For Those Who Can't Sleep On Hip Hop

NUMBERS By Dirty Angel

September 10, 2007

I simply call this joint…. “NUMBERS”

(I was inspired by my idol, Ice-T, who had “COLORS”).

For obsessed people who always ask, “How many units did so-and-so sell?”

but never ask, “Is so-and-so’s album any good?”

This is dedicated to you.

 I know this guy must love reading Billboard Magazine

…’cuz he’s a number fanatic.

“One.. Two.. Three Million albums sold! AH! AH! AH!”

(cue in thunder & lightning sound fx.)

     First off, I’d like to state that my opinions don’t reflect those of Insomniac Magazine.  These ramblings belong to a lone, deranged vigilante with a vendetta against the corporate machine.  I had to get this off my chest, because I get into this discussion with record industry storm-troopers all of the time.  Rather than snipe them one by one, I decided to eliminate them all with a single blast of literary buckshot.     

     It’s been said that “men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t (lie)”.  I beg to differ.  Sometimes numbers do lie.  Because if you think that the death toll in Iraq is accurate (the numbers that the Pentagon feeds the media), you probably believe in Santa Claus too.  It’s like when your city’s police chief announces those yearly stats claiming that “crime is down 50%” while bullets are still flying around the hood like mosquitoes.  Numbers can be manipulated in an attempt sway public opinion.    

     So when a fool hands me a copy of Billboard magazine (the alleged Holy Grail of the music business) to prove how out-of-touch I am with that fake industry, I usually give them the finger.  See, I’m a fan of real hip-hop music to the bone grizzle, ya’ heard?  Most of the artists I dig receive little to no airplay, rarely show up on BET’s 106 & Park and actually create superior art.  I’m like a caveman who’s been trapped in ice since the N.W.A. era (and I wish I’d never been thawed out).  So I always clash with today’s hip-hop “fans”.  You know, the mindless drones who share 50 Cent’s opinion that rappers are good only if they sell a gazillion records.  I respect 50 and I love the “Get Rich or Die Tryin” album, but I’d like to ask him a question: “50, what were you listening to on the block back in the day when you were hustlin’… way before you became a household name?”  You think 50 was listening to MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice back then? Probably not, but according to 50, rappers are only good if they sell astronomical numbers, something both Hammer and Vanilla Ice made history doing.  So they must have put out classic, quality albums, huh? Guess 50 and Tony Yayo were pumping “Ice Ice Baby” while they served fiends on the boulevard, since that joint was so ill.    

     I don’t put a whole lot of value in Billboard’s numbers, because major labels buy their own records to “juke the stats”.  Since Americans are some of the most gullible people on the planet, and have an inherent “herding instinct” like cattle, they run out and buy whatever they think is “hot”.  That’s why the idiots who slept outside of Radio Shack to cop the first I-Phones are on suicide watch now that the price dropped by $200.  When these consumers, who I like to refer to as “prey”, hears that the mediocre “artist” of the moment is selling a gazillion records, they run out and buy it like zombies (well, at least until downloading caught fire).  The stats in Billboard are like the 350-pound chick on MySpace who claims she’s “voluptuous”; they’re not all they seem to be.   

     You know what would make Billboard interesting? If they showed the only numbers I care about: the amount of money each artist actually makes off of their record.  Then we could really compare the 400,000 Jim Jones sold independently to the millions of records that Soulja Boy or Lil’-Young-Whoever-the-hell sold on a “major” label. When you realize that Jones gets about 4 or 5 dollars from each record sold, and most of those multi-platinum guys get about 1 food stamp per record after their mega-budgets are recouped, you understand that the shiny plaques and accolades don’t add up to much.  Yeah, Ice Cube latest album only sold 500,000 copies.  But he manufactured and distributed the record himself.  Ice Cube’s own company, Lench Mob Records, handled every last detail with absolutely no major label involvement.  So let Billboard start posting up those numbers so we can see who’s really ballin’.      

     That’s why I respect a lot of the Southern artists, for their ingenuity and entrepreneurship.  Master P, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Three-Six Mafia, Pastor Troy, Cash Money… those artists were selling lots of albums independently on their own: 10,000 copies here, 40,000 copies there.  So when the greedy major labels approach these artists with a deal in hopes to multiply those digits, the artists actually have leverage to negotiate better contracts.  If a major doesn’t sign them, they can still get rich.  Meanwhile, with the exception of Dipset (and Duck Down or Uncle Howie Records), most New York rappers do a few mix tapes (they all rap exactly the same) and sign crappy contracts with major labels that will never put their albums out.

