Hip-Hop: Faltering? Or Just Fragmented?

by Sean Ross, VP of Music and Programming

There have always been times when Top 40 programmers suddenly become allergic to R&B or Hip-Hop and it usually had very little to do with the health of that music. During the “disco backlash” of 1980-82, Urban stations were left alone to play Rick James, the Gap Band, and “The Message” while Top 40 played Air Supply and Christopher Cross. The mid-’90s, a time when trade publication headlines declared that Alternative had usurped Hip-Hop, at least among non-ethnic audiences, was also the time of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2pac, and the Notorious B.I.G. “Hypnotize,” now reliable for any CHR that will test it, was ignored by the format when it was a current.

More of the talk about Hip-Hop cooling off and complaints about its available product is coming from within the Hip-Hop community and R&B radio side.

But this time more of the talk about Hip-Hop cooling off and complaints about its available product is coming from within the Hip-Hop community and R&B radio side. D4L’s “Laffy Taffy,” in particular, still has a power to provoke far beyond any grumbling you might have heard about “C’mon And Ride It (The Train)” or “Whoomp! There It Is” a decade ago. (I’m guessing that PDs in Houston or Atlanta or San Francisco, where much of the product is coming from now, are a little happier.) And in the winter book, Top 40 WHTZ (Z100) New York and KIIS Los Angeles made hugely publicized jumps that put them ahead of any individual Hip-Hop outlets.
But whatever you think of the current product, one has to ask: has Hip-Hop has really been eclipsed, or just fragmented? In New York, the Hip-Hop audience is split three ways. In Los Angeles, there are four stations at this writing: two targeting Latinos and two that are more African-American focused. Hip-Hop is now a significant part of four different charts, each with a somewhat different body of music.
Having the coalition split four ways means fewer consensus hits, while those that do exist can receive upwards of 250 spins a week in a given market. Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” is already at 314 spins a week in Los Angeles, with 200+ spins between KIIS and KPWR alone. And when Hip-Hop’s best records are available 300 times a week, the amount of time listeners need to leave the radio on to hear their favorite song is pretty low.
In some regards, Hip-Hop now looks like Country radio in the late ’90s. At that time, nobody in the format felt there was a lot of great product—something that became that much clearer when Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich finally came along. But there were still a number of stations that never got the memo about the format being in trouble. And many of them were in markets like Minneapolis and Seattle where the second Country station of the early ’90s had long drifted off to do something else.
The fragmentation becomes most obvious when you look at the total Hip-Hop shares in some markets where no single station looks formidable. In New York, there are 10 shares for Hip-Hop divided among WQHT, WWPR, and Hurban WCAA, with no station getting more than a 3.7 12-plus. Any station that could command even half of that 10 share would still be ahead of Z100’s 4.4-4.7 gain.
Similarly, in Los Angeles, KIIS is up 4.1-4.9 while the market’s four Hip-Hop outlets KPWR, KXOL, KDAY, and KKBT–which just acknowledged the crowded market by segueing to Urban AC–are off by a share and a half. No Hip-Hop station has more than a 3.2 share, but together they have an 8.9. In fact, there are only two markets where the combined Hip-Hop shares don’t well outstrip the combined Top 40 shares: Nassau/Suffolk, N.Y., and Minneapolis.
It’s also worth noting that both KIIS and Z100 got some help from other stations going away. In Los Angeles, KIIS’ ascent has taken place since dance KDLE became Indie 103.1 and turned its sights toward Modern Rock rival KROQ. KDLE under both incarnations has been around a 1-share, but it’s always better to have even a share of listening coming out of your competitor’s numbers. In New York, Z100 likely got some help from the departure of WXRK (K-Rock), which left the market with even fewer places to hear pop/rock of any sort.
The intent here isn’t to diminish the success of Z100 or KIIS. There are a lot of Mainstream Top 40s that have had the market to themselves for a long time without similar results. But both stations are now starting to cover multiple positions in their market, which is always better than having to split a single position four ways. If your format is even a little less hot than last year, losing that secondary listening is a lot more noticeable when it sends you from the 4s into the 3-share range.
If it’s any consolation to Hip-Hop programmers, it only took two or three stations in a given market to splinter Country’s numbers. In markets like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas there are four stations in Hip-Hop world, whether they’re younger-leaning Urban outlets, Rhythmic Top 40s, or now Hurban stations. And even in Chicago and Dallas, R&B/Hip-Hop outlets still easily lead their Top 40 competition.
Among other issues playing into the fragmentation of Hip-Hop in recent books:

