Industry Lie #4080: Not Bad Selling Bad, But Bad Selling Good
Words by Hip-Hop Artist on Stones Throw Records and Queens, NY born, Homeboy Sandman.
My last piece covered how negativity, (most notably criminality, misogyny, and materialism), has a stranglehold on popular hip hop today. Response was varied. There was agreement that it is a horrific dilemma. There was suspicion that I am merely jealous because it’s not my music dominating the airwaves. Blame was assigned to everyone from rappers to listeners to labels. Amidst this can of worms one common response stood out to me as particularly puzzling; “it’s what sells.”
The notion that hip hop consumers have an insatiable thirst for negativity is widely accepted and regularly circulated. In today’s society where the bottom line reigns supreme, generation of revenue is seen less as an excuse, and more as an reasonable explanation, for immoral and socially irresponsible behavior. One commenter went as far as to assert that rappers who play into redundant stereotypes are “being good capitalists.”
I don’t like this argument for two reasons. The first is that It suggests that it’s acceptable for integrity to take a backseat to lucrative business opportunity.
The second is that, it’s not even true.
The universally accepted, almost common knowledge claim that consumers prefer negative hip hop over all else is a falsehood that does not hold up to even the lightest scrutiny.
Where once the hip hop landscape was rich with the type of diversity believed to have no where near the demand that negativity does, today it is completely saturated with the base immorality consumers are said to clamor for. If negativity is what sells, one would expect hip hop sales to be at an all time high. Instead, hip hop sales are at an all time low. Oddly enough, this is also common knowledge.
Proponents of the misconception chalk this up to record sales being down across the board regardless of genre. Fair enough. Ever since Napster it’s been tough all around. A look at the best selling hip hop albums of all time should level the playing field.
Hip hop’s best selling album is Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below, which sold 11 million copies. While the double album is not absolutely devoid of the themes said to be mandatory for achieving commercial success (Big Boi is vocal throughout about his penchant for pimping, and it is clear that both he and Andre 3000 have witnessed, and perhaps even taken part, in a few shady happenings while coming of age in Atlanta), they come across first, foremost, and most powerfully as the street-wise, slick talking ladies man who adores his daughter, and the legendarily gifted introvert just looking for someone to love.
There are those that argue that since Speakerboxx/The Love Below was a double album that actually sold 5.5 million copies that it doesn’t count. I personally side with the Record Industry Association of America and agree that 11 million sales is 11 million sales whether they came two at a time or not (particularly since the double album sold for roughly twice the price of a single one), but let’s round out the top five sellers for argument’s sake.
“I personally think The Love Below was one of the greatest albums ever made hands down….not enough credit it given to Andre 3000!”