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Drake & Future Are Dominating Illegal Album Downloads Too

A new study on illegally downloaded albums confirms Drake and Future are absolutely dominating hip-hop.
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In case it wasn’t already clear, Drake and Future are the two hottest acts in hip-hop this year. Both artists have released a solo album (or “mixtape,” whatever Drake), in addition to their collaborative effort, What A Time To Be Alive. Not only have all three projects sold and done exceptionally on the charts, their popularity is reflected in the download circuit as well, a circuit that needs to be considered if we have any hope of accurately measuring an artist's popularity.

A new study by Seatsmart shows that Drizzy and Hendrix are the most illegally downloaded artists in 2015. If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late takes the cake as the single most illegally downloaded album this year, and it’s not even a close contest. In total, according to just their data, Drake’s project has 268,597 downloads. That’s what they tracked, but with endless download links spread across each side of the internet, it has to be much more. On average, IYRTITL has been downloaded over 1,500 times a day.

While Drake takes the crown, Future's lapped him recently in terms of daily illegal downloads. DS2 is currently twice as downloaded as IYRTITL with 3,378 daily downloads. This seems accurate considering people know Drake is going to deliver since he almost always does, but Future was just getting hot again, so people were skeptical and needed to hear the project first. We also need to factor in that Drake’s tape has been out since February (vs. DS2’s July release), so there’s more data available for him.

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It’s worth noting that both Drake and Future have officially sold more albums than what’s reported as illegally downloaded, and considering all three consumption sources - purchases, free downloads and streams - gives us a much better picture of Drake and Future's overwhelming 2015's. 

  • IYRTITL’s total sales: 1,061,000
  • Total downloads: 268,000 
  • Total streams: Over one billion (yes, that's billion with a "b" counting individual song streams)
  • DS2’s total sales: 253,000
  • Total downloads: 81,000
  • Total streams: Over 100 million (estimated)
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Interestingly, by contrast Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, which has already reached gold certification, was only illegally downloaded a mere 37,530 times. Why? Does this mean that Kendrick’s fans are more trusting that he’s delivering a strong album worth the purchase than Drake? Not necessarily, since IYRTITL is platinum. Perhaphs it just shows that Drake really is that much more popular than Kendrick, and being the hottest act also means being downloaded in huge numbers. 

This study also further confirms that no other genre downloads quite like ours. By genre, classical music is the least bootlegged, while rap and R&B take up the top two spots respectively. Even folk music is more downloaded illegally than rock. Rap makes up almost 500,000 downloads in their study and comprises a huge chunk of the pie chart.

It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly rap is more downloaded than any other genre. Personally, I feel like we’re too spoiled with free music/projects and that translates over to retail albums. When you’re given something for free...a lot, you start to believe you don’t need to pay for it. Also, hip-hop fans are likely younger and much more tech savvy than, say, a classical music fan. When an album leaks, we want it now. Right. This. Instant. One reason, which is easy to understand, is the need to be a part of the first social media discussions. First listen tweets often influence fans to give an album a chance or pass on it completely.

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However, we have to mention that the Seatsmart study makes no mention of how they’re collecting this data. While it’s cool and a bit surprising to see, it's hard to believe they're precise. With new download links popping up and dying literally every minute, how could anyone possibly track all downloads? Surely Drake and Future are the hottest, but to believe only 250,000 people downloaded Drake’s mixtape has to be understating the number by a lot.

In the future, music streaming can take the place of illegally downloading, there's already evidence that the rise of streaming services has lessened downloads, but only if streaming can keep pace with the current state of hip-hop.

When an album leaks more than a week early, are fans going to wait for Apple Music to have it available or download right then and there? Fans want music, they want it now, and they want it conveniently. So whether it's Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL or the second coming of Napster, the fans will flock to whoever is fufilling those needs.

And if we're going to figure out which rappers are really putting numbers on the board in 2015, we're gonna have to start counting downloads and streams just like we do album purchases.

[By Sermon, A.K.A. the Heartbreak Kid Serm Michaels. This is his Twitter.]



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