Rap — The New Disco

The London Telegraph reports that rap music has suddenly plummeted — sales have dropped more than twice as fast as the entire ailing recording industry. Sales in 2006 came in at 21% below 2005, and this year looks even worse. The reason? Listeners have tired of misogynistic lyrics, crude paeans to violence, and the garish jewelry that once fascinated America’s youth:

Confronted with haemorrhaging sales, the most assertive popular music movement since the Sex Pistols has lost its swagger and is suffering a crisis of confidence.
This year rap and hip-hop sales are down 33 per cent, double the decline of the CD album market overall, which is under pressure from music download sites such as iTunes, where fans can buy individual songs.
In 2006, rap sold 59.1 million albums, down 21 per cent from 2005. Not one rap album made the American top 10 sellers of the year – a list headed by the saccharine tunes of the soundtrack to Disney’s made-for-television High School Musical. The bad boys of rap are now trailing the cowboys of country and the headbangers of heavy metal. …
Rap has been deserted by many white fans and middle-class blacks, apparently tiring of the “gangsta” attitude to women, racism, violence and bling – the gold rings and medallions that have made hip-hop a byword for vulgarity.

Some see this as a period of adjustment for a long-lived art form, which began in the late 1970s and exploded in the following decade. Michael Dyson, a professor of African and religious studies at Penn, says that “horrible hip-hop has to die so that regal hip-hop can live.” Most others are not as sanguine. Even media outlets that have feasted on hip-hop over the years have begun pulling away, such as Ebony Magazine removing Ludacris from its cover, and Verizon dumping Akon after his simulated sexual assault of a fifteen-year-old fan on stage.
The concerns of the language and the imagery certainly play a role in rap’s sudden decline. The case of Don Imus using common rap slang to describe the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team put the issue in high relief this year, and even race-baiting demagogues like Al Sharpton decided to go after rappers as a result. Suge Knight, who founded the worst of the gangsta-rap labels, Death Row Records, now says he will withdraw its entire catalogue and only re-release it with every single mention of the N-word bleeped out.
Can rap make a comeback? To some extent, certainly, but probably not to the levels it once enjoyed. The movement became a parody of itself, with its celebration of pimp culture and the ridiculous excesses like grilles (gaudy jewelry for the teeth, for those unfamiliar). Snoop Dogg’s selling Girls Gone Wild videos and 50 Cent is selling mineral water. The fans have tired of the power trip and have grown up. If rap artists can do the same, then maybe they’ll experience a renaissance.

22 thoughts on “Rap — The New Disco”

  1. Very interesting. Especially in light of the HUGE overnight success of a drab little opera singer with an incredible voice. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about…Google “Paul Potts”).

  2. Cap, I must strenuously object to your comparing rap to disco. Disco had more variety.

  3. I’ve always felt that the early rap dudes like Snoop, Dr. Dre and Ice-T were seriously talented if they could just figure out how to harness that talent. I guess, in a sense, the fact that all of them are still alive and living the good life means that they *did* harness at least a part of it.
    Too bad America hasn’t figured out a challenge to offer men like these that would be both affirming and appealing to them personally to take on.

  4. This is good news. The demise of rap hip-hop culture can’t happen soon enough. There’s nothing good to be said about it.

  5. Wouldn’t it be loverly to believe that rap has fallen off a cliff because we all got tired of artful vulgarity, bathroom humor and whorehouse social comment, and finally grew up just a little? I truly enjoy the notion more than I can say, but I just can’t go there without a bit more evidence to go along with it.
    Let’s hear it for hoping against all hope! It sure would be nice to see.

