Image via Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service / Getty, Claudio Lavenia / Getty, and Tim Mosenfelder / Getty

Last week, Rap Caviar released a list of the 50 Most Streamed Hip-Hop Albums on Spotify.

The list is filled with albums by artists you would expect: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and other superstars.

What’s alarming about the list is that half of the albums in the Top 10, including the No. 1 album, are by either XXXTentacion, Juice WRLD, or Pop Smoke—all of whom tragically died in recent years before ever turning 22.  

Two XXXTentacion albums, 2017’s 17 and 2018’s ?, made the Top 10, with the latter topping the list. Juice WRLD’s 2018 debut album Goodbye & Good Riddance and 2020 posthumous album Legends Never Die both cracked the Top 10, while 2019’s Death Race For Love landed at No. 13.

Finally, Pop Smoke’s 2020 posthumous album Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon also made the Top 10 while his mixtape Meet The Woo 2 landed at No. 37.  

Other names that frequent the list are all superstars. Drake has three albums in the Top 10, and eight in the Top 50 (that’s 16% of the entire list). Eminem has six albums in the Top 50, Kendrick Lamar has three albums in the Top 25, and Kanye West has three albums in the Top 50.  

Much has been made about hip-hop not scoring a No. 1 song or album this year so far—a first since 1993—and whether the genre is in decline.

The streak of no No. 1 rap albums is likely to break once the numbers for Lil Uzi Vert’s The Pink Tape come in next week—if not, it’s almost certainly going to break once Drake drops For All The Dogs and Travis returns with Utopia. After all, Uzi, Drake, and Travis are some of the biggest superstars in music right now.

Yet Spotify’s list highlights just how different the hip-hop landscape would be if burgeoning superstars like XXX, Pop, and Juice were still alive and releasing music. Just this week, Juice WRLD’s Cordae collaboration “Doomsday” debuted at No. 58 on the Billboard charts, partially powered by a Cole Bennet music video that uses AI to recreate his face.

XXXTentacion has 10 songs on Spotify with over a billion streams—for comparison, Taylor Swift has one. Rap’s biggest breakout star (and increasingly reliable hitmaker) in 2023 is Ice Spice, an artist who emerged from the same New York drill scene Pop Smoke helped pioneer.

All of those late artists had their share of controversies, especially XXX, but there is no denying their musical impact and lasting influence. You can argue that the notoriety from their deaths brought a renewed interest in their work, especially for their posthumous releases, but death permeates rap in a way it doesn't with other genres.

We've lost so many stars and would be-stars in recent years that I'm afraid to list them all because the last time I did, I had to update my draft because another rapper was killed before I could even press publish. The reasons so many rappers are dying are complicated, though there is a constant undercurrent of systemic racism.

Regardless of the why, the fact is, this is where we're at. Maybe hip-hop is in decline, maybe it's not. For the genre to continue to thrive and evolve, it needs stars who are innovative, experimental, and charismatic. Pop, Juice, and XXX were all those things. And now they're gone.

Does that spell doom for the genre? Well, hip-hop was once in this position before; in 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down just six months after 2Pac was killed. Rap lost two iconic stars. Yet the genre managed to reach new heights in the late 90s and 2000s.

Rap seemingly crescendoed in 2017, as the streaming era took full effect and rappers took full advantage. That's also why Spotify’s list skews towards 2010’s artists (Spotify also launched in the US in 2011). In fact, there are only two albums in Spotify's Top 50 from the '90s. The oldest album on the list is from 1996, 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me. Some legends never die.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.