Does Good Music Still Prevail?
For hip-hop lovers, June was a good month. Releases from Drake, Eminem and The Roots were among those that hit the shelves and provided a much needed dose of good music to hip-hop fans. Unfortunately, one of the three did terrible on the charts. Can you guess which one?
With first week sales from Eminem and Drake reaching 741k and 447k, respectively, you would think a group as critically acclaimed as The Roots could sell 150k But, nope. A hundred thousand? Wrong again. Seventy-five thousand? Close. The Roots’ How I Got Over —with Def Jam behind them—managed to sell 51k. Sure, they didn’t have a lead single that garnered much radio play. But Eminem’s “Not Afraid” isn’t exactly the definition of a smash single. This only proves—once again—that music isn’t truly about talent. The best artists don’t sell and talent is merely a fraction of the equation.
The Roots are on Jimmy Fallon‘s show every night as the house band. They have long been considered the best live show hip-hop has to offer. They have been cosigned by Jay-Z and provided the live instrumentation for his acclaimed “Unplugged” album. Nine albums deep, they arguable have never fallen short of expectations. They’re on the radar of everyone who knows music. But somehow, The Roots will never, ever sell a ton of records.
They lack a certain aspect that labels are able to push to consumers. With Eminem, it’s the white rapper who can rap circles around anyone in the rap game. His controversial subject matter and equally controversial past give record labels something to run with. Who cares if the single doesn’t hit? Who cares if his two albums prior weren’t up to par by Eminem standards? Marshall Mathers will sell records no matter what. With Drake you have the Lil Wayne co-sign, the Degrassi background and the good looks that match the music that women seem to adore. His package is an easy one to sell. Sure, he has talent, but a record label needs that extra something to market to the consumer.
The Roots don’t have the good looks or the teeny bopper crowd. Black Thought may be your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, but his personality is seldom seen outside of his music. ?uestlove has long been the face of The Roots, but if he looked more like Boris Kodjoe than what he looks like now, a label would probably push a “sexy” ?uestlove to consumers and let the music talk to them later.
Sadly, hip-hop isn’t about the “music” anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time now. If your marketability exceeds your talent (although there has to be at least an inkling of talent) you’re good to go. But if your talent far exceeds your marketability, expect to be like The Roots and always be critically acclaimed and never sell a million records. Interestingly, it’s not like The Roots care. They will always be financially set with their incredible stage show that tours more than just about any artist today. It would just be reassuring to hip-hop fans to know that good music is what the industry is all about.