10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #5 Big pimpin’…there’s a lot of big money talk in hip-hop but in 2010 the money did the talking.

Why is it not a surprise that Jay-Z is all over this one? Jay-Z has been talking about Dead Presidents ever since Reasonable Doubt in 1996 and his relentless pursuit of C.R.E.A.M. has been documented thoroughly on every album. In 2010, he was associated with some major firsts for hip-hop and was (again) at the vanguard for advancing the levels of wealth and power achievable through the culture:

1. Forbes Magazine – On the 2010 edition of the Forbes 400 issue, Jay-Z became the first rapper to ever grace the cover of the venerable magazine which has come to be synonymous with wealth and power. As a further symbol of the heights to which hip-hop has ascended, he was accompanied by Warren Buffet, the 3rd wealthiest person in the world (at an estimated net worth of $47 Billion). Jay is not there (yet), but in that Forbes 400 issue, he was estimated to be worth a cool Billion by 2015, putting him on track to be hip-hop’s first billionaire. Check out the conversation between Jay-Z and Buffet here and click the pic above to read the article:

2. Decoded – The Forbes Billionaires (and soon-to-be billionaires) list wasn’t the only list Jay-Z graced for the first time in 2010. He launched a state of the art marketing plan for his semi-autobiographical book Decoded, in which he deciphered some of his most famous lyrics. It included a global scavenger hunt for pages of the book. The result? He became the first rapper to have a book debut on the New York Times Best Seller list, landing at #3.

3. Home and Home Tour – 4 nights, $15 million. Nuff said. The per night average of $3.75 million was BY FAR the highest per show average in hip-hop history and was only topped by 1 act (Metallica) in 2010. That’s BIG, pimpin’.

Click here for more reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop.

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10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #6 Roll the dice…this was a year of taking BIG chances and they paid off.

EVERYBODY knows the music business as it has existed for the last few decades–where sales of recorded albums are the primary financial-driver of the business–is in trouble.  The record industry, like other entertainment businesses, tends to be a bell curve:

During the vast majority of times, the music tends to be fairly straight-forward and predictable.  Occasionally, there are a couple of breakout hits and then everybody spends the next several years trying to copy what was done to make those hits (or at least hire the producers who crafted them).  When times are really, really good, there tends to be more innovation and risk-taking.  If the risk pays off, things are even better.  If it doesn’t hit, it’s not a big deal because the other blockbusters during the year make up for it.  The other time risk-taking happens is when things are REALLY, REALLY bad.  Again, it is during those times that there is a certain nonchalance, but it stems from different sentiments than those in good times.  In bad times, chances are taken because companies feel like they have nothing to lose.

2009 was a terrible year for hip-hop music, sales-wise.  It was definitely the worst in a decade and maybe even longer.  So, it’s no surprise that risks were taken in 2010 and they paid BIG dividends.  Here were some of the most high-profile risks that paid off:

1.  The Jay-Z/Eminem “Home and Home” tour – Overall, 2010 was one of the worst years in the last 20 for the live music business.  In 2000, people aged 12-24 went to about 3 concerts per year.  In 2010, that same age group went to less than 1 concert per year…It would seem like that would not be the best timing to mount the biggest hip-hop tour ever.  But, in September 2010, Jay-Z and Eminem made history by selling out 4 stadium shows (2 in Detroit and 2 in New York).  Approximately 200,000 people paid an average of $100 per ticket in 4 nights…you do the math.  It was an epic success and a historical moment for hip-hop.

2.  G.O.O.D. Fridays – Give away half of your album for FREE???  Who DOES that???  Kanye West, that’s who.  I wrote a long piece on this a while ago, so I won’t spend too much time rehashing it here, but suffice it to say that Kanye West took a huge chance by giving away half of his album (along with previewing nearly all of the other half in Runaway) and it paid off, big time.  Kanye sold nearly 500,000 copies of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in week 1 (despite not having a radio hit–and not promoting it for the last 2 weeks before release).  Beyond the sales success, Kanye also got universal critical acclaim.  It’s no surprise that Kanye, who has always taken chances musically, would try something as innovative as G.O.O.D. Fridays.  His digital game was seriously on point, in general, in 2010.  In addition to giving away music with the confidence that people would like it and buy it, he also bucked the traditional marketing system by and going to Facebook and Twitter to promote the album before going to mainstream outlets.  It is surprising however (and encouraging) that his record label went along with it. Kudos to all behind the plan.

3.  Runaway – Let’s face it.  Runaway was weird.  Okay, so yeah we get the Phoenix reference and how ostracized Kanye feels in a world that shuns honesty and destroys beauty, but still, that sh*t was strange.  But, it was also brilliant.  It was visually stunning, conceptually engaging and the music was arresting.  And, from a marketing standpoint, when is the last time you can remember a show being simulcast on BET and MTV that wasn’t related to some sort of tragedy?  Exactly…Runaway was a great example of being rewarded for taking chances:

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4. Nicki Minaj – Not to belabor the point, but Nicki took RISKS this year.  It would have been easy for her to ride on the Young Money coattails, but she was dead set on establishing her own path.  So, instead of doing a Young Money album in disguise, or even a hip-hop album, she did a pop album…and it was GREAT.  And that was just the music.  Style, image, persona, you name it.  Nicki took chances in pretty much every category in 2010 and she is poised to become a hip-hop icon because of it.  Keep rolling those dice, ma.

