The speed of technology is constantly illustrating the disposable state of the music business. With CD sales declining daily and print media gradually becoming obsolete, an artist’s ability to remain relevant is closely tied to embracing technology. Whether it’s YouTube, social media websites or digital media, hip-hop artists have adapt to this new landscape in order to push their product. But what exactly is that product in 2009? A $12 CD? I can simply download any artists music for free so the value in that is minimal. When you factor that the rate of music consumption doesn’t match the quality of the artistry, it’s hard to convince most that they need to buy your album when it drops. Outside of the die-hard fans, the declining first week numbers of most artists prove this theory.
The live performance is the only element in hip-hop that technology has no real effect on. It can be enhanced by technology, but not replicated by technology. It is this live music experience that validates the musical merit to fans and sustains a decent living for artists. Unless you’re making endorsement revenue, everyone is relatively on the same playing field like Twitter. Touring is becoming an even more viable revenue stream in this changing climate. It’s no surprise that record companies are now trying to sign artists 360 deals to profit from this. Companies like Live Nation are capitalizing on these opportunities also. I remember an interview with Jay-Z where he talked about it briefly before touring with American Gangster; the idea that an emcee’s rise to music success is not like a kid who plays Rock ‘N Roll and begins practicing with a band in the garage. In hip-hop your stage show is the last thing you seek to improve, in Rock ‘N Roll it’s pretty much everything.
Hip-hop has given so many young people this creative outlet and a way to make it out of the hood. Sadly for many, hip-hop is less about artistry and perceived as more of a money-making option. As other revenue streams ultimately becoming obsolete, will hip-hop artists really embrace and take advantage of this ? I think so. I don’t find it coincidental that most emcees are now utilizing a live band. After seeing the blueprint The Roots have basically created, most artists are now following suit. This is why I really think no matter how much technology advances that component will remain because it is the one thing you can’t recreate. A good hip-hop show can’t be matched. However in hip-hop, outside of Jay-Z, The Roots and Kanye West, there are fewer mainstream artists that push the genre in that arena. In same breath, underground mainstays like Atmosphere continue to have a cult-like following.
For hip-hop to continue to flourish and remain relevant like Rock ‘N Roll or other genres, this is the where it needs to continue improving. This way artists can have longevity; How come the industry build careers that don’t last ? (c) Mos Def…Obviously having a good music catalog helps, but to be able to deliver a good performance like anything else takes practice. Yet in hip-hop, its like the The Last of the Mohicans. On a whole the underground emcees embrace this more because hip-hop is viewed as a craft so their goal is longevity not necessarily profit. Naturally, artists like Brother Ali, EL-P, Mos Def, Talib Kweli are relatively good or great live. How many times have you been to a show and an artist runs out of breath, forgets lyrics or has a whole entourage on stage? There’s a definite correlation between poor performances and artists who are in it strictly for monetary gain. People wonder why these 106 & Park rappers only get booked to do shows at small venues or out of the way spots. They’re probably not that good live.
PSA: Just because you can rap doesn’t mean you’re any good live, and if I’m not buying your album you better have a good live show.