An Artist’s voice is the most valuable weapon in their arsenal. Artists that use music as a form of connection and expression are people and people tend to change, moving on to different points in their lives. They’re arbiters of interpretation, channeling the world around them in their voices so that you can see it clearer through yours. If an artist makes a couple good albums that fit the same mold that’s great – if they continue using the same style though, they’re doing a disservice to themselves and their listeners both. Consequently, being stagnant is prevalent and relevant in hip-hop and other mediums. It divides those that can ride the wave of change, and those that can’t stay on their board.
During the mid 2000’s 50 Cent rose to prominence with Interscope and G-Unit as a refreshing and modern look back into gangsta rap. Before Fiddy, N.W.A., Ice-T, Big L, and Mobb Deep amongst many others pioneered a genre that became well-defined from coast to coast. With Fiddy’s laid-back, stoic representation, his style hammered a dent in the charts and made a statement to the music industry that he was there to stay. Since then, however, 50 has fallen off the map. His type of rap got him in the industry, yet now he’s ridden off that style of rap for as long as possible.
Some people do grow as that’s inevitable, but like 50 Cent or Twista, they make the mistakes of not letting that reflect in every facet of their music.
Twista is another case of unsettling lethargy. After “Kamikaze” and “Slow Jamz,” Twista continued to make albums that flowed down the same river of when he began. Both artists received flooding amounts of praise and while their intentions were to remain successful, they meandered and lost their way. Bending into a monotonous path, becoming a one-trick pony is a common pitfall that many artists find themselves in. There’s an allure to rapid success and it’s up to the artist[s] to understand whether or not you should have a change of scenery within your style. Artists such as the ones in Odd Future realized that it was their time to grow.
Odd Future consists of artists like Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, and Tyler, the Creator, all of whom have found successful niches in the hip-hop industry. Known for entering the music industry with hard-core shock value, specifically Tyler’s “Yonkers,” the group engrained themselves in headlines and forged a movement that lashed out against the status quo saying it was okay to be a kid, an outcast, and still be successful. Odd Future was an oasis for outsiders, and at the time was fitting for the artists affiliated.
Rare if you’re young but lucky if you’re capable, they had a realization early in their lives of what they had genuine, and honest desire to do, and disbanded because of it.
During their time within the group, you could see reoccurring themes within each artist’s work; Earl brought straight rap tinged with sadness and lyrical aptitude, Frank brought capable storytelling and RnB, and Tyler pulled the limelight onto the group just by being Tyler. Since then, the group grew up. Rare if you’re young but lucky if you’re capable, each individual had a realization early in their lives of what they had genuine, and honest desire to do, and disbanded because of it. They entered the music industry with clearcut, fiery passion, and emerged above the ash and embers of what they created to become their own. Groups like Odd Future are diamonds of illustrating whether or not their musical capabilities as a group can stand the test of time while they themselves grow; Outkast and Nine Inch Nails are able to perfectly shoulder-draw the line of consistency within fluid sound progression.
Outkast is empirically one of, if not the singular greatest hip-hop duo of all time. Spanning from gangsta rap like Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik to profound, metaphorical and eccentric projects like Aquemini, Outkast attained staggering acclaim from critics and six grammies spanning across six albums, shattering expectations of each album with an iron fist. A group like Outkast is hard to find, but they did what it takes to be successful amidst what life constantly throws at you. They stuck together. They worked on it. Albeit their albums were not stylistically consistent, their persistence was. They understood that if you just worked on something long enough, you’ll grow into it and become successful. While not at their level awards-wise, Nine Inch Nails also proved to be a group that showed endurance through life and music as the individuals themselves changed.
Trent Reznor, a singer, songwriter, and producer for Nine Inch Nails is also an academy award winner for composing multiple scores as well as producing other mediums of art such as making the sound effects for Quake, The theme music for Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and has made scores for movies such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and the film adaptation of Doom.
This wasn’t a step in the wrong direction, just a step onto a different path.
Early on, there was a time where Reznor was struggling with a death in the family, depression, suicide, as well as addiction on multiple levels of drugs to cope with the grief. During this time, the music he made was self-explanatory with album names like Broken and The Downward Spiral. Reznor then went on to take a break from music and complete rehab, stating that “There was a persona that had run its course. I needed to get my priorities straight, my head screwed on.” Upon breaking old habits, his music fans could argue that his music took a step back, but this is primarily due to the fact that fans of Reznor are only used to him and his portrayal as a person through his previous creations. Hearing the contrast between “Hurt” during The Downward Spiral and “13 Ghosts II” in Ghosts I-IV is staggering to say the least. This wasn’t a step in the wrong direction, just a step onto a different path. Reznor started composing scores for films such as The Social Network, Gone Girl, and has tracks appearing in others like The Raid II: Berandal.
These artists truly reflect themselves as the middle-man for the listener between life and music. Like Odd Future, people grow from their ways and move on in a good or bad direction, and the unavoidable change of an artist causes their style to change itself. Some people do grow as that’s inevitable, but like 50 Cent or Twista, they make the mistakes of not letting that reflect in every facet of their music. Then there are those like Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails where his life developed with his music. His music suffered at points where it didn’t reflect what he once was. Yet, that’s the whole point of music. His music today, reflects who he now is. Whether or not moving on keeps them relevant, however, is entirely dependent on how they can best filter the world unto us.
Look out for Part II of this article coming soon, and for more on hip-hop, keep reading on at TrueToo.