In this day and age, is going platinum still the same milestone it once was?
Platinum plaques have long been equated to the holy grail. In hip-hop, where sales are all-to-often used as a barometer of relevance, the plaque was something like a rite of passage. Fans no doubt recall Dr. Dre comparing his plaques to an athletes trophies on “Forgot About Dre,” accompanied by an effective visual aid. For some context, Dre’s fingerprints have been on many-a-platinum record; 2001 is currently six-times platinum, Doggystyle is four times platinum, The Chronic is triple platinum, and The Marshall Mathers LP is the all-too-elusive diamond.
In short, platinum status was an honor reserved for the genre's elite. A simple scan through the annals of history reveal an impressive collection of hip-hop classics; many of the genre's best selling records were objectively excellent, adding veracity to the old adage "only the strong survive." You have to remember, this was an era where the consumer spoke with their wallet, and actively took the time to trek to record stores. It's like Game rapped, back on Nas' "Hustlers:"
"1995, eleven years from today
I'm in the record shop with choices to make
Illmatic on the top shelf, The Chronic on the left, homie
Wanna cop both but only got a 20 on me
So fuck it, I stole both, spent the 20 on a dub sack"
For many twenty-something fans, Game's conundrum proves relatable; at least, until the final bars of juvenile delinquency. Fans had to make a choice. There were no all-access services for a meager ten dollars a month. Albums weren't instantly accessible the moment they dropped. You copped it, and had to live with your decision. Believe it or not, the era from 1993-2005 was among the most prosperous in music history. It's no wonder companies fought tooth and nail against the arrival of streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal.
Today, Cardi B dropped off her debut album Invasion Of Privacy. Despite being mere hours old, the project has already earned a Gold certification. Granted, the accomplishment derives from a technicality. Since lead single “Bodak Yellow” has gone five times platinum, and ten songs count for one album equivalent sale, Invasion Of Privacy officially boasts five-hundred thousand units sold - exclusively on the strength of one single, rapidly approaching its anniversary.
Quick Maths: 1,500 Song Streams = One Album Sale
So what happens when Cardi’s album officially goes gold? The process seems inevitable at this point. And while it should be a cause for celebration, these days, gold and platinum certifications seem to feel slightly hollow. At the risk of sounding “get-off-my-lawn-esque,” an album used to mean something; an expression of individuality, as well as a creative showcase for aspiring visionaries. Now, it feels as if the powers-that-be are gaming the system, in order to earn a status rapidly decreasing in value.
Think about it. While a platinum plaque has ostensibly remained the same, what do you feel was more difficult? Going platinum in 2000, or going platinum in 2018? It goes without saying that the medium has evolved (though perhaps more laterally than anything), and the entire manner of music consumption has shifted. Cars and computers no longer have CD players, and record stores are being kept alive solely off the strength of vinyl-chasing hipsters. Once again, consider the question, and try to envision a simpler time.
It’s 2003. 50 Cent has just dropped Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Sure, the album was circulating on KaZaa, WinMX, Limewire and the like, but people were actually making the trek to record stores to buy it; the first week sales weighed in at 872,000, which were followed by a subsequent week of similar numbers. If you think about it, that’s a lot of people, especially when you consider the fact that a CD cost, on average, the same price as a streaming subscription.
Nowadays, music consumers have everything available the moment it drops, for a meager fee of ten or so monthly dollars. In years past, one had to weigh their options carefully; if two or three must-have albums dropped in the same month, only the fiscally responsible could truly prosper. Remember, this was also an era where music downloading ran rampant, and relevant singles were largely consumed through mediums like Much Vibe and BET.
Sure, the principles remain the same. An artist drops a single and accompanying video, and proceeds to reap the benefits. Yet remember our statistics - one hundred and fifty streams equals one paid song download. Ten paid song downloads equate to an album equivalent sale. Therefore, 1,500 songs equate to one album download. Nowadays, artists are literally relying on the momentum of their singles to boost their album sales; as Joyner Lucas raps on his “Gucci Gang” freestyle, “Atlantic told me that my flow a hundred, but my album ain't come unless I got a fuckin' single.”
Consider some of the recent albums to celebrate gold and platinum status. Logic’s Everybody, which featured the massive single “1-800-273-8255.” G-Eazy’s The Beautiful & Damned, which featured “No Limit” and “Him & I.” Migos’ Culture 2 went platinum in six weeks, thanks to a mix of “Motorsport,” “Stir Fry,” and of course, a clever use of “stream trolling.” These albums were well represented by their singles, which proceeded to infect the world over. Yet something still doesn’t quite settle well - after all, we’re living in a time where one viral song can ultimately dictate the fate of an entire project. Isn’t that somewhat misrepresentative?