  6. Rap is dying a very quick death due mostly because of the leaders of the African/Americans…Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. If it were not for them attacking an ill conceived comment by Don Imus, all would have been off the Radar. But now you know what a double standard is.
    Rap is just plain GARBAGE and belongs in the Trash

  7. Captain your missing the point.
    Here’s why rap is in decline. I accept your intial critcism of rap. Rap is in some ways getting stale, the criticism has something to do with the same rappers over the same beats rapping about the same s***. That’s why artists that take chances such as Kanye West, Nas, Talib Qweli, and Common and even a super commericial rapper like Jay-z have suceeded where guys such as 50 Cent, Paul Wall, and a host of other rappers who have repeated the formula for sucesses have failed.
    Also the other major issue is internet downloading. I love hiphop but hiphop is meant for the 15-30 crowd. Which by the way most of your readers probably aren’t in that age bracket and as a result don’t GET rap. It is also a crowd which Anecdotally to my knowledge downloads music the most.(legally or illegially), as a result sales are down and/or the onlything that surivives are singles(sales wise),which makes the quality of the albums weaker.
    Hiphop will probably never be the same force it was in the mid to late 90’s. Music however is circular, and hiphop will make a legitmate “comeback.”

  8. Rap and hip-hop aren’t the same thing. Hip-hop has penetrated pop music to the point that it is not going away. I wouldn’t really credit much of the recent backlash against rap as doing much. Rap sales have been falling for a couple of years before that, and I really think it is just burn out: rap is thirty years old, and it’s been on the airwaves for nearly as long. Other than a couple of laughs, they have original to say, and it is stale. Sharpton and Jackson are merely media whores that are capitalizing on the Imus backlash, but Bill Cosby was speaking out about this for quite some time, and Stanley Crouch has equated Rap with minstrel culture for over a decade now. Some African American culture critics are basically of the opinion that the only reason the “bling” culture is profitable is because of White support for it (most rap is purchased by folks who are not African American). It is an interesting point.
    I like hip-hop, but I won’t play most rap in my house because my kids are not going to learn that the n-word is acceptable from me. I was brought up that that word was as bad as the f-word, and thus there aint much rap in my house. Rap may be declining, but it won’t go away. What will fill its void?

  9. I’ll risk the spam filters and post three examples of great rap.
    Public Enemy “Bring the Noise”
    Craig Mack “Flava in Your Ear”
    Lauren Hill “Doo Wop”
    What do they have in common? “Flow”. They control the tempo and rythym of their lyrics, mixing it up to add a layer of depth to solid rhymes and heavy content.
    Today it’s cookie-cutter, mass produced crap. Mike Jones repeats lyrics six times! Even Kayne West, who’s one of the rare ones who’s trying to say something, performs in a rather straight, unchanging swing. Well, so did Sinatra; but Sinatra didn’t rap and was known not to rap. That’s why “real hiphop is not on the radio”.

  10. I don’t care.
    STill from “rap” to Nike’s, there was something going on since the 1970’s, that unlocked the doors to Islam. And, opened our “culture” (well, pieces of it, anyway), up to anyone with a DIsh. Then a computer. And, a cell phone.
    We didn’t even have to send one diplomat!
    And? Well, if you went to Moscow? Or Kabul. Or, Baghdad, you’d hear it all. People couldn’t get enough of this stuff.
    Which above all else, signified the voices of freedom. Nobody in their right mind would have chosen it for propaganda purposes.
    As to fads. They all come. And, then they all go.
    The 1920’s? Famous for its flappers.
    Today, women don’t tie up their chests so their bobbs don’t show. (What the flappers did? They raised their girdles up over to their armpits.)
    Of course, for a century, the 20th was plugged full of new-new toys. And, the market place, with the changes in technology, is what kept us afloat.
    Oh, and from where I sit, “rap,” etc., took hold with the advent of the “affirmative action” movement. On one side: PC. On the other: Loud and obnoxious music.
    And, at least some people grew rich.
    I’m a big fan of seeing winners in the market place. WHile I live surrounded by quiet, by choice. The loudest noises come when the dogs bark.

  11. Hip-hop is following the same pattern as Rock n Roll did.
    By comparison Run DMC were like Elvis/Buddy Holly.
    Of course there is a niche filled by the Beach Boys that rap/hip hop didn’t fill but then I don’t like rap/hip hop enough to care if there is one.
    Beastie Boys and Vanilla Ice being the Pat Boone of the cycle?
    Next phase would be equivalent to The Beatles and N.W.A.
    My point is that hip hop has to cross over and that will affect all of the forms of music. It will become part of the repertoire of any band. Sort of what we expect, like a guitar solo.
    But the people who sample previous hits (as in P-Diddy turning the Police hit “Every Breath You Take”) won’t be regarded so highly. Innovators like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Alice Cooper are waiting to become stars.
    Love your Captain and hit that tip jar,
    Mark A.

