Is it because he’s black?

If for no other reason than my own personal amusement, someone ought to conduct the following study.

If a group was to release an album over the Internets using the Radiohead model, i.e. people can pay whatever they want for it, from no money at all to upwards of $200, would people pay more on average if the group was white than if they were black?

(Of course my guess is that they would.)

Not only would this be hilarious for those of us who feed on contentious race issues as if they were an all you can eat buffet at KFC[1], but it would be useful for the hip-hop community, if a rapper was considering releasing an album using that model.

Obviously this would be a difficult experiment to conduct. To have it be completely scientific (I took both freshman-level biology and freshman-level physics in college), you would need two groups, one that was white and one that was black, to put out the same album – so that you’d have what’s known in scientific circles as a “control group.”

In fact, such a study might be impossible to conduct in a way that was entirely scientific. Recent events though, suggest that my hypothesis might be true.

The other day, it was announced that Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows managed to debut atop the Billboard charts despite the fact that Radiohead had been giving it away for free (or for $200, if you’re so inclined) for something like three months prior.

And for the past several days now, people have been speculating as to what this all means: Do people like Radiohead so much they’re willing to pay for an album they could get for free? Or is there just not that much overlap between the segment of their audience who bought the album and the ones who downloaded it.

Either way, Radiohead has gotta be happy as a fudge at the Y. Not only are they gonna cake off of those CD sales, but who knows how much money they made from the saps who paid to download In Rainbows?

Probably quite a bit. Radiohead isn’t gonna say, probably because they made way more money than they expected, but it’s been estimated that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.2 million people downloaded the album in the month after it was released, and that about 38% of them opted to pay money for it, and that they paid about $6 for it on average.

Now, putting my superior math skills to use (did I mention I also took calculus? u + me = us, nullus), that means they made over $2.7 million in the first month alone. $3 million if you round up. (Why not!) And probably more since then.

Holy crap!

In less celebratory news, Trent Reznor announced on the Nine Inch Nails website a couple of weeks ago that his similar experiment with def poet Saul Williams didn’t go nearly as well.

While all we really have is estimates for the Radiohead album, I’m assuming Trent Reznor has actual sales figures for Williams’ The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! (Or whatever it’s called.) Since he paid for it and all.

According to the item at (which is being a real bitch right now), about 150,000 people have downloaded Niggy Tardust so far, but only about 18% of them opted to pay $5, which was your option in this case. Again, busting out my ol’ trusty TI-83, that’s about $135,000.

Not bad at all (definitely more than I’ll ever make), especially when you consider that Saul Williams’ other albums only sold 30,000 something copies each. So he probably never made anything from them. But if Niggy Tardust cost a lot of money to produce, he might not be getting a check from Trent Reznor either[2].

Which of course begs the question: Is it because he’s black?

Like I said before, it would be rather difficult (some might even say pointless) to compare download figures for two entirely different groups and try to draw some grand conclusion about race in America. It could be the case that people just find Saul Williams a less-worthy artist than Radiohead, so of course they wouldn’t want to pay him as much money. I know I do.

But think about it: If people found Saul Williams so unworthy in the first place, why would they even bother with Niggy Tardust? And wouldn’t that account for the difference in overall download figures. So way less people are into Saul Williams than Radiohead. The Saul Williams figures are relatively low even if you adjust for the size of his fanbase, so to speak.

And then there was the fact that the Radiohead was a much more hyped-up release, and the fact that they gave the user more payment options than just free or $5.

My guess though is that a lot of people were put off not only by the fact that Saul Williams is roughly the shade of the leather on Barack Obama’s fine Italian shoes, but by the fact that his album deals heavily with nasty race issues. (While the Radiohead album, in contrast, is called motherfucking In Rainbows – and that’s pretty much what it sounds like.)

As this year’s presidential election is proving, white people don’t really want to think about race, except if it’s an opportunity to prove they aren’t racist by aligning themselves with certain black people. In that sense, it’s hardly any wonder that not very many people were willing to pay $5 to hear Saul Williams shouting about slavery and what have you.

What do you fruits think?

[1] Something else for someone to look into: Does KFC have a corporate policy to only build all you can eat buffets in areas that are 95+ percent white? I know there was one in the town where I went to college, and there’s one in Alton, Il, across the street from the motherfucking Agosy, but that’s about it.

