Is Young Thug's Popularity Flatlining? Here's What the Numbers Say

Why aren't acclaim and co-signs translating into additional sales and streams for Young Thug?

Young Thug's newly-released album, Beautiful Thugger Girls, will debut at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 this week, collecting 37k SPS (sales plus streaming) units in its first week.

While that total will be good for the third top 10 debut of Thugger's brief career—which comes on the heels of landing a double-Platinum plaque in May for "Pick Up The Phone" with Travis Scott—it is one of a handful of metrics that suggest the Atlanta rapper's popularity is flatlining.

To date, Thug has officially released five projects for sale and stream: Barter 6I'm UpSlime Season 3Jeffery and Beautiful Thugger Girls. Below are the first-week sales SEA (streaming equivalent album) totals for each:

  • Barter 6 (2015) - 18k
  • I'm Up (2016) - 21k
  • Slime Season 3 (2016) - 38k
  • Jeffery (2016) - 37k
  • Beautiful Thugger Girls (2017) - 37k

First, it's important to point out that, in the two years since he released Barter 6, Thug has effectively doubled his sales—which is great. And if you add up the first-week totals for all three of Thug's 2016 releases, he's almost at 100k units—which, again, is great. For context sake, only 13 hip-hop or R&B releases in 2016 achieved a 100k+ SPS first-week total. 

That said, not only have Thug's sales over his past three releases (SS3, Jeffery and BTG) essentially remained flat but his inability to generate plays for Beautiful Thugger Girls on streaming giant Spotify is alarming. During its opening week, BTG only landed only one song ("Relationship" at No. 198) on the Global 200 Chart—and it features a guest spot from Future.

If you're in the, "yeah, but rap fans don't listen to Spotify" group, keep in mind that Spotify's most popular playlist is RapCaviar with 7.1M followers and five of the current top 10 most streamed artists on the platform make hip-hop music (Quavo, DJ Khaled, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott).

Based on the strength of his back catalog and a few wildly beloved collaborations with more popular artists ("Pick Up The Phone"), Thug has a very respectable 9.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify at the moment, but only three tracks, including “Relationship,” rank among Thug’s 10 “Most Popular” songs over the past seven days.

If you're in the "yeah, but in 2017, album sales don't matter like they used to" group, you're right, they don't. But only as it pertains to physical and digital sales. It's important to keep in mind that the sales totals listed above include a combination of physical sales, digital sales and streaming equivalents. 1,500 on-demand streams are equal to one album purchase. So when you say album sales don't matter, you're effectively saying streaming doesn't matter. And streaming matters.

In Thug's defense, though Beautiful Thugger Girls wasn't a true surprise album release—the date was announced in advance and hints were dropped on social media in the weeks leading up to the LP's eventual release—Thug's labels, 300 and Atlantic, didn't release a single record from the project prior to its June 16 drop date. That strategy might work for an artist like Kendrick Lamar or Drake, but it doesn't work for Young Thug.

Thug also changed up his sound and sonic approach on BTG, opting to craft an album that features more sung vocals and influences from across the sonic spectrum, including R&B, pop and even folk (though not country, as many were led to assume). Without offering fans a preview of the material ahead of the release, though, he might have scared away a swath of casual fans who weren't interested in hearing a "singing album," which is the way he described the project ahead of its release.

According to Google Trends, Thug's popularity peaked (100) right before the release of Jeffery last fall, which is more than double his current popularity (44), indicating interest around the new album wasn't nearly as high as his last release. On the bright side, though, he's never been more popular in Mozambique, where he currently has a Google Trends score of 100.

Just as we discussed last week, popularity in 2017 is increasingly becoming more about social media currency and less about the actual performance of music. But with nearly 6 million combined followers on Instagram and Twitter, co-signs from some music's biggest names and critical acclaim stacking up from multiple projects, why aren't more people streaming or buying his album?