October 2007 was a very different time. Lil Wayne was still solidifying his title as the Best Rapper Alive. Soulja Boy and Hurricane Chris both released their debut albums. "Crank Dat" was the No. 1 song in the country.
Also, and of greater importance, the music industry was in a position of extreme uncertainty. CD sales were tanking, digital song sales weren't making up the difference, and major labels—forever slow to adapt to a changing marketplace—had little clue what to do next. The ringtone rap era had reached its peak (U.S. ringtone revenue actually peaked in 2007), and the blog era was ramping up as the power in hip-hop shifted from labels to internet gatekeepers.
Amidst all of this turmoil, VIBE, in their October 2007 issue, interviewed several prominent hip-hop names of the era, posing an important question: "With CD sales dwindling and everyone and their mama following SoundScan nervously, artists aren't getting paid the way they used to. How would [you] fix things?"
In true 2007 fashion, let's dive into this goldmine and grade each industry-saving idea on a scale from 1 to 5 ringtones, from 1 ringtone (did not fix things) to 5 ringtones (fixed things).
"The music companies are gonna just start doing single deals. If the single works, ringtones will pay for your album. All you gotta do is go in the studio, mix and master the single, then put it out. If it connects, the ringtone can earn enough to support a budget to create your own album."
Always the business-minded forward thinker, 50 was one of many who thought single deals were going to be the future—as opposed to record contracts based on a set number of full-length albums. The fatal flaw in 50's thinking was relying on ringtones, which have all but died out, as a revenue source. 50 Cent was almost the future.
Grade: 4 out of 5 ringtones.
"As technology gets more and more high tech, you're going to be able to buy music directly off the radio. You are going to be able to just snatch it right off the radio and put it into your iPod, or put it onto your computer."
Jermaine was 100% right about technology becoming more and more high tech, as that's usually the case in technology. He was also spot-on about consumers having the ability to buy music off the radio, as pretty much any song is a Shazam away from an online purchase. It's just too bad no one listens to the radio or purchases music anymore.
Grade: 3 out of 5 ringtones.
"I'm one of the more viral people online right now. I'm still on MySpace everyday. I answer e-mails. And they can get on there and see a blog post every week, and I update the pictures myself. But at the same time, I can't say that I completely like it. There are little kids right now who are like 12 years old, 11 years old, who will tell you SoundScan numbers. What part of the game is that where little kids are telling you SoundScan numbers? It never used to be like that. I couldn't tell you what UGK's first album sold the first week."
How weird was 2007? Chamillionaire was one of the more viral people online. Also, answering emails was apparently directly tied to being a viral sensation. I answer 100 fucking emails a day and absolutely no one knows who I am. Chamillionaire's whole response is actually pretty depressing, from the way he was already sick of overexposing himself online a decade ago to the way kids cared more about first-week sales than the music itself. Not sure how any of this fixes the music industry, though.
Grade: 1 out of 5 ringtones.
"Ringtones make it easier for artists like myself who are young and fresh, who may not have the funding to create a whole LP. In my perfect world, you'd be able to release an album with only eight or nine songs instead of 16 or 17. When your record sells for $9.99 at Best Buy, why put 17? That makes the value under a dollar per record."
Like 50, a younger, fresher Lloyd saw the value in using ringtone sales as a springboard for album funding. More importantly, though, Lloyd focused his advice on releasing albums with fewer songs. Good for me, who doesn't have nearly enough time to listen to your 17-track album, but bad for artists in the streaming age, where every additional song adds up to more streams for your album.
Grade: 2 out of 5 ringtones.
"Instead of doing whole mixtapes, I'm putting out freestyles every week and throwing 'em all over the Web where people can download them for free. It's an easy way to get your name out. The CD is gonna be like the 8-track and the cassette soon.
What Stat got right: The CD is dead, much like the 8-track and cassette.
What Stat got wrong: Downloads died too, along with the desire to hear Stat Quo freestyles.
Grade: 2 out of 5 ringtones.
"I make sure the music itself is a commercial for something else -- let the music become product placement. My first album was actually an experiment. My album cover had a lot of products, and I went back to see how much those products went up as far as awareness."
This last sentence is the most Lupe-sounding shit ever. Does this mean the Hamburger Helper mixtape is a direct descendant of Food & Liquor?
Grade: 3 out of 5 ringtones.
"MySpace, Facebook, things that everyone can access for free, they all help right now. People want to see how you're living. I just posted a photo of me sleeping at the airport. People stay connected like that."
Unfortunately for Rich Boy, he was not the future of rap. Fortunately, though, he knew that social media would be the future, that people would be obsessed with seeing how celebrities were living, and that people would "stay connected like that." Sadly, while Instagram is the true currency of relevance for hip-hop's new wave, pictures of Rich Boy sleeping at the airport are just relics from the distant past.
Grade: 5 out of 5 ringtones.