Fortune Magazine published a revealing article about the movie business, which found that Hollywood focuses more attention and money on sex and violence filled flicks, even though they are not as profitable as family movies. A quote:
This trend- G-rated movies are good for business but underproduced; R-rated movies are bad for business, and yet overdone–is something that has been driving economists batty for the past several years.
This surprising fact got me thinking about what sells in hip-hop and the larger world. We all have heard that “sex sells”, and that’s true. But marriage also sells, and there’s a billion dollar event, book, and counseling industry based on marrying people and keeping them that way.
If marketed correctly, what can’t sell? So, I’m suspicious when rappers tell me they have to make a certain type of music in order to be popular. Jay-Z codified the thought when he rapped about wanting to “Rhyme like Common Sense”, but I think it’s a false rule of hip-hop, just as is it in the movie business. It’s just another myth, like the evil corporate influence in hip-hop that I wrote about last week.
I’m also suspicious of hip-hop media pros who keep telling us they must place this or that violent and misogynistic rapper on their magazine cover in order to sell. Every mag story needs to be well done in order to capture the interest of the audience. However, for instance, the Hurricane Katrina stories that appeared in hip-hop mags like Vibe, The Source, and XXL were boring, weak, and outdated, as if all the editors didn’t think this would be a story that could sell and refused to put enough resources behind it.
Compare that to XXL’s thorough coverage of Proof’s shooting . They scored exclusive quotes from the Shady Records family, including Eminem, and even found a witness to the shooting who spoke to the mag before going to the police. I’m sure that issue will sell well, and not because the killing of one negro is a more compelling story than the killing of hundreds in New Orleans, but because the right resources were put into making the story great. My old psych professor taught us about self-fulfilling prophecies, and I think the Proof shooting vs Hurricane Katrina coverage fits the description.
Now, let me put this in bold for the skimmers – I’m not claiming that sex and her cousins don’t sell in hip-hop or that positive content should be created just for the sake of it. Instead, any good hip-hop song, magazine, or product will sell, if it has the right story to market it with, word to Seth Godin. When our hip-hop heroes tell us otherwise, they’re ether being dumb or calling us stupid, but what they’re saying doesn’t match the truth. They’re also leaving plenty of money on the table, by relying on only one way to hustle. And, if controversy is the only thing you know how to make pop, then you’re not much of a writer, or emcee, or whatever else.