Rap Commits Suicide

We may be witnessing the death of rap, Tim Shipman reports for the Sunday Telegraph. He notes that sales are “down 33 per cent, double the decline of the CD album market overall.” After years of pop culture ubiquity, “The bad boys of rap are now trailing the cowboys of country and the headbangers of heavy metal.”

The main explanation cited is that the public is finally tired of the genre’s excesses:

Rappers Spliff Starr, Eminem, Papoose and Busta Rhymes on stage Photo 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.

Renewed attention after the Don Imus “nappy headed hos” scandal brought denunciations from the likes of Ebony magazine, rap impresario Russell Simmons, Barack Obama, and even Al Sharpton.

While I’d like to think moral outrage is the main cause of declining sales, I’m skeptical. Former record industry talent evaluator Tom Vickers observes that, “Rap has gradually degenerated from an art form into a ring tone. That’s why we’re seeing this backlash. There’s only so much bling the public can take.”

Shipman uses that to buttress the backlash thesis. My sense, though, is that Vickers is bemoaning the over-saturation and mainstreaming of hip hop culture. When shopping malls and television commercials play rap — and they have been, for years — it loses its shock value as a rebellious teenage refuge. And, indeed, rap has been commercial long enough that the parents of today’s young teens likely listened to it themselves. That doesn’t exactly lend cool points.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Like jazz rap won’t be dead until and unless people stop doing it which will be generations from now if ever. What’s being reported is the possible end of rap as a dominant commercial venture in popular music.

    The more important trend, IMO, is the general trend from CD sales to digital and the trend from album sales to single cuts. That appears to be a development as significant as the death of vaudeville in favor of radio, movies, and phonograph records.

    It remains to be seen whether this development will result in a viable industry. Mediocre albums by popular performers probably won’t cut it any more. Pay attention to Kellie Clarkson’s latest offering in this regard. It’s not the same commercial pap as in her last highly successful albums (it’s different commercial pap).

  2. Bithead says:

    While I’d like to think moral outrage is the main cause of declining sales, I’m skeptical. Former record industry talent evaluator Tom Vickers observes that, “Rap has gradually degenerated from an art form into a ring tone. That’s why we’re seeing this backlash. There’s only so much bling the public can take.”

    I, too, would like to think that moral outrage was involved. But, like you, I doubt it.

    I think what’s really going on , here, is more along the lines of self preservation from the ‘Gangsta” nonsense, while never identifying it as a ‘moral issue”. (Morals, you see, aren’t ‘cool”)

    The kind of attitudes that have been part and parcel of rap since shortly after the style came on the scene years back, eventually lose their attraction, after having been identified as self-destructive by an increasing majority both inside and outside of black culture. …even absent the moral consideration… as that styles body count rises, and as they become ostracized from even mainstream black society, much less society as a whole. One can only put up with so much drug abuse, one can only put up with so much murder, etc., before one realizes that maybe the Rap artists once held as special, really don’t deserve the distinction. Attention, at that point, starts getting paid to other things. People find other places to hang their metaphorical hat.

    I suspect to a large degree that’s what’s going on, here, in the overall.

    Dave’s comments about the changes in the music industry also lend something to this discussion, but with all respect, not nearly as much…

    Frankly, Rap started as, and always has been, driven by what’s coming up from the street…

    The record companies, and the government, share a common consideration; the government can’t create, all it can do is tax and regulate.

    In a similar vein, the record companies can’t create talent, all they can do is record it when it shows up, and try to ‘regulate’ it…(edit it?) into something salable. That’s precisely what happened to rap in its early days.

    However, the feed of salable talent from the street has dried up, for lack of interest at the talent end. To borrow a phrase, the street has grown quiet.

    As an aside…

    Much has been said about the reasons behind the attitude of rappers (anti women, me first, etc. ) but I suspect that the biggest reasons are the dissolution of the black family, specifically the lessening of the role of black fathers, as a direct result of “the great society”. Add to that, what many have called the “feminization of America” and one begins to see that much of what rap has been about these last several years is a reaction to that situation… An attitude in complete opposition to the diminishment of the role of male blacks. (Which could account for why you see so few female rap artists…)

    I guess I bring all this up, because I’m wondering; how much of what is under discussion here the results of people discovering that the opposite extreme is just as destructive?

