When EPMD came out with “So Wha Cha Saying” and said, “We dropped the album Strictly Business and you thought we would fold/30 days later the LP went gold,” I was totally confused.
Did he say gold in 30 days? Isn’t gold a whole lot of records? I thought only country, pop and rock artists went gold. Their first two albums went to the top of the charts. LL Cool J told Kool Moe Dee, “How you like me now? I’m getting busier/I’m double platinum, I’m watching you get dizzier.”
I know record sale boasting was going on, but I wasn’t really thinking about release dates or first week sales, I didn’t even know albums came out on Tuesdays. For some reason, I never looked at A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul and wondered what amount of records they sold. I just figured a record deal meant you got paid, and then you do shows and get more money.
The EPMD line gave me insight and sparked my curiosity. However, arguments in the hood about which rapper was better, never really evolved into who sold more. Slick Rick’s jewelry was enough to let me know he had bread. Biggie was one of the first East coast emcees to compete with Deathrow and what the California artists were doing on the Billboard charts for years. And even he said he was in the crib dreaming of jets and coupes and how to sell records like Snoop. Biggie was admitting that he wanted Snoop Dogg numbers even though no one was recognizing the west coast king as a lyrical giant.
Tupac began ranting about being home from jail and dominating as the top selling label over Badboy, Laface and So So Def. But it wasn’t until I saw a poster that read, “THE STREETS HAVE SPOKEN, DMX PLATINUM 250,000 FIRST WEEK” that I noticed the record companies were using sales in their marketing strategies.
I understood that a platinum album was a million records moved out of the stores. I assumed that they hypothesized that a quarter mil sold in one week meant that the album was eventually going to go platinum.
Consumers were given a look into the world of sales just like that.
All of a sudden I was aware of first week sales, Big Pun’s posters read “LATINUM.” I was at school adding “who did what” on the charts to the “who’s nicer?” debates now.
I used to intern for this label called Roc-A-Fella records when their CEO and flagship artist Jay-Z came out with the song, “Imaginary Player.” I think around that time there were a lot of artists claiming to have money. With one record Jay separated himself, questioned the frauds and enlightened the listeners.
His single costs $4, he was rocking platinum jewelry and drinking Cristal for years, he hipped us to the difference between 4.0 Range Rovers and the infamous 4.6 ones…and if there weren’t any manicures on your flight then you weren’t real; you were imaginary. This wasn’t a slap in the face to the common folk. This was more like a wake up call to those rap dudes that were pretending they sold drugs or had a lot of paper in their rhymes. Jay was letting people know that the cars in the video, the money machine and the actual money wasn’t going back to the rental place when the cameras stopped rolling.
Because Jay would run into rappers that had fame and record sales, but couldn’t compete with him monetarily, he decided to make a record creating distinction between artists who got “rap money” and those who were in the streets obtaining paper that didn’t depend on putting words together.
It was genius…until we witnessed a retaliation that would ruffle Jay’s feathers that same year. Hov boasted, “When I see ’em in the streets, I don’t see none of that/damn playboy, fuck is the hummer at?” Mason Betha took that a tad bit personal since he wasn’t getting the same cut from his album sales that an independent artist would and he went back at Jay.
Mase had just started All Out records and released a freestyle saying, “You ask where my hummer at/I look on Billboard where your number at?”
Jay was plagued with sales that didn’t match his skill and at that time it was a major thorn in his side. Puff had him opening up the No Way Out Tour, the streets and the industry were calling him B.I.G’s successor but Mase was at three million sold and had a solid argument about who was the best in the business. Or did he? Were we to believe that Jay or Nas couldn’t be top dog in the game until they had some platinum hardware in their homes? Well Nas put out his second album, and It Was Written did what it was supposed to do to solidify him. But some say he had to get Puff Daddy and Lauryn Hill on his singles, throw on furs and big medallions and maybe stretch himself out a little too much.
So Jay was challenged about his sales, Mase was wearing shiny suits and switched his style, and Nas was doing whatever he could musically to show growth. All three of them enlisted Hype Williams to take their visuals to the next level. Hype delivered for two out of the three, Jay wasn’t too happy with his look for “Sunshine,” but as a fan of hip-hop, I sat back and witnessed everyone on a mission to not just be the best; they wanted spots on the chart.
Rakim came out with an album in ’97 and I heard die-hard hip-hop fans asking how much Ra did in his first week. Since when did we judge the God MC on his first seven days in the stores?
The time had come. The numbers were not only noted, but the audience and fans were paying attention too. And then there was Soundscan. Billboard gave us symbols for plaques and chart positions but Soundscan told exactly how many records these artists sold. So imagine a fan liking someone’s music, but not sure if they should purchase it because they want to know if other people are getting it.
Or maybe the album dropped and instead of asking someone how it sounds, you ask how much it sold. And the first week matters the most because sales typically never match those of the first days in stores.
Labels began to factor how they would move on a project considering what the sales were looking like after one week. Gone were the days of working an album with four or five videos and letting an LP gain shelf life and allow consumers to learn more about the project.
