How rap ascended (again) to become the sound of the mainstream

Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, of Atlanta trio Migos, are at the forefront of rap’s latest wave

WHEN PHILADELPHIA RAPPER LIL Uzi Vert was 20 years old, he uploaded a few songs to SoundCloud, a free music-sharing platform. The tracks got a couple hundred plays, then a few thousand. Three years later, on the strength of a moody song called “XO Tour Llif3” and a series of streaming-only mixtapes, the rapper, now 23, has racked up over a billion Spotify streams and nabbed a Best New Artist Grammy nomination.

Lil Uzi Vert’s rise is impressive. But this year, he’s just one in a crowd of hip-hop stars who are dominating the mainstream. Nearly half of the songs on Jan. 27’s Billboard Hot 100 chart were rap or incorporate elements of hip-hop. Listening in the genre increased 74% on Spotify in 2017, and Drake, the Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar were three of the platform’s top five most popular artists. This is a marked change from the past 10 years, when artists like Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga ruled the charts. In fact, “Look What You Made Me Do,” the lead single from Swift’s latest album, Reputation, fell from the No. 1 spot

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