[2] Delicious irony alert: A black man not receiving any money from his white producer for his album about slavery.

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  • lil nabisco

    How about the fact that Saul Williams (sucks) is going to be ranting and raving at you for an hour, where as Radiohead made a record that may be enjoyable to listen to. For the record, I have neither, and an not really a fan of either.

    I think Radiohead made more of the download version than ANY of the records released on a label.

    $ comes from tours and t-shirts, not record sales.

  • og bobby j

    first off, I never seen a KFC Buffet in my life. But those mashed potato bowls are the shit. Personally, I would never pay for something I could get for free, considering the product truely is the same. In this case, if I can get music for free, ima do it. I think it balances out the fact that I have to hear 5000 ones and 100 million dollars all the time, from a bunch of fucking jerkoffs that cant pay their car notes….

  • Incilin

    I don’t know all that much about either artist, but from what I hear Saul Williams is a talented guy who just can’t sell records. And Radiohead is supposed to be the modern day Beatles. You do the math.

  • 1st down

    Its simple. Radiohead = greatest band of all time, with millions of fans worldwide and Saul Williams = some guy most people have never heard of. It has nothing to do with race.

    • Josh

      More or less true. Don’t co-sign that Radiohead is the greatest band of all time, let alone a great band at all (I don’t listen to that type of music), but they sure as hell are popular.

      And I agree that most people (especially the average Radiohead fan (I said the average, not every)) haven’t heard of Saul Williams.

      A better experiment would have been if Wu-Tang released their album (as much as it sucked) the same way Radiohead did, instead of reing-up with Rifkind.

      Or maybe Kanye should do that when his contract with Roc-A-Fella expires.

  • Chris

    You know, in Trent’ passive aggression, I noted that also, that “Saul Williams”, though a great album and one of the best of 2004, didn’t sell that much despite MTVU and MTV2 spins of it’s two singles. In fact, “Niggy Tardust” is doing slightly better since Trent is basically cosigning Saul for the NIN fanbase and the fact that the album sounds a lot like the last NIN record except actually decent. Most of the people on WIlliams’ lastfm shoutbox are NIN fans and he’s even reached 1,000,000+ page viws on his Myspace, which is remarkable for the guy who was signed to Def American, then Fader, and is only known in literary and college communities. All bitching from Trent is immaterial, Saul’s doing fine, it seems. Now, if he could only do actual touring and none of those college bullshit.

  • N.O. 4 life

    i think its the fact that radio head has millions of real fans and saul williams has 500,000 at tops…and his fans arent really the album buying type aka broke

  • thadarkknight

    Ok..first off, where do I find a kfc buffett, and no, the mashed potato bowls are not as good as the snackers. Those things are like little peices of fried crack. In regards to Saul Williams, it may be becuase he’s black, but the poor album sales are mainly a product of my brothas and sistas who are to ignorant, and don’t have any clue about what Saul Williams is talking about. I loved the album, but when I let other people hear it they said that there weren’t any beats that were knockin and that they wanted sum “real shit” with a dope beat. Now if it was SOldier boy or some other bozo like Mr. I kiss my daddy on the lips Wayne, giving away there album for free then all of us would come out in droves to buy it. Most brothas and sistas don’t give a f@#$ about slavery or social issues within the community. They would rather sit at home, eat a KFC mashed potato bowl, and listen to sum dumbass rap about supersoakin a ho. I could be wrong , but I doubt it. Bol continue doin you thing, oh isn’t it time for some new Lupe hate, it’s been a while.

  • Fresh

    First of all, I’m sorry to hear that there are still folks who haven’t been to the all you can eat KFC buffet. It’s truly a delight, for the most part you can only find them below the Mason Dixon line.

    Radio head spearheaded an incredible model. The real questions are not about race they’re about established artists and classic material. Most people have the power to download and get music for free. Radiohead gave people the option to take the guilt away. As if most feel guilt when downloading. Anyway in terms of race, I don’t think that it’s a matter of Black vs. White. It’s quality material versus not quality material. Almost 1 million people went out and copped Kanye Wests album the first week, because they were anticipating good music. Fifty Cent a star of equal magnitude sold a considerable amount less. People, though it seems rare are still willing to pay for good shit even when they can get it for free. It’s also an established act versus a non established act, no matter how closely aligned Saul Williams is with NIN, he still doesn’t have all the built in promotional channels of the Radiohead brand.

