e Importance of Sales Numbers
By : M Dogg

First off, I would like to thank Coretta Scott King for the great role she played in the fight for civil rights in the United States. I would like to send my condolences to the King family. I know her and her husband are reunited in heaven and they will live on forever in God’s graces. Thank you Coretta for the struggle you lived for this country, your struggle and sacrifice has made us a better county. Thank you.

Sales Figures. This is something that at one-time true Hip-Hop fans used to point to when showing how much Hip-Hop has grown, yet now they point to it to show how much Hip-Hop has digressed. Sales today are completely different than they were 20 years ago. But how did this happen, how could sales at one time show Hip-Hop’s growth, but now show how much Hip-Hop has sold out. Would sales mean the same thing then as it does now? Let us look at the transformation of Hip-Hop and how sales have affected the true Hip-Hop heads opinions. Please note; this article is not aimed at all commercial artist out there; there are some who have put out quality Hip-Hop music and gone multi time platinum doing what they do. I respect them due to the hassle they have to go through to get their material on the radio; this however is aimed at artists who sell their soul to get played, and who have virtually helped to prostitute the Hip-Hop culture. You know who you are.

It all starts with the old school, and how much pride the old school took in getting commercial deals and getting Hip-Hop music on the radio. Rappers would take pride in record deals, Kurtis Blow got huge props for being the first solo artist to have a deal, Run DMC, who in today’s context were more commercial than 50 Cent cam dream to be, are seen as Kings because of how they helped Hip-Hop become accepted in the mainstream, and NWA took pride in selling 2 million albums without radios help; The sales simply justified what NWA was doing. KRS One was in Sprite commercials with MC Shan, as they rapped about Sprite to their beats, The Bridge is Ova and The Bridge respectively. In the old school, commercial appeal is what Hip-Hop was looking for, when 2Pac became the most popular rapper in the early 90’s with his F*ck the World mentality and rebellious nature, the Hip-Hop nation cheered because the U.S. was eating up everything this guy was doing. It wasn’t seen as bad for Hip-Hop, rather it was spreading Hip-Hop to new fans. Ice Cube appearing in movies, Digital Underground being in commercials, Eazy-E eating dinner with the president, these were things the Hip-Hop nation looked at as great for the culture. When Snoop said he was going to outsell MC Hammer, people applauded. So what happened? Why does selling records in Hip-Hop become bad, instead of being looked at as a great accomplishment?

It starts with one area, one place the blame falls toward; the record labels.

At one time, Jive Records put out the best Hip-Hop albums. Boogie Down Production, Tribe Called Quest, Too $hort, E-40, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, that’s right Will Smith when he was the Fresh Prince. Now Jive has become the label of N’Sync, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. The label that once was growing because of Hip-Hop has now become the label that is making more money from pop acts. Once Jive was in a position to invest in pop acts that created larger revenue, they pushed Hip-Hop artist aside. Jive may not be alone, but they might be the best example of a label that once lived off of great Hip-Hop acts, but then used “Tha Formula” (sorry DOC) to make more money than they could have thought of in 1991.

Interscope Records was an independent label distributed by Time Warner that was known mainly because of their hardcore rock groups. Yet in the early 90’s they took a chance on Hip-Hop with Dr. Dre and Death Row because of Dre’s history with NWA. They also signed 2Pac to a deal and their Hip-Hop talent was unmatched on the westcoast. Interscope found that these artists would make them millions, and once 2Pac joined Death Row, their profit margins increased dramatically. A normal record label would have looked at Death Row and 2Pac as risky, and inevitably Interscope found out why. Once 2Pac died, and Snoop left to pursue success with Priority/ No Limit, Interscope was left with just Dr. Dre. After Death Row’s fall, Interscope was scared to take any chances. Dr. Dre hit gold with Eminem, yet they failed to invest in better talent, and instead forced Eminem to do songs he didn’t want to create (The Real Slim Shady). Once they got their hands on an artist that was a considered a risk, i.e. 50 Cent, they decided that to ensure success, they could market him like a new 2Pac - and he was on his way to superstardom. A group who had been long established on the underground, The Black Eyed Peas, have now been aligned with Fergie and changed musical stance becoming a pop act who basically sold out their core fan base. Interscope took their chance with the Ruff Ryders, but restricted The Lox the moment 50 Cent says so. From the risk taking label that promoted the controversial Death Row and 2Pac, to backing up only big name stars. Interscope has proven itself to be an established major label, especially with backing from Universal, yet like every major label, they strictly follow “Tha Formula.”

Another example is Bad Boy Records. Bad Boy Records died on March 9 with Biggie. The reason is; Puffy does not have a real Hip-Hop ear. It was Biggie who directed the music. Puffy was too worried about being famous, and this cost him dearly as he became unable to produce stars out of his talented Bad Boy recording artists. Had Biggie been alive, The Lox would still be Bad Boy, I said it. Black Rob would have made hit after hit and Ma$e would have never retired. Biggie was the artistic mind behind Bad Boy as he told Puffy how he wanted things done. Puffy may have disagreed, but Biggie sold and he knew that, so he let Big do his thing. Without Big, Puffy is left out of touch with what Hip-Hop is, and subsequently Bad Boy has suffered without him.

