Is the rap backlash real?

CNN says rap is sinking -- but don't believe the hype.

Published March 8, 2007 7:00PM (EST)

CNN isn't typically the first place I look to learn about developments in rap, but this story about a possible widespread backlash against the music is worth examining. The article points out how after 30 years of existence, most of which was spent on an upward trajectory of popularity and mainstream acceptance, rap's declining sales and a raft of recent cultural criticism have some people wondering if, to quote Nas, "hip-hop is dead." The CNN story was picked up in a lot of places, none of which seemed able to perceive its obvious flaws. For instance, it makes a big point out of the fact that sales of rap albums declined 21 percent from 2005 to 2006. But there's no mention of how rap is consumed outside of official album sales data.

Rap is a major player in the ring-tone market, accounting for 23 percent of downloads in a market segment that now generates more than $12 billion a year. And given that roughly 75 percent of teens spend multiple hours a day illegally downloading music, and that the same demographic (as well as college-age kids) accounts for more than half of all rap music purchased, isn't it reasonable to assume that rap music made up a sizable chunk of the more than 1 billion songs that were illegally downloaded last year? The CNN article also neglects to mention the thriving mix-tape gray market. When these factors are considered, it's hard to take the sales figures it cites too seriously.

The cultural criticisms raised in the article are even less provocative. The same ground was covered in this 2005 New York Times article titled "How Hip Hop Music Lost Its Way and Betrayed Its Fans," which was old hat the day it was published. Criticism of the music's misogyny is laid out in this 2003 article. You can even kick it old school with a Times piece from 1996 that asked, "Can Rap Move Beyond Gangsta?"

-- David Marchese

By Salon Staff

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