With vaccination numbers rising and venue owners still looking for much needed Shuttered Venue Operators Grant money to keep them alive, Tampa Bay inches closer to reuniting with the world’s best up-and-coming artists in its beloved small venues. A local that’s outgrown those rooms is Rod Wave, a St. Petersburg native who's seen a different figure—streams for his music—rise exponentially since late 2016 when a friend and producer leaked his music without even telling him.
And today Wave announced a massive U.S. tour where he’ll headline Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Sept. 11. The stop is one of three Florida dates on the tour including Sept. 9 (Daily’s Place in Jacksonville) and Sept. 10 (iThink Financial Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach). Tickets to see Rod Wave play the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Sept. 11 go on sale to the public Friday, June 18 at 10 a.m. EST, with a handful of different presales starting as soon as Wednesday, June 16. Ticket prices and openers are TBD, but the tour is produced by another homegrown entity—Rolling Loud.
Last year, the 21-year-old rapper told Billboard that his first gigs were $500 guarantees for school night strip club shows 20 minutes away from his home. All his friends showed up and sang every word, so the promoter booked him over and again. By spring 2020, Wave, whose real name is Rodarius Marcell Green, was supposed to wrap his 22-date U.S. tour at Jannus Live, a 4.5-mile drive from his old stomping grounds at Lakewood High School.
That concert was postponed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that’s brought the touring industry to its knees. Wave said his quarantine is basically him “Living a regular life, getting up every day. Spending time with my girl [and] my family,” but as he and the industry hit pause, the numbers on his online catalog shot into the stratosphere.
In February 2020, Tampa’s Godfather of hip-hop, DJ Sandman, wrote that Wave was averaging 3.6 million monthly streams on Spotify alone on the strength of his first studio album, 2019’s emotional Ghetto Gospel. The LP’s hit single, “Heart On Ice,” went viral on a social network Wave had no clue about, TikTok.
Carl Chery, Spotify’s Creative Director, Head of Urban Music told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that Wave—along with others like NBA YoungBoy and even Morray, who’re all on a brand new “Street Soul” playlist—has carved out a very specific lane for himself.
“It really is right down the middle of rap and melody, and it's very soulful. And I don't want to call it pain music, but there's a lot of substance,” Chery, who was Apple Music’s head of curation until 2018, said.
“Wave lets all of his emotions out, and that’s what helps connect with people. I love that he’s not following music trends to try and fit in,” Sandman wrote last year. “He’s not making generic, cookie cutter music to fit in on the radio. He's not [deliberately] trying to make viral dance songs or club music. Instead, he’s putting his life stories into his music and it’s paying off.”
It’s more than paying off.
When Spotify shared figures with CL in February 2021, deluxe and non-deluxe versions of Pray 4 Love—a follow up released just four months after Gospel—already had a combined 747 million streams. Wave was on nearly 9 million user-generated Spotify playlists and on 148 curated playlists, including placements on aspirational collections like “RapCaviar,” “Today’s Top Hits,” and “Get Turnt.”
Fourteen months after CL previewed that aforementioned 22-date tour—those 3.6 million monthly listeners were up to 9.1 million, a 152% increase. Wave’s Spotify profile started 2020 with 209,000 followers. By February 2021, he had 1.55 million, a 641% increase.
And be early April, Rod Wave’s new album SoulFly (released March 26) earned him his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 (Pray 4 Love peaked at no. 2; Ghetto Gospel hit No. 10).
As of April 4, SoulFly had been streamed on Spotify alone more than 60 million times. Across all platforms, the 53-minute effort with just one track featuring another artist earned 130,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. (the Recording Industry Association of America “counts album sales, song sales and on-demand audio and/or video song streams at the formula of 1,500 on-demand audio and/or video song streams = 10 track sales = 1 album sale”). Billboard says SoulFly’s numbers mark the biggest week for an R&B/hip-hop album in 2021 in terms of units earned.
Justin Bieber, who Wave knocked out of the No. 1 spot, has an Aug. 2 date at Amalie Arena. Wave’s postponed tour has yet to be rescheduled, and you knew there was no way Jannus could hold it. (In the wake of her rising popularity two years ago, Lizzo saw her Jannus show move to Yuengling Center where she eventually performed for more than 7,000 fans; Wave is moving to the largest venue in Tampa Bay, which once held 19,500 fans for a Foo Fighters show.)
Wave was not available to comment for this story, but his ascent is no fluke.
In March, J.R. McKee told the “Views From the Edge” podcast about how Wave spent 2018 playing more than 100 shows in Florida. Titles differ, but every record label and most distributors and aggregators have a person like McKee tasked with maintaining a relationship with the streaming services, essentially letting Spotify’s artists and label relations team know when music is coming out.
Spotify’s team of curators—including Chery—spends most of the day using a platform pitch tool that allows artists and reps to submit music for playlisting. For Spotify’s editors, the tool involves lots of inter-organizational tagging of music and is primarily how songs get surfaced to the platform's human curators across teams and the globe. Those editors then work to find a place for the tune on one of the platforms seemingly infinite playlists for every mood, moment, taste and desire.
“With Rod Wave, guys like J.R. McKee, in addition to the pitch tool, make sure to give us all the information that we need to be able to know what the music is about,” Chery added. “I have to give credit to his label Alamo. I was aware of who he was, but they did a good job surfacing him to our editors to make sure that we were aware that he had music coming.”
Chery distinctly remembers the way “Heart On Ice” put Wave on the map in 2019 and the way the record spiked within the Spotify ecosystem. There was a moment when the song was added to "Most Necessary” playlist, but more significantly, there was a stretch going back to 2018 where every time Wave’s name came up the rapper rose in prominence.
“That's not something that happened overnight,” Chery explained.
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