'Who Killed It' Pt. 2: "50 [Cent] Made Fans Start Lookin' At The Numbers"
“It was a few years ago but I remember the summer/50 made fans start lookin’ at the numbers.” This conversation is nothing new to hip hop. We all remember when 50 Cent first came in the game and he started selling albums at a ridiculous rate, but who knew that it would completely change the landscape of the music (and ultimately the culture). I mean it had been a while, but we had seen it with other artists (i.e. Snoop Dogg), but then 50 took it one step further. Being that he was involved in many rap feuds, 50 had to find a way to make himself seem superior to others (that's everybody's objective). Not only did he try to do that with battle raps, but he also started pointing out artists' SoundScan numbers. As mentioned in the last blog about dance and snap songs, it's not really the innovator's fault (in this case 50 Cent). He simply came up with a new way of "attacking" his opponent. The problem arises when people start taking things as gospel and decide they don't want to pay attention to anything else but one factor.
The theory behind the sells is that (speaking as the artist) "I must be better than you since I sold more records than you." It's hard to argue with that rationale, but there are many other factors to be considered. Bear with me for just a minute and let's compare album sales to, let's say, cake sales (odd, I know, but just go with me on this). If you have two cakes, the one that tastes better to more people will probably be sold more than the other one. However, there are many factors in deciding how many cakes (albums) are bought. One may tastes better (of course this is all relative), the other one could have used better/healthier products to make the cake. How many other cakes were available to buy that week? Is there something "revolutionary" (but not necessarily better) about the new cake? Now, let's bring it back to album sales. It may seem that the "better" artist sells more records, but that's not always the case. There are some artists that spend a lot of quality time constructing an album, have super-lyrical ability, and have catchy hooks, but they still don't make the mark (that's the cake with better/healthier ingredients). Depending upon when you drop an album, there may be five other artists dropping their album at the same time as opposed to just one or two others, which will alter the sales numbers. But most importantly, and this is especially in 50's case, there are times when revolutionary things in any movement happen. 50 Cent had a story that was made for movies (literally). He already had the "typical" rapper background, but he also survived death! He was shot nine times, came out alive, and wasn't afraid to let people know it. This story, completely unrelated to his talent as an artist, is what made 50 Cent so commercially successful. It wasn't that he was necessarily the best artist dropping a record, but he was something the industry had never seen before. However, people believed in the idea that he was better simply because he sold more, and that would completely alter the business of hip hop.
There was already being a shift made, but this attention to the numbers by fans and artists (not strictly the suits at the labels) may have made the shift complete in terms of hip hop becoming a business. The idea of people wanting to be exposed to the artists that were truly the best was no more. It was only who could sell the most albums, get the most spins, sell the most ringtones. There is another quote from Joe Budden in the song where he says, "Did sh*t get lifeless, when MTV made a list of the hottest and ignored the nicest." This represents the state of hip hop right now. We no longer appreciate 'the nicest." Of course, there are always some of the nicest that are hot at a certain point, but there are plenty of the "nicest" artists that are active, but don't get the recognition they deserve because they're not "hot" (i.e. Nas).
That one quote at the beginning of this blog entails so much in so few words. There are other quotes in the song that cover other issues in the music industry that call all be traced back to that first quote. Some of those quotes include "Now goin' gold is looked at as a failure," "Or did one hit wonders change it all along/they made the labels only wanna sign a dude's song," and "And you really don't know sh*t if you think the fans pick the videos of 106 [and Park]." With fans and artists now fully aware of the number too, it puts even more pressure on the labels to find those acts (not artists, in most cases) that will appeal to the masses and not represent for the culture. Once again, 50 Cent can't really be blamed for this. I don't think anybody knew quite the impact he nor his tactics would have on hip hop, but the fact of the matter is that we are now more fixated on numbers (fans, artists, and labels) more than we are skills. Until that is changed, it will be hard for a lot of other things to get better.
Let me know your thoughts. Leave comments and of course you can e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Part 3 of the "Who Killed It" series will be coming soon, so stay on the look out for it.