Mike WiLL and Metro Boomin; UnitedMasters-NBA Deal; Happy Thanksgiving!

Trapital's hip-hop business recap for your holiday weekend.

Mike WiLL Made-It at the Creed II: The Album soundtrack listening party (via Six Degrees)
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Mike WiLL and Metro Boomin Flex Their Power

November has been a promising month for two of hip-hop’s prominent beat makers. Mike WiLL Made-It curated his first movie soundtrack—the star-studded Creed II: The Album. The “Bandz a Make Her Dance” producer has his eyes on an Oscar nomination for the 15-track project. Metro Boomin released his first solo studio album Not All Heroes Wear Capes (great name, by the way), which debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. Pitchfork’s Alphonse Pierre predicts that a movie soundtrack could be in Metro Boomin’s future as well.

When Young Metro heard the news about his album sales, he tweeted a self-assuring statement about his profession:

Metro Boomin@MetroBoominWHAT A TIME TO BE A PRODUCER

It counters the story I wrote last month about hip-hop producers losing their power. Neither Metro Boomin nor Mike WiLL have the exposure that The Neptunes had in 2003, but both have access to opportunities that Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo didn’t get until much later in their careers. Pharrell composed his first movie soundtrack in 2010—well past The Neptunes’ peak. The “Happy” producer was a safe, legacy act in music by that point. His “Lapdance” days were well behind him.

Creed II: The Album, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther: The Album, is attached to a movie that is already setting box office records. The rising tide of diversity in Hollywood will lift all boats—opening doors that were once closed off.

Hip-hop producers might not have lost all their power, but the landscape has still changed.

UnitedMasters can leverage the NBA without partnering with the NBA

Last week, UnitedMasters—an independent artist services company—announced an interesting partnership with the NBA. UnitedMasters’ stable of artists will now have the opportunity to get their music featured on the NBA’s digital properties. These artists give UnitedMasters 10% of their revenue in exchange for distribution support, like this new NBA deal offers. But unlike a record label, UnitedMasters don’t own the artist’s masters. The artists keep them.

This move is a natural play for Steve Stoute, the company's founder and CEO. The music and advertising executive has built his legacy on merging the worlds of basketball and hip-hop—dating back to his deals with Reebok in the early 2000s.

The NBA partnership gives UnitedMasters an advantage in an increasingly competitive space. But it begs to question whether the NBA itself was the best digital property for the year-old company to partner with.

NBA’s official social media accounts have large followings, but other NBA-related social media accounts have higher engagement. House of Highlights (11M Instagram followers) and parent company Bleacher Report (8.4M) often get more views and comments when posting similar clips that the NBA (32.3M) does. The closer UnitedMasters gets to the accounts with higher engagement—which get preferential treatment on social media timelines—the better it is for the artists.

And while the NBA’s digital properties have come a long way, they still reside outside the raw, take-no-prisoners culture of #NBATwitter. The league’s digital properties do not get caught up in the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green drama or post the legendary Alonzo Mourning acceptance GIF. Meanwhile, Bleacher Report and other accounts have no shame trying to get all up in the smoke. Drama drives engagement, and those properties that fuel the drama are the ones that Stoute and UnitedMasters should consider next.

Here’s a screenshot of an NBA Instagram post from yesterday with UnitedMasters artist Swayyvo’s music synced to a LeBron James highlight.

As UnitedMasters continues its quest to create “250,000 Chance The Rappers,” it resurfaces the conversation about artists paying companies in exchange for placement and exposure. Stoute himself compared playlist exposure to UnitedMasters’ NBA deal in a recent interview with DJBooth. The opportunity is similar to the themes I mentioned in my story about why RapCaviar should spinoff from Spotify.

If the weekly playlist spun off from the streaming service and formed its own entity, it can monetize by charging artists for placement—the same way other playlists do. The key difference between UnitedMasters and the hypothetical ‘RapCaviar LLC’ is that Stoute’s company is a third party between the artist and the outlets offering exposure, while RapCaviar would be a direct channel for the artist.

Would the UnitedMasters-NBA deal be perceived differently if the NBA itself offered artists direct placement on its digital properties in exchange for a small cut? Of course it would. The definition of ‘payola’ will continue to be cloudy and subjective. But in the meantime, UnitedMasters and its competitors should continue innovating to disrupt the music landscape. These deals ultimately push the industry forward.

Happy Thanksgiving from Trapital!

Today is all about giving thanks, so I’d like to give a few personal shout-outs to the folks who have supported Trapital this year:

  • Friends and family who have supported me from day one.

  • Those who reach out to give feedback (both positive and constructive), it goes a long way.

  • Those who gave testimonials for Trapital.

  • The interviews I’ve done for both Uptown Plug and The Sunday Share.

  • The early accolades and top lists that Trapital has made: MediaREDEF’s Top Picks, LinkedIn’s Must-Read Series.

  • Media outlets that have shared and referenced my work: Music Ally, Valet, Flipboard, MAEKAN, 7|X, Highlark, The AdLib, SynchTank, Uncensored Interview, What To Do Live and others.

  • The teams at Substack and LinkedIn.

  • Past editors at WIRED, Medium, Pigeons & Planes, and The Sports Fan Journal who were great soundboards when Trapital was still in development.

  • Readers who have shared my newsletter with their friends and colleagues. Word of mouth is still the best form of growth, so let’s keep it going. Tell your friends to sign up!

Trapital is still in its early days. It’s only been eight months, but we’ve learned a lot in that span. There are some exciting things coming down the pipeline next couple months so stay tuned. We’re just getting started.

Happy Thanksgiving! GO BLUE this weekend!

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Trapital is written by Dan Runcie. Contact me at dan@danruncie.com