The Concentration of Rap Artists among Companies Draft

In the United States, the hip-hop and rap music industry has grown exponentially since its forthcomings in about 1980. Unfortunately, the industry has been highly concentrated primarily among several large companies throughout its twenty-five year history. Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group are these three dominating companies in the popular music industry, and clearly so in the hip-hop and rap genre. This study seeks to expose the level of concentration among labels and companies throughout the history of hip-hop and also provide a breakdown of dominating labels and companies throughout this twenty-five year period. This breakdown will analyze data from Billboard Charts from 1990 to present and draw on several studies.

After gaining some traction in the first decade of its existence, hip-hop and rap became an independent genre recognized on Billboard Charts in March of 1989 with its own ranking system. In order to accurately represent how certain artists and certain labels do in terms of mass media successes, each week has a single song that is at the top of the chart for hip-hop and rap, and these songs have been recorded along with artist and that specific week’s date. In this list of songs, almost 70% of songs that have made it to the number 1 spot weekly have already achieved this status, and since 1989, only 203 artists have made multiple songs that have risen to the top of the chart. This massive list of hit songs can be interpreted by analyzing the frequencies of how often these artists appear, and then from that statistic, the artists having made multiple songs can be organized into the labels that they belong to. Lastly, the percentage of each label producing the hit songs can be expressed as percentages of hit songs produced by certain companies.

Another good way to track the successes of labels and artists would be to take the chart performance for the top 50 tracks each year, as there would not be repeats, but should get an accurate representation of the relative popularity of certain songs and artists. In a study of these tracks on Billboard charts, from 1989 to the present, the top 15 most successful labels are listed in a table ranked by weighing each label’s tracks by it’s rank 1–50 and by the number of weeks charted.

Table 1: 1–15 of the most successful labels by number of hits on Billboard

Each of the top fifteen ranked labels can be separated into four categories: belonging to Universal Music Group, belonging to Sony Music Entertainment, belonging to Warner Music Group, or owned by none of the above companies. Universal Music Group owns Def Jam Records, Shady Records, Cash Money Records, DTP Records, Young Money Records, Loud Records, Priority Records, Bad Boy Records, Ruffhouse Records and Roc-A-Fella Records. Sony Music Entertainment owns Columbia Records, and Jive Records. Warner Music Group owns Grand Hustle Records, and Atlantic Records, but is also a distributor of Tommy Boy Records — the only independent label in this list of the top 15 most successful labels. Easy visual ways to see this concentration is by showing each companies total charting tracks and consecutive weeks, as the number of artists does not necessarily have a correlation with that label’s success. (Daniels & Beacham)

Figure 1: Visual Representation of Concentration of Companies by Tracks
Figure 2: Visual Representation of Concentration of Companies by Consecutive Weeks Charted

The data that Figures 1 and 2 yield show the huge control that Universal Music Group can exercise on much of the hip-hop music industry. Warner Music Group and Sony Entertainment Music almost sweep up the rest of the industry based on these charts, especially considering Warner Music Group has a hand in the distribution process for the lone independent label of the list.

A consideration of mine regarding data from Billboard is its accuracy and how it is determined, thus if it is the best (or even if it is the best, reliable) source for determining the controlling companies in terms of success rather than revenue. The company Billboard seeks to chart all music in terms of popularity, and uses the following general guidelines for doing so (as described in their FAQ): “Billboard publishes a host of charts that are individually or collectively based on key fan interactions with music, including album sales and downloads, track downloads, radio airplay and touring as well as streaming and social interactions on Facebook, Twitter, Vevo, Youtube, Spotify and other popular online destinations for music. These measurements are tracked year-round by Billboard and its data partners, including Nielsen BDS, Nielsen SoundScan and Next Big Sound.” The complex algorithm that must be created in order to quantify the combination of all of these variables seems difficult to formulate well, but Billboard conclusively provides the best data possible for analysis of dominant companies in the industry.


Daniels, M. & Beacham, K. (2015, Oct 7). The Most Successful Labels in Hip-Hop. Retrieved from:

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