NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hip hop band Cypress Hill still see themselves as ambassadors of marijuana, just like the old days.
But as their new album is released in the United States on Tuesday, the Latino-flavored hip hop band who made their debut almost 20 years ago and found international fame with hits like “Insane in the Brain” and “Hits from the Bong,” know audiences and sales can change.
Hip hop artists like themselves who broke through when the genre was gaining international prominence in the 1980s and ‘90s are struggling to sell albums as they grow older.
Unlike rock or country fans, hip hop audiences are less likely to stay loyal to one group through its career, which makes new songs and albums a harder sell, music industry experts and Cypress Hill’s members say.
“It’s a different audience, the hip hop audience, it’s here today, gone tomorrow,” the band’s lead rapper B-Real, whose real name is Louis Freese, told Reuters. “It’s harder to develop that sort of longevity, that’s the problem.”
The group’s new album, “Rise Up” is their first in six years and the first through rapper Snoop Dogg’s label, Priority, owned by struggling music major EMI.
It features guest appearances including Tom Morello, guitarist from Rage Against the Machine, who plays on the thrashing title track. The group also jammed with Latin artist Marc Anthony who sings on the salsa flavored last track “Armada Latina” that features Spanish lyrics.
“I am sure people are going to call this a comeback, but really we never left,” said B-Real. “With the six year layoff, we had to come up with something different, we couldn’t come with a standard Cypress Hill album...That meant reaching out to other people and trying different things.”
The 39-year-old rapper, who described the new album as “more up-tempo, a little bit more rock,” said that while fans still flock to their concerts, selling records is another matter. Their 1993 album “Black Sunday” sold 3.4 million copies, but 2004’S “‘Til Death Do Us Part” moved just 204,000.
In the early 1990s, “there was a clear loyalty.” But now, many new rappers and artists “come in, maybe last a year or two, and then are out the door,” said B-Real.
“The climate change is in hip hop all the time,” he added. “You got to figure out a way past that.”
Mariel Concepcion, associate editor for Billboard.com, said unless a rapper or hip hop act is at the very top, it is more difficult to keep selling albums as bands age because the music is geared toward a younger audience and fans are more focused on current trends than in other genres.
“It’s really hard in hip hop because it’s just (about) what’s right now,” Concepcion said.
Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg and Diddy have all felt the pinch, even when accounting for overall decline in record sales.
Total U.S. album sales fell 12.7 percent in 2009 and are down 10 percent this year compared to the same stage in 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Older rock bands with loyal fans like Bon Jovi have had less trouble — their 2009 album “The Circle” debuted at No. 1 in the United States and sold 163,000 copies in its first week — and sales of country albums fell just 3.2 percent in 2009.
But hip hop and rap acts have had it worse. Beastie Boys, for instance, sold 5.4 million copies of their 1986 album “License to III” compared to 170,000 for 2007’s “The Mix-Up”.
“It’s just so much harder for Beastie Boys or a Cypress Hill because of what is going on in the music industry and also because of the kind of fickleness in hip hop,” she said.
But Cypress Hill are not too worried about getting older or sales figures while they still enjoy their music.
“If (they) wants to rock in the wheelchair, then I will roll (them) around,” B-Real joked of his fellow band members.
The album will be released on April 20, a day dedicated to legalizing cannabis, which for Cypress Hill seems to reinforce the notion that while some things — record sales and fans — may change, other things stay the same.
Additional reporting by Sharon Reich, editing by Jill Serjeant and Bob Tourtellotte