In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.
–Isaiah 11:6 (New Living Translation)
Earlier this year I coined the phrase, demographic death, in relation to the state of Hip-Hop as a culture and industry. I explained, I believe Hip-Hop is experiencing a demographic death. When I say that the culture is reaching zero population growth what I mean is that for each old fan and member it seeks to appeal to, it is losing the chance to produce two new ones.
I touched on some of the law of cause and effect with this blurring radio formats; technological change; changing socioeconomic conditions; and cultural and intellectual elites who narrowly define rap, and Hip-Hop in ways that prevent it from being claimed by emerging markets and a younger fan base.
In my AllHipHop.com editorial, The New Synth Pop: Ke$ha, Young Money, and Justin Bieber Got This!(http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/04/14/22169549.aspx) I used this analogy to frame it:
Think of it something like a high school where the graduating classes are getting smaller each year. The senior class is enormous and the juniors are nearly as great in number but the sophomore class is a third smaller and the freshman are less than half the size of the senior class. I actually went to a high school where something like this happened. By the time the class who were freshmen – while I was a senior – had graduated, the high school was competing in tournaments and competitions in a smaller school category. It affected the prestige and status of the school and region across the state but it also allowed a new culture to enter.
Hip-Hop is for 18 year olds, my brilliant and beautiful 13-year old adviser told me this past weekend. What do you call the music you like? I asked her. I dont know, she said, indicating it didnt matter. It was the beginning of perhaps the most interesting conversation I have ever had about music. It spanned two days.
The primary reason why I think Hip-Hop is dying in this manner particularly in America is because its elder artists, intellectuals, and entrepreneurs underperform in the arena of technology.
In my controversial piece, Time Warp: 2010 Artists Using The 1990s Business Model, (http://allhiphop.com/stories/editorial/archive/2010/10/26/22455451.aspx) I stated this in terms of artists and entrepreneurs primarily who remain fascinated by the major record label- corporate radio station-video channel system. But I could also apply it to leading intellectuals in the culture as well as media outlets and talk show hosts who never intelligently deal with economics and technology in their critique of Hip-Hop. Thats why, sadly, one has to go to non-Hip-Hop sources like The Wall Street Journal to get a worthwhile assessment of the business side of the industry, and the non-industry factors that impact the culture and industry. Yes, I am saying that the vast majority of rap intellectuals and journalists are more concerned with the formula of gossip, sex, conflict (beef) and a narrow form of political debate, than dealing with business principles .
With this weekly Hip-Hoppreneur column Ive tried to make a contribution to improve this.
Enter Soulja Boy.
All one has to do to is carefully look at the recent coverage of his business and marketing tactics (and his thought process) to appreciate that this rapper, perhaps more than any other street, mainstream, conscious, or political movement is capable of reversing raps demographic death.
The narrow cultural and intellectual elite cant appreciate this and would rather focus on a supposed beef between Soulja Boy and Lupe Fiasco. Anyone who reads what they said about each other, up to this point, knows there is creative tension there but this is hardly worthy of our serious attention. While Soulja Boy took the first shot, apparently unprovoked, saying, I dont want to be super-Lupe-Fiasco-lyrical and n***** dont know what the f*** Im talking about. Lupe has been a good sport about it and responded accordingly on S.L.R. (Super Lupe Rap), So dont be scared to take the Super Lu route, Top 5 Alive and Ive only got two out. School you on your history, Ill tell you what you bout, fight for all the right things and let the Huey New out. Pharrell, what these n***** talkin bout? Two man Big Pun, a one man Slaughterhouse, a two album Jay-Z, a one n**** Wu-Tang, a younger hungry Mos Def, a conscious rappin Lil Wayne.
Damn, Lupe is nice.
To me, Lupes response is excellent and addresses Soulja Boy correctly, and in context. I dont have a problem with his brilliant surgical strike. My eyebrow raises however when many of Lupes supporters the cultural and intellectual elite combined with some in the lyrical underground use the supposed Soulja Boy vs. Lupe Fiasco, to dismiss the 20-year old Soulja Boy completely, as if he is a Hip-Hop anti-Christ or one who has no legitimate place in the culture. These folks to me, however sincere, dont understand that their mentality is one of the reasons why Hip-Hop is dying, demographically.
