Last year, Hip Hop sales jumped three percent while almost every other music genre saw sales decline by double digit figures . Why? Partially because of the ways that hip hop artists use social media to engage their fans.
For example, Hip Hop fans embrace Twitter more than any music fans. Of the top 50 most followed musicians on Twitter, almost fifty percent are hip hop or R&B artists.
Social media is rapidly changing how hip hop artists and their fans interact, and also how the hip hop industry operates in general. The hip hop community has thrived by (1) using online platforms to build local and global followings, (2) using Twitter to interface with their fans directly with no filter and (3) bypassing record company agents.
At Social Media Week in New York, recording artist Saigon and blogger/social media consultant Karen Civil discussed how hip hop artists use social media to interact with their audiences. They also outlined two key ways in which social media has changed the industry:
First, while most recording artists were still using MySpace, hip hop artists like Saigon were already starting to build online followings through Twitter. At a time when most artists’ MySpace pages were managed by labels and PR people, Twitter gave recording artists direct and unfiltered access to their fans.
Social media has been particularly important to Saigon, who is an independent artist, as it has allowed him to use several platforms to build large followings all around the world (even playing packed shows in China) without first releasing an album. In fact, Saigon’s first album became the top selling hip hop album on iTunes on the day it debuted.
Second, social media allows music bloggers like Karen Civil to cut out the middleman and connect with artists directly. Ultimately, writers like Civil get new songs and news directly from the artists, without having to wait for official releases or statements from labels. In fact, artists increasingly share music with bloggers like Civil directly, making it rare for new songs to appear on the air before they hit the internet. This marks a departure from the preceding two decades, when hip hop fans had to sit by their radios waiting for exclusives from their favorite DJs.
None of this should surprise us. Hip hop artists gravitated toward social media long before social media was a term. In the late 1970s, hip hop developed within informal cyphers, where groups of young rappers gathered in a circle to freestyle about the events around them. With such a history, it’s hardly surprising that the social and instantaneous nature of social media – particularly blogs and Twitter – has proven to be of such value to the hip hop community. Given this relationship, it will be interesting to see if artists from other genres follow hip hop’s lead in building relationships with their fans via social media.
 Source: Steve Knopper, Rolling Stone, February 2011.