  • The splintering off of Latin Urban: While it’s been a long time since many Urban stations felt like they could also target Hispanics, those listeners were the epicenter of the Rhythmic Top 40 coalition. Last year’s ratings suggested that the new Hurban outlets were taking their audience almost entirely from Rhythmic stations. And the just released Winter books suggest they won’t get much help from the new Arbitron weighting that has proved so beneficial to Spanish AC.
  • The success of Steve Harvey, heard mostly on Urban AC outlets: In New York, Harvey wasn’t just bringing morning listening to WBLS from Urban AC rival WRKS, the numbers also suggest he was drawing listeners from WWPR (Power 105). The latter station is the more adult-friendly of the two Hip-Hop outlets, but had the more aggressive morning show in the now-departed Star & Buc Wild.
  • The three-way musical fragmentation of Hip-Hop. Sometimes, the notion that Urban and Rhythmic Top 40 are two different bodies of music still seems manufactured – a function of two promotion staffs needing two sets of records to work. But you can’t deny that these days, Mainstream Top 40 has its own set of Hip-Hop flavored music—e.g., the Black Eyed Peas, Rihannas, and Will Smith—that even Rhythmic Top 40 doesn’t fully embrace, but Hot AC sometimes will.

It’s worth pointing out here that Mainstream Top 40 isn’t exactly moving away from Hip-Hop. Last week’s No. 1 song at the format was “Temperature” by Sean Paul. This week’s No. 1, “Hips Don’t Lie,” is a song that most people would put squarely in the pop column, but it’s a reworking of a three-year-old soundtrack cut by Wyclef Jean, who co-wrote, co-produced and co-stars. The two songs with the greatest spin gains this week are Nelly Furtado & Timbaland and Chamillionaire. And Bubba Sparxx is already top 10.
What has changed at Mainstream Top 40 is that Hip-Hop and Rhythmic titles are no longer the only records that matter in the era of Kelly Clarkson, James Blunt, Fall Out Boy, and Daniel Powter. Some harder Hip-Hop hits aren’t getting quite as far at Mainstream Top 40 as they might have 12-18 months ago. And, again, Top 40 is fostering a lot of its own Rhythmic music: Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go” is getting the slot that might have gone to, say, “I Like That” by Houston 18 months ago.
In Los Angeles, it seems fair to say that KIIS is doubling as both the Mainstream Top 40 and the mass-appeal rhythmic station for the market at this moment. Only four records in the station’s 40 most-played songs can be said to have no rhythmic element. The closest thing to pure pop in the Top10 is Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten,” and even that has Hip-Hop beats and production and ends with a gospel chorus.
But in most cases, a more successful Top 40 doesn’t have to mean a less successful R&B/Hip-Hop format. In the national format ratings that ran in Billboard Radio Monitor between 1989 and 2001, R&B radio actually tracked up and continued to dominate in 1998-99, the time when Top 40 was experiencing its last growth spurt. Between fall ’98 and summer ’99, R&B radio (including Urban AC)’s share of national listening was up 11.9-13.3. Top 40 stations, including Rhythmic outlets, were up 8.9-9.9.
Notwithstanding this morning’s format change at KKBT, R&B/Hip-hop outlets can’t necessarily depend on their fragmentation correcting itself in the way it did for Country. Until today, the stations that have gotten out have been smaller-market rhythmic outlets, the stations that surprised the industry by wanting to do Hip-Hop in Des Moines, Iowa in the first place. Too many of the secondary players in more traditional markets are now owned by companies that have a commitment to the format, or who need their two-share Hip-Hop outlet as a complement to bigger cluster partners.
That leaves two wild cards: The pure Rhythmic outlets, which do have a history of switching out of the format during down periods; and the Latin Urban outlets. While much of their future is thought to depend on the long-term future of reggaeton, those stations have still tapped into a younger Hispanic audience that will probably always appreciate hearing its lifestyle reflected on the radio.
You can’t always count on repatriating a competitor’s shares, either. Top 40’s early ’90s decline was accelerated by the number of markets that lost a second CHR, but didn’t see the remaining Top 40 station’s shares go up, even slightly. But if you want evidence that what is at work here is fragmentation, not share erosion, consider St. Louis where KATZ had a 2.9 before former young-end rival WFUN changed format, a 5.4 when it was alone in the format, and a 3.3 when it got new competition from WHHL.
For the time being, Hip-Hop programmers have the twin challenges of not leaving numbers on the table, but also not chasing secondary listening at the expense of the core. It’s a tall order, but some thoughts on how to proceed:

