For our Hate It or Love It series we take a current hot topic in music news that polarizes reasonable minds in the music and entertainment world, and we have one of our writers advocate for one side of the argument and have another one of our writers advocate for the other side (trying our best to always stay fair and balanced). One debatable topic in music has resurfaced with today’s release of Rick Ross’ Hood Billionaire album, Ross’ second album release in 2014. While artists like Ross do not let long periods pass before releasing new projects, other artists take noticeable hiatuses between releases, but which model is better for the musician?
Why “The Wait” Helps Artists
By Vikash Dass
Let’s start with a few names. Frank Ocean. Kendrick Lamar. Adele. Tame Impala. Bon Iver. The common underline between all these names mentioned is almost this aura of prolific, quality artistry—musicians that only release work when it compliments or raises the bar, and strictly make the conscious decision to not put out a piece of art that is sub par to their own standards.
Would Adele be looked at the same if she dropped an album right after 21? I mean, she’d be giving the fans what they want and capitalizing on her relevancy, right? What if Kendrick dropped a Gangsta Grillz mixtape right after his ‘Control’ verse further shitting on his peers and displaying his technical skill?
I think none of these things happened because there is such a thing as “artistic integrity”, and there is a belief with some select artists that if it’s not better or bolder than their last release, they shouldn’t release it.
I mean, lets really think about it. Keep a rapper in mind like Rick Ross—one who released a modern-classic rap album in 2010 with Teflon Don, and followed the release with many free projects and mixtape that were spotty, hit-or-miss, and quite honestly good at best. (Rich Forever was nice though, can’t front on that one.) Now the question to be asked is, if Rozay had waited maybe a year or two and collected the best songs from all these projects and put them into one, quality project, would that have helped or hurt his legacy and the overall quality of his discography? Answer: It would have helped. Even in 2014, he decided to release two albums in one year, with the polished, lengthy Mastermind, and the rough-cut, trunk rattling Hood Billionaire. Both projects were good in their own right, but suffered from the exact same problem with having too much “fat” and filler in between the solid tracks. Now this serves as the perfect supplementation to my argument, because if he would have just taken ONE year and made an excellent album cycle count, the best songs from Hood Billionaire and Mastermind would’ve made for an incredible album, no?
Even one of my favorite artists of today’s era is guilty of this. The endlessly talented Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino decided to follow the success of what, in my opinion, was one of the most perfect album experiences I’ve ever taken in with Because the Internet with a dual project, mixtape/EP in STN MTN/Kauai. Now, here’s a disclaimer: I liked this dual project. Really. Both parts. STN MTN was an awesome concept, that admittedly didn’t impress all the time, but still had its shining moments and made for a mixtape with standout tracks that are still in my rotation. Its ‘No Small Talk’ remix introduced me to the excellence that is Kauri Faux. ‘Candler Road’ was probably one of the hardest songs of 2014 that featured a hook about not being able to come up with words for a hook. ‘AssShots’ was renegaded by Donald’s kind-of-manager/creative collaborator Fam, with bars like: “Packed like Serena, or maybe Trina/Shit I don’t know, they both got ass” Phew. Also, DJ Drama drops over hot Bino bars is something I never even knew I wanted. Then there’s Kauai, which was also dope, following along in the melodic, beach-y vibes we’ve been exposed to from Bino before, with some great songs, and some other decent ones. It was kind of experimental, scattered, but not fully committed to whatever was being experimented with, and just not as balls-out dedicated to the overall message and not as technically sound as Because the Internet. I mean, it supposedly featured the same character and themes from Because the Internet, but definitely came across as more of a spin-off than a sequel. And this was the problem I had with this project. STN MTN was a decent, playful Gangsta Grillz mixtape. Kauai was a decent EP, obviously chasing a similar sound that was established with Gambino’s first real radio smash, ‘3005’. But were any of those as bold and innovative as Because the Internet?
