Saturday, 3 November 2012

No Country For Old Men?

On October 5th Xzibit released Napalm, his first album since 2006. The LP is a solid collection, featuring a laid back sound awash with West Coast swagger. The veteran rhymer returned to the formula that made him an important cog in the Loud Records wheel in the early 2000's, making Napalm a welcome addition to X's extensive catalog. It was, however, was a commercial failure, selling just over 3,000 copies in the first week of general release.

Xzibit is not alone in falling victim to the curse of a disappointing comeback. 2012 has been a year of veteran rappers returning to the mic:

Ja Rule Pain Is Love 2 3,000 sold (first week)
Prodigy H.N.I.C 3 4,000 
DMX Undisputed 17,000
Napalm 3,000
Total: 27,000

Collectively, the four artists mentioned have sold over 50 million records over the course of their careers. If we estimate the final sales totals to be around 50,000 units, the first week sales of the new albums represent around 0.1% of the total albums the rappers have pushed in their entire careers. Part of the reason for this could be poor critical reception, as was the case with H.N.I.C 3 and Undisputed as it was generally accepted that the two rappers in question had lost a lot of ground in their separate prison bids The respective efforts of Ja Rule and Xzibit, however, were mainly seen in a positive light, resulting in mystifyingly low sales. It appears that in the extended hiatus, listeners simply forgot their former idols. There were 8 years between Ja's R.U.L.E and PIL2, while there were 6 between X's Full Circle (itself a commercial failure) and Napalm.

On the other side of the coin is Nas. The thinking man's favourite released Life is Good in July after 4 absent years, achieving 150,000 first week sales and being hailed as one of the best albums of the year by critics. This proves that there is still an appetite for old school hip hop from the late 90's golden era  (if you allow the discussed artists under those particular terms), but the numbers still reveal a worrying trend. Adding the 300,000 total sales to our 50,000 gives us a healthier looking 350,000, but putting Nas' total of 13 million units onto our 50 million hardly improves the percentages. Even the spectre of illegal downloads struggles to explain such a drastic fall. The hip hop world is in danger of losing the elder statesman that helped establish the mainstream art form.

Taking all this into account, is it any wonder that Dr Dre continually pushes back the now almost mythic Detox?

Putting those concerns aside, this week some rare good news came from the Soundscan totals. Kendrick Lamar has achieved the highest hip hop first week sales of the year with good kid, m.A.A.d city, beating off his competition with an astonishing 242,000. It is also the highest selling debut by a male artist this year. All this was attained without a smash single, instead being a response from a loyal fan base steadily attained through stellar output over the last few years and bolstered by relentless critical praise.

Dr Dre is one of the contributors on good kid. It now seems to be the veteran producer riding on the coat tails of the young gunner. Are we now seeing a power shift?

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