  • Foster uptempo center-lane product, whether it’s Rap or R&B, because that’s what’s in shortest supply right now, but it’s what Top 40 finally has. There are real hits in Hip-Hop and R&B right now, but there’s not a “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” or a “Too Close.”
  • Try to take advantage of the records that Top 40 won’t play. Pop radio never acknowledged Big & Rich or Gretchen Wilson. And during those years, Country began to grow again in a way that it didn’t when Faith Hill and Shania Twain were regularly crossing over to AC and Top 40 a few years earlier.
  • Work from the center, not the corners: If you choose from all the available music – R&B and all the Hip-Hop subgenres, there’s still enough music for a great radio station. In some markets, it feels like the battle is between one station that leans toward R&B and ballads and another at the harder end of Hip-Hop with nobody in the middle.
  • And to the extent that it can be done without diluting the position, it might be worth at least putting some of that CHR-only rhythmic music in callout from time to time to make sure that Hip-Hop fans don’t have to leave your station to hear them.

It has often been the case that the success of a format doesn’t have anything to do with an audience’s appetite for a genre as much as radio’s ability to deliver it. During the Urban vs. Churban battles of the late ’80s, the R&B PD’s mantra was often, “If we can’t serve our audience better than they can, shame on us.” And no matter how formidable any Top 40 station becomes, it should never become the best delivery system for Hip-Hop.

6 replies
  1. George "Geo" Cook
    George "Geo" Cook says:

    Great article! Your assessment of the current state of the Hip-Hop format is timely and accurate.
    Having programmed both Rhythmic and Urban stations in markets of varying audience compositions from D.C. to Pittsburgh, I have seen a number of format issues and incarnations over time. Like many fellow programmers, I have been able to create success for my stations, from different competitive positions with diverse audience coalitions, while enduring various music cycles in the genre.
    As format trends evolve, I believe that passionate programmers will continue to find success for their stations through innovation–always thinking creatively and acting with discipline strategically. Hip-Hop has been one of the greatest marketing forces of the past several years. Its relevance to listeners and its importance to advertisers trying to reach those listeners with radio will continue.
    Finally, I certainly agree with you on the point that “no matter how formidable any Top 40 station becomes, it should never become the best delivery system for Hip-Hop.” More often than not, a better programmed station, Urban or Rhythmic, that truly reflects the Hip Hop lifestyle and culture, with a more “authentic” presentation, will win over Hip Hop fans in the market.
    -George “Geo” Cook