    I suppose if I poured my second cuppa, I could find better words, but I think you see where I’m going with this.

  3. Alan Kellogg says:

    Rap became a thematic and artistic cliche. A theme repeated endlessly, a style repeated endlessly. No attempt to provide variety in how it was performed, or what it was about. It was formulized to death and that’s what killed it.

    Same old rhyme scheme, same old chord progression. Same melody, bass line, and drums for all intents and purposes. Song #83 is just like song #152, only with a “bitch whore” instead of a “whore bitch” in verse three.

    Rap died because of a failure of innovation and imagination, and rappers have only themselves to blame.

  4. Bruce VanBrunt says:

    Let’s face it folks. Rap would not even be on the radar screen if the cowards at CBS and MSNBC/NBC had just accepted “Don Imus'” apology and never went on Al Sharpton’s so called radio network.

    He is the main cause of Rap dying. Not Imus.

    The NHH words were street talk direct from Rappers. And there should be no double standard on who can say it or where.

  5. Bithead says:

    I agree with you that Don Imus is not the cause of the death of a Rap. For one thing, Imus was never that important a force as to be able to raise something up OR tear it down. In reality, Don Imus was never more than a fringe player. He was simply not that important. Where we disagree is whether or not Al Sharpton is.

    Sharpton makes his living off of locating the gathering Lynch mob and getting of the mob to believe that it’s always been led by Sharpton. So, too, with many others of the same Ilk, among them Jesse Jackson. It’s what they do.

    Based on that I submit to you that what’s been going on here, is that the objections to what Rap has become, and indeed, to a large degree, what it started as, have been long in coming and were already underway when Sharpton leaped out in front of the lynch mob, and redirected it’s energy, making it his parade.

    I grant, Sharpton/Imus et al, aided the demise of Rap, but it’d already started downhill. The issue existed long before Sharpton made it his issue.

  6. pudge says:

    For me, it can’t die soon enough. Someone very close to me has had their soul ripped apart by this mainstream porn.
    May all who “pimped” it go to hell for the millions of souls they have corrupted. They are evil incarnate and I am sickened by the clap-trap notion that perverts like ‘poop dog’ should be hailed as mainstream icons! Drivel, absolute drivel. He and his klan are robbers of souls,rapers of innocents,molesters of childrens minds. A curse be upon them.
    They are not any kind of artist other than RAPE artist. Here’s to them burning throughout eternity. Unless of course they redeem themselves…which is about as likely as the redemption of a sexual predator. Could it be because they are one and the same ?

  7. grewgills says:

    Hip hop in general and rap in specific are no more dead than rock, blues, country, or any other major musical style.

    Do any of you who have commented on this actually listen to any hip hop? If you did you would realize that there is quite a lot of hip hop out there that has a positive message and is better musically than what the record companies push. BEP, J5, Michael Franti, Lupe Fiasco, and Outkast have all found some measure of success and offer positive messages.

  8. Bithead says:

    Hip hop in general and rap in specific are no more dead than rock, blues, country, or any other major musical style.

    Do any of you who have commented on this actually listen to any hip hop? If you did you would realize that there is quite a lot of hip hop out there that has a positive message and is better musically than what the record companies push.

    Inherent in the points being made here, is the relative popularity of the genre.
    Look, the point you’re making is valid, if somewhat axiomatic. There is Positive stuff out there. But that’s not what’s selling. And why?

    The positive stuff isn’t selling at nearly the rate, because it’s not ‘cool’. It doesn’t work, and it’s frankly not attracting attention to itself at nearly the rate of the more negative “me first” crap. Rap’s biggest attraction is/was it’s ATTITUDE. That’s not likely to change. It’s also, in the end, it’s biggest downfall.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Do any of you who have commented on this actually listen to any hip hop?

