Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Is Hip Hop Dead?

The early 2000's were the golden years for Hip Hop in terms of albums sales. Even the most depressingly average MC's could virtually guarantee a gold plaque (500,000) with every release. Fast forward to 2007, and sales were rapidly declining. For the first time in 12 years there was no rap album in the American top ten best sellers of the year. Sales of music in general suffered due to the recession, but hip hop was hit particularly hard. The ceaseless mantra of 'bitches, money and hoes' was growing increasingly stale as the gangsta rap market became saturated with cheap imitations. Consumers were crying out for something different.
The last 2 years, however, has seen a resurgence of quality music from a litany of new MC's. First up was Wiz Khalifa, fuelled by his mega hit 'Black and Yellow' and a huge underground buzz for his mixtapes. Rolling Papers sold 197,000 in its first week of release, eventually receiving gold certification. Hot on the heels of his success were standout projects Section 80 from Kendrick Lamar and Follow Me Home by Jay Rock. Though not commercially successful, the two albums displayed the wealth of young talent lurking just below the surface of mainstream hip hop.
After numerous delays, September saw J Cole finally drop his highly anticipated Cole World. Selling over 200,000 in its first week, the figures were particularly impressive as there was no particularly popular single to promote the album on the airwaves. Similarly, Wale received a remarkable career boost by signing onto Maybach Music. Compilation album We Are Maybach Music was well received, along with fellow freshmen Pill and Meek Mill, but the sales figures for sophomore project Ambition were truly remarkable. Over 160,000 units were moved in the week of release, compared to the 28,000 sold of 2008's debut Attention Deficit. Again, Ambition had no substantial single to promote. Love him or hate him, Drake is setting the standard for the rap/r&b hybrid, Take Care awarded a gold plaque within a week.

The success story of the year so far has been Mac Miller's Blue Slide Park. Despite being released on an independent label, the album debuted at number 1 on the Billboard Chart with 144,000 sold. Without substantial promotion, the rapper relied on engaging with his large internet following to great effect.
Though these figures are unimpressive when compared to the multi-platinum albums of the first half of the last decade, or indeed against continuing superstars such as Eminem, Jay Z and Lil Wayne, placing them alongside recent work from established stars is worthwhile.

50 Cent- Before I Self Destruct 160,000 (2009)
Rick Ross - Teflon Don 176,000 (2010)
T.I - No Mercy 159,000 (2010)
Game - The R.E.D Album 98,000 (2011)

Taking these figures into account, it suggests that hip hop is certainly working on a reduced scale. This is not to say, however, that the quality of music is declining. The state of the music industry is forcing labels to go look for other ways to promote their product, the creation of twitter becoming an increasingly dominant force in the hip hop world. A 'back to basics' approach, with an increased focus on creating quality free mixtapes to build a large following has yielded excellent results for artists such as Drake, Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa. The new generation is now in a position to stand alongside the big hitters in the rap industry, with newcomers such as A$AP Rocky, Vado and Childish Gambino hot on their heels. Particularly exciting is the wide range of styles coming through the ranks. The introspection of J Cole, for example, is a world apart from the jaunty 'backpack' rap of Mac Miller.
Taking all this into account, it is clear that hip hop isn't dead. It's just smaller.

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