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Does Controversy really increase album sales?


Kanye West has been surrounded by controversy ever since he thrust himself into the public eye with his debut album, ‘The College Dropout‘. However, many feel he has gone a step too far in the build-up to his sixth solo album, titled “Yeezus”, a combination of his nickname Yeezy and Jesus.

‘Yezzus’ has sparked outrage, especially amongst the Christian community, since it was reported that the cover art for the album would feature the rapper hanging from a cross. However, whilst the cover art has since been confirmed to be far more conservative (pictured above), an intriguing question remains: does controversy sell records, and perhaps more interestingly, is it purposely used by record labels as a tool to help boost record sales?

A brief look into the history of R&B and Hip-Hop would appear to back this question up with a positive answer. For instance, take Eminem. eminem-00-slim_shady_front_cover1Without taking anything away from him as an artist, it is fair to say that the violent nature and profanity in the lyrics of “The Slim Shady LP” created a buzz around Marshall Mathers that propelled him from unknown rapper to high profile celebrity. However, the controversy surrounding Eminem never appeared forced; his use of powerful imagery seemed like a natural reaction to the struggles in his personal life. On the other hand, perhaps 50 Cent partly manufactured controversy through the starting of various feuds with other rappers and his outspoken comments.

However, the last couple of months have demonstrated how causing a stir and eliciting negative publicity can go in both ways.

Ray J is a man who has benefited hugely from it. Struggling to force his way back into the charts, after success early on in his career, it was evident that Ray J was going to need to put together something special to get heads turning again. However, his latest single “I Hit It First”, has gained mass notoriety due to the bold references he makes to his ex-girlfriend Kim Kardashian, who is now engaged to Kanye West. This release certainly seems like a clever ploy by the record label to boost the profile of an artist who has been disregarded since the days of “Sexy Can I” and “One Wish”.  And to their credit it appears to have worked.

On the other hand, Rick Ross is a man who has lost a lot of respect in recent times due to the controversy surrounding his music. His distasteful lyrics in Rocko’s “U.O.E.N.O” caused uproar and resulted in his dropping from Reebok as one of their spokespersons. It is yet to be seen how this little episode will affect his record sales in 2013, as he looks set to release his 6th solo album, “Mastermind”, and the third instalment of “Self Made”.

In summary, there is certainly strength in the argument that bad publicity is good publicity. Especially in the hip-hop genre, creating a buzz through more than just your music, is a tool that often appears to be utilised to allow certain rappers to stand out from countless others. However, it is important to note that this is not a quick fix and is no guarantee for long term success. If your music is not of a certain quality then you will soon be found out by the listener.

Does controversy really push album sales?

Is it intentionally used by record labels as a tool to help boost record sales?

Written by James Savundra

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