    How in the hell could we avoid it? It has been ubiquitous for several years now, infiltrating movies, television commercials, various stores, not to mention blaring from cars alongside me on the road.

    there is quite a lot of hip hop out there that has a positive message and is better musically than what the record companies push.

    That’s not too high a bar! For the most part, I hate the percussiveness and general tempo of rap, and that was true before the “gangsta” subgenre went mainstream.

  10. pudge says:

    grewgills

    You sound amazingly similar to the appologists of Islam who are want to say, “Hey,there’s millions of us you never heard of (the oppositions point)that hardly ever explode ourselves in a crowd of hungry children. And besides,what about the crusades !?!”

    There is nothing musical about rap accepting when it is sampling Stevie Wonder or another actual artist. When rap gets musical,ie: No more pedestrian rythems,lyrics that don’t suggest anarchy / the destruction of “the mans” system, it is no longer rap.

    You could argue that Public Enemy was fresh,had something to say and were able to at least wink at their audience with a little self deprecating humor, but how many times can one listen to the same poor imitation before they eventually want something with a little “statistical density”, as Frank Zappa used to call it,you know, original music ? Rap has become a torturously repepetitive, percussive thumping of a medium that is designed to hypnotize the ones it numbs so as to cleave them from there cash and more importantly, their will.

    There is so much good music out there that is crafted from nothing but God given creativity, why even bother with something as apish and so closely related to the culture of degradation as mainstream rap ?

    Put down the mic, stop ‘spittin’ and pick up an actual instrument. Your sense of accomplishment will be much greater, and legitimately so, when you finally learn something of substance.

  11. Grewgills says:

    James and pudge,
    I’m guessing that the two of you are in your mid forties at the youngest. Remember the criticisms your parents laid on rock and then look at your own criticisms of rap. I’m guessing they sound quite similar.

    Bit,
    BEP from the beginning and most anything recent by Outkast has a positive message and their releases reliably go platinum. J5 is reliably positive and their last two album’s have made it into the top 40 in sales. Lupe Fiasco is a rising star and is sought out by many big names to collaborate. Michael Franti, always positive, is more underground but definitely cool. I could go on, but you get the point.
    The real difference is the positive stuff doesn’t generate the press coverage.

  12. Bithead says:

    Grewgills;

    BEP from the beginning and most anything recent by Outkast has a positive message and their releases reliably go platinum. J5 is reliably positive and their last two album’s have made it into the top 40 in sales.

    Platinum is not as big a deal anymore. Certainly not as big as it was years ago. Since there are many many many more people, and therefore more record buyers, and since the bar hasn’t been moved and all those years, it’s not all that hard a bar to get over.

    Your comment about being in the top 40, makes be mindful of the old adage about running away from a lion; you don’t have to be the fastest, just “not the slowest”. A look at the remainder of what passes for top 40 material anymore, should give you a clue as to why they manage to make it there as you say reliably.

    If you read the article the James posted a link to, you will find that sales have been dropping down reliably for the last ten years and more. These guys you’re pointing out me because of the hill, but the hill itself is diminishing.

    As far as the press, and their reaction to the positive stuff, or more correctly the lack of reaction, the same situation holds true; they’ve identified the stuff that you’re mentioning has essentially non movers, in a comparative sense, as well.

    I say again, for clarity; the reason this stuff isn’t moving as well as it might, is the music for its own sake, doesn’t make it. It has to have the attitude attached with it, or it simply doesn’t sell nearly the numbers. Rap, first and foremost, is about attitude.

  13. pudge says:

    Grewgills said: “James and pudge,
    I’m guessing that the two of you are in your mid forties at the youngest. Remember the criticisms your parents laid on rock and then look at your own criticisms of rap. I’m guessing they sound quite similar.” Actually Grewgills, the whole hip-hop thing has caused me to reconsider the possibilty that those having Elvis and Chuck Berry fueled bonfires way back when were in fact prescient. The current vomitous state of pop music certainly could not have happened without them…..There, I’ve reconsidered.Chuck Berry may be low brow, but I don’t remember there being anything pretentious about rock and roll to begin with,(until the ascension of Crosby,Stills,Nash & Young anyway) I mean,how snooty can one be while screaming, “WOOOOO! Skynyrd rocks man!!!” It’s a matter of limitations my man. You may love your wife passionately, so, you make love to her accordingly. That is the essence of rock. In the rap mode,you get your “posse” and tie her up and gang rape her. As Luigi the Sicilian rap artist once lamented, “Hey, that’s-a rapa.”