5.  All those who pushed the boundaries of hip-hop culture and refused to let the meaning of hip-hop be dictated to them.

Click here to see other reasons why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop.

10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #7 Rappin’ all over the world…you know that’s right when the hottest rapper of the year was from Canada.

Everyone knows New York City was the birthplace of hip-hop.  For years, the dominant s0und in the genre was from the city that never sleeps.  In the late 80’s the West Coast, particularly LA, began to take over and it had a several year reign that corresponded with the fall of East Coast rap.  After a brief resurgence of New York rap, the South took over and has dominated hip-hop for the last several years.  However, in 2010, a curious thing happened.  There was no dominant region.  Instead, hits came from everywhere around the country and, as mentioned above, even from outside of it.  Suddenly, the talent pool for hip-hop started to look like the Verizon map.  And why is that good?  Because the more diversity there is of the regions where hip-hop is produced, the more likely it is that the sounds of hip-hop will be increasingly diverse.  The reason why people were saying hip-hop was dead a few years ago is because it was all starting to sound the same.  It took breaths of fresh air like Drake, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, KiD CuDi and even Eminem, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross (all from different places) to revive the culture.  And now, it is stronger than ever before.  Here’s a look at the diversity of areas that made up the hip-hop landscape in 2010 (for more reasons why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop, click here):

1.  Drake – the hottest rapper of the year (Em had more sales of his album but Drake was on EVERYBODY’s record so he wins) and he hailed from Toronto:

2.  Rick Ross held down Miami:

3.  Wiz Khalifa repped his city of Pittsburgh and their NFL squad:

4.  J. Cole built on the foundation that Little Brother laid to put North Carolina hip-hop on the map:

5.  Big K.R.I.T. along with J. Cole further reinforced that Southern hip-hop was not limited to Atlanta and Miami:

6.  KiD CuDi gave people a reason to care about Cleveland now that LeBron is gone:

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7.  B.o.B. created the most fresh and clean sounds to come out of the ATL since OutKast:

8.  Eminem restored Detroit’s place in hip-hop:

9.  Dr. Dre made the West Coast relevant once again with one exhale:

10.  And the lovely Nicki Minaj brought back the city that started it all:

 

It’s a great day for underground rap…which is a nice segue into the #8 reason why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop: The Return of the Underground.

This one is a bit of a contradiction.  The incredible underground releases this year certainly contributed to the musical strength of the year overall, but underground rap is consistently pretty strong.  It’s the hits that are more unpredictable.  That’s confirmed just by looking at Soundscan sales info.  This year will have several platinum rap albums (Drake, Nicki, Kanye, Eminem, B.o.B. and probably Rick Ross), but that kind of volume hasn’t happened in many years.  Even though great underground releases are more predictable, something still felt a little different about them this year.  A big part of it has to do with technology.  Gone are the days when you need hundreds of thousands of dollars, a professional studio and a big major label backing you to make great music.  These days, all you need is a laptop and a drive…to make it happen for yourself.  That has narrowed the divide between the sonic quality of mainstream and underground music considerably.  More than that, however was just the sense that the underground artists of 2010 had a great shot at being the breakthrough artists of the future.  Enough talk though.  The music speaks for itself.  Here are just a few that killed it in 2010 (and if you missed the previous reasons why 2010 is the best year ever in hip-hop, click here):

1.  Big K.R.I.T. – Somedayz

2.  Nottz – My Neighbor ft Asher Roth

3. 1982 – You Should Go Home ft Masspike Miles and Bun B

4. Curren$y – Michael Knight

5. Diggy Simmons – As I Am

6. Black Milk – Deadly Medley

7. CyHi The Prynce – Shade 45 Freestyle

8. Jay Electronica (he gets 2 joints) – The Announcement

Shiny Suit Theory ft Jay-Z

10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #9 Change the game…several artists expanded the boundaries of hip-hop in 2010.

1. B.o.B. – Bobby Ray dropped several crunk-filled mixtapes before releasing his first official album.  When the album dropped, however, it was filled with lots of pop, rock and just a little bit of crunk…and it was dope.  In addition to garnering 5 Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year, he also helped to launch the career of label mate Bruno Mars.  He capped off the year with a mixtape called No Genre to further underscore his diversity in music.  Here are a couple of tracks that show off his range (please pardon any annoying messages on the video “embeds” directing you to YouTube):

2.  KiD CuDi – CuDi has been stretching hip-hop boundaries for a minute now and 2010 was no different.  This year he took things to a different level, adding rock to his “emo rap” repertoire, and he even got Kanye to rock out with him.