  2. K Tanter
    K Tanter says:

    Hip Hop goes as far as the variety of Hip Hop takes the music. Without the variety, then one single form of Hip Hop will eventually fall as history has shown. It is up to the “Newly Designed” large publically-traded mega-media (hereinafter “Corporate”) Record Companies executives to realize that they must come correct. Too often, in the past fifteen years of legal de-regulation, Record Companies fire all Black Promoters, and often the entire Black Promotion division, whom actually know and have been big fans and lived the music. After “downsizing”, The Record Companies would then have Pop/CHR promote Black music, who know nothing (dah!) about the music nor the meaning of the lyrics, that they claim when they pitch the even less-knowing VP’s. Just because they went to garden to see a Jay-Z concert, and the Hip Hop club in town they think they know the music. That is the extent of their resume’. The same can be said for most radio Program Directors, who know “selector”. Obviously to the layed-off (fired) Black folks from the extinct Black Divison, the “re-organization” means less Black people in the new world order.
    Since this dynamic occured, it is evident that the resulting Hip Hop product released, seems to be the more violent, sexist, degrading, and disrespectful, basically 90 percent gangsta rap. However, coming up from the beginning of Hip Hip’s first big million-seller hit “Rappers Delight” by the SugarHill Gang in 1979, I have witnessed the variety of personality that Hip Hop cleverly presents. I know that the variety would extend Hip Hop’s dominance, as it was the variety that first brought Hip Hop to “Big-Time Radio” stations in the first place. But today, with Hip Hop in the hands of the “Reluctant to Change” Mega-Corporatations, ONLY the gangsta Hip Hop pervades in the mass-promotion of Hip Hop music. In fact, whichever form of Hip Hop was on top when the Telecommunications Act of 1996, has been the form of Hip Hop that has lasted for the subsequent years to come. It just so happened that, in 1996 Mafia-Style (Gangsta) Rap was in, and with the exception of a few other Hip Hop lyricists, Gangsta-Rap has the most dominant Hip Hop since mega-media companies took over after ownership regulations were legally removed in the mid-1990’s. The emerging dominant “Corporate” Record Companies — resistance to change by nature — have yet to change Hip Hop to the point where even Hip Hop’s sister music R/B, has had to lean on Pimp-ology.
    What is in danger of happening because of the reluctance for “Corporate” Record Companies to add the variety to Hip Hop releases (the Dominate influence amongst Radio Stations’s playlists), is when the Politicians and Faith-Based Organizations become more and more demanding on lyrical content and videos, then the Record Company will eliminate Hip Hop from its’ roster period.
    The mistake of the dominant Record Companies not playing the variety of Hip Hop will further erode ratings on all radio stations playing Hip Hop. The only thing that has repeatedly changed is where the Gangsta Hip Hop comes from (LA, New York, Oakland, St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Mexico), however the Hip Hop style remains the same.
    We all know that when Hip Hop was sent out by Independent Record Companies in the 80’s, there was a wide variety of Hip Hop entertainment to party too, including Gangsta Rap. And it sold big time back even then through Club spins, and without the “We don’t Play No Rap” radio airplay. Killa, Pimp, and Porn Hip Hop now is selling to the masses, and that is all that matters…period. Forget the rest, according to the Record Companies.
    The same can be said for the awful Reality TV shows — produced for little of nothing — and the entertainment quality is also little of nothing. But as long as a few million of the 300 million US citizens watches, then run it. Since the new cheaper formula won out — with the success of Survival, Apprentice, and American Idol — we have been in that mode ever since. And will not get out of it anytime soon with the resistance to change, and not to mention, eliminating buying programs from the Production Houses, and further, not paying actors and actresses.
    Hip Hop will not change either in the same exact world. It is obvious, to those like myself, that respect and yearn again for the variety of Hip Hop, that it is the variety in the Hip Hop music that will undoubtedly extend “the dominance of Hip Hop”. But folks, like myself, also realize that by promoting the variety of Hip Hop music is that CHANGE, “White-Owned” Corporate Record Companies is reluctant to do. I differientiated here to illustrate the distinction between “Corporate” Black-Owned Record Companies, versus a Publically traded White-Owned Record Company/Distribution. Realistically, most major Black-Owned Record Companies have been bought by Mega White-Owned Record companies. So is the Hip Hop music that we hear, controlled by White-Owned “Corporations”? The answer is “Yes”. But a better question is: Will these same dominant Record Companies be committed Hip Hop music…NO MATTER WHAT? Is it possible for say “Protest Hip Hop” songs to be promoted by these companies, especially when the subject matter is about, being layed off by Corporate Record Companies or Katrina or Racism or Under-Resourced Schools in the Black Community or Stopping Black on Black Crime or Uniting competing street gangs, etc….?
    When the Politicians and Faith-Based Group come down on Gangsta Hip Hop during the forthcoming Congressional campaigns, will the Recod Companies continue their committment to the Gangsta Hip Hop they promote? If they DO momentarily shy away from Gangsta Hip Hop, will they break out the other forms of Hip Hop that have been shelved for years?