What if Yeezus was dropped as an EP? Would it have been received better or received more acclaim? No. There’s something to be said about an artist committing their energy into one, wholesome, quality piece of work, and ultimately diving in head first rather than wading their feet in the water. Part of Yeezus’ appeal was that it was Kanye releasing an ALBUM, with no promotion, no single, no videos, and no press (prior to release). He literally just tweeted a date, and then proceeded to drop his most polarizing, experimental, risk-taking project ever, which ended up being a stripped down, minimalistic, noisy, maddening project that thematically was broad enough to stretch from modern day materialism and privately owned prisons to the pitfalls of romance and drug use. But the fact is, Kanye put all his chips in front of this offering which is what added to it’s boldness. If Yeezus dropped as an EP or mixtape, it would have quite frankly been viewed as him testing out sounds or maybe teasing a direction for his next endeavour. It would’ve been played off as, “Kanye has the best discography ever. I mean, Yeezus was kinda wack, but that’s why he released it as an EP. He’ll get em on the next one.” But the fact that Ye stood by his product and called it an “album”, especially following what is looked as the greatest rap album in modern history, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, made naysayers and people in general put off by the polarizing sounds realize and rethink the project as a whole. Yeezus was a Kanye ALBUM. Just like The College Dropout. Just like Graduation. Just like MBDTF. And he made it clear that it deserved to be looked at and appreciated on the same pedestal. Going back to Gambino, what if he had waited a year or two to release a follow up to Because the Internet, also backed by his ENTIRE musical integrity? Sure, it might hurt his short term relevance, but in the grand scheme of things considering his artistic integrity and ultimately exercising quality control, I think it would have added to him being prolific and ultimately would have impacted his career better than STN MTN/Kauai did.
Now, lets dive into the very first thought I had when I considered this topic, and a question i’ve actually been asked before:
“Is it depressing to be a Frank Ocean fan?”
In some ways, yes. If you’re a fan of other artists in this internet-era, you’re probably used to frequent album cycles and the constant headlines, the constant press, and so on. So, if you’re also a Frank Ocean fan in 2014, you’re probably DYING. Frank not only hasn’t dropped an ounce of his own new music since the 2012 masterpiece channel ORANGE, he had deleted his social media accounts (other than his Tumblr, which is barely updated anyways). Deleted Twitter, in the “Twitter generation”? Why? Well, he has stated previously that he likes “the music to speak for itself”, and this is just taking that sentiment to the next level. Although he hasn’t explained his departure from social media, I can make an educated inference that it’s because he’s so hard-nosed on his music being the only wavelength to contribute to his legacy, that he doesn’t even want his Twitter-thoughts to interfere or possible dilute his message. Crazy, sure, but also kind of noble, in a way. It’s probably also a way for Frank to focus, as “signing off the network” is an adequate way of living life, rather than existing on the internet and headlines. Remember when Donald Glover also took a hiatus from Twitter and social media alike, and locked himself in a house in the Palisades to finish recording his best contribution to the world with Because the Internet? I think Frank Ocean is taking a page from a similar book, and realizing that if he’s going to add to his tapestry of absolute, quality music, he not only should take as much time as he needs, but he should also probably live a little. In the real world. That concept right there in itself is pretty powerful, and in a way, is probably the biggest reason the phenomena of the “sophomore slump” exists. It is often said your debut album is the one that takes your whole life to make, but maybe sophomore albums are so frequently and notoriously sub-bar because they are uninspired? I mean, if music is often a reflection of real life, and if you haven’t really lived a lot and had any new, refreshing experiences or emotions in real life, wouldn’t that translate in the music?
So, live a little, Frank Ocean. Take you’re sweet f*cking time, because it’ll probably be worth it. And this is something Frank Ocean artists secretly realize when they wipe their tears away after thinking about this “drought” they’ve been enduring. Bottom line is, artists should put out albums when they feel it’s leaping over the bars they’ve previously set, or when they feel that it is a project that sets new ones entirely. They shouldn’t put out projects to chase relevancy, or to attempt to remain a conversation month after month. I mean, let’s look at what could be my personal favourite human on this planet, Andre 3000. Easily one of the greatest rappers of all time, yet he has no solo studio album out under his name, unless, of course, you count his addition to the 2003 Outkast double album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. There has been so much talk and noise about why Andre has waited this long to drop a project on his own, but he surprisingly put it very simply in an interview with The New York Times. When asked about the possibility of a solo album from 3 Stacks, and a possible timeline, he so eloquently responded with: “When you feel it, it’s right. If you don’t feel it, then why? Honestly, think about it. Why do it? Why?”
Why “The Wait” Hurts Artists
By Dan Garcia
If you walk too close to the edge, you just might fall off. A metaphor that runs too true for many artists who walk too close to the edge of what is an appropriate break length between albums. Many great artists have fallen victim to the consequences of waiting too long to release a new album. These artists lose momentum and hype and often return as a new and different artist (and not for the better).
A classic example of this unfortunate trend is one of the best rappers of all-time, Eminem. After consistently releasing a number of hit albums from 1999 to 2004 (although Encore was not quite up to the quality of its predecessor), Eminem waited until 2009 to drop his album Relapse. Not only did Eminem admit that Relapse was pretty “eh” but this was the first full-length solo Eminem album to get mostly mixed reviews. You would hope that if Eminem could follow his classic The Slim Shady LP with another classic, The Marshall Mathers LP in just a year’s time, that he could improve upon his somewhat mediocre Encore with a brilliant and triumphant return with five years to do so. However, this was not the case. While Eminem will always be able to sell records, he has yet been able to return to the quality of his records from the early 2000s.
