Is the platinum album in hip-hop long gone, or will it make a return in 2015?
Back in October, many industry insiders were surprised by the early sales estimates for T.I.'s most recent album, Paperwork. After a day of sales, forecasts had the album selling roughly 70,000 units in its opening week. The self-proclaimed King of the South, who in his prime would easily do upwards of 400,000 copies sold in his opening weeks had officially fallen from grace and the dismal first week record sales were an obvious indicator. An array of reasons can be attributed to the unfortunate reality that almost no one in hip hop is selling records.
For those who are not fully aware of the times, let's be clear: times are hard. Not one rap album has gone platinum this year. It's towards the end of December, and not one album released by a rapper this year has sold over 1 million records. Yeah, times are really hard for rappers and there are a few reasons for these historically awful album sales.
The rise of the MP3 player, in particular, the world's most famous MP3 player, the iPod, and streaming services like Spotify have definitely been record sales killers. The MP3 player allowed listeners to carry around ample amounts of music and organize that music into playlists of choice, while streaming services have allowed listeners to preview albums in their entirety from their favorite artists for a small subscription fee. Fans have also been allowed to dismantle albums by being able to legally download any one song on an album through iTunes. These have all become reasons for "fans" to feel it isn't necessary to have to purchase albums as a whole.
Two of the biggest and most successful artists in rap music in recent memory have been Pitbull and Flo Rida (like it or not). Neither of them really sell many albums, but they do sell a bunch of singles. This digital era in the music industry has had record labels refocus their resources to selling as many singles as possible. Albums are no longer the focal point of an artist's career.
Both the lack of quality music, and talent, are also preventing hip hop artists from moving CDs off of shelves. A lot of the rap music that's been available for purchase over the last few years just hasn't been good enough to want to buy. Many of the songs are unoriginal and the beats selected are ridiculously simple and very similar to a lot of the other songs that are out there. The lyrical abilities and songwriting skills of many of the new hip hoppers at the forefront of rap nowadays are “okay” at best. Many of the new rappers of today pride themselves on just going into the booth and freestyling their records. Some rappers even go as far as to boast about cutting records in one take, as if they were JAY Z or Lil Wayne, but they aren't, and it shows. If the artists aren’t taking their music seriously, then why should the consumer?
Rappers over saturating the market also plays a role in the dwindling record sales of rap acts. The average rapper releases multiple projects – in the form of albums, EPs and mixtapes – a year. In most cases this translates to too much music from one particular artist out for consumption. Rick Ross, one of hip hop's few heavyweights, released two albums this year and saw his record sales plummet. His sixth solo album, Mastermind, which was released in March, sold a relatively solid amount of units in its opening week with 179,000. Its follow-up, Hood Billionaire scanned a sad 74,444 in its first week.
Also, in certain cases, the mixtapes – which are free – are better than the actual albums. Rick Ross' long-awaited God Forgives, I Don't album experienced a few push backs between 2011 and 2012. While he was handling whatever it was that was holding the album back from being released, he dropped the critically acclaimed Rick Forever mixtape. When God Forgives, I Don't finally did hit retailers many fans and critics complained that the tape was a better project than the album. That was enough for some to not want to buy the album.
Both creating events around the release of albums and reimagining the concept of how an album could be released has had a positive impact on record sales for certain rap artists. It has also helped to prevent album leaks. JAY Z, Beyonce and Kanye West all led the charge with innovative approaches to releasing their respective albums. All released in 2013, their albums sold at minimum 300,000 with in the initial week of each album’s release, and that was with little to no promotion prior to the albums dropping. Most recently, J. Cole seemingly out of nowhere announced that he'd be releasing his third album, 2014 Forest Hill Drive. It was a bold move that paid off. He ended up selling well over 350,000 units in its first week of release, and has reportedly already gone gold.
Just last week one of the most anticipated rap albums in recent memory was released, Nicki Minaj's The Pinkprint. According to early projections, the album which housed the chart topping singles, "Anaconda" and "Only", featured collaborations with Beyonce, Drake, Ariana Grande and Chris Brown and was heavily promoted was set to only sell at most 175,000 (final sales were closer to 200,000) copies in its opening week. A true sign of the times, an album from a superstar artist with a traditional roll out tanked (sort of), whereas an album with minimal promotion like J Cole's Forest Hill Drive, did well over 350,000 in its first seven days.
In these harsh times, rappers who are innovators will thrive, as we see creative, and out-of-the-box practices slowly breathe new life into the industry. Combine this with Billboard's new method of counting sales and digital streams for their charts, and we may see the platinum hip-hop album rise again. Only time will tell. Will we see a rapper go platinum in 2015? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.