    • Fire

      Co-sign Fresh completely. High quality and exposure vs. low quality and no exposure. It’s as simple as that, race has nothing to do with it.

    • AntiHate

      Nah, I say bullshit. People bought Kanye West albums because of the media generated hype created by their ‘rivalry.’ We couldn’t escape the ‘battle.’ I downloaded Niggy Tardust, and thought it was okay. But I wouldn’t spend money on someone ranting. Otherwise, I would give Bol money every time I read his blogs.

  • stoneyisland

    I could give a flying fuck about radiohead or any other pop/rock act at this moment in time. XXL is a hip hop magazine, leave this debate for Spin and Blender. Bol you fat fuck, if you wanna sit a round with your slacker friends debating which episode of Friends was the funniest, then do it on your own time dickwad. I mean besides for going thru mcdonalds drive thru’s and eating entire turkeys at one sitting, you should have plenty of time on your phat pudgy hands to talk white music with your awesome pals:) You fat fuck.

  • khal

    yo, a KFC buffet?!?! they make those?! i guess i’ve lived in too many black areas. i didn’t know they got down like that!

    then again, all of the kfc drive thru windows in my area have that rotating bulletproof glass thing.

    • iNfAmOuS

      LMAO @ ‘that rotating bulletproof glass thing’. i remember those. we had in Jersey, but I moved to Tampa 2 years ago (which sucks) and I haven’t seen one since. Thanks for takin me back. lol.

  • moresickaMC

    white fans are very loyal to white musicians.

    Eagles still debuting @ no.1 three decades in

    Prince’s recent releases barely hit the radar.

    (so yes, race may be a factor)

    • Around and Around

      Yeah because Race plays a factor with Prince & Little Red Corvette you dousche

    • Doobie

      Prince’s 3121 debuted at #1 didn’t? And I wonder how much of the actual story line Saul Williams took from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album, which I’ve actually just heard for the first time in the last couple of weeks. I don’t think race is really the issue here because 1) most of the people who actually did pay for Niggy Tardust are probably white and 2) most black people don’t seem to be supporting ANY music very much these days (yet we want to blame whitey for “stealing” our shit). Radiohead is a great band but they’ve also put out a lot of crap material since OK Computer. But, I’ve heard some really good things from some reliable sources about In Rainbows, and I’m actually really interested in hearing it. I still have to be sold on Saul Williams (and I’m not at all sold on Trent Reznor). And don’t even get me started on how much The Eagles suck.

  • MindExpansion

    1)they sold more cause Radiohead, for the past decade, has been one of the premier musical acts of ANY genre, respected and admired by fellow musicians of all genres, rap included and loved by millions. Saul, talented as he is, does not nearly have the following Radiohead does, and has not built the loyal fan base required to fully take advantage of the internet cd release.

    2)radiohead has consistently put out quality music, regularly included in best of lists and in a few cases placed amongst the best cds of all time (#1, #2 all time in SPIN magazine) Saul ‘s track record, while it has flashes of brilliance and streaks of quality material has yet to establish himself as a musical act fans can rely on for quality material year after year

    3)radiohead=massive internet promotion
    saul williams=admit it, half you fucks found out about his new cd when you saw it written in marker on the inside of a stall while you wee taking a shit at KFC. he cant compete, and many still probably dont know he has a new cd out

    4)as for why more paid for their internet version, even when radiohead’s was free…i mist go back to the issue of establishing themselves as a rare musical talent and establishing a dedicated fan base. this is radiohead’s cd, and have provided their fans with a decades (+) worth of enjoyment, to the point where they’re only too happy too continue supporting them now…saul…not so much. he has a few more quality cds to put out before he establishes that type of loyalty. if 2 pac was alive (if only) and put out a free cd, my guess is that the results would have been a bit more comparable with radioheads end of story.

    as a fan of both these artists, i cant help but feel that the issue of race in this argument is a cop out. it’s illegitimate claims of racism likes this that takes away the credibility of the entire issue. as a black man myself, i give a ‘fuck you’ to Bol. bullshit ‘racism’ claims like this contribute to the ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation many REAL racist issues find themselves in, with no one taking them seriously. ‘just another black person trying to blame another situation on race’. bring the issue of race to issues that deserve it, Bol. dont use it as an excuse to write a bullshit blog cause you have nothing else to write about.