    re: “The real difference is the positive stuff doesn’t generate the press coverage.” Just like the current administrations tendency to speak in horribly foreshortened sentences when discussing immigration, you left the end of the sentence off,it goes something like this, “…And it never will because ‘true rap’,the OG kind, doesn’t ‘sell-out’ to ideas like being positive.” Like I said above,you need to learn an instrument.No one will ever hear you if you insist on calling yourself a “rap artist”. Serious people see it as irelevant and “rap fans” see you as a sell-out. Again, thanks for making my point.

    Rap by definition is not music, it is hypnosis.Although it is true that most pop music is hypnotic to a certain extent, I’d just as soon take my chances with,”Lets go to the hop”, “make love not war”, and other insipid messages as embrace fine concepts like, “Cap dat bull” or, “B*!$h!, keep on doin’ whatchoo doin’ wit my !$%&*!!! blankity blank blank!”. It just don’t play, and it never will in the minds of serious people. Rap is tainted beyond redemption I am happy to say, and considering its base nature,it had only the sewer awaiting as its final destination.

  14. James Joyner says:

    I’m guessing that the two of you are in your mid forties at the youngest. Remember the criticisms your parents laid on rock and then look at your own criticisms of rap. I’m guessing they sound quite similar.

    I’m 41. Rap was around when I was 10 and was coming into big mainstream consciousness while I was an undergrad. I hated it then, too, although not as much as I did the later iterations.

    Growing up, we listened to both kinds of music: Country AND Western. My tastes have expanded somewhat since but not to rap.

  15. Grewgills says:

    BEP and Outkast are among the biggest acts out there hip hop or otherwise. That you don’t know this speaks to your knowledge of the subject.
    Top forty in sales for multiple albums and increasing popularity with each album speaks to a large following as do multiple platinum albums.

    Sales are dropping for everything and a bit faster for rap than some other genres, but rap had further to fall than many other genres. If you look at the billboard top 100 you will see it is still doing quite well. Any reports of its demise are certainly exaggerated.

    The press’ non-attention to positive rap has little to do with its popularity and more to do with what type of stories sell papers. Positive stories don’t sell papers or bring in viewers like negative stories do.

    As far as the music for its own sake I’ll put up the artistry of the acts I have mentioned against just about anything in the top forty at any given time. Faint praise I realize, but that is the competition.

  16. Bithead says:

    I’ve avoided this, for a lot of reasons. But…(Sigh)

    I’m 50…

    As to personal experience with music, I spent a lot of years as a DJ, both on radio and in clubs and weddings… from age 16 to age 49. I still play a few times a year.

    My taste in music is rather eclectic; I listen to about everything at one point or another. I did Jazz radio for 5 years. From there to a Country station for 4, did Oldies radio for a few years, and so on. Did a few Full Service Middle of the road stations as well, in smaller markets. I grew up on Rock and Roll, did a dance party radiio show back in the day, too. I’ve played all kinds of music professionally… My personal record collection amounts to around 27,000 LP’s. Music of all kinds. Literally, when my wife and I moved years ago, the records were the first full load in the truck… a 60 series mover. I’ve lost track of the number of singles… that’s 45’s to those who know. A somewhat smaller collection of CD’s and Cassettes…

    My collection has been about half converted to MP-3’s… and i have built and operate a mult-terrabye capacity server to keep them all on. Lots easier to manage, than the originals. In terms of the music I’m exposed to, through that professional life, I think it no exaggeration to suggest that I’m probably the most knowledgeable person on the subject in this conversation, and likley in the top 10 of anyone you know.

    So, you will pardon me if I chuckle a little when you call me unknowledgeable on the subject. You have no idea how far out of your league you are when you say that. Or at least, you didn’t.

