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Why Are So Many Rap Concerts Getting Canceled?

In mid-July, on virtually back-to-back days, hip-hop fans got two pieces of very bad news. A pair of the genre’s top stars, Lil Baby and Lil Durk, canceled multiple concerts. Lil Baby axed ten dates (though he added three) from his It’s Only Us tour. Meanwhile, all of the dates for Durk’s Sorry for the Drought trek, except for two big ones in his hometown of Chicago, are no longer happening. Now, Moneybagg Yo has canceled shows in Orlando and Philadelphia that were a part of his Larger Than Life tour, and the hip-hop and R&B-focused Made in America festival has been canceled, too.

While these cancellations took up most of the media coverage and fan speculation, they are far from the only examples. A huge number of tours, hip-hop and otherwise, have faced serious difficulty in recent years.

Even before the pandemic, big names like Chance the Rapper and Nicki Minaj were falling victim to live show cancellations. But since performances started up again in earnest, the phenomenon has grown. LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, Santigold, Little Simz, and Sampa the Great are only a few of the names who have called off big shows or even entire tours.

So, what’s behind all this? Why are so many hip-hop shows — and concerts of all types — not happening? To get to the answer, we’ll go down a winding road through a worldwide pandemic, tour bus drivers, Druski, and, of course, money.

Lil Durk performs with GloRilla at the Coachella Stage during the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 16, 2023 in Indio, California.Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella.

The near-impossibility of finding out why an artist cancels a concert

Finding out why any artist or band nixes a particular concert (or a series of them) is near-impossible. Often no reason is given at all. If the artist or their representative do give a statement, it often focuses on vagaries like needing to “reevaluate the production.”

Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with Lil Durk’s manager Peter Jideonwo, who was more than happy to explain what actually happened with the Chicago rapper’s canceled tour dates.

“Durk was sick, fatigued and tired,” Jideonwo said, explaining that his client was dealing with an insane schedule of touring, commercial shoots, album promotion, and acting in a Power spinoff, often going between LA and New York multiple times a week,” Jideonwo said. “The doctor recommended that he take some time off to heal up and get ready for the rest of the year.”

Now, are some of these other shows being canceled because of low ticket sales, as many fans speculate? That can be more difficult to discover. There are rare cases of honesty; T-Pain admitted that was the reason he called off a tour back in 2019. Though he admitted in an Instagram post, “I was advised to lie about this and say that I needed some alone time or some time to spend with my family.” Sometimes things come out in the context of a legal battle, as when Chance the Rapper’s former manager Pat Corcoran claimed in a lawsuit that the Coloring Book rapper’s 2019 tour was canceled due to “low ticket sales and poor attendance projections.” Chance said at the time that he called it off “to be with family, make some new music and develop my best show to date.” His representatives did not respond to a request to comment for this story.

“Most artists lie,” T-Pain said in his cancellation announcement. “Whenever concerts get canceled or tours get canceled, it’s for low ticket sales. It ain’t really about whatever the fuck reason they say.”

Regardless of the reason behind any individual artist’s decision, show and tour cancellations are happening in big numbers across the music industry — and there are systemic reasons for that. To begin with, the pandemic changed the way people spend their downtime, and those changes aren’t going away anytime soon.

“There are other verticals right now that are eating into the entertainment touring,” Jideonwo said, pointing out livestreamers as an example.

“These kids are literally vacuuming money from all these fans, and the fans are not even leaving the house,” he said, highlighting one recent NPC streamer who made tens of thousands of dollars in a single sitting. “That’s where the money’s going.”

Jideonwo added that some non-music acts are eating into the rap audience as well. He offered comedian Druski, who went on his first headlining tour this past spring, as an example.

“It leans more into the hip-hop music and the culture crowd,” he said. “Normally, people that go see Katt Williams, I doubt they listen to Lil Baby. But the 7,000 people that went to see Druski, I’m sure they listen to Lil Baby, Drake, Jack Harlow. So, you’re taking extra money out of those people.”

George Howard, a professor of music business/management at Berklee College of Music, agreed that the pandemic changed peoples’ habits, saying: “We were all forced to spend our leisure dollars in different ways, and some people turned to video gaming or movie streaming.”

So, we’ve got a diminished audience base. And with a glut of acts desperate to get back on the road after a long stretch not earning money early in the pandemic, that means a whole bunch of shows played for that same smaller group of fans.

Back in 2022, Little Simz canceled a planned U.S. tour, saying that it would leave her u201cin a huge deficitu201d if she ended up doing it.Back in 2022, Little Simz canceled a planned U.S. tour, saying that it would leave her “in a huge deficit” if she ended up doing it. Photo by Helle Arensbak/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images.

Touring is more expensive than before

But what’s really causing trouble for touring artists is exactly that — touring. Already a low-margin business before COVID, touring is now drastically more expensive than before. These expenses (vehicle rental, fuel, shipping expenses, salaries for crew, and the like) are passed on to consumers, which means huge profits for concert juggernaut Live Nation (which owns Ticketmaster), whose revenue is up 27% year-over-year. But someone has to pay those expenses for the show to get on the road, and that’s where artists are really feeling the pinch.

“Everything is way higher,” Jideonwo said. “Staffing is way higher. Airplane tickets are nuts.”

The manager recalled paying $40,000 to rent a tour bus when he was starting out in the music game in the mid-2010s, a price that he said has since tripled. “And it ain’t been that long. I ain’t that old,” he said.

There are several reasons for the increased expenses. First is inflation which, while finally going back down, reached a four-decade peak in June 2022. Inflation made everything from fuel to food drastically more expensive.

“Inflation has a way of affecting the entire supply chain,” Howard said. “You’ve got gas prices going up. Every element has gone up. And that has to be passed on to the consumer.”