Veterans in music are not the only ones who can fall victim to waiting too long to release new music. New artists especially can feel the negative effects of ‘the wait’. In 2000 Earl Sweatshirt made a name for himself, with his release of Earl. Although it was technically a mixtape, it was more of an album, and even named as one of Pitchfork’s Best Albums of the Decade. However, following the tape’s release Earl was sent away to boarding school until his 18th birthday and did not (or could not) release his debut album Doris until over three years past the release of Earl. Although Earl Sweatshirt returned home as a rap star, his group Odd Future were dominating rap and R&B, and he had a slew of resources at his disposal that he did not have with Earl, Doris disappointed many. Doris, while a good album that received generally positive reviews, fell short of expectations, did not receive a Rap Grammy of the Year nomination (like I would have predicted), and was not up to the quality of Earl. Tyler the Creator may have been right when he said Earl’s debut was better than Illmatic, but Doris was certainly no Illmatic. Was Earl simply a victim to the sophomore album curse, or did his time off of rap (spent at boarding school) make his music suffer?
There are also a number of artists who I am currently worried about, as their current hiatuses are reasons for concern. Although a lot of these artists have not taken the lengthy breaks of an Eminem, totaling five years, in today’s music with the internet playing a pivotal role in music releases, a couple years can seem like a lifetime. Such artists that worry me are Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, and Mike Posner (who are all amazing artists). Frank Ocean’s debut album channel ORANGE was released in July of 2012, after the release of his critically acclaimed mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra in 2011. Over two years later, following the release of his Grammy Album of the Year nominated project, we have heard almost nothing from Frank. We can only speculate how good his next project will be, and I still expect it to be great, but I am certainly worried (especially since he was able to follow his debut mixtape with such quality, in such little time). A$AP Rocky release his debut album in January of 2013, and has also been relatively quite since. He is coming on two years since his release, and who is talking about A$AP Rocky now? Not many. Last month he released his single ‘Multiple‘, and the track was and is relatively quite on the internet and radio. Finally, Mike Posner gathered a huge following for himself through his 2009 mixtapes A Matter of Time and Out Foot Out the Door and his debut album 31 Minutes to Takeoff in 2010 (with its smash hit ‘Cooler Than Me’). Since then, Posner has worked for other artists and released his ‘Top of the World‘ track with long-time friend Big Sean, but he doesn’t have the same hype. Posner is immensely talented in both his production and song-writing, and is one of the most humble and nice guys in hip-hop, but this long wait between albums may be crushing.
There is something to say for consistency. Kanye West is the perfect example. He instantly became a household name in rap with his 2004 debut, The College Dropout. ‘Jesus Walks’ alone made Mr. West a staple in rap music. However, Kanye did not wait long, as he dropped his second album Late Registration (another classic album) a year later in 2005. After back-to-back hits, Kanye was afforded the ability to wait a little longer (just two years) before the release of his third album and third Grammy winning project, Graduation. The following year in 2008, Ye released his game changing album 808s & Heartbreak. Although this album was misunderstood at the time, today it is viewed as a classic that changed rap forever and paved the way for artists like Drake (the hottest rapper in the game right now, who released four major projects in just five years). Next, Kanye waited only two years until the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, one of the most critically acclaimed albums in the history of music. Less than a year later, he released his Watch The Throne project with Jay-Z. Although this was Kanye’s first ever rap album to lose the Grammy for Rap Album of the Year, guess what it lost to? That’s right, it lost to Kanye’s own album, MBDTF (since both projects were released in the same eligibility year). Less than two years later, Ye released his critically acclaimed Yeezus album, and now we are on the verge of a new album from Kanye within the next few months. It is hard for the gears to get rusty when they are constantly moving.
It is not enough to just release project after project in very little time. Quantity does not necessarily equal quality. But that does not mean consistency in releases, and avoiding long hiatuses, is without benefits. If you wait too long, your talent may fade as you are not staying in the habit of constantly creating new music. However, even if the talent goes nowhere, your hype may die and your quality music may go unnoticed. A word of advice to new artists, keep the legs pumping and don’t make your new fans wait too long. A lot of those fans have no problem jumping ship. Model the likes of Kanye West, a musical genius who constantly is putting out new music and has yet to make a bad album. Do not get rusty. If an artist wishes to put out one classic album and coast the rest of their life, than more power to them, however I doubt that is the case for any artist that is actual capable of making such a classic album.