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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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It’s a Great Time to be an MC
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I know many artists and music fans just read that headline and did a double take. Album sales are at an all time low, radio is filled with carbon copy MCs, record stores are closing every day, big money advances from labels are gone and from all accounts the music industry is in an unprecedented decline. While many folks use these reasons as a way to promote gloom and doom I’m about to do a complete 180 and say these are all things that should thrill artists, at least true artists. Just take the razor away from your wrist and let me explain.

With poor album sales and Gener-Rap music dominating the airwaves this is the perfect time to be an MC because there’s a huge opening for whoever creates the next big thing in Hip-Hop. The door isn’t just wide open, it’s wide open with a sign pointing to it saying drop your demo here. The poor album sales are a direct sign that people aren’t enjoying what’s being played on the radio no matter how often it’s thrown at them. Music lovers are starved for something new, creative and genre defining.

I can remember growing up and experiencing the shifts within rap music. In high school artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Warren G brought west coast funk-based rap to the forefront, and they were followed by the reemergence of the east coast, which came with an entirely grittier sound than before thanks to acts like Wu-Tang, Biggie, Mobb Deep and the Duck Down family of artists. During my college years rap would get flashy thanks to Puffy and Mase, then travel down south with Cash Money and No Limit competing for dominance. A funny thing happened when Eminem blew up, though. Em was so good that although other artists tried to emulate him no one could, so rather than ushering in a new sound an age of artist, rather than subgenre, dominance came about. Crunk music had its day in the sun, but even during that run it didn’t totally dominate the airwaves (just ask Jay-Z). So who is dominant now in 2008? The answer is nobody, which is great for everyone creating music today.

With there being no dominant force within Hip-Hop everyone has a chance to be the next person or group to break out. Everyone has a chance to be the one to create the next great sound. Some artists recognize this and are running with the opportunity. Look at Timbaland. Not only has he adjusted to the new music industry, but the music he made with Justin Timberlake, and on his own album, is clearly an attempt at genre defining. Of course, defining the genre would also make him a lot of money since he’d be one of the few producers that could create that type of sound, but that’s just smart business. Producers went with a Timbaland type of sound for Britney Spears’ latest effort and it almost resurrected her career even with her acting what most would consider to be less than professional. Keri Hilson’s project could be the true meter for the new Timbaland sound. If she hits it big we might be seeing a lot more artists and producers attempting it.

Timbaland isn’t the only musician creating something unique, though, the Gnarls Barkley combination of Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse have also created a sound that’s connecting with people. Their first collaborative effort was one of the best selling albums the year it was released (a statistic that pretty much kills the theory a lot of artists have that good music doesn’t sell) and if the lead single off of their second album is any indicator they’re picking up right where they left off. A lot of people, myself included, enjoy this duo’s work, so why can’t they usher in the next big sound?

Going a little further underground and into the indie scene, Lyrics Born’s upcoming album, Everywhere at Once, is another project that, if given enough airplay, could become a genre defining force. With its extremely funky beats and fantastic displays of lyricism the funk-based talented MC style could start influencing artists.

Of course, these are just three examples of artists creating good music that could be the next defining sound of the genre. The point is, if you’re an artist it’s the perfect time for you to be making your own attempt at this. Like I said, the door is wide open. I hear artists complain all the time about how hard it is to make a name for themselves and they’re right, it is difficult, but the irony of their complaint is that it’s actually the easiest time in recent memory to make that happen.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:55 AM  
  • At 2:31 PM, Blogger SBK said…

    Yo, this is a good article Adam. Everything that you're saying in this article is very true about today's recent times in music and is something that everybody should take notice in (if they haven't already from the sales decline). Hopefully something great is on the rise in happening in music cause it's been time for something big. I'm gonna work hard to be a part of that "something big" that needs to happen. Once again very nice article man.

  • At 11:00 AM, Blogger Noah said…

    These days, it seems like the music industry is a double edged sword. Its easier then ever to create music and distribute it, but almost impossible to break through. There is little to no money being put into developing artists. Timbaland, Gnarles Barkley, and Lyrics Born had already attained a certain level of success during the previous model for music distribution. Now they can afford to be more experimental and promote their sounds. Moreover, although those artists are slightly left of the mainstream, I would hardly consider them intensely experimental.

    There is a very weird air right now. The stage is certainly set for something to come crashing through the gates. However, it would seem for the most part, mainstream music is playing it safer and safer, exploiting the one hit wonder and avoiding the gamble that goes into developing a more offbeat act. This is especially true for hip-hop, where unfortunately, any delineation from either the typical underground consciousness or flamboyant mainstream is highly looked down upon.

    Look at the artists on lables such as Def Jux, Anticon, and Ninja Tune just to name a few. Although many of these artists have reached a certain level of success and are able to support themselves entirely through music, none of them have had more than a hint of mainstream impact. These are the true experimental hip-hop artists.

    I hope what I'm saying will be proven wrong. I really do. There is nothing I would love more than to see an interesting artist who defies all the cliches and stereotypes break through and start the next wave. We already see it in other genres to some extent with the success of artists such as Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, and other members of the whole Brooklyn indie scene. They are getting written about in the NY Times and even making appearances on TV everywhere from the the glossy confines of MTV to the big stage at SNL.

    So ultimately it is possible. It really is a great time to be unique. You may not wind up defining the next movement in music, but you have a better chance now more than ever to be heard and make a dent. And for most of us, that's all we really want.

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