Hip-hop's album sales have been steadily declining since 2000, but what does that really mean? Will it ever recover, or is hip-hop becoming something entirely distinct from its late ’90s boom? In an article that ran this weekend in the New York Times called "The Shrinking Market Is Changing the Face of Hip-Hop," writer Kelefa Sanneh addresses this question head-on. He interviews artists like Project Pat and Turf Talk to show the ups-and-downs of the independent game that more and more seems to be the smartest route for aspiring and established artists alike. Here is a brief excerpt of the article:

UNTIL a few weeks ago it seemed like one of the few happy stories to emerge from an otherwise difficult year in hip-hop. UGK, the Port Arthur, Tex., duo that influenced a generation of Southern rappers, returned after a five-year hiatus. They came back bearing a sublime single, “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You).” And they came back bearing a great double album, “Underground Kingz” (Jive/Zomba), which made its debut atop Billboard’s album chart.

Then, on Dec. 4, the news arrived: Pimp C — the duo’s flamboyant half, a slick drawler and an even slicker producer — had been found dead in his hotel room. His bereaved musical partner, Bun B, gave a handful of eloquent interviews, trying to explain what he had lost, what fans had lost.

“I appreciate the concern,” he told Vibe. “But I wouldn’t ask anyone to stop their life, because Pimp would’ve wanted us all to keep grinding.”

If you’re looking for a two-word motto for hip-hop in 2007, you could do worse than that: “Keep grinding.” This was the year when the gleaming hip-hop machine — the one that minted a long string of big-name stars, from Snoop Dogg to OutKast — finally broke down, leaving rappers no alternative but to work harder, and for fewer rewards. Newcomers arrived with big singles and bigger hopes, only to fall off the charts after selling a few hundred thousand copies, if that. Hip-pop hybrids dominated the radio, but rappers themselves seemed like underground figures, for the first time in nearly two decades.

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