The boxes for the key releases had box cutters put to them and extra space was made in the Rap/Hip-Hop section. In addition, there’d be extra boxes of Jay-Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement & OutKast’s Aquemini available behind the counter upon request just in case demand called for it and the bins went bare. It got so serious that after a gang of Tower employees got $100 advances on their next paychecks from the store’s key supervisor to pay for their future midnight sale purchases that it looked like they’d have to do a post midnight sale sale just for the Tower folks.
At around 10 p.m. everyone from each floor was called to come to the 2nd floor & get copies of all the albums they’d be buying later on tonight and set them aside just in case they ran out of stock. Everyone was getting excited for midnight. An informal line began to form outside at about 10:45 PM. That’s when we knew that night was about to get mad real…
Now let’s examine why this particular Rap release date was so huge and such a monumental event that can never again be re-created or synthesized. The players involved are Jay-Z, who’s about to launch his Roc-A-Fella empire off the back of this album and become a legitimate superstar. A Tribe Called Quest, one of Rap’s most beloved and respected groups calling it quits which will bring out a wide cross section of fans.
OutKast, the same group that proclaimed that “The South’s got something to say” had become one of the biggest groups in all of Rap and amassed a diverse fanbase over their first two albums and their lead single “Rosa Parks.” Brand Nubian reunited with all of it’s original members for the first time since their classic debut LP back in 1990 on Foundation. The last piece of the puzzle was the long awaited album from the underground’s favorite duo Mos Def and Talib Kweli, collectively known as Black Star. They were regarded as the “last hope” to save Rap from it’s overly commercial leanings at the time.
The Fall of 1998 was very special in the timeline of the eventual decline of both box stores and music sales numbers. It was just before sites like Amazon.com would rule it’s first ever holiday sales season and cut significantly into the profits of brick & mortar music stores like Tower Records, Strawberries, HMV, Virgin and electronics stores like Tweeter and Circuit City. It’s before P2P sites like Napster and sites like mp3.com would result in more CD-R’s being sold than actual CD’s just a few months later. To further put things into perspective, only 5% of all American homes possessed DVD players. That dreaded “Titanic” sale I mentioned previously? We were selling out of pallets of VHS tapes. People couldn’t even comprehend the concept of “widescreen” back then.
September 29th, 1998 was the perfect storm. It was before the Internet could affect physical album sales. It was also the right blend of nostalgia in A Tribe Called Quest and Brand Nubian’s respective swan song and resurrection coupled with the rise of the underground’s new champions Mos Def & Talib Kweli (Black Star) and the hope they represented amongst the young people and the backpackers that regularly copped Rawkus, Fondle ‘Em other indie Hip-Hop vinyl combined with the exploding popularity of both Jay-Z and OutKast.
You also have to keep in mind that Rap music is now the #1 selling genre of music and retailers are well aware of this fact so they pulled out all the stops. We have holdovers from the 1st Golden Era releasing records the same day as the new “hot” rappers and some backpackers the college kids love and all of their fans are lined up down the street and around the block. Many were in line to buy all five albums because they recognized the significance of this event and they all waited for the day Rap finally ruled the sales charts. It will never be like this again. We have the iTunes Store and Google Play plus cars drive by playing the leaked albums a week before they hit stores.
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