Has Hip Hop Dismantled the Popular Music Business?

the life of pablo
February 14 saw the release of Kanye West’s latest album exclusively to Tidal.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, KISS frontman Gene Simmons had some very pointed words to say about the current state of music.

“I am looking forward to the death of rap,” said Simmons. “I’m looking forward to music coming back to lyrics and melody, instead of just talking.”

The 66-year-old went on to discuss the lack of musical talent on today’s pop charts and opine music’s current state. Sure, Simmons may have spent 42 years wringing every last cent out of “Rock and Roll All Nite,” but the man has musical integrity! He wants, no, NEEDS, a return to when music was melodic and not “just talking.”

As Simmons actively ignored the influence on culture that hip hop has had in the last couple of decades, he seemed to have acknowledged one aspect of music that hip hop has changed for better or worse.

“I hate the internet,” he said. “I make a living, but to be a band now and just give out your music for free, it’s the crime of the century.”

Even Gene Simmons sees it. The music industry as we know it is dying. In fact, it may very well be dead. There, hammering nails into the coffin one by one, is the hip hop industry.

At its heart, hip hop as always been a genre that craved immediacy. The late eighties rise of hip hop came in the form of scathing social commentaries that depended as much on the current news cycle as it did the emcees and producers who crafted each song. Public Enemy would have been easily overlooked if not for the racial angst created during the Reagan administration. NWA might have just been considered empty noise if not for the corrupt Los Angeles police force and the effect that this had on the youth in the city.

As the internet arrived, this immediacy became even more necessary. Soon you had artists who had found mainstream success releasing additional music online at a frenetic pace. While Lil’ Wayne has released 19 albums in his career, the same time span has seen the release of 29 mixtapes of supplementary music. These musicians had something to say and their fan base had very little patience.

Of course, this alone did little to the music industry. If anything, this allowed for greater control over music as the Napster-fueled era of swashbuckling musical piracy began. Who would need to take the time to steal music online when artists were, much to Gene Simmons’ dismay, giving it away for free?

While the music industry tried their best to adapt by releasing albums through online services such as iTunes, a funny thing happened. Musicians began to realize they could control their own music.

And here we are today.

In an era where record labels have desperately tried to curb diminishing record sales with surprise release dates and numerous “deluxe” editions, a handful of musicians have taken it upon themselves to turn the whole model on its oversized outdated head. This last December, Chance the Rapper became the first unsigned artist to perform on Saturday Night Live. What makes this crazier is Chance the Rapper has never sold a single album. Not one. His latest release with the band The Social Experiment, a brilliant combination of gospel, hip hop, and jazz called Surf, ranked among 2015’s highest rated albums, with a Metacritic score 10 points higher than the Grammy’s Album of the Year winner. Of course, even though this album was downloaded over 600,000 times in its first week, it was not nominated for the award.

The Grammy’s do not recognize music that’s released for free.

“There’s no reason [to sign with a record label]. It’s a dead industry,” Chance told Rolling Stone after the release of his second album, Acid Rap. “What’s an album these days, anyway? ‘Cause I didn’t sell it, does that mean it’s not an official release? So I might not ever drop a for-sale project. Maybe I’ll just make my money touring.”

And with that, every record head in America joined in a concurrent gasp. A successful musician had found a way to cut them completely out of the process.

As if the rise of Chance the Rapper were not enough, one of the biggest rappers in the world found a new way to stick it to the music industry: Yeezus himself, Kanye West.

When Kanye West released his latest album, The Life of Pablo, exclusively to the streaming service Tidal, it was a shock. Naturally, people should have seen this coming. West is, after all, one of the owners of this music streaming service. What he said in one of his numerous onslaughts of tweets, though, is what was of interest:

wiz pants

Sorry, wrong tweet. This one:

kanye Tidal

Yes, Kanye West had released an album where he would forever have sole control. This means that Kanye West’s song “I Love Kanye” is now controlled by a company that is partially owned by Kanye. It’s enough Kanye control to make a person’s head explode.

As hip hop has begun dismantling the music industry, other genres have begun to take note. While Kanye may be a part owner of Tidal, he is far from the only one. In fact, the music streaming service boasts the likes of Daft Punk, Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys, Chris Martin, and Jason Aldean amongst others. It cannot be too long before we see other artists begin to copy this model across every genre. It cannot be too long before we see other bands set out on their own like Chance the Rapper has done.

Will the public accept this? That seems to be a sticky situation. The Life of Pablo was estimated to have been downloaded illegally over 500,000 times on one site, a clear indicator that the general public may not be quite ready to stream all of their music directly from the artist. These fans may be being dragged reluctantly down this path, but music direct from the artist in whatever way they see fit may very well be the future.

Maybe Gene Simmons is right. It does seem conceivable that someday rap music may die. It will most definitely outlive him, but it could go the way of the buffalo. One thing the old man cannot deny, though, is that his version of the music business is gone.

Good riddance.

1 comment

  1. While I hate that rappers are expected to give so much music away for free to be relevant with today’s fans and their expectations, I love that the performance fees and attendance at shows is higher than ever. I love Chance’s attitude and his resolve. Awards from draconian organizanizations like the Grammys are decreasingly relevant to the success of artists.

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