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:

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..