     I’ve been listening to Three-Six Mafia for the past 7 or 8 years, but now they’re a household name because of the Grammy.  They’ve been on their grind for over a decade, working the underground, with a dedicated fan base.  Ask creative, original, business-minded artists like Necro, Ill Bill and MF Doom what their true, die-hard fan bases did for them.  The aforementioned artists make a good living doing what they enjoy because their fans support them through thick and thin; the fans getting tattoos of Necro’s logo or MF Doom’s mask (think anybody tatooed “Hurricane Chris” on their body?).  The number-watchers can talk smack about Wu-Tang, but Wu-Tang has a world-wide, rabid following that live by “The W”.  Any artist affiliated with the Wu has a loyal clientele who’ll always show love and support their records, even if they don’t do multi-platinum anymore.  Over a decade after their debut album, Wu can still eat off of their fanbase. You can talk to the stale, microwavable rappers like Chingy, D4L or Mims(“This is Why I’m Hot”) about fickle fan bases; the types of fans who like an artist because they’re on-fire for a moment but abandon them for the next media-fueled big thing.  It’s been said that the star that shines twice as bright burns out twice as fast.  That’s why Chingy’s sophmore album went double-wood, and artists like Talib Kweli and Common are doing the best numbers they’ve ever had in their careers.  Talib & Com were on that slow burn for years and are now hitting their stride.  They worked hard to build a dedicated following and they deserve all of the success they’re garnering.

     That’s why I’ll never understand why two great, legendary groups, Mobb Deep and M.O.P., signed with G-Unit.  I’m an official member of the loyal fan base that both of those groups have, and I BOUGHT (not downloaded) every last one of their albums.  I’m sure they have their reasons, but in my humble opinion, established heavyweights like them have no reason to sign with anybody.  Actually, they should be the ones signing other artists to their label.  The 300,000 “Blood Money” albums Mobb sold was a failure by major label standards, and then they have to divide whatever profits they made with 50 Cent, Jimmy Iovine and whoever else.  They didn’t need to sign with G-Unit to sell 300,000 units, they could’ve done that with no assistance.  Imagine if they sold that same 300,000 on their own independent label with all of the profit going directly to them.  They would’ve probably sold more records independent, because many of their original fans were turned-off by the G-Unit affiliation.  Both members of Mobb (Havoc & Prodigy) now have solo albums on independent labels.  Why not do that from the jump? Will M.O.P. ever drop a new album? As much as I love and respect M.O.P., they are not a group designed to sell 20 million records; they rep too hard for the streets.  They’re a little too gully.  Any major label robots expecting M.O.P. to make that fluffy, soda-pop hit single are delusional because M.O.P. never, ever made that type of music.  After the Roc-A-Fella fiasco, M.O.P. is back to square one, while Jim Jones sold over 400,000 on an indie and is now poised to join a major.  It’s cool for Jim to sign a major label deal now because he has that intangible most recording artists lack: leverage.  Jim Jones proved he can sell without the help of a so-called major label, so he has the upper hand in a deal.  Mobb and Mash Out aren’t new artists, they already have solid, sizeable followings.  It’s implausible, but my guess is they got caught up in the numbers game like everybody else instead of looking at the bigger picture beyond their immediate scope of vision.  When they first signed with the label, Prodigy allegedly stated, “G-Unit is the only record label giving out Ferraris”.  Man, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  I’m thinking, “Ya’ll went platinum with ‘Murda Muzik’, you’ve done world tours, got a legendary catalog, you been in the game for 10-plus years and you’re excited over a Ferrari?”  Unreal.  C’mon, ya’all, act like you’ve been there before.

     I mean, I know it’s easier to have a record label change your diapers but have some dignity.  Yeah, I keep using Jim Jones as an example, but I have to give credit where it’s due.  So deal with it.  I reside in Harlem now (my Brooklyn fam calls me a traitor but hey, my rent’s reasonable for NYC), and you know who I saw on Lenox Ave. putting up “Jim Jones” promotional posters last summer? Jim Jones himself, platinum jewelry and all, along with his street team.  Jim was actually stapling his posters on the street poles in the summer heat.  Mind you, this is after he blew up, he didn’t have to do that.  But it shows how hard the man grinds and love him or hate him, why he’s where he is right now.  Guys like him and Jay-Z(even though they can’t stand each other) have long-range vision.  They have a drive and a hustle game that separates them from 90% of the rappers out there and that’s why they keep winning.  That’s why Jay-Z was in a position to actually sign Nas (whatever happened to Ill Will Records?).  No disrespect to Nas, who is a God MC, but that’s just insane when you really think about it.  Even though I support squashing beef, that’s another move I can’t understand for the life of me.  Nas, one of the all-time greats, signing a deal with a rival rapper who dropped “Reasonable Doubt” after “Illmatic”.  But, I’ll save that for another story, because then I’d have to ask why an artist of LL Cool J’s stature is looking for a label to sign with, instead of owning one.

     Numbers… fool’s gold if you ask me.  Still, I’m wondering when a major label is going to sign The Count from Sesame Street to do A&R.  The Count paid his dues in the ‘hood, he’s the O.G. of numbers.  Pay homage!

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Dante T September 12, 2007 at 9:04 am

All very true. Who cares about numbers. Give up the hot music and then we can talk numbers.

Chante September 17, 2007 at 7:18 pm

I love The Count! But don’t count on rapper’s numbers, just hot bars.

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