Contrast that with the aforementioned Get Rich Or Die Tryin. Not unlike some of these modern-day commercial successes, 50 Cent’s debut featured one of the biggest hip-hop singles of the decade, “In Da Club.” Yet the Dre produced banger felt like one part of a greater whole; the album’s legacy is a testament to that fact. Fans still think of that album as a cohesive body of work, despite the strength of its myriad singles. As of now, the album currently stands at eight times platinum, and you'd be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn't respect it as a crowning musical accomplishment.
Of course, that’s not to take anything away from the artists earning their plaques. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, for example, recently secured his fifth plaque for The Bigger Artist, which featured the hit singles “Drowning.” A Boogie’s seemed to move in shadows, and his debut album was widely respected on both the critical and commercial fronts; in many ways, his story seemed reminiscent of the so-called Platinum Era, where positive word of mouth propelled sales. It's sort of reminiscent to when an album like Xzibit's Restless or Krayzie Bone's Thug Mentality 1999 hit the hallmark; what they lacked in star power, they made up for with cohesive vision and quality music. Artists like 6Lack and Russ have also earned well-deserved plaques, and neither have had to resort to the stream-trolling game.
Either way you look at it, Cardi B still went gold in a single day. On that note, I leave you with these open questions. Do you feel as if the once-coveted platinum plaque has lost its luster? And if the answer is yes, how can we help restore the honor to its former glory?
The Platinum Era
For your viewing pleasure, here is a list of some of the albums to have earned platinum plaques in a pre-streaming era. If you’re a self-proclaimed hip-hop historian, you should do yourself a favor and sift through the contents. While it’s not entirely complete, it does paint a picture of a simpler time, when people actually had no qualms about spending money on quality music.
50 Cent - Get Rich Or Die Tryin
50 Cent - The Massacre
2Pac - Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z..
2Pac - Me Against the World
2Pac - All Eyez on Me
2Pac - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
BG - Chopper City in the Ghetto
Big Pun - Capital Punishment
Big Pun - Yeeeah Baby
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - E. 1999 Eternal
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - The Art Of War
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - BTNHResurrection
Busta Rhymes - The Coming
Busta Rhymes - When Disaster Strikes...
Busta Rhymes - E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front
Busta Rhymes - Anarchy
Busta Rhymes - Genesis
Cam’Ron - Come Home With Me
D12 - Devil’s Night
DJ Quik - Quik Is The Name
Dr. Dre - The Chronic
Dr. Dre - 2001
DMX - It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot
DMX - Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood
DMX - And Then There Was X
DMX - The Great Depression
DMX - Grand Champ
E-40 - In A Major Way
Eminem - The Slim Shady LP
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Eminem - The Eminem Show
Eminem - Encore
Eve - Scorpion
Fabolous - Ghetto Fabolous
Fat Joe - Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.)
Ghostface Killah - Ironman
GZA - Liquid Swords
Ja Rule - Venni Vetti Vecci
Ja Rule - Rule 3:36
Ja Rule - Pain Is Love
Ja Rule - The Last Temptation
Jay-Z - Every Solo Album He’s Ever Done (thirteen)
Juvenile - 400 Degreez
Juvenile - Tha G-Code
Juvenile - Juve the Great
Krayzie Bone - Thug Mentality 1999
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Lil Wayne - The Block Is Hot
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter II
Lil Wayne - The Carter III
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter IV
Lloyd Banks - The Hunger For More
Ludacris - Back For Da First Time
Ludacris - Word Of Mouf
Ludacris - Chicken-n-Beer
Method Man - Tical
Method Man - Tical 2000: Judgement Day
Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly
Missy Elliott - Miss E... So Addictive
Missy Elliott - Under Construction
Nas - Illmatic
Nas - It Was Written
Nas - I Am...
Nas - Stillmatic
Nas - God's Son
NWA - Straigth Outta Compton
Nelly - Country Grammar
Nelly - Nellyville
Notorious B.I.G - Ready to Die
Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death
Obie Trice - Cheers
OutKast - Every Album
Redman - Doc's da Name 2000
Scarface - The Diary
Scarface - The Untouchable
Scarface - My Homies
Snoop Dogg - Doggystyle
Snoop Dogg - Tha Doggfather
Snoop Dogg - Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told
Snoop Dogg - No Limit Top Dogg
Snoop Dogg - Tha Last Meal
St. Lunatics - Free City
The L.O.X. - We Are The Streets
Warren G - Regulate... G Funk Era
Xzibit - Restless
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever
Wu-Tang Clan - The W
Young Buck - Straight Outta Cashville