    I enjoyed the article that Sean Ross presented to us, but these more pressing questions about the committment to Hip Hop by the “Corporate” Record Companies/Distributors. Ross’s conclusion was that the fragmentations of more stations playing Hip Hop, is the reason why the stations were getting lower numbers. As Sean stated, the overall rating numbers of all stations playing Hip Hop in a market is still the most dominant music format. And in an oversaturated market, one or two of the stations will get out of the competition and the remaining stations numbers will RISE AGAIN…..Or Will they? These radio stations, while all playing Gangsta Hip Hop, are now mixing in more of the other forms of music to be unique to the marketplace. One radio station mixes in Spanish-Speaking Hip Hop; while another mixes in Pop: and another radio station mixes in R/B.
    In my opinion, this is what I consider to be the evolution of other forms of music challenging Hip Hop, versus “more stations playing Hip Hop”. Hip Hop (Gangsta Rap) peaked in 2003, as often is reported in the trades. One form of music always has its day, and then another comes along to have its day. What should have happened, as I explained earlier, is that another form of Hip Hop should have surfaced to continue Hip Hop’s dominance.
    The Independant Hip Hop Record Companies in the 80’s, would have “easily” caught on to that trend and moved on to another form Hip Hop music. However, with the elimination of Black Promotion Departments at the Big Record Companies, Pop Promoters have “NO IDEA”, and therefore will miss the boat.
    More stations are playing less Hip Hop, and even MTV2 plays much less Gangsta Hip Hop than before. Unless a greater variety of Hip Hop — with a greater variety of lyrics — is promoted, then all of Hip Hop may go back to the clubs and the trunks of cars. The reason why Kanye West is soooooo popular now, is because Kanye’s lyrics are different than the normal mass-promoted Gangsta Rap (despite the musical rhythm being exactly the same). I can’t wait until Kanye’s next CD, when he will probably rap about the lack of help given to the mostly Black Katrina victims in New Orleans. That sort of anticipation in “Conscious Rap”, is one of the characters that made “Conscious Rap” what it was. “Party Rap” has its own characteristic, so does “Nursery Rhyme” Rap, and the like… And these different forms of “untested” “unresearched” music is what cannot flourish in a predictable Wall Street environment, where creativity is frowned upon.
    In a creative industry like music, Wall Street rules needs to be more flexible. In fact, the challenging mediums like the internet, music choice, ipods, TiVos, DVDs, Satellite TV/Radio, are now a thorn in the side for music radio stations, still living by the “servicing” by-laws of dominant Corporate Record Companies. Not only are the ratings for Hip Hop stations receding, but “All of Radio’s Ratings” are declining. And in fact, the expanding profits that Wall Street demands from its client businesses (Radio Stations in this case) are no more. HD radio is suppose to be the profit answer to the questions posed by Wall Street.
    However, despite the challenges, Hip Hop will still live forever. The question is will Hip Hop be mass promoted by the Mega-Corporte Record Companies or not. That depends on the “the new safe environment” prevalent today, which ended the Howard Stern show on “Free” radio. Faith-Based operations elected the President (Ohio, by the way, has the greatert percentage of Catholics — a hard line traditional religion — in the country). I personally think that the 40 percent of Latinos that voted for Bush was the reason why he won, and he is giving them problems too. However, the faith-based voters (primarily white operated and attended churches), now have a platform. Gangsta Hip Hop is one of the “objects of their desire” to remove from their lives and their children’s lives NOW. Politicians are being lobbied continuously, and with the faith-based newly claimed “power at the polls”, negative lyrical content (along with “demeaning” videos) may not last too long. A “simple” change in Hip Hop is all that is needed. I hope that Corporate Record Companies will make that simple alteration, and not eliminate Hip Hop period, since we are now reliant on them. It would be nice to again have a wide variety of Hip Hop once again. Hip Hop will then remain unstoppable.
    Just open your mind for a minute and think of the variety of Hip Hop we once had. Just the mentioning of these names: LL Cool J, Salt n Pepa, Public Enemy, Run DMC, Fresh Prince, MC Lyte, Easy E, Humpty, Whodini, EPMD, Kool Moe Dee, Pharcyde, KRS One, DJ Quik, Ice Cube, Heavy D, Eric B and Rakim, Monie Love, Kurtis Blow, Big Daddy Kane, etc…. These Hip Hop artists were all different, and their lyrics were distinctive to those artists’ only. No copycats here, absolutely no chance to stop this army, and they all flowed “at the club” at around the same time. The party was on! Eventually one radio station per Big City played them on the radio, such as KDAY in LA.
    This phenomenon needs to happen “one mo giin”. The same unpredicably exciting concept of a variety of Hip Hop styles. Among the 80’s artists aforementioned in the previous paragraph, in today’s environment, only the rap of Easy E and Ice Cube would be heard on radio. Man, look what we would have MISSED! We would have missed all of these great 80’s Hip Hop artists, if in fact, we could magically take these same artists in their primes, and place them in today’s Corporate Record Company’s Hip Hop environment.

