The Top Selling Singles & Albums Of 2023 : 8 Trends We’ve Noticed
8 Jan 2024
In what was inevitably another excellent year for the UK music industry, the start of 2024 has seen the official statistics for the past year of 2023 published – always a fascinating and insightful time to delve behind the numbers of the UK rap scene especially. With single success creating billions of streams for said genre, the world continues to be reminded that England has become home to some of the biggest names in international music; testament to our nurturing industry and country filled with incredible talent, the UK sound is nothing short of worldwide now. With that being said, in what has become somewhat a yearly occurrence, we at Mixtape Madness have lifted some trends from the numerical data to summarise the past year and that we can take from it.
Dave and Central Cee Remain UK Frontrunners
‘She don’t listen to UK rap if it ain’t Dave or Cench’ – The opening of ‘UK Rap’ by Dave and Central Cee proclaims. Going off sales alone, the duo may well be right.
‘Sprinter’ was one of the biggest Rap songs of 2023 worldwide let alone in the UK, while all four of the tracks from their ‘Split Decision’ EP also made the top 100 selling list for the year. Despite coming out two and a half years ago, Dave also secured second spot in the top album sales with ‘We’re All Alone In This Together’, while his debut album ‘Psychodrama’ also secured a place in the top ten. Central Cee also saw ‘Wild West’ and ‘23’ make the top 15 without releasing a full length project last year.
In terms of impact and longevity of sales, no one is really coming close to what these two are doing right now. Cench’s freestyle with Drake and Dave’s recent collaboration with Jack Harlow and Cole Bennett demonstrate that this pair have the first real opportunity to take our send globally and open doors for the next generation.
The Power of The Predecessor?
Though 2023 has undoubtedly been a great year for UK rap music, an interesting fact likely surprising to many, is that only 30% of the songs in the “Top 20 Selling UK Rap Singles of 2023” were actually released in said year. Just under three quarters of the best selling tracks of 2023, were in fact released in the predecessor of 2022, providing us food for thought in terms of measurable success over the past two years.
Another influencing statistic important to note when debating the success of the past year, no new breakthrough rappers made it into the “Top 10 Selling UK Rap Singles of 2023” released in the respective year itself. Domination by heavyweights of the UK rap scene such as Dave, Central Cee and D-Block Europe is just too important to ignore, and testament to their creative strategy they have remained in the highest public interest worldwide.
Searching for an alternative reason as to why no new artists have made the list however is a different board game. Whether this is due to a creative shortage in hit-making this year, or the current consumer-centric progressive trends have been too difficult to compete with, it begs the question… was 2022 or 2023 more successful in terms of progression within the UK Rap industry?
The Drill Era Is Over
Last year when we looked at the trends for 2022, Drill and in particular Sample Drill dominated the UK Charts. The DIY element of this sound allowed artists to hop on anything that was translating to views in the TikTok space and capitalize on it themselves.
This year however this has not been the case, and the Drill genre in general has slowly declined in output. Of course, there are still the heavy hitters such as Headie, Digga and Unknown T, but the one hit wonders of previous years have fallen by the wayside. As UK Rap continues to progress and become a mainstay on the charts, the gimmick sounds that people have cashed in on in recent years are no longer present. Drill was undoubtedly the most important subgenre within UK Rap since Grime’s renaissance in the mid 2010’s, but it’s over saturation and subsequent drop off hopefully mean that we will start to see more unique projects in the upper echelons of the charts.
TikTok Influencing Chart Statistics?
Post a TikTok. Pray the algorithm goes in your favour. Secure a hit?
Although in the grand scheme of things there’s a lot more to it, it’s no secret that masses of musicians have benefitted from the social media dominance of TikTok in recent years – and 2023 was no different. With the platform hosting more users than ever before in their history, TikTok has found itself at the forefront of the music industry, and when utilised correctly, reflects excellently in DSP and sale statistics. All you have to do is look at the top selling album and singles list for 2023; not a single single track or album hasn’t been the receiving end of algorithmic traction on TikTok, and with consumer reproduction now also at an all time, means of free promotion couldn’t be any easier to achieve.
