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.