Future, Drake, Lil Wayne, and pop's fluid identity

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Right now three artists—Drake, Lil Wayne, and Future—appear on fully 10 percent of the songs on the Billboard Hot 100. One of them, "Karate Chop" (#82), features both Future and Wayne, and another, "Love Me" (#13), has all three of them together.

It's an impressive feat, although it falls well short of the Beatles' record 14 simultaneously charting singles, which they achieved in 1964 at the height of Beatlemania. But as cultural critics have been pointing out for years, the Internet's permanently fractured the monoculture that once united the entirety of pop culture around a small handful of enormously popular acts, and a mass craze like Beatlemania is unlikely to ever happen again.

Less remarked upon is that the very idea of group musical ventures with static lineups (i.e., "bands") has arguably become just as outdated a concept as the monoculture. Rap's always favored the solo artist over collectives, and as it's taken rock's place as pop's primary framework, that preference has started to push the band concept toward extinction.

What rap's replacing it with is a far more flexible arrangement that allows artists (both performers and producers) to leverage even the tiniest bit popularity they have in a fashion that the old way of working just didn't allow. Largely that happens through features, which were once mostly something that only rappers did but have now become such a popular working method in every pop genre that they're starting to look like the default.

At the moment 36 of the top 100 pop songs are the result of temporary team-ups, ranging from the aforementioned Drake/Wayne/Future triple threat to collaborations between EDM producers and pop singers to country songs with cameos by rappers. Pop's identity is becoming increasingly fluid, and the artistic free-for-all that's taken over the pop charts has let performers like Future use guest spots to replicate a unique sound—in his case a strange, hard-to-describe combination of rapping and almost blueslike Auto-Tuned singing—across a number of songs, and make broader attacks on the market than they could if they were expected to go it alone.

Along with the two songs ("Karate Chop" and "Neva End") where he's credited as the primary artist, Future also appears on "Love Me," Ace Hood's "Bugatti" (alongside Rick Ross), and Rihanna's "Loveeeeeee Song," and he's also shown up on a vast number of songs by other artists that haven't charted yet. A year ago he was an untested artist with one viral hit and a debut album that had just hit the shelves, and now he's a chart-devouring brand name unto himself, despite the fact that he's still not quite a household name.

It's a career arc that's becoming increasingly commonplace, and will likely become the dominant pop narrative from here on out. It seems that when Nayvadius Wilburn chose his stage name it was more fitting than he may have suspected.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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