As mentioned above, Dave and Central Cee have dominated the UK Rap scene this year, and so much of this is due to the influence of TikTok. Consumers making videos to the sound of ‘Sprinter’, ‘UK Rap’, ‘Let Go’, ‘Starlight’… the list goes on, but the outcome remains the same. You almost can’t escape hearing these tracks every time you open the app, and these are purely the relevant examples. With interaction being at an all time high, TikTok has allowed artists to connect with their fanbases on a more intimate level than ever – there’s no doubt that this alongside to content reproduction and free promotion has been so influential for those in the top selling lists this year.
Is The Album A Dying Art Form?
Of the top 20 biggest selling UK Rap albums of last year, only 35% were released in 2023. We put this down to different factors:
‘Stan’ culture for example is one factor. This is a relatively new phenomenon that has taken over music consumption for the last decade or so where people listen almost exclusively to one particular artist or group. D Block Europe for example have some of the most loyal fans within the UK Rap sphere and make up a quarter of the top 20 highest sellers for the year, despite only releasing one project.
You can also look at Clavish, who claims third spot on this year’s list thanks to his ‘Rap Game Awful’ project. Coming in at a whopping 28 songs, the artist catered to every facet of his listenership and despite the tape lacking cohesion, this is a strategy that paid off for him. The same could be said for Nines’ ‘Crop Circle’ projects, while albums with more craft and thought behind the process such as Potter Payper’s ‘Real Back In Style’ only scraped into the top 20. It is becoming increasingly clear that people don’t listen to music in the same way they did a decade ago, and it is increasingly up to artists to either create bodies of work that force people to listen all the way through, or pivot their output to a style more suited to playlisting, which is a shame considering some of the great projects released last year.
Alternative Sounds Still Carry Weight?
Making their way onto the Top 20 Selling Single’s List of 2023, both Strandz and Bakar differ slightly from the names in which they accompany, the latter in particular. ‘Us Against The World’ by Strandz, which released in 2022, showcased an alternative sound to that of which the UK scene was used to. Creating a fusion between the modern UK rap scene with American 90s rap production, the London native effectively birthed a new sub genre within the rap field. Although it did not take off initially, 2023 saw it blow up on TikTok and achieve a whole new audience, doing wonders for the UK Rap scene as a whole.
Interestingly, Bakar’s ‘Hell N Back’ came out in 2019, yet has still found itself at number six in the top selling UK rap singles with 758,325 cumulative sales. Although not technically a rap track instead more a fusion of indie and pop, the point remains the same that longevity can be created through continuous promotion on TikTok. Alternative sounds within the genre have become some of the most powerfully charged tracks of the year… perhaps innovation is necessary now if you want to knock the heavyweights off the top?
Lack Of Alternative UK Rap Not Indicative Of Lack Of Talent
In 2022 we saw the rise of the likes of Knucks and Little Simz on these lists, which spoke to a growing ecosystem within Alternative UK Rap. In 2023, the heavyweights of our scene dominate these lists without the representation of the alternative. With Strandz the only real breakout star in terms of numbers, where does that leave the new generation?
Personally, I don’t think the 2023 list will be too detrimental for the next group of young artists coming through. Sales and numbers are not the be all and end all, and projects from Bawo, Joe James, and Kwollem to name just a few all striking a chord with those tapped into the non mainstream sounds of our scene, pushing forward the culture without necessarily being rewarded for it just yet. I think as an umbrella genre, UK Rap is in a transitional phase as the older generation pass the baton down to those next up. While 2023 did not see many new names enter the mix, I think the proof will be in the pudding over the next two years to see who can take the mantle and define the 2020’s musically. There is also a real opportunity for women in Rap to take over, with the likes of BXKS, Chy Cartier, and Cristale all set to make waves this year.
Authentic and Emotional, Ren Offers An Alternative Escape
Hailing from Brighton, Ren is a welcoming but potentially surprising name on the charting lists. Of the Top 10 Selling Albums released in 2023, Ren achieved number 9 with 30,135 cumulative sales. Praised for his introspective and brutal honesty in his music for his perspectives of navigation through mental health, it’s refreshing for myself and many others to see his album ‘Sick Boi’ make it into the top 10 of this list. An a music scene where people may get distracted by the money and fast cars, seeing raw and relatable music championed is most definitely celebration worthy, and a reminder that authentic music will always stand the test of time.