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Album Sales (kind of) Week of 10/20

This was a pretty interesting week in terms of album sales, and trends in hip-hop in general.  I’ve been running around and haven’t had a chance to get to Soundscan to check out the actual numbers yet, but, I figured I would go in with my piece anyway.  I read that Royce sold roughly 4,600 units.  That’s not bad.  There were a bunch of other interesting releases this past week, none of them particularly big name, and in fact, most are old guard, such as: Cormega, Camp Lo, Black Market Militia & Killah Priest, (there were also some youngins with records out last week: Fashawn, Dam-Funk and Stat Quo, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time).  I’m very curious to see how they did, specifically the old-schoolers, but even without having seen the numbers yet, I would hazard a guess that they are not hugely impressive (no shots intended… it’s just reality).  Now, depending on how much they spent on production, marketing and manufacturing, selling non-huge amounts first week can still be a win, but it’s at a small profit margin.  Having spent the last year looking at the state of hip-hop music through the lens of album sales, it’s clear that the time/genre is ripe for a change.  And I’m not the only one thinking about it.

Sasha Frere Jones, a distinguished music critic/writer for the New Yorker wrote a piece called “Wrapping Up” on Monday, essentially saying that hip-hop as we know it is over and done with.  He claims that the only thing that makes Jay-Z‘s “Blueprint 3” and Kid Cudi‘s “Man on the Moon” hip-hop is the fact that they rap, and that the music and overall aesthetic of the genre have changed dramatically to the point where they are no longer relevant to “hip-hop” proper.

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A couple of friends of mine are in what some would describe as a hip-hop band, others would describe it as indie rock, others as noise, incisive cultural commentary, and some just as fun.  They’re called Das Racist, and I’ve been meaning to write about them on here for a minute, but they’re pretty left-field, so I’ve kinda held off.  They responded to Frere-Jones’ critique, with a pretty wordy piece that’s interesting on many levels.  The boiled down version of their argument is that just because hip-hop isn’t what it was in the early ’90s doesn’t mean it’s not still fresh, and that just because something is fresh and new, and non-traditional doesn’t make it not hip-hop.  If you have time, it’s definitely worth a read, as is the critique of both Frere-Jones and Das Racist’s response by blogger, Twitter all-star, sometimes musician and cultural commentator Caughtintheweb.

Das Racist was also mentioned in a New York Times article this week, that also discussed the future of hip-hop, but from the vantage point of CMJ.  CMJ, for those who don’t know, is a ton of shows that all take place in NYC during roughly a 5 day period, and involve lots of staying out late and drinking on weeknights.  It was this past week in New York, and there was a lot more hip-hop than in past years, and a lot more big name hip-hop as well.  Raekwon, Jadakiss, Styles P and many others for example played a showcase, whereas in the past, it was typically smaller indie/underground/backpacker artists who played at CMJ.  The Times article argues that that era (indie/backpacker hip-hop) is ending, which is kind of how I got started on this whole rant in the first place.

Certain music just feels less current to me these days.  I’m not making any claims about quality and artistry, but more about what speaks to me as a consumer/fan of music, and (kind of) more importantly, where I see the business going.  Despite the fact that I’m a Camp Lo fan, I didn’t expect them to sell a lot of units.  I don’t have any surefire ideas for how to “save the music biz,” or make artists whose time has passed relevant again, or convince people like myself to buy all the music they listen to, but I do think that it’s a pretty exciting time in the game.  Music consumers are in serious flux, both in terms of content and form: it seems to me like people are consuming music across genres, and without regard for traditional forms, like the album.  Similarly, the ways in which you can access music, or as an artist, disseminate your music are incredibly varied and far-reaching.

Google is launching a music service (reportedly with LaLa, iLike, iMeem and Pandora) which, although they’re claiming will not be a streaming music site, will be used to listen to music, just the way that YouTube wasn’t designed with music in mind, but has grown to be one of the primary outlets for listening to music online.

MySpace and Facebook are reportedly partnering, or at least allowing sharing across their platforms.  These two giants (MySpace in particular, and Facebook if it ever gets around to truly integrating music) have helped to democratize the field a bit, and allow anyone with a computer to reach around the world.

Magazines, newspapers and retail stores are going out of business left and right.  The traditional routes for promoting an artist are drying up.  Yes, MTV and commercial radio and (some) print magazines still exist.  I was driving around this weekend, and heard “Empire State Of Mind” 5 times, on 4 different stations, in the course of 30 minutes.  But to me, that’s stale.  Not that I don’t love that song.  As a new yorker, you’ve gotta take pride (remember this?).  But for every Jay-Z and Alicia Keys duet, there are literally millions of smaller bands and artists trying to make it out there, and some will, and the vast majority will do it without commercial radio or MTV.

Who’s next?
How will they do it?
And what benchmark will define success in this new music industry?

Hit me with a comment if you think you know the answers.

Till next time.
Peace