Last week, The Roots finally achieved something they hadn’t done before in their storied career: Their album Things Fall Apart went platinum. Despite a career that spans countless accolades and an unyielding status as one of the most consistent acts in rap history, it still took 14 years for one of their best albums to earn platinum status. As gratifying as it may be for them to hang this illustrious plaque up in the rafters, you can't simplify what The Roots have contributed to hip-hop by looking just at SoundScan.
Rap fans tend to get it twisted (probably because 50 Cent brainwashed us) and think that record sales are the be all and end all measure of success. And sure, in some ways they are incredibly important to an artist, especially their finances (even though, no matter how much you sell you can still go broke).
Meanwhile, there's another group of fans who tend to hate on whoever is the most popular artist at any given moment. But that's the easy way out. Truth is, as Jeff Bebe points out in the director's cut of Almost Famous, "I've studied the entire history of music. Most of the time, the best stuff is the popular stuff." And that's true of rap, many of the best selling rap albums are actually incredible records, and sometimes skills do sell: OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP, Biggie's Life After Death, 2Pac's All Eyez On Me, Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and so on.
Of course, there's also, the umm, how do we say this, not so classic albums like MC Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em which is still a top five all time best selling rap album. Here's the funny thing: Lots of people bought Hammer's record back in the day, but nowadays you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would claim to be a fan of his. Ditto for Vanilla Ice. Yet Nas' Illmatic struggled to go gold its first year of release but now every hip-hop head swears they know it by heart. You can't sell your way to longevity.
Like The Roots, many rap artists have built their brands from the ground up without hit records or album sales. In contrast, other artists who had no reason being anywhere near the top of the charts ended up rich (for a little while at least) and famous despite their inept efforts. It’s a discrepancy that continues to this day, but time weeds out these culprits and the cream rises to the top. To illustrate our point, we put together some comparisons to find 10 Facts That Prove Records Sales Aren't Everything.