Reading this story in the New York Times the other day about how classic rap albums are selling as if they were used hypodermic needles, I couldn’t help but think: I’m just as guilty as everyone else of contributing to this phenomenon.
The only classic rap albums in my relatively meager CD collection are ones that I copped way the fuck back in the day, and so they weren’t really classic at the time. What’s more, the only rap album I listen to from the pre-mid ’90s era is the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, which is apparently the only old rap album that still sells.
Meanwhile, it’s not like I don’t listen to old music. I spent my college years rocking out to the likes of In Utero, New Miserable Experience, the Blue Album, You’re Living All over Me, Surfer Rosa, Rumours, Highway 61 Revisited (maybe the oldest album I really, really like) and so on and so forth.
Who knows how any of those albums sell (someone should start tracking that sort of thing!), but my guess is better than the majority of the consensus best rap albums evar. And keep in mind, these aren’t the likes of Dark Side of the Moon, Boston, or Their Greatest Hits we’re talking about either.
For the week ending November 12th of this year, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, fairly widely regarded as the best rap album evar, only sold about 400 copies. Other classics from the era, including LL’s Bigger and Deffer and Run-DMC’s Raising Hell fared way worse.
Meanwhile according to the Times story, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, one of the top catalog albums evar, still sells about 10,000 copies a week more than 30 years after the fact. What gives?
According to some of the angry old rappers quoted in the story, classic hip-hop is just not promoted as well as classics from other genres of music. And there probably is a certain degree of truth to that. For example, there’s never been classic rap radio the same way there is classic rock radio.
I wonder though if part of it’s just that hip-hop as a genre isn’t meant to persist over time the same as other genres of music, which would explain why the more rock-like hip-hop albums sell better over the years. Maybe hip-hop is just more of the moment than other genres of music.
If so, I don’t know if that’s such a bad thing artistically, but I guess it is too bad for the poor bastards who rely on album sales to make a living.