There is a lot riding on Slaughterhouse’s upcoming album, welcome to: OUR HOUSE (why the fuck is the title stylized that way?). In many rap fans’ minds, because Slaughterhouse is the “poster family” of solid lyricism*, if Slaughterhouse can’t do well after being backed by Shady Records, a prominent commercial entity, lyricism in the commercial rap world is officially dead. There are some issues with this kind of reasoning.
First, while Slaughterhouse would love for their album to go platinum in the first week, get constant airplay and be heralded as the best album of the year by Pitchfork, they know that none of those things are likely. Crossing over and breaking commercial records is welcomed and hoped for, but at the end of the day, it’s not expected and it shouldn’t be because their type of music isn’t in vogue now and as I will argue, has never been in the past. As a fairly niche group, most likely Slaughterhouse expects to just do moderately well.
Why do I think it’s okay to speculate about what Slaughterhouse wants to do? On one hand, it’s because I’ve listened to their music enough to kind of get a feel for their ambitions. On the other hand, I know that no mainstream act is staying afloat just because of talent. As seasoned artists with over 4 decades of collective experience in the music industry, the members of Slaughterhouse know this too. A lot of Slaughterhouse fans don’t seem to be privy to the same information.
Well here’s your opportunity. If you look at the RIAA’s list of best-selling hip-hop albums, you’ll notice that lyricism isn’t the common thread linking the albums on that list. Seriously, that list features DMX, Vanilla Ice, Nelly, MC Hammer, Snoop Dogg, Ja Rule and Cypress Hill: none of these acts feature great lyrics. The lyrical abilities of some of the other artists on that list are up for debate, but I culled these examples because they are very explicitly not characterized by lyricism and they demonstrate that lyricism and record sales aren’t strongly correlated. The only really factors that seem to determine the success of an album are the year that album was released and the record label that released it.
To be fair, that list has its weaknesses: it doesn’t designate exactly when an album went platinum, it only lists the highest selling albums, it doesn’t say where the album went platinum (i.e. what country) and it doesn’t explain the RIAA’s statistical methods, among other things. I am very aware of these flaws. I just cited that list to make the larger point that pure lyricism has never and will never sell tons of records. Lyricism is one cog in a very complex and opaque machine.
I’m not saying that the machine’s inner-workings can’t be or haven’t been influenced. It is a fact that huge marketing and production budgets had a significant role in helping certain, maybe most albums make that list. With that in mind, there are plenty albums that had huge budgets and still didn’t make the list. At the end of the day there is no guaranteed formula to selling records and even if there was, top-notch lyricism would not be the limiting reagent. Thus, to invest so much faith in Slaughterhouse’s upcoming album is to both embrace a mythical past and anticipate an unlikely future. I hope the album is enjoyable and successful, but if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter.
*As used in this post “solid lyricism” is defined as the noticeable and frequent toying with the meanings, implications, pronunciations and connotations of words.