Women Are All But Omitted on the Music Industry's Most Influential Rap Playlist

Cardi B
Cardi B
Photo: Christopher Polk (Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

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.



I don’t understand what the article is trying to say here—obviously the social justice sought is for more women rappers to appear on this RapCaviar playlist, but I can’t tell whether Spotify’s staff is being accused of putting its hands on the scales or what. According to Wired, “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.” What I take from this—and what I think Wired and probably Spotify want people to take from this—is that whether a song appears on the playlist is driven by the song’s popularity within the platform (measured by how much the song gets played by Spotify’s user base over a certain period of time). This makes sense to me because you would ideally want to put songs on this playlist with proven mass appeal.

What I do not understand is whether the article above is saying that this is not how Spotify does things, and that Spotify is going out of its way to put circumvent its own allegedly metrics-driven system to keep women rappers down for some nefarious purpose. I also don’t see why Spotify would have an interest in pushing some music over other other music if Spotify is just receiving the same amount of money for access to their service regardless.