2019 in just a few weeks, we’ll be preparing for the final year of the 2010s decade. So, what albums are still hitting from this decade, according to the year-end Top Catalog Albums chart, which measures “the top selling albums … that are at least 18 months old and have fallen below [the popular realm] of No. 100 on the Billboard 200?

Eminem tops the list with a greatest hits album -- which when analyzing this chart weekly -- is common for these types of LPs. However, the classics that have been helped by pop culture and the internet have found their way in good company. At No. 2 is Drake’s Take Care, an album many regard as reformulating contemporary R&B and Drake’s career since its 2012 release. At No. 9 and No. 10 is J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, adding more weight to the debates behind who is the mainstream king of 2010s hip hop.

Drake, K.Dot , and J. Cole aren't the only ones on their way to sit amongst elites like legends 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Bobby Marley, and Michael Jackson. The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind The Madness, Rihanna’s ANTi, and Bryson Tiller’s TRAPSOUL represent today’s R&B and pop. Chicago hails its 2016 opuses, Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. Drake managed to be this year’s Top Catalog Artist, as Nothing Was The Same and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late also hit the year-end chart.

On The R&B Charts, Legends Like Toni Braxton Are In Good Company With Ella Mai & The New School

Underneath “Finesse” on the year-end R&B Songs chart, Ella Mai claims the No. 2 spot with “Boo’d Up,” which felt more so like 2017’s actual No. 1— despite its initial release in 2018. On this chart, new acts who made their beginner’s impact in 2017 have climbed to higher positions. SZA’s guest verse on “All The Stars” continued her CTRL success onto a No. 4 spot. XXXTENTACION -- whose music dabbles on R&B and hip hop -- Queen Naija, and Daniel Caesar collaborating with (the now multi-Grammy nominated) H.E.R. all appear in the Top 10.

All the aforementioned artists received double (or more) placements on the chart, alongside their pop peer Khalid. Jacquees, who sent the internet in shambles after declaring himself this generation’s King of R&B, even places twice. But, it seems the King of R&B title should go to The Weeknd -- if basing solely on the R&B Songs year-end chart -- as he has the most entries of five.

On the Adult R&B Songs chart, these newcomers crossover, as well. In fact, they mix well with the assortment of R&B legends and pioneers that most likely inspired their sounds. Tank’s “When We” closes the year at No. 1, thanks to its trap-soul meets quiet storm prowess. Toni Braxton charts at No. 6 with her Grammy nominated “Long As I Live,” and Tamia of “So Into You” remembrance claims No. 4 with “Leave It Smokin’.”

Though the legends have their safe space for radioplay, the Class of 2017 hold six of the Top 10 spots in 2018. And it’s not Ella Mai— propelled by her “Boo’d Up” fame— who claims the summit on Top Adult R&B Artists. It’s actually Daniel Caesar.

Snoop Dogg Exemplifies That Rappers Can Branch Out To Other Genres Successfully

To close this out, 2018 challenged all of us. Somehow through that, and through all the trouble and heartache, many managed to still “Smile Bitch.” Yes, this is in reference to Lil Duval’s first Hot 100 chart entry, which featured Snoop Dogg “Living My Best Life.”

This year seemed to also highlight how artists can have their peak periods, but should be branching out to other endeavors to expand their legacies because the hype doesn’t always last as long as people think. Interestingly enough, Snoop Dogg challenges that notion this year with the release of his gospel compilation Snoop Dogg Presents: Bible of Love. The 17-track LP hit No. 1 on the Top Gospel Albums chart, closing out at No. 4 on the year-end chart.

It’s been 25 years since Snoop asked us, “What’s My Name?” on his debute album Doggystyle, and by 2018 we not only recognize it, we can now praise it— and all the other black excellence that charted this year!

Plus, be sure to check out "REVOLT Rewind" on Dec. 24 - Dec. 28 at 10:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m., and then, all weekend long on Dec. 29 - Jan. 1 only on REVOLT TV! Find out where you can watch the channel here! And be sure to join the conversation using #RevoltRewind.

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