“Started from the bottom, now the whole team here.”
Take a look at any list of really popular music, and you’ll probably see some songs “featuring” one artist or another – and this is especially true in hip-hop.
50 cent had Eminem, Em had Dre, and now it seems the hip-hop world is clamoring to work with Canadian Crooner Drake.
That everything Drake touches turns to gold is a well-documented phenomenon, and as far back as 2013 music publications like Billboard, Fuse, and Rap Radar were heralding the impact of ‘Mr. Thank Me Later’ on the rap scene.
This impact was so pronounced that Drake’s addition to someone else’s track can take the song or artist from relative obscurity to mainstream hit. The Weeknd, Migos and Soulja Boy are just a few of the dozens of artists who have benefited from Drake’s coveted co-sign. This impact has led to the term “The Drake Effect” firmly entering the lexicon.
But just how powerful is it? And how does Drake, the world’s most-streamed artist on Spotify, compare to other artists? We investigate.
Since it’s impossible to quantify cultural cachet (What’s the value of an Instagram nod? How much is Drake’s endless memefication worth?), we set out to try to measure the so-called Drake Effect using Spotify streaming data, one of the clearest indicators of success in today’s increasingly complicated music landscape.
During 2015, the year of peak-Drake, we could see the effect of his Midas touch in guest appearances on other artists’ tracks. But songs featuring Minaj as a guest artist were even more golden, according to Spotify streaming data from the same year. Yes, the “Drake Effect” is real, but it’s time we start talking about the Nicki Effect.
From January through October of 2015, a track featuring Drake as a guest artist was streamed 126 percent more often, on average, than any of the other tracks on the albums he was featured on. That means the Drake song (or songs) was played more than twice as much as the songs that didn’t feature Drake.
While this seems to prove the existence of the Drake Effect, how does this compare to his Young Money colleagues Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne? If the Drake Effect is really as big as everyone believes, then surely Drake should come out on top.
We started by looking at every album on Spotify with at least one track featuring either Drake, Nicki Minaj or Lil Wayne (there were 63 albums featuring Drake, 62 featuring Minaj and 192 featured Weezy). We then looked at how often the songs on those albums were streamed this year, and saw that Nicki Minaj’s guest effect was even greater than Drake’s, with her guest tracks streaming on average 172 percent more often than the tracks without her.
While it’s safe to assume that the addition of a guest artist on a track points to an artist looking for a banger, this is not always true for every song on an album. So, to isolate the guest artist effect most accurately, we isolated our comparison to those songs on an album featuring a guest artist to the other tracks on that same album with a similar level of popularity.
Unsurprisingly, about 80% of both the Drake and Minaj feature tracks fell into the top half by popularity, and at this top tier, the power of Nicki becomes even clearer.
For songs in the top tier streams, a Nicki co-sign was streamed 46% more often, on average, compared with 25% more often for Drake. But things get even more interesting in the second tier, where the Nicki Effect equates to a 55% increase but a Drake feature performed worse on average than the tracks without Drake across all albums in that same tier.
Now this reverse-Drake Effect in the second bucket might be due to a few things, such as multiple versions of the same track (i.e., deluxe vs. regular) appearing in the data set or the same tracks appearing with varying names. But it should be noted that we would see these sorts of data quirks for Nicki’s songs, too, so Drake can’t explain away this negative effect based on data inconsistencies alone.
In the past few years, Drake has moved away from guesting on superstar albums with the likes of Timberlake to instead seeking out smaller, more obscure artists from around the world (for example SBTRKT). While the politics of his co-opting are heavily debated, it’s worth noting that Drake’s approaches to guest appearances couldn’t be more different from Nicki’s.
Minaj engineers all of her collaborations to be successes and shows little interest in appearing on anything that isn’t going to be a hit. In contrast, Drake seems more interested in seeking out underground artists from niche music circles.
However, this only makes the Nicki Effect more impressive as her guest features account for an increase in streaming on albums that are already chock full of hits.
If you’re surprised that Nicki eclipsed Drake in the year of Drake, you shouldn’t be. Five years ago, Kanye West assembled one of hip-hop’s greatest guest-track dream teams — Rick Ross, Jay Z, Bon Iver and one relative newcomer, Nicki Minaj — for his single “Monster.” Not only did she best three iconic rap legends, her guest verse on “Monster” remains indisputably one of the greatest guest features of all time. And on that verse, she warned us: “You could be the king but watch the queen conquer.”