Rap Coalition

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hip Hop's Transformation Into A Singles and Ringtone Business


A thought crossed my mind last week as I looked over last week's album chart: What has happened to hip hop? Diddy's Press Play (Bad Boy) debuted at #1 but has dropped to #7 and then to #20 -- and that's an impressive hip hop showing in 2006!

Lloyd Banks' Rotten Apple (Interscope) has moved only 234,000 in four weeks, with nearly 61% of that coming in the first week. After debuting at #3, Rotten Apple's next three weeks were #15, #33 and #43. The critically loved Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor (Atlantic) by Lupe Fiasco has moved a scant 184,000 in seven weeks and has dropped to #94. At #95 is Young Dro's Best Thang Smokin' (Atlantic) with 281,000 in ten weeks. Outkast, which previously crossed over to pop and rock fans, didn't bring their new fans with them: Idlewild (LaFace) hasn't even gone gold in 11 weeks.

The list of disappointments and underperformers is a long one. Method Man's 4:21 The Day After (Def Jam) has been out for ten weeks and has moved only 170,000. It's already off the Top 200 and sold a mere 4,000 units last week. In 15 weeks, Pharrel's In My Mind (Interscope) has sold only 341,000. After a strong first week, it eased right down and then completely off the Top 200. Not even The Roots are having a good 2006. Game Theory (Island) has sold a paltry 148,000 in ten weeks, and 41% of its sales came in the first week.

This has not been a good year for hip hop releases in general, but the issue is much more complex. Hip hop discovered the Internet. Its fans -- and there are fewer of them in the mainstream -- are moving beyond the album format and taking songs one at a time. Hip hop is as much a hit-driven genre as any. Promotion requires radio and club play. Those impressions drive album sales. Now they drive single and ringtone sales as well.

The decline of 2006 can be traced to a slight downward trend that started after hip hop peaked at 13.8% of all album shipments (see RIAA's 2005 Consumer Profile). (Year-to-year swings can occur. The swing from 2004 to 2005 was 1.3 percentage points.) In 2005, hip hop accounted for 12.1% of album scans. In 2004 the number was 12.2%. Currently, hip hop accounts for 10.6% of all album scans in 2006. Even a blockbuster fourth quarter probably won't prevent a year-over-year drop. (And the fourth quarter could be good for the genre. The Game, Nas, Snoop Dogg, Akon, Lil Jon and Young Jeezy have new releases in the quarter.)

For proof of the genre's current lack of staying power, one can look at the length of time a hip hop album stays in the Top 40. In 2006, there are no long-lasting hits at the top of the chart. Each album is a flavor of the less-than-a-month. How many hip hop albums are in the Top 40? Five. How many have been there for more than three weeks? One (Ludacris). A hip hop album makes a big splash in its first week, drops around 60% in the second week, and fades out of the mainstream's attention.

Sure, there are a few artists hanging in there. Ludacris has moved 642,000 units in six weeks and is still in the top 20. Rick Ross's Port of Miami is slugging it out in the bottom half of the top 100 and has sold 594,000 in 13 weeks. But wasn't he supposed to be the second coming?

At this time last year, the Top 40 had albums by Twista, Kanye West, Three 6 Mafia, Young Jeezy, Black Eyed Peas (if we're counting them), Lil' Kim and Paul Wall. That's seven. Four of them had been in the Top 40 for longer than three weeks.

At this time in 2004, the Top 40 had albums by Nelly (two of them), Trick Daddy, R.Kelly/Jay-Z, Ying Yang Twins, Black Eyed Peas, Young Buck and Mos Def.

To find hip hop on a chart, go to the Hot 100 Singles chart. There's Ludacris, Akon, Diddy, Bow Wow, Jibbs, Jim Jones, Lil Scrappy and others. Most of them are on the Hot Digital Tracks chart, too.

On the ringtone chart are the artists who can't hang on the album chart. Bubba Sparxx's "Ms New Booty" peaked at #1 and after 34 weeks sits at #6.His album Charm, released in March of this year, has sold 249,000 and is currently scanning next to nothing. D4L's "Laffy Taffy," at #9, has been on the chart for 50 weeks. Their album Down For Life (Asylum) is doing as well as can be expected -- it's about to go gold after a year of release.

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