  3. brianCarter
    brianCarter says:

    We are living in interesting times.
    NOW…Are we full steam ahead or is a backlash comiing fropm the CHR side like we saw with the”boy bands”a few years back.
    What boggles me is why aren’t there a lot more
    urban(read-black)talent at the CHR level?

  4. Steve Sobczuk
    Steve Sobczuk says:

    I am a 20 year radio vet who still spins in the clubs. Most of the time I love DJ’ing and have been at the same club for 10 years now (www.theflyingdogwaterloo.com). In the mid to early 90’s I worked in a record store (Sam the Record Man), bringing in import 12″ singles from the UK and US, catering to DJ’s and dance/r&b/rap and danceable alt rock music fans (I live in Canada). I have DJ’ed at school dances, roller rinks and clubs since 1978. Before that I started playing drums at the age of 13. I have always loved the funk. I took special interest in your most recent column. I have been following hip hop more or less since Rapper’s Delight, which was a major top 40 hit here in southern Ontario.
    Reader K Tanter had many excellent points that I can’t help but agree with. The major labels are a big problem, and there aren’t many indies around today that played the same role as Def Jam or Sugarhill did in the 80’s in developing new talents and production techniques or sounds. Hip Hop was still a very young musical form with a wide horizon and a mulititude of possibilities.
    I beleive you sidestepped the major issues of quality and social function in your article. In 2003 hip hop was riding the commerical heights on the back of several high profile producers, like Pharrel Williams and Chad Hugo’s Neptunes and the duo of Timbaland and Missy Elliott, whose careers and creativity have both cooled off. All of them have had amazing runs and produced very phyiscally kinetic records that will still be played in 20 and 30 years. Eminem was coming off a career defining hit in “Without Me”. R&B megahits like Beyonce’s Crazy In Love were also benefitting from the hip hop production techniques in a major way, as were pop smashes like Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback a year later. Hip hop became the mainstream, or at least the dominant part of a splintered whole.
    As a 40 year old white male, I was convinced rock music was finally finished and good for nothinig but nostalgia. I wasn’t exactly correct on that.
    There really hasn’t been many producers or artists to come along to replace the Neptunes or Tim and Missy at their creative peaks (it’s coming up on four years since the Justin Timberlake solo debut) Today the beats and rhytmic patterns in hip hop are very similar, downtempo and not geared toward the mating ritual of the nightclub dancefloor. The last rap superstar was 50 Cent and his signature song was, “In Da Club”.
    However the audience’s perceptions change as well. Like the way R&B got much tougher and aggressive at the turn of the 80’s as disco crashed, the urban audience wanted music to call it’s own again, after disco became formuliac, watered down and too a large degree, white. The same thing has happened to hip hop in recent years and the urban audience once again wanted its own sounds, apart from the (white) mainstream. Once Kanye’s Gold Digger became a massive crossover, urban and rhythmic CHR didn’t want much to do with his follow up “Touch The Sky”.
    When hip hop was seemingly exiled from top 40 in the mid 90’s, part of it was a function of tempo, a lot of the gangsta rap was too slow, dropping to 80 beats a minute or less (to let subsonic bass waves fully unfold from the subwoofers), to really get a dancefloor moving and much more suited to cruising in your ride and showing off the car stereo. The same thing has happened again with hip hop, as the tempos declined to a crawl and it became more oriented to the seated patrons of strip clubs ( i.e. “I’m in Luv With a A Stripper”) than a dance floor full of people at a nightclub. While the crowds are not exclusively male at these strip clubs, they are still a male domain and more about male bonding than the mixed gender dating or hooking up scene of the nightclub. In short hip hop has once again forgotten about the women.