Tommy Boy Records, home at one time of Afrika Bambaataa, Naughty by Nature, Coolio De La Soul, Digital Underground and Biz Markie, eventually got eaten up by Time Warner in the mid 90’s and even though they are independent as of 2002, they are not the same. Time Warner did not put too much into releasing albums for Tommy Boy, but instead wanted to make sure that they would sell as much as possible yet without the work of putting out a Coolio or Naughty by Nature album. Time Warner used Tommy Boy for releasing Jock Jams and the Now series, while not even investing money in the proven sellers like Coolio, Digital Underground or Naughty by Nature. The founder of Tommy Boy was so disgusted that he bought Tommy Boy Records back from Time Warner. Now Tommy Boy is resurrected…as a gospel label, not Hip-Hop.

The once proud independent labels that brought you good music, either were bought off by larger labels, or sold out for the money. Labels like Profile Records who put out Run DMC and EPMD could not survive, and the once free expression era that artists had, was now going out of the window for safer, higher selling subjects and bigger turnover. Jay-Z found a formula of albums packed full of hot singles that people will buy, and what was his style became the blueprint (no pun intended) for “Tha Formula” that labels turn to before releasing an artist. Jay-Z himself was fitting in with the tradition of Hip-Hop, creating a style of his own; trying to set new fashion trends, and have nice beats that fit him and his flow. With that, since Jay-Z was on top in the late 90’s when labels were trying to find a low risk way to promote Hip-Hop, they looked to Jigga as their model on how they can market their artist. So without knowing exactly what was fully going on, or maybe he did, Jay-Z became the model that labels made their artists study for success.

But no matter what you think was the death of Hip-Hop in the mainstream, in all honesty it was record sales because the majority of people would rather have a hot album with catchy hooks and tight beats. Since the public would rather have Ja Rule featuring Ashanti instead of Mos Def doing his thing, labels were now settling into the routine of investing money in catchier, more single-potential based Hip-Hop albums. Artists who grew up wanting to carry the tradition of Rakim, KRS-One, Public Enemy and 2Pac, held a huge resistance to the new changes in Hip-Hop’s direction and as such Hip-Hop took a dive, in the East and West, both commercial and underground. The bottom line was that sales were the driving force behind the whole thing. Without sales, labels have no use for putting money into artists, and without that money, artist will not be heard. An artist can only be heard in the mainstream if the label markets them and invest the money for that artist to be heard. A label will not do that for just “good music” but instead wants music that can sell. Artist freedom is then limited to what the labels think the fans want to hear. Major labels use guaranteed sales as their focus behind releasing an album. Now that the owners of labels have changed, they have different views on how a Hip-Hop label should be run, and in turn how Hip-Hop is marketed. Labels, in order to have the sales, do not try to market what is Hip-Hop, but instead what Middle Class American youth would buy. This is the beginning of the end for Hip-Hop.

The end result is this, at one time, sales were a sign of artistic originality, and it was a decent, not perfect way, to measure how well the album the artist put out. It was no accident that The Chronic was all over the radio, and was in the top 40 charts for most of 1993. At the time, G-Funk was not known, and it was risky for a record label to put the money that Interscope did to promote a new sound. Yet at the start even Interscope were reluctant to provide that money, the word of mouth in California, and the reaction that the streets gave showed Interscope they had to promote this new sound. Moving into present day, even a proven star like Eminem cannot be guaranteed a release date and promotion without a designed radio single like “The Real Slim Shady” or “Just Lose It” to appease the core record buying public. Now that the money is bigger and the labels have found a way to target young Middle America, statistically the largest buyers of CDs, the focus is now on how to sell to white suburban kids. (no offense to the readers, just spitting truth) So instead of keeping the art form true to the Hip-Hop culture and promoting it to the public in the right way, we are left with Fergie. Before, Hip-Hop had LL Cool J who appealed to women, but at that time he was adding balanced to Hip-Hop. Now labels have spawned Bow Wow and changed Fabolous’ whole style just to sell. With the south currently what is considered “hot,” every label is trying to re-create an artist that can be like Lil’ Jon. To be a top seller now means nothing in terms of what’s Hip-Hop, to be a top seller now means the opposite, it means you sold out, and you traded in your culture (Hip-Hop is a culture) for financial gain. The Bling Era of Rap was the sign that the culture of Hip-Hop is pushed to the underground, as even the Gangsta Era had huge roots in the old school Hip-Hop culture. Artist then tried to out do each other to sell, they put out their best to sell, now they sell out for money, and they pimp the Hip-Hop culture. Selling now is not about how well you do, it’s about how well you follow “Tha Formula.”
So take some time and think…really, how important are these sales numbers?

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