Bring '98 Back
-- by Angus Crawford, January 2007  

  Before Jay-Z pulled a Jordan and came through in the 4th quarter, King was the only release of 2006 to earn platinum status. As little as three years ago it seemed like everyone and their mother with a rap record was going platinum. On the surface it looks like rap music is declining but we need to dig deeper to find out what happened to all those platinum plaques.

What Happened to the Superstars?
TI made the jump from being a famous rapper to being a superstar. Unfortunately no other rapper made the move to the next level, with Cam’ron probably losing his superstar card (if he had one) and The Game losing plenty of his luster from 2005. Five years ago Eminem, Nelly, Outkast, Ludacris, DMX, Ja Rule and Jay-Z were all guaranteed to go multi-platinum. Veterans like Snoop, Fat Joe, Scarface, Nas and Busta Rhymes could also be counted on to go gold and platinum. Now, all the older stars look to be past their creative primes and the correlation with their declining record sales is no coincidence.

At the same time, the new stars have not been able to pick up the drop sales and the only new artists that look like they will be able to go multi-platinum with every release are 50 Cent and Kanye. Some others like Jeezy, TI, Lil Wayne and The Game are in position to have solid careers but no one in that group will reach the same status as Nelly. Even worse, it does not seem like anyone else is on the horizon. Bow Wow has to shake his teeny bopper image to do really big numbers. And as good as they are, rappers like Saigon, Papoose and The Clipse don’t have the mainstream appeal to make it.

The Game has Changed
Tower Records stores and stores from its sister company Suncoast Films have been going out of business across the continent. With the Ipod and other MP3 players becoming as widespread as cell phones, the CD has been replaced. When consumers switched their preferences from vinyl to tapes and tapes to CDs, they still had to go to the store to buy their music. In the digital age, a costumer does not have to leave their house to buy a CD and is much more likely to purchase a few songs from I tunes or just bootleg it.

Of course this is not new information to anyone reading but the way we listen to music has changed drastically. Most people in the industry have adjusted to the digital age and use MySpace and YouTube to their advantage. Additionally “ring tones” is a huge market that was not around five years ago. Chamillionaire’s “Ridin Dirty” is the highest selling ring tone ever and TI has seen two albums go gold on ring tones alone. People have more time and ways to listen to music, so it stands to reason that they are going to need more music. Artists just need some more time to adapt.

Blame 50
A little more than a decade ago, DJ Clue changed the schedule used to release an album. Usually a few songs were sent to club DJs and radio stations. If fans wanted those songs before an album was released they needed sit next to the radio and tape the censored versions. So when DJ Clue started putting together 90 minute tapes full of hot songs from unreleased albums, it changed the way fans thought they should get their music. Artists could not get away with one radio single, fans needed to hear more. At the very least they needed one song or freestyle for Clue to give the streets and another for a music video. It forced people to be creative and a bit dualistic which ultimately help build anticipation.

A little less than five years ago, 50 Cent changed the schedule used to release an album. By making mixtape after mixtape 50 created a huge buzz that every new artist thinks they should emulate. He got a record deal from Eminem because of how hot his mixtapes were in New York. Unfortunately everyone is now doing the same thing (or thinks they need to) and are giving fans too much material. This means that when someone wants to hear TI they can get the latest DJ Drama and do not necessarily have to listen to anyone else. The over saturation of material from the same artist means that people can be more selective. Combined with the accessibility of the internet and fans only need to play their favorite few artists and not branch out.

4th Quarter Time
Jay-Z had the second highest week selling week all year, behind only Justin Timberlake. While Jeezy and Nas just debuted at the top spot for consecutive weeks. The big releases were not spread out with labels, especially Def Jam, holding their big releases until the holiday season. If hip hop is not selling well than other genres of music are in much bigger trouble. Jay-Z put his album out right before Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) in time for the biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday. Then Jeezy and Nas grabbed the top spots in the two weeks right before Christmas.

Next year, anticipated records from 50 Cent, Kanye West and Eminem should keep hip hop high up on the charts. Consumers proved at the end of the year that the big albums will sell records. Labels just need to spread those releases out. The Game’s album would have sold a lot more records during the summer. Many fans who would have bought it after hearing good things from word of mouth, probably saved their money for Kingdom Come, The Inspiration, and Hip Hop is Dead. Those albums needed a couple of months to shine on their own, but executives wanted to save their best for last.

We Need DJ Premier Back
On a personal note there are not very many good albums anymore. There has been a change in style and someone like DJ Premier has been replaced by a flashier producer who lacks the organic sound that Premier and others brought to hip hop. Some albums try to make a radio friendly song with every track and some others lack cohesion that made albums great. If I made a list of the top 100 albums of all time, the only releases I would consider (does not mean they are in my top 100) are Hip Hop is Dead, Hell Hath No Furry, and King. Last year was bad too with Kanye’s Late Registration making the cut and maybe Common’s Be.

Rappers need to refocus and start making some classics. It seems only Ghostface, Nas, Kanye, and TI care about their place in history and what people will think about their album in 10 years. Everyone else just views it as a business and stopped making music for their fans. Kanye has proven twice that you can make an artistic and classic album while still making money. Hopefully other artists will get competitive and try to be the best rather than the one who sold the most records. In 2007, we need Saigon’s album to be this generations Illmatic and at least go gold to keep other rappers on their toes.

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