Over the last few years, the music business has been struggling to recalibrate in the face of shrinking budgets, the decreasing importance of album sales and the subsequent death of music television. Various tactics are being used to monetize this industry which is constantly being undermined by the all-free everything mentality. Think Vevo, 360 deals, and the recent emphasis on touring. Whatever, the poison, these tactics are all indicators of one thing—the impending rise of old school grassroots fanaticism.
Over the weekend, Tila Tequila was pelted with bottles while she performed at the Gathering of the Juggalos festival. This incident shed light on a well-established, but largely overlooked sub-culture of fans, or devoted followers rather, of the Insane Clown Posse. Readily identified by their signature ICP-inspired face paint and known on the surface level for their raucus behavior at concerts, Juggalos should however, be noted for their most important quality to the music industry—their purchasing power.
Juggalos have gone so far as to incorporate their ICP fandom into their way of life, meaning ICP isn’t just the music they listen to, it’s the clothes they wear, and the places they go.
In the July/August issue of XXL we did a feature on the Kansas City Missouri-based independent label Strange Music. Label head and marquee artist Tech N9ne, who happens to be one of the most successful independent rap artists in the country, has sold nearly 1.5 million records on his own… Well, actually, he did it with the help of his fans, the “Technicians” who are known to wrap lines around buildings to buy tickets to his shows, pay upwards of 100 dollars for meet and greets, and all but rip merchandise off the shelves as it becomes available.
Now this isn’t new. Your parents and grandparents can tell you about when Beatlemania swept the country and had all the kids wearing their hair like The Beatles, buying magazines just to tear out posters of them to post on a wall or in a high school locker, and going crazy at just the mention of their names. But it hasn’t quite hit hip-hop the same way until now.
Whether you’d like to admit it or not, the Juggalos and Technicians are hip-hop albeit in a non-traditional package. And it’s not just these fringe artists who are harnessing the power of this brand of idolatry.
Other up-and-coming hip-hop artists are mobilizing their fan base by establishing a collective identity for them. Wiz Khalifa’s cult-like following known as The Taylor Gang almost shut down Twitter the day Kush and Orange Juice dropped. He saw his popularity grow exponentially as the hashtags #KushAndOrangeJuice and #TaylorGang, which became trending topics courtesy of the Gang, had everyone unfamiliar asking “What’s Kush and Orange Juice?” and “Who’s Wiz Khalifa?”
You can’t buy publicity like that.
And their power is not limited to just word of mouth. The legion of Khalifa supporters are ready to mobilize at a moments’ notice, like say for MTV’s Hottest Breakthrough MC’s list, whose winner was chosen by popular vote. Wiz topped the list beating out (by almost double) his next runner-up, the favored Nicki Minaj (who’s more than willing to go to bat for her fans as well).
Ms. Minaj recently reached over one million Twitter followers, thanks to her allegiant followers she calls Barbie’s and Ken’s with whom she shares her own language with. You think she’s tweeting all day about nonsense when she’s really sending no-look passes to her followers every time she calls someone a Strawberry Shortcake or tells them they’re “fetch” (thank you Tina Fey). It’s all about making her fans feel like they belong or have a special relationship with her.
Although this brand of fanaticism may denote a younger fan-base (specifically the impressionable kind with plenty of disposable income i.e. allowance), it works for different age groups (word to Joe Budden’s Internet Soldiers and the rest of Slaughterhouse), so you can’t knock the hustle… especially not in this economy. —Brooklyne “Sarah Jessica Taylor” Gipson