3.  Cee-Lo – Cee-Lo Green has not done straight hip-hop for a LONG time.  But since his roots lie with Outkast and The Goodie M.O.B. he will always be a part of the hip-hop family which, luckily, means we get to claim all the fruits of his prodigious talent.  In 2010, he made one of the catchiest, dirtiest songs of all time and also one of the coolest videos in years, both of which stretched the definition of “hip-hop”:

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4.  Nicki Minaj – Nicki Minaj was one of the biggest artists of 2010.  Period.  She will soon be the first woman rapper (not named Missy Elliott) to go platinum since Lauryn Hill…and that was in 1998.  There will be more on Nicki later in this series (hint, hint) but for now, here is a great video to show how she pushed boundaries:

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As with reason #10 for why 2010 is the greatest year ever for hip-hop (several great comebacks), this is not meant to be comprehensive but simply a reminder of just how much the boundaries of hip-hop were pushed in 2010.  No disrespect to Yelawolf, Kanye (who could be in all of these reasons), and others who helped to expand the culture.  Their presence was greatly felt and all contributed to a helluva year.

 

 

10 reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop: #10 Don’t call it a comeback…but this was the year for some of the best ever.

Now that the year is winding down and new music is slowing to a trickle, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a look back at 2010 and what made it such a phenomenal year for hip-hop.  Stay tuned for 9 more reasons until the end of the year.  First up is the great comebacks of 2010.  Artists tend not to like to ever admit that they may have fallen off for a bit, but everybody does eventually.  That’s why it’s all the more impressive when someone comes back from from a fall because very few do.  So…let’s all embrace the comeback and celebrate the great music that came with the ones in 2010:

1.  Eminem –  Everybody knows Slim Shady’s story by now.  The fame overwhelmed him, his home life took some major hits and his best friend (please, please, please click that link…it’s a dope true freestyle by Eminem and Proof) was tragically killed.  As a result, he turned to prescription drugs to ease the pain and the rest, as they say, is history.  That’s enough to knock anyone off his feet for a minute.  For Em, it was nearly 4 years.  His first effort at coming back fell flat (though it was not as bad as people–even Eminem–thought).  His next album, 2010’s Recovery, however was a monster.  In fact, it was the biggest album (of all genres) of the year.  Here are a couple of reasons why:

2.  Lil Wayne – The scary thing about Lil Wayne is his comeback is just beginning.  Having spent the vast majority of 2010 in jail and only being released in November, Lil Wayne has only had a little over a month to establish his comeback.  Plus, with cameos on 100 songs while he was gone (a SLIGHT exaggeration), it was almost like he never left.  He began his comeback shortly before he even got out, with Right Above It and if his first post-release song, 6’7″, is any indication, people better step their game up (hmm…gives insight into the title, no?).  Here’s a lil Weezy for you:

3.  T.I. – T.I.’s is the most ironic comeback.  I won’t spend a lot of time on this one since we all know how the story ends.  Suffice it to say that lost in the shuffle of all the controversy is that T.I.P. actually made a really good album.

4. Kanye West – OK.  So Kanye NEVER had a drop-off in the quality of his music, but he did have a self-imposed exile of almost 12 months.  Beyond that, given that he really didn’t rap much on 808 & Heartbreak, it had been more than 3 years since Ye had dropped an album with him spitting.  That’s a LONG time in hip-hop.  That’s the same amount of time Jay-Z took in his “retirement” between The Black Album and Kingdom Come.  When you add the fact that Kanye was “one of the most hated men in the world” when he took his sabbatical, it was very possible that his career may not have recovered.  Dude is just too talented though.  Not only did he have commercial success (selling nearly 500K albums in his first week, after giving more than half the album away for free–more on that later), he also had unequivocal critical success.  In fact, he made the album of the year.  Here are a few examples of why:

I’m sure there were more notable comebacks during the year (Big Boi being one of them–feel free to comment with others) but those were the major ones.  On to the next one…Stay tuned for more reasons why 2010 was the best year ever in hip-hop.

Has the color barrier been broken yet in hip-hop?

It’s not a secret that hip-hop was born from black culture and, to date, has been comprised primarily of black performers.  As a result, there have been few rappers of other colors who have gained mainstream acceptance, and they generally have come one at a time (The Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass, Vanilla Ice, Eminem, Asher Roth, Eminem…).  It’s kinda like how there used to be only 1 black actor who could crossover at a time (Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith) and one black comedian (Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence–wait, did he crossover?).  Of course, barriers have been broken with films and comedians.  There are now several people of all colors who are viewed in mainstream films, TV and comedy clubs–though of course there is still MUCH more progress to be made.  Has hip-hop reached that point yet, though?  Put another way, can you name 5 non-black rappers of any color who currently have mainstream success?  Does it matter to you?  Just some food for thought for the Obama Nation…While you chew on that, check out these videos from Outasight:

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If you’re feeling those, click here to download his latest mixtape called Further.  Maybe some day there will be a time when these dudes could make it: