Rap album sales were down 20% last year (compared to down 5% for the entire market) and for the first time in years, the biggest selling rap album (T.I.'s King) sold less than two million copies. I don't believe at all that rap is dying, but I do believe that it's a genre that has "matured."
"The black audience's consumerism and restlessness burns out and abandons musical styles, whereas white Americans, in the European tradition of supporting forms and style for the sake of tradition, seem to hold styles dear long after they have ceased to evolve. Blacks create and then move on. Whites document and then recycle. In the history of popular music, these truths are self-evident" - Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm & BluesI quote these words because rap has been around for over a quarter of a century, and it's been culturally dominant for around twenty. The history of black music is that every major musical style eventually loses it's dominance; jazz, after 30 years ceded the throne to r&b, which went to soul, which went to disco which went to rap. So if the above is true, then what is going to come next? Are there sounds of change in the underground? (If there are, I haven't heard them yet.)
I love hip-hop, but I regret that it decimated the tradition of the black bandleader. I can't think of an artist since Prince (who's pre-rap) that follows the tradition of James Brown, Sly Stone, Sam Moore and others (never mind Ellington, Basie, Gillespie, etc.), who made watching and hearing a band a thrilling experience. Black music never goes backward, it only goes forward, so it's difficult me to imagine the concept of the band making a big comeback in commercial black music - but something, hopefully soon, will emerge from the streets to make rap the old man on the block. I look forward to whatever it is.