January 1, 2009

Is Hip-Hop Jumping Out The Window?

listen to this as you read

There used to be a time when I looked forward to a new album release, that's not to say I don't any more, but more like in BB Kings words “the thrill is gone”. I remember saving my lunch money for the latest DMX album and talking ad nauseam about who the best rapper was [with the focus on lyricism, not who's the hottest [looking at you MTV]. Flash forward to 2008 hip-hop has evolved into one long Sarah Palin meets MC Hammer infomercial, polluted with stupid dances and unintelligible lyrics, how could it be? How could the genre that helped shape my thoughts on grammar, racism, sex, and poverty amongst other things decay to the point me and Kanye West both, no longer listen to hip-hop regularly?. Is Hip-Hop dead?,[sorry rap haters] absolutely not! because there is an underground brewing with creativity and talent [think how Emo helped rock], with the new year on the bubble will record executives finally take notice [but they probably wont].

Ring tones Killed The Hip-Hop Star

The death of hip-hop wasn't subtle, it began back in 2004 when “the attack of the ring tone rappers” happened. A ring tone rapper is an artist who has a catchy single, which their label pushes on the radio, TV and Internet these artist may sell a million ring tones but usually flop in album sales. This strategy was tried and true in the nineties, but that was before the Internet, CD burners, and mp3 players [not to mention the quality in the music]. Ring tone rappers like Mims, and Soulja Boy Tellem who are typically slim on the lyrical content and fat on the beats and party themes are the recent ring tone leaders with hits like “Crank That”, and “This Is Why I'm Hot” which both sold millions of ring tones respectively. This strategy has proven detrimental to Hip-Hop with album sales declining more then 30% over 6 years.

Who Can Save Hip-Hop?

The underground movement in hip-hop is very very strong right now, with industry survivor Joe Budden leading the way. Joe Budden knows what its like to be a ring tone rapper, he had the smash hit “Pump It Up” in 2003 which earned him a Grammy nomination. Joe's career seemed to be launching when disaster hit, his album sold a little over 500,000 copies [it went Gold], back then if you didn't go platinum on Def-Jam you would be dropped or the label lost confidence in you. This left Joe in limbo with the label, with mounting pressure to rekindle “Pump It Up” for his sophomore album but Joe had already evolved as an artist and wasn't interested in making the same records. This move proved costly for Joe the label wouldn't drop him and Joe wouldn't release his masters to them a stalemate ensued. Thats when Joe had an epiphany he realized that the Internet was his friend. Joe began working on the Mood Muzik series which featured all new original songs about his personal life. The buzz Joe received from the mixtapes earned him awards and accolades which brought the big labels back knocking, but Joe learned from his Def-Jam days and signed on with an independent label Amalgam Digital who now release his albums on the Internet, with a retail album coming next year.

The Candidates

Independent labels are more and more becoming home for underground artist like Blu & Exile, The Cool Kids, Joel Ortiz, and Papoose to name a few. Smaller labels use blog's and mixtapes to get their artist broken in, which proves to be less costly and very effective. The rise of the underground artist isn't the end of the established artist and big labels though with artist like Jay-Z, Nas, Ludacris, T.I., and The Game leading the way with great buzz worthy albums this year. Proving that the quality is there but label backing, radio play, and sales aren't. Piling on to that there are the creative and genre bending artist like Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, Common and 88-Keys among others. These artist represent the evolution of hip-hop but labels don't typically push or green light there projects.

Change Or Die

The music industry must change to survive, they must start with artist development and end with quality content. Big Labels have to learn how to beat small labels at their own game because blog's dictate whats cool now, not MTV. Think how Def-Jam did it in the nineties they signed Ja rule, Jay-Z and DMX at the same time, those artist at their prime went 3-5x platinum every go round. I remember DMX was featured on song after song and he killed every song he was on [like Fabolous on Lil Mo records], Ja rule followed and Jay-Z had smash hits at will, the difference between them and Mims and Soulja Boy is simple they could rap, they were polished and they put out superior product that had me saving my lunch money. I want to go back to the days of “arguing all day on who's the best rapper alive? Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas?.”

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