Music sales went down by 50% in the 2000s. In 1999, the music industry made over $38 billion; last year, it made a little over $16 billion, and that was up from previous years. The music industry blames pirating and illegal file sharing for this precipitous drop, and no doubt the proliferation of torrent sites is responsible for most of the decreased sales. Another reason, however, is the fact that it is now easy to buy singles. In 1999,the only thing available for people only interested in one song were CD singles that cost six bucks. Many songs were never released as singles, and the high price of the CD singles meant that, assuming you liked more than two songs on an album, it made more economic sense to shell out $18 for the CD versus $18 for three singles. Album sales in the 1990s were inflated by the number of people who were buying an entire album when they really just wanted a song or two. Then iTunes and the Amazon music store happened, and all of a sudden you could just pay 99 cents for a track. Given that most pop albums contain a few hits and a lot of filler, people started buying just the songs they wanted to hear.The album was no longer the format of choice. That’s what torrents were for.
Singles were the format of choice in the early days of the music industry as well. The earliest records were 10-inch 78s, which allowed for about three minutes of music. In the 1950s, 7-inch 45s replaced 78s as the format of choice for singles, and long-playing LPs became more common for jazz and classical music. However, the album didn’t become ascendant in pop music until the late 1960s when artists like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Who started thinking of albums as a coherent statement. Up until that point 45s had been king, and pop LPs were often little more than a collection of singles. The benefit of LPs from an artist’s perspective was more room to express their vision. For the record companies, LPs meant that they could charge consumers three to five times what a 45 cost. Even the length of the album has been dictated by technology. At first they were limited to a maximum of 52 minutes (26 on each side). When CDs became the dominant format in the late 1980s, they had a longer running time and the length of albums grew as well. Many albums released in the 1990s and 2000s have running times approaching the CD limit of 75 minutes, which would have been considered a double album in the 1960s and 1970s. Now that the MP3 is the format of choice, album lengths have shrunk back. Given the diminishing market for albums, it rarely makes sense to put out a release that is longer than 45 minutes.
I’m giving a history lesson of musical formats by way of explaining why Oakland rapper Natasha “Kreayshawn” Zolot’s album “Something ‘Bout Kreay” set a record for lowest first-week sales by an artist on a major label. The album sold 3,900 copies its first week. Given that it cost a reported $750,000 to produce, the only way Columbia is making back their money is if each copy is selling for $200. However, her single, “Gucci, Gucci,” sold over 500,000 copies and has gotten over 42 MILLION spins on Youtube since it was released in May 2011. Clearly, the success of that song didn’t lead to a successful album.
“Gucci Gucci” is a nice bit of Bay Area hip-hop, street rap made by art school dropouts on MDMA. It has the added bonus of being performed by Kreayshawn, a skinny tattooed white girl with a voice that is equal parts valley and street. Her image is hipster-meets-gangsta, and doesn’t fit into many people’s idea of what a rapper should look like. Some critics derided her as a culture tourist, ignoring the fact that she has been making hip-hop videos and involved in the scene for years. Kids played her song on repeat, and the labels descended, sure that they could cash in a woman who seemed to be equal parts Eminem, Ke$a, Nicki Minaj, and Lil B.
Given how big “Gucci Gucci” was, Columbia decided that Kreayshawn could appeal both to hip-hop kids and the Hot Topic crowd (which got exclusive distribution of her physical CD), and gave her a million dollar deal. There’s just one problem: Kreayshawn has attitude and style for days, but it is not enough to carry an entire album.
Not that Kreayshawn is all bad. She has a crude sassiness and she drops some great lines. Case in point, on album opener “BlasÃ© BlasÃ©,” where she raps:
“Yes I’m beautiful and gorgeous
No you can’t afford this
You driving in a Ford bitch”
The problem is that she has very little actual musical talent. As critics pointed out in the numerous takedowns of the album that appeared when it came out last September, Kreayshawn can’t rap or sing. Most of the songs on “Something ‘Bout Kreay” are terrible. I don’t have much to add to that, except to agree that, yes, the album is as bad as everyone says it is, and she is as terrible a rapper as “Gucci Gucci” would lead you to believe. Her charm wears out by the third song. Diplo shows up to prove that he’ll whore himself to anyone who will pay him. 2 Chainz phones in some verses. Kid Cudi gets emo. Very little of it is any good.
This album has become a punchline because it was such a bomb. What the people mocking Kreayshawn for her low album sales are missing is the fact that no reasonable human being should have expected that “There’s Something ‘Bout Kreay” would have moved many units. There’s no point for this album to exist. Kreayshawn is a singles artist, pure and simple, and one whose sound is so limited and specific that even recording multiple singles was a dubious prospect. The only reason she got a record deal and an album is because Columbia saw a white girl with a unique look getting millions of YouTube hits and tried to cash in. Columbia made another huge mistake by trying to get Kreayshawn to go pop. If Kreayshawn had put out an album of her sassy, inept rhymes over street beats it would have at least been authentic. Instead, they have her singing songs about best friends and exes, despite the fact that she absolutely cannot sing. It’s almost as if whoever produced the album was messing with her, seeing what levels of ridiculousness they could get her to commit to.
The bummer of “Somethin ‘Bout Kreay” is that Ms. Zolot actually has talent. She’s a skilled director and has a very clear artistic vision and sense of fashion. By focusing on her rap career, Kreayshawn is ignoring her strengths and trying to be something she’s not. It’s like watching Lil Wayne try to play guitar, or Diddy try to be an actor. She’s misdirecting her energies, and becoming a bit a joke in the meantime.
The best thing Kreayshawn could do is hang up her rap career and focus on being on the other side of the mic. It’s not like there is shame in having one great single. How many albums did the Kingsmen sell? It doesn’t matter, because “Louie, Louie” is a brilliant song, and the Kingsmen didn’t need to do anything else. With “Gucci, Gucci,” Kreayshawn said all she needed to say, and there’s no reason for her to have released an album, especially not 18 months after her single hit. “There’s Something ‘Bout Kreay” is the sound of a record company trying to turn 15 minutes of fame into a career, and spending way too much money in the process.