    I am sure you have seen this article.
    Urban and Rhythmic CHR both share the blame in ignoring sister genres like reggae and reggaeton, for opening a whole for splintered formats. They were resistant to change. This splintering doesn’t bode well for hip hop in the same way that the spintering of the rock audience into multiple subformats led to increased formalism and conservatism in each genre format, where songs are picked for an ability to fit a sound rather than become a hit. The quality of the product will ebb and flow, but eventually exhaust itself, as the shares shrink and shrink. Look at what has happened to the “active rock” rock format or just about any rock station outside of KROQ. They marginalized themselves, a one way trip to nowhere.
    The best thing that could happen to hip hop at this point would be for it to go “underground’ again and leave the bright light of the mainstream behind, so it can get some space and re-invent itself. That’s what the alt/indie rock bands did and they came back all the stronger for it.
    It’s been 30 years since Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash plugged into those Brooklyn steet lights to rock the block parties. Rap has been around a long time. Maybe it’s time is through and rap has run its course. Maybe not. What surprises me most is that we haven’t seen a truly new musical form or genre come up like rock did 50 years ago or rap did almost 30 years ago. Surely someone somewhere is working on a new set of musical hybrids that will create the next wave in music. Perhaps the internet has fractured the audience into so many groups and subgroups that we just might not see these developments on a mass scale ever again.
    Don’t know if you subscribe to the Lefsetz Letter, but one came through today about the “Ladies of the Canyon” and “the end of an era” and I have to beleive he is on to something about the end of the cultural dominance or siginifigance of music in the online DIY world.
    steve sobczuk
    waterloo, ontario canada

  5. Sean Ross
    Sean Ross says:

    Excellent points, everybody. I wasn’t trying to sidestep the product issue entirely–we’re both talking about the same thing when Steve talks about the lack of danceable uptempo music and I refer to center-lane, medium-weight records. And the whole dance floor vs. strip club thing is something that I certainly did not think of. But I don’t know that variety is a problem. Even without a great uptempo record right now, the range between T.I., E-40, and Ghostface is pretty broad. And a lot of eras that get dismissed as doldrums at the time have turned out not to be, starting with 1962-63 on.
    But we do need a new hot producer or three: the Neptunes and Timbaland have definitely gone on to give their best stuff to pop acts–not unlike the early ’80s when the Chic guys were busy with Debbie Harry, David Bowie and Carly Simon. This definitely feels like early 1997 when the beats from “Don’t Stop The Music” and “Just Be Good To Me” had been recycled 30 times and Teddy Riley hadn’t shown up yet.

  6. Chase Martinez
    Chase Martinez says:

    Great article. Thank all the great producers that make the music that is crossing Hip Hop over to mainstream, Dr. Dre, Scott Storch, Pharrell Williams, J.D., Jazzt Pha’. I’m a producer myself, and it helps me create a hit sound for an artist. I love all kinds of music, my favorite is hip hop and I’m a music director for a Top 40/Mainstream station, and mobile dj. Love all my jobs.


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