When hip hop first started many MCs were happy if they went Gold on an album. But as hip hop started to develop more of a multi ethnic and international audiences in the mid 90s a rap album going gold meant that an album was more than likely a commercial disappointment. Now it seems that things have come full circle in hip hop because album sales are low once again where going platinum is a uber accomplishment. With hip hop being more popular than ever why are sales down? We all know that downloading has contributed a lot to this but what else changed this dynamic of hip hop but there are many reasons for this phenomenon. This weeks guest post is from Mark Anthony Harris( @darcwonn1906) of Chocolatecoveredlies.com. He is back again on FATC to give his take on why hip hop sales are plummeting?
Adele sold 20 million units worldwide. In the time of slumping sales and digital downloads, this is, and should be, an anomaly.
As a resident hip hop historian, I was shocked. I have watched hip hop sales fluctuate with the times. I’ve witnessed many artists happy to go gold in the 80’s. Then later on, I paid attention to No Limit’s run where their B and C level artists went gold with ease. The multiplatinum status of B.I.G., Pac, Jay-Z, DMX, Nelly, and Eminem (to name a few) became a cultural norm. So, I have witnessed sales growth with hip hop music.
Then, the digital era ushered in easy listening, easier access, and the demonization of Napster. Many record companies didn’t get the memo. Sales began to dwindle. Artists and labels began “scaling down”. Rap videos started having smaller budgets. Koch (now E1) became a bed of old and new talent. Digital singles began to soar in revenue (peace to Flo Rida). Thus, the idea of selling albums became less of the norm.
BUT, Adele still sold 20 million records. So, I implore my hip hop constituents: what went wrong?
The answers are quite easy. Pay close attention to the breakdown:
• Hip Hop music, as an art form, is still considered disposable: Frankie Beverly warned all new artists to not be the “flavor of the month”. Will these artists take heed? It is doubtful. Many artists come and go with no care for the music’s past historical relevance and/or achievement. Older artists, unless they stay relevant, tend to be cast to the side. Meanwhile, older fans stop supporting the music because they feel totally “disconnected” from the culture.
• Free music is driving the value down: Do not get me wrong: I love mixtapes. I enjoyed how 50 Cent, Dipset, and T.I. revitalized their careers off of them. They will always be important. But, when mixtapes shifted from “DJ medium” to “free album”, that is when the problem started. Constantly giving out free music tends to build a culture resistant to purchasing. There are those that still may move units and put out plenty of mixtapes. However, those are usually the more popular artists. In addition, it doesn’t help when mixtapes are better than the albums.
• Artists are finding other revenue streams: Plenty of artists aren’t really overly concerned with sales like they used to be. When Waka Flocka Flame mentioned “not caring about dropping an album” early in his career, he wasn’t joking. Shows and merchandising is helping many artists survive. Plus, most artists on major labels don’t make any real money from record sales. With additional sponsorship opportunities and digital single sales sprinkled in there, you have artists finding other ways to make money off of music.
Will hip hop begin selling albums again like it did in the past? Maybe so. Trends in music (and life at times) can be cyclical. However, I’m not really sure it will happen unless the mentality changes. Less free music and more quality output would help. Also, a bigger appreciation for the culture always helps. Until then, all I can do is look and admire what Adele has deservingly acquired.
- 15 Most Underrated Hip Hop Artists of All-Time (ashy2classy.net)
- 6 Rap Lyrics That Went Over People’s Heads (brotherswithnogame.com)
- For The Love of Hip Hop….We Are Not All Rappers (thehiphopdemocrat.com)
- How a T.I. Concert Showed Me I Can’t Go to Rap Concerts Anymore (ashy2classy.net)
- Better Than Stereotypes: Black Men, Hip Hop, and Media Negativity (Pt. 1) (CCL #29) (chocolatecoveredlies.com)
- Busta Rhymes and friends make history at 2012 Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival (thehiphopdemocrat.com)