    Yes I DO know they’re the biggest acts out there, now. But as compared to, what, exactly?

    Ponder this, if you will: Postulate I’m in a drag race, and my opponents car dies off the line. Do I win because I was the better driver, or is it merely that I was the last one with a car that actually ran at the moment?

    By the same token, years ago, Billboard had a polka listing… I kid you not. Being number one on the Polka charts sure looked impressive… but the overall sales were not exactly earthshaking.

    In terms of percentage of market, sure.. but as the article James links pointed out… that market has shrunk in the overall, by quite a bit.

  17. grewgills says:

    Yes I DO know they’re the biggest acts out there, now.

    Then why did you say,

    There is Positive stuff out there. But that’s not what’s selling.

    By the same token, years ago, Billboard had a polka listing… I kid you not. Being number one on the Polka charts sure looked impressive… but the overall sales were not exactly earthshaking.

    All the numbers I referred to were billboard top 100 not just the rap top 40, so while mildly amusing the above is not relevant.

    In terms of percentage of market hip hop is still doing quite well and is likely to continue to do well though it may not be the dominant force it has been over the past several years. Jazz and blues have a considerably smaller market share, but neither art form is dead. Country has had its ups and downs in popularity, but to label it dead when it enters its next slump (that can’t come too soon) would be foolish or maybe just wishful thinking.

    Re: the drag racing analogy
    At any given time most popular music is rather derivative and generally lacking in much artistic merit. This was as true in the 50s, 60s, and 70s as it is now.

  18. Bithead says:

    Yes I DO know they’re the biggest acts out there, now.

    Then why did you say,

    There is Positive stuff out there. But that’s not what’s selling.

    you apparently still don’t understand that those two statements are not mutually exclusive….

    Trivia; sneezy was the tallest of the seven dwarves. Does that mean he was particularly tall, or that he was simply taller than most dwarves?

    In terms of percentage of market hip hop is still doing quite well and is likely to continue to do well

    (Sigh)But the percentage of WHAT? A far smaller market overall.

  19. Grewgills says:

    Nice try at evasion.
    You said, “But that’s not what is selling,” in reference to positive rap, particularly the groups I mentioned. The clear implication of that statement is that there is something else that is selling, namely rap with a negative message.
    You then acknowledge that some of those groups are among the biggest groups out there, which they are in terms of both popularity and sales.

    In terms of your Snow White analogy:
    You said, Sneezy is not the tall dwarf.
    Then, I know that Sneezy is the tallest dwarf out there.
    Then deny any contradiction.

    But the percentage of WHAT? A far smaller market overall.

    To continue your logic here all music is dying since the overall market is shrinking. Certainly you don’t believe this. Are jazz and blues dead? Their sales are lower than hip hop sales are likely to be anytime soon.

  20. Bithead says:

    To continue your logic here all music is dying since the overall market is shrinking.

    True. The shrinking numbers cannot be argued with.

    Certainly you don’t believe this. Are jazz and blues dead? Their sales are lower than hip hop sales are likely to be anytime soon.

    But they are not dropping it anywhere near the rate. Where analyze the key to this whole thing. The remainder of the market’s laws can be written off as the nonsense of the RIAA. Rap, given the larger degree of loss, not so much.

    I can only assume , if I’m being kind, that you’re being intentionally obtuse about all this.

    Since you’re here, and since I have no means of engaging you at Poker, let me give us some stock advice; buy up all Amalgamated Buggy Whips stock you can. Can’t go anyplace but up.

  21. Grewgills says:

    So all music is dying? How long do you think until we are entirely without music?

    The shrinking numbers cannot be argued with.

    True if you assume that it is an accurate measure of the health of any musical genre. I don’t accept that it is. The health of any genre is better judged by the new talent that is inspired to create more of that genre. At this point that is not lacking in hip hop.

    Jazz and blues are not dropping at the rate of rap because they have no where near as far to fall. The rap is dying talk is just wishful thinking by people who have never liked it.

    I would not invest in any of the big labels at this point as they all seem to slow to adapt to the changes in the market. Maybe Brushfire or Rockafellah if I had choose a label to invest in.