You might recall a slew of ominous articles in 2007 proclaiming that hip-hop was through. Sales were way down, and the culprits were clear: jewelry, violence, and naughty dancing.
"It's collapsing because they can no longer fool the white kids," said the Roots' manager, Richard Nickels, in a widely publicized Time article on the impending demise of rap. The piece was, of course, just another excuse for a clucking journo busybody to whine about what he found distasteful. Observant readers would note that all the people quoted or name-dropped in the article decrying the moral decrepitude of hip-hop stood to gain by a rejection of bitches-and-money rhymes: the aforementioned Roots guy; Q-Tip, who longs for the Tribe heyday; Master P, who runs a "clean hip-hop" label; Russell Simmons, who hosts summits about words you're not allowed to use.
Bullshit. Were money and ho's really to blame, or was the culprit for declining sales something else entirely? Music is easy as heck to steal, and the rap-loving youth demographic is really good at stealing it. What's more, hip-hop is heavily singles-driven, and iTunes sells tracks for a buck. All that makes Time's statistic that hip-hop had dropped from 13 percent of total album sales to 10 percent seem less than earth-shattering.
The idea that America is sick of ho's and gold chains got shafted last year by ThaCarter III, the first hip-hop record since '05 to crack the global-sales Top 10. It was morally repugnant and it was awesome — eat it, Time. This year, however, rap sales — like those of every other kind of recorded music — are still declining, and the media are back for a rerun. In a recent CNN article, "Will Recession Dull Hip-Hop's Bling?", we learn of a further 20 percent rap decline in 2008. This one is chalked up to the shitty economy, but hip-hop's excesses are again called into question: "There are signs that the genre's high-dollar bling may not survive the economic recession."
Actually, the media may have a point this time. Rhymes about jewels probably didn't kill rap sales, but shitty rap sales may wind up killing the big-money lifestyle. It'll be tough to come down from an age when you could be accused of being an Oompa Loompa if your rims failed to meet a lofty standard, but just as America now switches from Heinz to Hunt's and contemplates eating its pets, rappers must find new ways of stunting that better fit today's fiscal climate. For example . . .
• "Making it rain" with big bills — what a waste! How about heading to the club with a bucket of nickels? It's a little heavy, but the painful metallic hail on strippers' heads might drive them into a state of angry-ho euphoria. Won't know until we try.
• Champagne is expensive, so remember that Cristal isn't the only beverage that comes in gold bottles: Olde English is a gully hip-hop favorite at one percent of the cost! [Editor's note: Ballatore Gran Spumante can help ease the transition from one to the other.]
• I know rappers love their "ice," but what's the use of a gaudy diamond necklace? Why not invest in a sensible, Energy Star–compliant refrigerator with a built-in ice-maker? Saving money on your power bill? Now that's what I call "phat bling!"