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Hip-Hop Fridays: E-Letter To The Los Angeles Times and Geoff Boucher Re: "Hip-Hop's Slump: A Blip or a Trend?"

I read your recent article, Hip-Hop's Slump: A Blip or a Trend? with great interest. And I have to say that while your article is interesting, it is suprisingly off the mark - missing the obvious. To begin with, your question frames an option of false answers to the question of why Hip-Hop sales were down this year.

The reason why Hip-Hop sales are down this year has nothing to do with a "blip" or "trend" in the way you pursue the subject. The reason is so obvious that I guess you thought so hard about it that you missed it. Hip-Hop sales are down because the record labels haven't put out anything!

While you interviewed some great people for your article you neglected to talk to the people who know best why music does and doesn't move - retailers and consumers.

If you had spoken to them they would have told you that from January to May there were absolutely no major releases of note. Cam'ron's album, along with Eminem, have finally gotten the ball rolling, but you check Soundscan and the release schedules for the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2002 for yourself. The labels put nothing out and then offer this phony argument about CD burning as the cuprit. You tell us what quality significant albums came out from January through April. And if you are just looking for circumstantial and anecdotal evidence, just consider that the "hottest" radio Hip-Hop song out right now is Cam'ron's "Oh Boy". If you read our Hip-Hop Fridays: Industry and Street Notes at, you would have known that on mixtapes and New York and Philly Hip-Hop radio, "Oh Boy" was almost played out by mid-winter. Yet, Cam'Ron's album comes to us on May 14th! And over half of it had already been offered to mixtape DJs by the record label itself, in order to create a greater buzz for Harlem's lead man. Now, who is really to blame for piracy and bootlegging?

The overall problem was this: because of the post-Sept.11th effect and the recession, the record labels, last fall, decided to go for broke in pursuit of Christmas money, having little confidence in what the first quarter of 2002 would bring. Any retailer will tell you that the albums that came out in November and December were peculiar. You had Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Jay Z's live album, Nas, Fat Joe, Ghostface Killah, Outkast, Ruff Ryders Vol. III, Ludacriss, Lil' Bow Wow all dropping albums. Half of these releases would have come out in the first quarter in normal times. In addition, the record labels held back other artists who often relish the first quarter's traditional opening to make a name for themselves.

You should have talked to our own John Chambers, of the Music Factory, one of the premier Independent retailers in the country. He was virtually the only retailer in attendance at the big IMPACT conference in Florida last month who had the courage to confront the propaganda put out by the record labels that CD burners and MP3 technologies are to blame for slow Hip-Hop sales. In private meetings with leading executives John bluntly told them that " the problem is that the record companies haven't been responsive to the customers' needs, by being slow to release albums that customers want, changing release dates, and holding back finished projects, the music from which they were already hyping at radio and through industry channels. The labels want everybody to focus on piracy and bootlegging when their own lack of production and loose product security is largely to blame. It is true that the entire music industry, all genres, from Hip-Hop to rock have been hurt by the CD burning and MP3 usage. But Hip-Hop has been especially negatively affected by the release schedules this year. The bottom line is that they just haven't put out anything for us to sell."

John adds, " N.O.R.E's album is a prime example. He had hot songs out this winter and could have had an album out in the first quarter. His album was actually promised as a Dec. 4th 2001 release; then a March 2002 release. Then Joe Buddens was said to be ahead of him in scheduling. And then at the last minute it is announced that he is coming out June 25th, next Tuesday! Scenarios like that are what cause customers to find other means to get music that record companies have already created a demand for via radio and mixtape buzz and magazine interviews. They create the demand and then don't satisfy it through normal supply channels. This causes customers to go to alternative means to get the product. What has happened is the chaos and disappointment surrounding the lack of product, false-starts and street buzz created by labels for music; has driven customers to the Internet and mix-tapes, creating and taking advantage of supply channels that are underdeveloped and still less-efficient, for now. Now, these traditional record store customers are getting increasingly comfortable with the alternative means of supply they are cultivating. Now, they are creating their own culture, where having new music first is a status symbol as much as a recreational activity. This has been going on for the last few years, but the lack of releases in the first quarter of 2002 is what has compounded the problem, for Hip-Hop."

Mr.Boucher, your argument that Hip-Hop is becoming irrelevant and that CD-burning, in a vacuum, is to blame, is misinformed.

Next time, hit the streets and the record stores and ease off of the industry establishment if you want to find out why Hip-Hop sales have slumped.

The answer is not hard to find.


Cedric Muhammad

Friday, June 21, 2002

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