Change Management: Hip Hop Slips

ricky1.jpgTo 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 •

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  • gary giddings

    It does appear that the music industry as a whole is looking for new talent that is clean and projects a positive image. However, with the changes in the industry it is extremely hard to get a new artist launched. Case and point, here is a young talented kid that write and produces his own music that is clean, positive and something that you wouldn't mind your kids listening to and they love it, but it is hard to get a new artist started. Here is the website:

  • hj H

    The sooner we get rid of Hip Hop, the better off we will be. We survived the civil rights movement without it, so what makes us think we need it now. It puts our MINDSET at a dis-advantage by talking about my gun, my bitch, my smoke, thugs, and my bling ALL the time. Meanwhile, the other side is talking about my family, my friends, my job, my country, and my God, and running rings around us in the process, and we can't keep up.

  • J-boy

    John --- What do you think about the demise of hip hop coinciding with the rise in popularity of American Idol? Do you think that fans have embraced 'singing' much more than during their hip hop phase?

  • John Pasmore

    Thanks for the feedback on the piece (and the "one need only" editing suggestion). Though there are Hip Hop experts like writer Toure out there, I would say I am more of a Hip Hop fan, and have worked in and around the business for a long time.

    Puffy is a controversial figure. But that's one thing that keeps us talking about him. And he was instrumental in taking the visibility of the culture to a more mainstream level and along with it many, many paychecks. I remember when Russell Simmons said that I had to meet him and put him on the cover of Oneworld, which we did along with Kennedy (from MTV, remember her? This was pre dot-bust, pre-Justin's, pre-Total, when Bad Boy was starting to see some success). And to say that he blew-up is an understatement. Sean Combs was on a mission.

    Any fan can say anything they want about the music -- it's the fans that create the market for the artists and the magazines and the TV, etc. Glad you read the piece and took the time to comment.

  • Cat Laine

    When I was a kid, a lot of the hiphop/rap that was floating around was political, original, innovative and had fantastic word play and/or smooth mixing of beats.

    With the music industry strongly at the helm, artists seem to be taking few risks nowadays. The approved subject matter revolves solely around bling, misogyny, and gang life + a heavy dose of sampling and booty bouncing. The endless recycling has left us with a corrupted version of the original: uninteresting, repetitive, and devoid of its former flair.

  • a

    the fact the "editor" of this post- and so called "hip-hop/urban industry veteran" would dare put puffy in the same sentence as pac and jay-z shows how pathetically little he/she knows about hip-hop, and consequently how he/she has no credibility in commenting on it...

  • Isaiah

    Hip Hop has to change the audience is waking up.

    We no longer want to see the same old stuff with no message. Hip Hop is an art form. It has to go back to being that and not just a way to sell records. Hip Hop is very much alive it is just in a state of change like all of us.

    We have to speak about the issues that we face today with out putting down ourselves or our women.

    Hip Hop lives!!!

  • Lynne d Johnson

    Dear Mike,

    The writer of this article is a Fast Company Expert Blogger. His name is John N. Pasmore and he is a hip=hop/urban industry veteran. A simple Google search for the "editor" of this blog post would have made you aware of this fact.

    From his linkedin profile:

    Executive in media creation (TV, print, Internet and mobile) with a focus on brand building, ideation, and strategic business development.

    Partner in the team launching Voyages Television in the US market. Voyages is a hybrid-channel featuring stunning travel-focused programming and also offers travel packages to destinations highlighted on-screen. The channel currently operates in Hong Kong, Taiwan, India and Germany (

    15 years of media experience including nine years as Hip Hop pioneer Russell Simmons partner/president at Oneworld Media, Inc.

    Additionally, served as EVP with the Paris-based 24 hour music & style channel, TRACE TV, launched the weekly entertainment TV show nContrast (airing on BETj).

  • Peter Walker

    It's not talent the hip hop scene is dying for. It's a soul. The hip hop industry sold its soul for the almighty dollar and lost both its edge AND its socially prophetic voice.

    Like tired sex-jokes on primetime television, contrived "crunk" recycles lame ass references (literally) and tries to appeal to upscale suburban kids.

  • Coop

    How can you go as far to say that hip hop needs another Puffy, Tupac, or Jay-Z? First of all, Puffy did nothing for the business besides commercialize it which is the reason for the decline in followers.

    On another note, if you do your research, you will find that white teenagers are the people purchasing hip hop music in majority not black consumers. Therefore, if anything, the community and culture should try to appeal more to them in order to bring in the sales.

    Music sales in general have declined over the years with the ability to burn cd's and download music illegally. Around the year 2000 is when the technology for burning CD's was offered in most home computers. So, Johnny can buy the CD and burn it for 9 of his friends and all of the sudden only 90% of sales have dropped.

    Finally, as for the revival...It is coming. The decline in sales can also be related to the fact that the east coast and west coast have nothing more to offer. The 3rd Coast (down south) rappers are the ones making a mark in the industry now. It is finally our turn. The "next Jay-Z and Tupac" are coming in the form of DJ Screw and being represented through artists like UGK, Bun B, Pimp C, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Mike Jones, Slim Thug, and others. This is the transition. The south is taking over now.

  • brownhound

    One need only read your post to realize you use the phrase "one need only" a lot.

  • Sean A. Gadir

    From a music stand point, Hip hop has and continues to lose its luster. The majority of today’s hip hop artists all rap about the same things (wealth, crime and promiscuity), while the number of recycled beats / samples is on an alarming rise. It’s almost to the point that if you have heard one hip hop song you have heard them all.

    From a cultural perspective, the appeal of hip hop has always been in its reputation as a rebellious movement against the status quo. Its primary attraction (particularly, to North America’s suburban middle class) has been in the shock value it generated. As this rebellious movement became more commercial its shock value began to dissipate. As hip hop’s audience and culture grew in to the mainstream, it gained more social acceptance and once this happened hip hop became a subset of the status quo, thus losing its original meaning and appeal.

    Today Hip hop is about Hip Sales. It’s no longer a social movement as much as it is a marketing movement. Once a tool for the expressing ideology and individualism (think De La Soul, and Tribe called Quest) its now corporate gimmick to drive sales (50 cent – Reebok and Snoop Dogg – Cingular)…. Simply put, if your mom knows Snoop dogg is not a character on sesame street and that J-Lo is not a hip brand of Jello then hip hop and its artists aren’t cool.

    For suburban kids and young adults trying to differentiate themselves from the mainstream, Hip hop offers little value. Whether you like it or not Hip Hop is on its way out. The only questions we should be asking ourselves is what is going to fill the void and how can we exploit it.

    Word Up Yo !