In its heyday, Billboard’s R&B chart credibly reflected the tastes of the genre’s core fans, paving the way for artists like James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie, Prince, and Whitney Houston. But now, a new digital methodology has rendered the tally a shell of its former self, replete with dubious racial and cultural consequences.
Over on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, however, those millions in digital sales had no impact. Billboard still wasn’t factoring iTunes and its ilk into its black music chart in the late 00s; only physical singles sales still counted. To say the least, this was a rather surreal chart policy for the time. If the new millennium had been tough on brick-and-mortar music chains—shuttering the nation’s Tower Records, Coconuts, and Strawberries franchises—it was downright brutal on the smaller shops that reported to Billboard’s R&B charts, which were disappearing just as quickly. And anyway, so few physical singles were being released in the 00s that whatever black-owned-and-oriented music stores remained didn’t have much to report to the chart.