Decoded: The hip-hop survival toolkit

Hip-hop artists are some of the most active and engaged partners here at Spinnup and it’s easy to see why. In just the last year, total on-demand streams in hip-hop/R&B grew by 46.3% to a huge 121.3 billion. Meanwhile, traditional album sales in the same genre dropped by 26.9% to 10 million*.

It’s clear from this data that, as a medium, digital is more important for hip-hop than any other musical genre when it comes to building a fan base and reaching new audiences.

From humble origins, it has grown to transcend cultures and styles to become possibly the most influential musical phenomenon of our age.

If you’re starting out on your musical career, knowing that your passion lies in a creative field that’s adored by millions and shows no sign of going stale is great. However, you need to recognise that this also makes it one of the most competitive spaces to gain traction in. Trust us, this isn’t going to be easy.

The hip-hop survival toolkit; everything you need to know

With that in mind, we’ve put together an essential toolkit to give fledgeling hip-hop artists the best head start we can.

In this blog we’re going to look at the following topics:

• Branding, PR and social media

• Data management

• YouTube strategy

• Collaboration

Branding, PR and social media

As an upcoming artist, it can pay to recognise that your success could come down to how well you navigate and own the digital space, as much as how good you are at the creative process itself.

The best artists see their digital presence as part of their own creative branding process. This is the space where you connect directly with your audience, crafting your message and creating a narrative that brings your world into theirs.

Our guide to Artist Branding covers all of this in great detail, and you should familiarise yourself with the essential elements of creating a unique brand. Learn how to tell your story, not just through your music but with your visual imagery and the messages that you put out social media every day.

It’s through social media that you can build your organic following and drive new audiences to streaming platforms where they can hear your tracks. But different people are going to have a preference for different platforms, which is why it pays to have your music on every single one, rather than just the ones you’re familiar with.

PR is a great way to boost your followers and gain more streams but getting good PR without some momentum and support behind you isn’t easy.

However, that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out to writers and influencers out there who are already connected with artists you admire.

Take your time and begin building these relationships slowly. Start following the right people and reading what they have to say on their blogs or YouTube channels, don’t just pile in there and start telling them how good you are straight away!

How do you find people to connect with? You probably already know who you admire, so check out who they follow and who they interact with in the industry; start by copying them.

If you’re looking for writers a useful tip is to use a tool like BuzzSumo. This lets you search using artists names or hip-hop sub-genres and shows you the most popular recent articles about the subject. Check out the by-lines (who the author is) and start building a list of the writers. They’ll all have blogs and Twitter profiles for you to begin following too.

With a smartphone-dominated audience like hip-hop, it’s critical that you build your knowledge of digital. This brings us on to the next subject of big-data.

Data management

Data is such a key part of how you are perceived as an artist these days that it’s something we all need to focus on. As a hip-hop artist even more so.

In the world of hip-hop/R&B data is hugely influential. From gaining respect from your peers to creating new windows of opportunity, A&R scouts, producers and other artists will all make snap judgments about an artist these days based on quantifiable metrics like numbers of streams, views and followers.

We’ve also produced a detailed guide to data management too, but for now just be aware that being able to track what’s happening out there is going to give you a big advantage over other artists that aren’t paying attention.


With that in mind, it goes without saying that your YouTube presence is something many tour promoters, artists and producers are going to be interested in, so take the time to build a following and keep track of what’s working. If something resonates, keep at it, if it doesn’t move on quickly.

YouTube is actually the world’s 2nd biggest search engine after Google. This means that there are probably more people out there searching for new artists on this platform than any other, including Spotify.

When creating a channel and uploading videos make sure you tag everything properly and use the description box to put as much detail about you and your music in there as possible. We’ve got a whole article on tips for optimising your YouTube channel that we recommend. With that in mind, it goes without saying that you need to:

Understand your sub-genres

Contemporary hip-hop has more sub-genres than horror movies and heavy metal combined, so making sure you identify with the right ones is key. This is especially true when it comes to the vast sprawling world of YouTube.

Back when hip-hop began, most fans identified with either west or east coast as represented by legends like NWA and Public Enemy.

Today you can claim to be anything from Trap, Alternative, Conscious, Southern, Battle Rap and Sneak. From Hyphy and Latin Trap to Trap 3.0, Wild Cards and everyone’s recent favourite Soundcloud Rap, it’s like the musical equivalent of a pick’n mix candy bar.

Take the time to learn as much as you can about YouTube, making sure you use it to connect with your core audience and build that community from within. It can even start earning you some quick money, once your videos begin to gain traction.


‘Stop, collaborate and listen’ is a great piece of early 90s hip-hop advice (although, if you don’t get the reference it’s probably for the best!).

Artist collaborations have become one of the most popular ways to cross-promote likeminded musical souls to each other’s audiences. In fact, this year around 25% of all Top 100 tracks have featured more than one artist.

If you’re starting out, a good collaboration can make your career. This is why we encourage you to follow all of the advice listed above. Other artists and producers are looking to collaborate with people who have their business in-hand and following these steps will allow you to give that impression. For more on how to collaborate with others, read our guide.

But it isn’t just artistic collaborations that will pay-off for you. From building your visual brand and online identity, managing your social media and developing industry contacts, booking gigs and networking with producers; no-one can be expected to master all these things alone.

A culture of being collaborative gives you access to so much more talent, skill and ideas than you could ever hope to generate on your own. Sometimes you need to lock yourself away and find the voice within, but after that, you just need to get it out there and it’s other people that will help you do that.

Of course, none of this matters if you can’t flow, but we’re being nice and assuming you can! Just remember, that with so much appetite out there, there’s going to be a lot of hungry artists out there trying to grab fans’ limited attention, so doing things right from the start gives you a competitive advantage that others won’t have.