  • Kane Corleone

    I think that this is the age where if you a square you would pay for shit that doesnt cost & water. & KFC is some nasty ass chicken,shit aint even real chicken-WTF.Popeyes cuz,Popeyes is that thang or your local seafood shack/bar>>>>>>>>KFC

  • Jazz One

    Dude takes just a little info here and there and the speaks out as if he is a scholar on it.

    His last album sold about 34,000 in three years. This was with touring and also since he was signed to Fader Label, Fader/Cornerstone was handling the marketing if I am not mistaken.
    The new album sold 28,000. This was released November 1st. So it has been less that three months. There has been no marketing on it. I am talking less that Method Man’s last album. A video has just been released for his cover of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Plus there will be touring. I think this is going to move more units. There is a physical release coming also (no weezy). I don’t think the situation is as simple as you are trying to make it.

  • Liam

    Good post, I kinda enjoyed both albums, but Radiohead’s album didn’t live up to the hype for me (imo it’s good but not great), while Saul Williams came out of nowhere so I was surprised when it didn’t suck (it also had higher quality downloads available and a digital lyrics book).

    As said in the above posts, Radiohead’s got more fans and more exposure, so they were always going to get more $$$, but there is probably a race issue to it (there usually is).


    I don’t think Saul Williams ever had a hit record. If he has a hit poem, somebody educate me. I know he’s dope, but he can’t be compared to Radiohead.

    White America is convinced that either Radiohead, U2 or Coldplay is the greatest rock band alive. I’m not so sure, but I’m about to go to to download some of their entire albums for free, just as I will do if In Rainbows(NOLO) is still available for the freeski.

    Black America is not convinced that Saul Williams is the best poet alive.

    Saul Williams needs better promotion. Or a hit record/poem.

    By the way, what is a hit record/poem?

  • Jimmy

    Bol this is one of your best post brother, its something we have followed an implemented with one of the artist we are working with (a breakthru urban artist) and he has more downloads than we imagined, but the sales, while encouraging, are a small percentage of the downloads.

    It’s a very forward thinking model of doing business in 2008

  • Tray

    Bol, aren’t you assuming that people knew what the content of the record was going to be before they downloaded it? I don’t think you can assume that. It’s true, of course, that white people don’t like to think about race. I’m doing a study on racial gerrymandering cases – basically, a state tries to draw majority-black districts to ensure that blacks will get some representation in Congress. The Supreme Court ruled 14 years ago that that’s unconstitutional because it sends the “impermissible” message that black people think and vote alike, and that such districting carries us further away from the day when “race no longer matters.” They actually wrote that. But as for Saul Williams, I think people just don’t know who he is.

  • Tyler

    As this year’s presidential election is proving, white people don’t really want to think about race, except if it’s an opportunity to prove they aren’t racist by aligning themselves with certain black people.

    ^^^^^^^^^ Bol,Nice dig at Hillary. Bout time U said some shit about ‘dat bitch U house Nigga but of coarse it came after you gave a back handed comment about Obama. RadioHead is the fuckin sickest shit around dude. Comparing them 2 anyone is like comparing your fat ass 2 Vida’s phat ass. There album is off the chain again which I suggest ‘dat U check out Yorke’s solo album from last year called Eraser which was the best album of the year 2 me really. It sounds the way Justin and Timbaland were tryin’ to make his album sound but failed miserable. Oh and shot out 2 RoidMan Timbaland. When are U gonna jump on ‘dat sorry BoL?

  • BossGame

    Whats your take on this Bol?

    Multimillionaire Miami Beach record producer Scott Storch, who produced a son with Dalene Jennifer Daniel in 2006, owes child support, she alleges.

    Storch is supposed to pay $7,500 a month for Jalen, Daniel says in Miami-Dade court docs. But he is in arrears for December and is ”habitually late,” says Daniel’s attorney Jason Setchen in a motion asking that Storch be held in contempt.

    The couple’s mediated settlement also required Storch to enroll Jalen in the Florida Prepaid College Plan. But the payment bounced — ”insufficient funds,” says another Setchen motion, which does not specify the amount. Nor has Storch provided proof that he obtained a $1 million life insurance policy naming Jalen the beneficiary, per the settlement, the motion says.

