Last year in Cardi B’s New York cover story, part of the Bronx rapper’s rise was attributed to the Swedish streaming service Spotify. More specifically, the company’s rap-focused playlist RapCaviar:
[“Bodak Yellow”] was a slow-building-groundswell record, not one that was manufactured by a Swedish hit-bot in selvedge denim but one that started with Cardi fooling around over the top of a song, “No Flockin’,” by rapper Kodak Black. Cardi wasn’t sure it was good — she even asked a reporter to take a listen, unsure of what she had. Released in June, “Bodak Yellow” moved to Spotify’s influential RapCaviar playlist in July, which helped bring it to open-car-window ubiquity sometime in the hottest months of the year.
Daniel Ek, Spotify’s CEO and co-founder, boasted during the company’s investor day that RapCaviar is bigger than any singular rap station in the world, having amassed over 9 million followers. It’s a bold statement, but one that is fortified by how much press the playlist has received over the last couple years, with most proclaiming it one of the most influential tastemakers in the music industry. Unfortunately, despite the success that RapCaviar garnered Cardi B, that influence hasn’t found a way towards boosting other women rappers.
The playlist, as of this writing, holds 50 songs; the only women included are Beyoncé (“Top Off”), Rihanna (on N.E.R.D.’s “Lemon”), and Cardi B (“Bartier Cardi”). Of the 269 artists who appeared on RapCaviar between May 2016 and December 2017, only 10.78 percent were women, according to data pulled from streaming analytic site Chartmetric. That figure still includes a number of singers; isolating for rappers only, the percentage of women craters further to 4.78 percent. In that percentage, the only women rappers who had lead tracks were Cardi B, Dej Loaf, Nicki Minaj, and Young M.A. For comparison, Quavo of the Atlanta rap trio Migos appeared 19 times as a featured artist alone, not including his verses with Migos.
There are persistent myths and stereotypes that hold back women rappers from the mainstream side of the music business. But in theory, a streaming-first music industry could move past old forms of bias and prejudices in favor of data. That’s at least how Wired described the process of Spotify’s playlist curation: “Spotify and other streaming services are all about data. People pull the levers that make it all work, sure, but you can’t fake listener data. If a song works, it grows. If it doesn’t, it dies.”
Data! Now, of course the lack of gender diversity on RapCaviar doesn’t speak to a lack of great women rappers, of which there are as many as there have ever been—a few of my favorites include Cupcakke, Kash Doll, and Rico Nasty. The issue is that it appears the latest gatekeeper in the world of music is pushing the same tired agenda as the old one.