To anyone who follows the music business the fact that Hip Hop sales have tanked is not a surprise. A USA Today article illuminates the swoon with sobering statistics: Hip Hop sales are off over 43% of their high in year 2000. That Hip Hop is down is widely understood, but "why" is hotly debated. There is more than one factor at work. (Photo of Run DMC by Ricky Powell)
First off Hip Hop's success in selling records was driven by the core audience of Black consumers. That audience is intact. They may buy fewer CD's, but they still listen to Hip Hop.
The driver for multi-platinum sales was not only appealing to the core, but getting lots of non-Black kids to buy in as well. Here is where the problem begins. One need only watch HBO's Entourage to get the idea that white kids, have adopted the culture to such an extent that they don't really need the "authentic" version. They have their own. DJ AM, who appeared on the show is a good example of how to be Hip Hop without being Black. This new non-Black Hip Hop head has taken the swagger and left some of the music behind. They can listen to rock just as easy to Hip Hop, and to demonstrate their keen kinship to the culture they go out of their way to listen to who's next in Hip Hop as opposed to who's pop.
One need only look at the days in rock in the late 70's as the powerhouse bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones faded. Their replacements were no match for disco. But rock didn't die. It evolved.
USA Today goes on to mention over-commercialization with the endorsements and product placements, etc. But with the whole world trying to understand where and how they want to listen to music (and how much to pay), the commercialization theory takes a back seat to these bigger and more fundamental issues.
One need only step into a club or even a department store to note that there are still some very good hooks in the music. But to take it back to the top, Hip Hop needs its next Puffy, Tupac and Jay Z. The ingredients are still present, the talent just needs to find that perfect beat.
John N. Pasmore • New York, NY • Very.fm