  12. As I explain to my students, who actually get it, rap is not music. While it does have some of the components of music in various degrees, it is properly categorized as accompanied poetry, and it doesn’t fit solidly in the category of poetry either.
    Rap has existed on adolescent outrage and defiance rather than on its own merits as a worthy art form requiring talent. That which is affirming and delightful lasts, rap will not.

  13. Uhhhh maybe it just sucks. Heh heh heh heh heh
    And please don’t compare this to rock and roll

  14. Like the previous commenter said in different words, rap simply isn’t very good music, if you can even consider it that.
    Good music lasts. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Elvis will be with us forever. Rap won’t.

  15. “The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Elvis will be with us forever.”
    When’s the last time you heard Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Martin Denny or Glenn Miller from a radio?

  16. I think the most apt way to think about this is summed up in the Eagles song: The New Kid in Town. **Everybody loves you ’til somebody new comes along**. The rock stars of my era are now doing PBS specials with the **silver set** clapping and singing in the audience. So it goes. The long dissed “hair bands” of the 1980’s are even enjoying resurgence. In all this, through thick and thin, heavy metal and (especially) country music are with us. (Is there a message here?)
    But in my own youth, the Beatles and the Stones were seen as rebellious and even threatening. The more hysterical even associated the Stones with devil worship. Yet here in the 2000’s, we’ve taken an ex-junkie (Keith Richards) and cast him in a popular walk-on role in the recent edition of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Paul McCartney seems to be turning into our version of Andy Williams. Will our memories sanitize aging rappers as well?
    To some degree, I liken rap/hip-hop is punk. Personally, I saw punk as a fraud. Punk did have an important point: rock had become lazy and tiresome. The problem was punk itself didn’t deliver the goods. For every LONDON CALLING, there were fifty other songs that were pure drivel. Rap/hip-hop is much the same. Even after learning to find the real music in rap, one finds most of the art form less than…enlightening.
    Still, every generation is entitled to its own music. When I saw those much younger than myself grooving to rap/hip hop and clearly enjoying themselves, I concluded that life is too short and it was not fitting to take away their little bit of happiness.
    Yup. The lyrics were deplorable and depraved. We are in a so-called liberated age and we treat young women worse than before. (Subject for another day.) Yet what good did it do for us to try to persuade rappers to change? Well, time passes and now rap and hip-hop falling out of favor. We can only hope that what is to follow is more positive and not something may require handling with rubber gloves.

  17. All album sales are declining. The rap sales declined at double the rate of the overall album market, but I’d bet this is more about the demographic of rap’s market than anything else. The rap market is old enough to steal music from the Internet and doesn’t believe such stealing is wrong. The market for High School Musical (from the article) relies on its parents to steal music for them and so has a higher percentage of sales.
    I noticed years ago that local teens believed stealing music from the Internet was fine – not stealing at all in their mind. They did not believe in copyright, period. The progress of that cohort through the market and the transmission of their values to their kids should combine to destroy recorded music (and eventually recorded movies) as a product.
    That said, no style lasts forever and the “gangsta” bit may just be tired.

  18. You mean, we might hope for some music sounding less like a gang fight in a metal-bashing shop? Hallelujah.
    Next, someone will recall that music used to have melody and harmony as well as rhythm and pissedoffedness. We can only hope.

  19. Summerfest 2007 Day 5 Preview

    Summerfest survived Ludacris. No news is good news. The well-behaved fans could mean future hip-hop acts headlining the Fest. Unless rap music sales continue to drop like golf ball hit into Lake Michigan.
    Today is Children’s Fest. Even if you don…

  20. As for eradicating “pimp culture”
    Out on Manzanella Beach
    G.I. romance with native peach
    All night long, make tropic love
    Next day, sit in hot sun and cool off
    Drinkin’ rum and Coca-Cola
    Go down Point Koomahnah
    Both mother and daughter
    Workin’ for the Yankee dollar

    Quadruple platinum in 1945. The more things change…

Comments are closed.