I wonder what they will say when Lupe ends up doing a track with Soulja Boy (like everyone else is starting to do).
What stands out in the coverage of Souljah Boys business model (http://allhiphop.com/stories/news/archive/2010/11/01/22464913.aspx) is what stands out as missing in the worldview of the two sides of the rap elite (those still fascinated by the old major record label infrastructure and those who style themselves as purists concerned only with lyrics) the importance of technology in branding and building an independent and new fan base. That and the lack of an international focus (which is why Im advising Nigerian rap superstar Naeto C: http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/storm-360-and-cedric-muhammad-announce-strategic-partnership-in-support-of-naeto-c/) may be the long-term kiss of death for American Hip-Hop.
One excerpt of a recent article reads:
New marketing for Soulja Boys upcoming project entails using the services of a company by the name of SayNow.
I took it a step further with this company called SayNow, and thats basically a phone number that lets you talk to all your fans like how Twitter is, Soulja Boy told the Wall Street Journal. SayNow is like, if a fans calls my line number and they want to subscribe to you, so that means they hear any message that you leave them. If I call and leave a message it goes directly to all 4.9 million people at one time.
Always finding new ways to market his projects, Soulja Boy now has over 20 websites working directly under him or for him.
I just thought, like I should build as many websites as possible, Soulja Boy said. When I was unsigned and on the grind trying to come up, I would make a lot of websites and just try and get my names out there. Now that I am in the position I am in now, I just like to take all of my creative ideas and put them on a website to give fans something to do.
Most of the elites have never even heard about SayNow and even fewer understand that this company is not just at the center of where music marketing is heading but also involved in an emerging debate over the future of the use of the telephone itself. These elites, Im sure, know next to nothing about this piece by SayNows founder, and CEO Nikhyl Singhal Phone Numbers Are Dead, They Just Dont Know It Yet. (http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/28/phone-numbers-dead/).
Sure, Soulja Boy is only a promotional face, for a company like this but in being open to doing business with companies with cutting edge technologies he has a better understanding of the non-music industry forces impacting the culture and industry than many supposedly political, or conscious rappers.
But perhaps more importantly, his comfort with technology places his finger on the pulse of where the demographics that guide marketing are headed, and how to capture the youth who are growing up in a world – as toddlers, pre-teens, and teenagers far different than the one that most of those still fascinated by the corporate-major label infrastructure or who only judge an entire culture by lyrical content, grew up in.
If you are 13 years old right now, you have grown up your entire lives with the Internet around you; hundreds of cable channels available to you; and with the mobile phone as your window and interface to the world. Youve learned texting before typing. Youve been able to correspond instantly with the entire world through FaceBook and Skype since you were 10 and 11 years old.
Certainly, those of us in our 30s and 40s and 50s can guide these youngsters and teach them timeless life lessons but any of us who dismiss them as ignorant simply because they dont yet have knowledge of the political movements of the 1960s or an appreciation of their culture and history are throwing the baby out with the bath water.
And that attitude borders on arrogance when the elders dont accept the reality that when it comes to technology it is really the youngsters who are our teachers.
So when one considers 1) MTVs focus on youth branding (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4cb9931a-cb1d-11df-95c0-00144feab49a.html) 2) the turf war underway between Nickelodeon and Disney for the hearts and minds of preschoolers (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704462704575590231467452448.html) and 3) the NFLs push to grow its fan base with children under 12 (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703860104575508293696582522.html) it becomes clear that Soulja Boy is far from the worst enemy of Hip-Hop and actually could end up being its best friend.
While his music is not my personal favorite, I see nothing but redeeming qualities in Soulja Boy when I look at the big picture.
And in 2010 how can anyone leave entrepreneurship and technology out of the picture?
My 13-Year Old Adviser concurs, not only aware of SayNow but also an admirer of Soulja Boys staying power in the midst of criticism telling me (by text), I like him because he is from down south, and for him to make it to New York and still be big now is really good.
Lyrical content is very important, but it is not the only way a rapper can teach, or be positive.
Soulja Boy can lead us
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. Hes a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Unions First Congress of African Economists. Cedrics the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/) and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/) . His Facebook Fan page is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cedric-Muhammad/57826974560?ref=ts and he can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com.