(Almost) Music History: Hip-hop, Pop, Rap, R&B and Neo Soul CDs

A tidal wave of change is about to sweep the music industry, and it'll impact the quality of music discovery for fans who digg hip-hop, pop, rap, R&B or neo-soul. The day is coming when top-selling artists such as Justin Timberlake, 50 Cent, Ciara and R. Kelly will be exclusive members of a recording club narrowly defined by major music labels: They're cutting back on who gets to cut an entire album. Most artist will only be financed to release a radio single or two at a time.

This disappointing new contract norm could serve a blow to the less commercial artists (e.g., those with a "cult" following like neo soul masters Bilal or Sandra St. Victor), or new talent on the rise (e.g., Lupe Fiasco three years ago). Imagine the excellent album tracks we'll never get to hear now.

The problem is the singles-driven digital music craze. iPod users overwhelmingly cherry-pick one or two hit songs to purchase; not enough are paying for entire albums. For record label executives, the bottom line is this: the rest of the tracks are basically a waste of company time and money.

The Media and Advertising section of Monday's New York Times carried an excellent cover story about this irksome trend. So before the industry renders extinct these dinosaurs we love and call "whole CDs," I'd like to acknowledge a few, favorite hip-hop and R&B "back-of-album" tracks I'm glad I found. If this new music model had been in effect a few years ago, we might never have gotten to hear creative gems such as:

..."Weight a Minute" by the talented rap queen Shawnna, on Def Jam's Disturbing Tha Peace imprint. A Chicago native, Shawnna is the daughter of legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy.

..."I Did It My Way," which Jay-Z turned into an amazing rap song, thanks to hip-hop production by Big Chuck and Jimi Kendrix.

..."The Love I Never Had" by Mary J. Blige, with the production lead of the great Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

..."Growing Old / 13th Floor" by OutKast, with production by those beat-smoking boys called Organized Noise.

..."Bubble" by Sean Paul, produced by Neptunes.

This new trend in "mini-contracts" will hopefully have a couple, positive side effects:

1. If it pushes more artists to reach new musical heights, it'll be good for consumers who want better choices.

2. This could give more of the independent, boutique labels/artists some room to spread their wings and rise. Don't write them out the story of the music industry's evolution. May the little guy prevail!

For more: independent record labels at wiki... indiecenter gives great how-to info... excellent NPR audio file from 2005, starting with the indie career of Ray Charles.


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Jason - GorillaSushi said...

I think (and hope) that the trend is moving toward more and more free music. A lot of artist are throwing up their hands and giving up on trying to sell their music conventionally (which makes more money for the record labels than anything else). Giving away free albums generates more interest and first time listeners. They can make up the difference in touring, merchandising and a whole host of untried ideas. The downside would be a much more level playing field with few/no millionaire superstars.

kweenkong said...

Hey Jason, so true. Most artists are paying their bills for the long-haul through touring, merchandising and endorsements... Because the greedy major labels force people into terrible contracts, where the lion's share of profit from music sales lines their own pockets.

I'm with ya': I'd love to see the music industry continue to lose a little more of its bully power. They taken advantage of people far too long.

Jason - GorillaSushi said...

I keep contemplating a whole blog about my frustration with the recording "industry" but I'm afraid it will just spiral into a maniacle rant.
The gist of the post would be this - record contracts are not like any other form of legitmate business contracts in the modern world. The closest comparison is indentured servitude.

hamsammich said...

Nice song choices. The Mary song really was out-of-the box for her, a great surprise.

Jason - GorillaSushi said...

Just saw this...
...and thought of you...

kweenkong said...

Jason, thanks much for the Gizmodo article! Music industry really is evolving in fascinating ways.


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