The second factor, in some ways even more important than inflation, is that many behind-the-scenes players and businesses in the live music industry simply quit or closed during the pandemic. So, finding qualified crew members to run a tour, or companies to rent out equipment like tour buses, got a lot more difficult. The people and businesses that are left have often raised their rates dramatically. Those upticks happen not because the vendors are greedy, but to make up for the fact that many of them had no income at all during the early stages of the pandemic, when pretty much all live events were canceled.

“[The live music industry] lost a lot of people during COVID, or shops closed, or redirected their energies outside of touring,” said Amy Davidson, EVP and head of touring at mtheory, a company that works with managers. “So, there’s less gear, less people, and it’s more expensive to move around.”

Inflation, combined with a shortage of people and equipment, means that touring is more expensive than it used to be. These increased expenses mean that a lot of times artists just can’t afford to tour, because they’d lose too much money. To take just one example, when thrash metal legends Anthrax canceled a fall 2022 European tour, they specifically cited “when tour buses double and triple in cost” as the reason.

Expenses were a major reason Little Simz canceled her U.S. tour in 2022. The Mercury Prize-winning rapper figured out that traveling to the States would leave her in the red.

“Being an independent artist, I pay for everything encompassing my live performances out of my own pocket and touring the U.S. for a month would leave me in a huge deficit,” wrote the British rapper.

Veteran Queens emcee Pharoahe Monch noticed rising expenses too, when he was on the road with his band th1rt3en.

“With the price of the sprinter [van], the price of the gas and of hotel rooms, the best we can hope to do is break even,” he said while recounting some of the group’s early dates. “Even though we were getting paid, because the band got a lot of coverage and we have history, that money was filtering straight back into sprinter costs and hotel costs. Those costs add up. I was willing to come out of pocket because I knew I was trying to promote this new brand.”

Onyx was supposed to perform in Denver this past May for a show celebrating the 30th anniversary of their album Bacdafucup, but the group quietly canceled the concert.Onyx was supposed to perform in Denver this past May for a show celebrating the 30th anniversary of their album ‘Bacdafucup,’ but the group quietly canceled the concert.Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images.

When concerts are called off, other performers are affected, too

With shows being more expensive to put on, ticket prices are rising at all levels by an average of 20%. This means that fans are being more selective about which shows they’re attending.

“We’re reaching a real point of customers just having fatigue unless it is their favorite artist,” Howard said. “And it’s really unfortunate.”

Another thing making consumers wary is that concerts are often called off at the last minute, whether for COVID-related reasons or otherwise. This, Howard said, adds to an overall sense of uncertainty around concerts, and makes consumers far less likely to buy tickets in advance.

“The whole mid-tier of artists — and by that I mean artists that are above hobbyist but below The Cure or whatever — it’s a great degree of uncertainty out there, from the perspective of, ‘Well, we don’t know how many people are going to buy in advance,’” he said. “So, it makes it harder to route.”

Concerts being called off at the last minute has reverberations for fans, of course. But it also hits other performers. At many hip-hop shows local acts will open up. This was supposed to be the case for Colorado rapper Maze Rok, whose group Stay Tuned was set to open up for Onyx this past May on the Denver stop of a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of Onyx’s classic Bacdafucup. Stay Tuned was excited about the bill, which also included R.A. the Rugged Man.

Then, not long before the show, Onyx quietly dropped off it. No one at the venue ever told Maze — he found out through friends who happened to see online that the billing had changed.

“They’re like, ‘Hey, there’s a new flier. Do you know what’s going on?’” he said. “I was like, ‘I have no idea.’ It was straight disbelief and shock, like having the rug pulled out from under you.”

Maze pegged this kind of little-to-no-notice cancellation as a post-COVID phenomenon. One other thing he’s noticed in the Denver scene is that many rap acts who used to play large clubs are now in venues half that size, offering up his friend’s venue as an example.

“His bar is like, 150 capacity,” Maze said. “He’s booking these indie artists that at one point were in at least 300 to 500 person rooms. He told me some of these artists are coming to him with guarantees that are out of his price range. But he’s like, ‘I just let them know, Hey, this is my room size and this is what I’m working with. And within a couple of weeks they get back to me because they don’t seem to have any other options and they’re like, Fuck it, let’s just go with it.’”

Festivalgoers pose by the festival entrance during 2022 Made In America at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 04, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Festivalgoers pose by the festival entrance during 2022 Made In America at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 04, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Roc Nation

Touring needs to be more equitable before it’s only megastars who are able to do so

So, what’s next? How do we move from a live music economy that’s great for arena acts and perilous or unsustainable for everyone else to something more equitable?

The first step is to be clear-eyed about where we are. Some percentage of concert-goers, Howard admitted, “may never come back.” They’ve simply gotten out of the habit of going to shows. But the college professor said that every semester he’s reminded that there’s a fresh supply of potential paying customers.

“There’s an inexhaustible supply,” he continued. “The challenge is, how do we reinvent? How do we innovate, and how do we do so in a way that leads to more sustainable careers for more artists?”

There are no clear answers to Howard’s questions yet. But everyone involved in live music — with the possible exception of Live Nation executives and shareholders, who have 3.1 billion reasons to be happy — needs to find some soon, before touring becomes an activity reserved only for megastars.


Shawn Setaro is a writer, reporter, and podcaster. He is the author of the book Dummy Boy: Tekashi 6ix9ine and the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods (Kingston Imperial), and he reported and wrote the podcasts Infamous and Complex Subject: Pop Smoke. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Genius and his byline has appeared in Complex, Forbes, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, GQ, and The Sondheim Review, among others. He can be found on Twitter @SameOldShawn.

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