The Day Hip-Hop Lost Its Voice

Lately I’ve been wondering about the day hip-hop lost its voice, so this article is dedicated to seeking an explanation for what I like to call “the writers block era.” What happened to good music and good songs? Where are all the good writers and good lyrics? Where’s the poetry? The vision? The art? Why is it all so art-i-ficial now?

DJ Shadow explained it best on his debut album, Endtroducing, released in 1996. There’s a song called, “Why Hip-Hop Sucks In 96” and it’s completely instrumental until the end, when the words “it’s the money” ring out. Well, over a decade later, most hip-hop still sucks… and the reason is still the money.

It’s a known fact that record sales are at an all-time low, especially with the rap world rapidly plummeting. People who aren’t even in the music business know that this industry is a sinking ship, struggling to barely stay afloat. What I’d like to offer in this article is a rescue boat, although I know most people will just continue to tread water, drowning in their ocean of arrogance.

We read it all the time in interviews from artists, producers, media and executives, the word on everyone’s lips is quite simply that records aren’t selling like they used to; the industry is drying up. Sure, you can blame the internet and downloads and over-saturation, but while everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else in the assembly line, more and more records are being shipped back to the record labels as returns, or quietly forgotten and left to collect dust on the shelves. Nobody has an answer for all this, just an excuse with a different kind of blame attached to it.


I’ll tell you the reason why record sales are at an all-time low, and trust me, it’s very simple. It’s you! You are the reason! I am the reason. We are ALL the reason. Anyone who claims to be an artist, or creates music in some form, is the problem with the industry today. Think about it… “Record sales.” What is a record sale? Who makes the records? We do! We are the creative force behind every product sold. So if our products don’t sell, we aren’t doing OUR job. Quit blaming the internet. We’re already learning to capitalize off of digital sales, and every other retailer (not just music oriented) is booming from global internet sales.

The real problem is that most artists aren’t making good records anymore — the product is just not good, especially in hip-hop. For the most part, hip-hop has become over commercialized with too many businessmen trying to pretend to be artists who think they know what the consumer wants. Most of your music isn’t good, it’s just catchy enough to get you a very short-lived paycheck, and as a self-indulgent businessman, that’s all you are really concerned about. Congratulations, you’ve just conformed to the mentality of nearly all of these narcissistic industry executives. But with everyone’s greed blinding them, they don’t notice that these temporary cash cows only hurt in the long run. There are too many hands in the pot and no chance for longevity of either the product or its meager revenue. Shouldn’t there be a much greater significance to this culture’s power of expression than a product’s first week sales? Why do the labels want to coerce artists to dumb down for an audience that now complains about the lack of substance? It’s just these business-minded corporations won’t give anything a chance and put in the necessary diligence to stand behind something they believe in. But as history shows, the only people who last in this business are the ones too afraid to take risks, so they just sit around, sweating bullets every time one of these labels merges with another, and most people are left searching for other jobs anyway. Risk is not rewarded the way it used to be, which is why if the industry won’t pick up on good music, artists have no reason to make it. And that’s where the truly big problem is…

When I worked with Bruce Swedien (Quincy Jones’ partner — and one of the most successful men in the history of recorded music) he told me that when he, Michael Jackson, and Quincy Jones were working on Thriller, (which just happened to become the best selling album of all-time) the music industry at that time in 1982 was at another all time low. Kids weren’t buying records then; they were going to the new video game arcades and spending money on those stand-up, coin-operated games, not on music. Epic Records was nervous that Thriller wouldn’t sell very well, so Quincy Jones and Bruce Swedien’s theory was, “let’s drive people back into the record stores.” And they did… at a record breaking level. Listen people, we can do that again. People say you can’t sell millions of records like you could in the past, and here I am asking “Why not?”

I believe that right now, you could seriously sell more records than ever! With the digital technology of today and all the different mediums of distribution, you can have a blockbuster of a release. You can hit literally every country now, and do it as easily as with the click of a mouse. Only a few years back, when record sales were booming you couldn’t reach the amount of people that you can today. Impulse buying for music should be through the roof with ringtones, iTunes, Myspace, etc. We are set up now with music distribution in so many areas that we never even dreamed of, and yet, we are at an all-time low? Come on, now… Quit making excuses and make some good music.

The music IS the most important thing in the music business, and that is why even in the term “music business” the music must come before the business. But people are steadily placing the business first, which is why the industry is suffering — too many egos, too much “business music.” All these executives are forgetting it’s the music that pays their salaries, vacations, mortgages, car payments, perks and affords them everything. Everything stems from the music.

And yes, the game has evolved. The money has evolved and the opportunities have evolved. Hip-hop’s evolution has mostly been into capitalism, not into art, and that’s truly sad. Artists need to stop claiming to be real and actually start being real artists. Being real doesn’t require a marketing plan. But this sort of development will never happen until hip-hop can stop asking “what can I make?” and start asking “what can I make happen?” We’ve got to stop acting as individuals and work for the greater good of music.

So help spread the word. Print out this article and hand it out to people. Hang it up in your offices and recording studios. Pass it around and forward this through your email and let other people know about what we are facing and how we can help the outcome. Let’s breathe some life back into this wonderful art we call hip-hop and this right to expression we call music. We need to protect it and it’s all up to us. We as artists need to take back the music this business has robbed us of and let some real artists make some real music! If hip-hop really means more to you than a paycheck, then treat it that way! Preserve it! YOU can make a difference and help hip-hop get its voice back!

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