The inclusion of digital data in Billboard chart rankings is coincident with the decline of R&B. The practice began in 2005 with the use of paid digital content, from services like iTunes. Then in 2007 data from streaming services was added. And finally, YouTube data was incorporated in 2013. Digital media has gained increasing dominance as the barometer to determine music’s popularity. see references below for relevant links

Previously, radio play was the measure of a song’s popularity. But, technology through Internet access has usurped that role. It’s really simple. The farthest reach of the local FM station confined and defined who listened to a particular song. And, the station’s program manager handpicked that particular song. The Internet however is borderless and knows little of boundaries. It has expanded the reach of any song to the farthest corner of the globe. It has made the tastes of the station manager irrelevant. The tastemakers are now everywhere, each person their own station manager.

The Internet is everything radio is not. Radio is local, regulated, accessible and influenced by a few. The Internet on the other hand is global, unregulated – somewhat, accessible and influenced by the many.

In this era, to be a champion you must be global.

The video with the most views on YouTube, presently at 2 Billion is South Korean Rapper Psy’s Gangnam Style. A chubby South-Korean with a funny dance toppled America’s heartthrob (by way of Canada) Justin Beiber’s “Baby” which only has about 1 Billion views. Comparing the two artists social media stats, Psy has 12 million Facebook likes while Justin Beiber has 63 million. Psy’s official YouTube Channel has 7 million subscribers and Justin Beiber’s Vevo Channel has 9 million. Not particularly revealing, but what could have tipped the scale in favor of Psy?

In 2010 on average, 94% of South Koreans had access to broadband Internet. It was 64% in the United States. By 2004, at 74% penetration, South Koreans already had average speeds of 8Mps. For the 40% with broadband access in the U.S. as of 2004, the average speed was 1 Mps. Underscoring the increasing role of mobile connectivity in entertainment, in 2005 98% of South Korean mobile users had Internet connectivity. As of 2013, that number stood at 56% for Americans as smartphone users. South Korea is considered the world’s most wired country, and that’s what tipped the scale for Psy.

R&B has historically been the mainstay of the African-American community. According to the Pew Research, “in 2009 65% of white-Americans and 46% percent of African-Americans where broadband users.” They added, “Having broadband strongly affects how one uses the internet.” ( African-Americans make up 12% of the American population. If this technology factor were considered in isolation, it should be no surprise then that the decline of R&B has culminated in the first time an African–American did not make it to #1 on the Billboards Hot 100 in 2013. see references below for relevant links

The new breed of R&B artists like Jarell Perry, have been more embracing of technology than the last generation. Besides engaging fans on Twitter and Facebook, they are posting YouTube Videos. Donell Jones released an R&B studio album “Forever” in July of 2013, which was exceptional by any measure. Although Donell Jones has a Twitter account, he only sporadically tweets. His Facebook account, at close to 200,000 likes is dour and semi-abandoned. He does not have a personal YouTube account. He did not create any YouTube music videos, except the ones on his Vevo channel which has 17,500 subscribers. The album barely charted. Donell Jones’s era and mindset reflects that of MTV and being on the Hot 97s. But that playbook is now outdated.

Donell Jones in 2013
Donell Jones in 2013

In stark contrast is Ryan Leslie. By pure natural born talent he is not an artist, maybe a producer and that’s were it would have ended. But Ryan Leslie, admitted to Harvard at the age of fifteen, put in the work and most importantly utilized technology as well as social media to be where he is today. At close to 500,000 Facebook likes and Twitter followers, as well as more than 150,000 YouTube subscribers, he has built a very loyal and international fan-base.

Ryan Leslie is 35 years old, and Donell Jones is 40 years old.

Ryan Leslie at the outset of his career would post a video of himself everyday. He hired a videographer to follow him everywhere, recording every moment of his day. He gave his fans unprecedented access, to see him slowly rise from being a small cog in the wheel at Bad Boy Entertainment to creating his own label and having meetings with industry leaders.

Fans were hooked, and have followed him through his various metamorphoses (more on this later – stay tuned). Ryan Leslie is barely known in the United States, but he’s world-famous in Europe and, yes South Korea.