Of course, we all know what happened next. After unprecedented sales in the early part of the decade behind such monster acts as Eminem, 50 Cent, Nelly and Jay-Z, hip hop began to drastically backslide into the gigantic hole of the commercial and critical wasteland that is now.
The Internet and digital downloads killed the record industry but hip hop curiously took a larger hit in the scheme of things than other genres and sales plummeted to record lows. Record companies fearing the worst began signing artists who were virtual clones of the few success stories they had and accordingly, the music got stale and processed. The South because of it's hegemony on the music scape took a lot of the blame since their sound had come to define the decade and accordingly, when prophets of truth like Nas began saying that hip hop was dead. Major feelings were caught about modern hip hop criticism since in affect, it was an attack on the region by proxy due to the South being the biggest game in town. Ultimately, it would disengenous to completely blame hip hop's commercial struggles on the South. The music industry has been murdered by digital downloads and early leaks of the album which has affected all forms of music. Hip hop has always been a youth driven medium both in it's artists and fanbase so it would make logical sense that it would be more aversely effected by the the digital revolution since young people tend to be more digitally saavy than their older counterparts. Hence, the phenomenon of the internet leak replacing the release date as the most important date in a rap records shelf life. Old people simply don't download music at the rate that a teenage Lil' Wayne fan would simply because they wouldn't know how to navigate the complex world of internet file sharing. Even if you could place a square link to the shittiness of the South's music to the decline in sales, it would ultimately be a relatively moot point behind the basic premise that digital downloads have murdered record sales at a geometric rate in recent years.
Critically, the down slide of rap music can be placed more firmly on the South's shoulders but not to the extent that haters like myself would ultimately assert. Many Souther rap apologists like to assert that the South is more than the lyrical coke-obsessed anti-wunderkinds of the Soulja Boy's, Young Jeezy's, and Mike Jones' of the world. They assert the anti-lyrical, ignorant stereotype of Southern rap music is a fallacy brought on by anti-South New York-centric elitism of critics like myself and others. They like to point to point out artists like Z-Ro, Killer Mike, Andre 3000, and others as prove that the South is deep. There is a partial truth in that statement but let's be real for a second, the South was not promoting or supporting these artists at nearly the rate they supported the coke-obsessed ignorant quotient of their artists. For better or worse, Young Jeezy is ten times as a big a star as Killer Mike and if artists like Killer Mike were the true face of the South, they would've sold more and been on television as ubiquitously as Mike Jones and Paul Wall. If you are going to present the likes of the Ying Yang Twins, Dem Franchise Boyz, and D4L as the face of your movement than you should prepared for people to stereotype your entire region's musical movement as a bunch of ignorant, gangsta grilled minstrels. It's intellectually dishonest to say that Trae is as popular as Paul Wall. Unfortunately, Paul Wall and his ilk will be the lasting legacy of the South's reign. It may not be fair but if you contrast it with who was dominating the charts during the East's and West's collective reign on the top (Biggie, Tupac, N.W.A., Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Dre and Snoop) than it simply casts and ugly shadow on the proceedings.
However, there is a mitigating factor in the lack of critical success of the movement that helps understand why the South kept feeding us crap. The shifting tastes of the youth and the collapse of the record industry help explain the shift in popular taste towards a more shallow and "ignorant" fare. The record industry upon it's mass failure panicked and started only signing artists that appealed to what already sold the most and worked in the past. It helped lead to a decline in alternative artists which was steady during hip hop's '90s heyday but generally kept anything outside of the basic cars, bitches, drugs, guns and money obsessed rappers. Dumbing it down became fashionable and the only way to get a record released so any artist that showed a flash of intelligence essentially got tossed out the door. Southern artists were all too willing to oblige to the New Order. However, it's my assertion that had the South remained as a small regional movement and not broken out, the result would have been exactly the same. Had New York stayed on top, it too would have fallen to a critical winter as even in the '00's, the most popular artists from New York were artists like 50 Cent, G-Unit, Ja Rule and Dipset which wallowed in the same basic ignorance and lack of lyricism as the worst of the South. It would've been no different. Hip Hop would still be dead had Biggie not been murdered by Chuck Phillips, er...Tupac's ghost.
In the end, my assertion that the South's reign wasn't exactly good for hip hop remains true but it would've played out the exact same way even if Hawaiian rap had dominated the pop charts this decade. Hip Hop's "death" was inevitable. Music moves in cycles and it was impossible for a music as weird and insular as rap to remain as cultural dominant on the American Youth culture as it was in it's '90s golden age. It's hard pill to swallow but it's the trut....Oh shit! The Carter III just released. Fuck this! Let's get back to some good old fashioned hating.