Hip-hop fans proved to have short attention spans and now they were aware of Nelly and Eminem’s release dates, and they went to the store right away. The “Bling, bling” era was not just about flash; it was about the business of music. The Cash Money Millionaires got a multi-million dollar deal because they moved units on their own. Artists were no longer satisfied with 35 cents per disc sold. And the listeners and buyers became aware.
“If you think I’m jiggy was a Puff move/it still sold 30 thousand a week, so fuck you…” –The Lox.
So the last few weeks, I recorded my thoughts in front of a camera instead of writing them and I received extraordinary responses. I kind of contemplated making video rambles permanent, if not for the folks that hit me saying they missed actually reading words in their own voice. Either way, I’m just thankful that I get any kind of comment about what I do outside of rapping.
I never read comments on my music online. Why you ask? Because once I record something and I’ve decided to put it out there to the world, it is what it is. Sure I could learn what people like or dislike for next time or take what someone says as constructive but no thank you. One “please die” comment and my day is ruined. One guy hit me on Twitter and told me he followed me just so he could say he “unfollowed” me because I suck so bad and need a new hobby. It was hard not to respond and spark a back and forth about who he was a fan of and then inquire what he does for a living and find some way to insult his existence but I left it alone.
This is an opinionated business, you can’t win ’em all, blah blah blah, long story short, I have concluded that I’m not the best at receiving bad criticism. I come from an era where we listened to music, read the credits and wondered what the artist meant or what their life was like. And I didn’t get that info until I saw them on a Video Music Box interview, or Soul Train, or Arsenio or something. Even though I may have wanted to tell Big Daddy Kane that his love songs were out of place via Myspace, or go on Facebook and ask Rakim why he didn’t smile or use inflections in his voice, or maybe even read a Tupac Tweet, I couldn’t because those things didn’t exist, and I survived.
Nowadays people take their opinions and force them on others but that’s not enough, they find the human being that they have the opinion about and inform them as well. “Hey you, I’m not a hater but if you were to discontinue life, I wouldn’t be mad.” How does one respond to that? I’m not opposed to criticism; I think it can be very helpful. In the studio, tell me what you think about my verse…if I send you a song and I say, “I’m working on this, how can I improve it?” feel free to chime in with your advice. Or if I wrote a piece, tell me what I can do to get my point across more efficiently. But I find myself similar to a singer that only croons in church because I know no one’s gonna boo from the pews. You never hear “Hallelujah he stopped singing, thank you Jesus it’s over.” Church has the protective artistic shield that boosts your confidence, and I am admitting that I need that love.
The reason I’m not a good receiver of critiques is not because I think I’m perfect, it’s actually quite the contrary. I believe that I have thought of everything wrong or faulty possible with each writing, song, video or whatever content I put out and when someone says something negative I cringe because I knew they were gonna say that. Why didn’t I correct it then? Ah and here we have the ever elusive point. Perfection is not my mission…expression is. I am not interested in trying to improve as an artist as much as I want to get better as a person…so on both paths, I make mistakes. Or maybe a better way to put it would be that I make moves that aren’t universally accepted. And that is fine.
I know you know a few people that are chasing dreams you wish they wouldn’t chase, but you don’t know how to tell them. Or maybe you’re one of those people that aren’t getting the hints. Let’s say someone plays you a song or sends you a Youtube link and asks, “What did you think?” Here are some good responses incase you draw a blank. And if you’re the rap guy wall-posting and link spreading, maybe you should be aware when your homie hits you with one of these. I get ’em all the time…
1.“What did you think?” Turn it back around on them, they’ll have to do a quick self-analysis then you follow with, “Me too, I feel the same way.”
2.“How long did that take you?” Time is always a good tactic. Artists love to tell you about how long something took to create.
3.“I like the beat.”
4.“I didn’t like the beat.” Always blame the beat…unless they did the beat. Then you’re on your own.
5.“Reminds of this Jay-Z song, or was it Eminem, I can’t remember which song though.” All he’ll hear are the letters J, Z, and M; you’re off the hook.
6.“I like this more that the last one.” Hopefully there’s a last one, improvement is big for artists.
7.”Aight!!” This only works for email. It’s hard to read a yelling “aight,” looks like, “alright you’re doing your thing,” but it could really mean, “Alright that’s enough.” CAPS are optional.
8.”I have to listen again, I heard it on computer speakers.” This only works if it’s not an in-person listen but it buys time. Then you implement whichever one you like.
9.”You got some shyt!” This can be perceived as a positive or negative if stated correctly. I got caught with this one once or twice. I said, “Thank you” when I should’ve been saying, “Eff you.”
10.”I like it, it’s hot.” Everyone knows that if you ask someone if they like something, if he or she has to tell you they like it…then they don’t like it. People hunt you down to give you feedback if they’re feeling something but most of us don’t get the hint. I give CDs out all the time, and when someone doesn’t say anything about it, I know I’ve got work to do.
Then there’s the truth. The sugarcoated truth, the hurtful truth, the compliment sandwich truth, I’ve received ’em all and dished them all out. And honestly my day has been brightened and my career has progressed simply because I took note of other people’s opinions…so maybe criticism and comments aren’t all bad, feel free to leave yours.