    Storch has plenty of dough. ”He has produced hit songs for . . . Dr. Dre, ChristinaAguilera, Jessica Simpson, Beyoncé Knowles, 50 Cent, and Justin Timberlake” and is ”one of the wealthiest and most successful producers in the world,” Setchen says in court papers. Rolling Stone put his fortune at $70 million.

    Storch, 34, lives in a $10.5 million mansion on Palm Island. Daniel, 31, lives in a $286,000 town home in North Miami. His lawyers are Keith Haymes and Jonathan Colby. ”As far as we know, Scott will be making every effort to bring these amounts current at the soonest point in time,” Haymes says.

  • Ryan

    I haven’t liked a Radiohead album since “The Bends” (no OK Computer). People that like Saul Williams do poetry slams, and don’t have money, they have silly knitted hats and ugly sweaters. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that some people even collect CD’s and enjoy the artwork. I’d personally rather have something on vinyl and have the mp3′s for my ipod.

  • these posters are idiots


    While you’re at it, grab some of their other albums, Kid A and Ok Computer. Shit, grab the vocalist Thom Yorke’s solo shit, The Eraser. Radiohead gets busy, and from what I’ve heard, they’re one of the most consistent bands of our time.

    I feel you on the Saul Williams thing, though. Dude is an exceptional poet, but not enough people are aware that he even exists. Shit, until this drop, I didn’t even know he and Trent linked up and released an album.

    Its one thing to have a ridiculously popular myspace page, but in this day and age, you’re promotion has to be on point on all fronts. Radiohead’s ability to consistently satisfy their fanbase while gaining new ones in the process allows them to take full advantage of the whole “free or pay” model of selling records.

    Good drop Bol, but this is hardly an issue of race.

  • EReal

    Okay I dont see what this has to do with Rap AT ALL, and I know your fatass has prolly gotten booted from the KFC Buffet many a time.

    Matter of fact, wheres BXS’s lard ass? Last thing he dropped was K.I.M., now he’s M.I.A. ROFL!

    Anyway, just look at the list of the top earning deceased celebrities, or the recockulous ammount of dough people pay for Stones tickets, or Gene Simmons.

    Oh and LOL @ SOHH Reckless’s Eskay dickridin ass pullin posts by me off XXLmag dot to try n talk shit in her shitty ass blog, why is it that every fucking blogger there every post says “shouts to Eskay” or “thanks to Eskay for the link” is Eskay working with the Site Of Heavy Haters behin XXLmagdot’s back?

    So much mystery lately. LMMFAO.

  • http://nghf DA MANN


  • concerned hater

    radiohead are about as big as a band can get with world wide appeal

    saul williams is not

  • tseliot

    i would say it’s because saul williams sucks, and whereas both radiohead and saul are pretentious as fuck, at least radiohead isn’t shoving it down the listener’s throat disguised as poetry, preaching, high art, or whatever nonsense classification he or his apologist fans can come up with today.

    both saul and radiohead’s quality (consistency?) are questionable, but at least i could enjoy listening to a radiohead album.

  • tseliot

    and, no, saul is not an “exceptional poet,” or whatever else people can call him. his “poetry” fits nowhere within what poetry is, was, or has ever strived to be.

    even, EVEN if you were to place him somewhere within a contemporary realization of beat poetry, he fails miserably when compared with what the beat poets of the 60′s, both black and white, were able to accomplish with their writings.

    this is not a black v. white thing. it’s a talent v. none thing.

    • David Edwards

      First of all I’m a huge Saul Williams fan and yes he can get a little pretensions at times and I thought his Niggy Tardust wasnt great. But I always thought his lyrics word thought provoking. Just listen to a song called “Coded language” and actually take the time to pay attention to the words.

      “Where as breakbeats have been the missing link connecting the Diaspora to its drum-woven past”

      that is a very powerful line in my opinion I dont see rappers today saying anything remotely as powerful.

  • Kath

    I downloaded 3 tracks from Niggy Tardust, they were a complete waste of time. Why would anyone want to listen to this self-righteous jackass shout a sermon at you? I’m not at all surprised he isn’t as popular as Radiohead, not that I really like them either.

    I think the sales figures were pretty good considering 1) Saul sucks, and 2) he had a rock/industrial act promoting him.