AN ARTISTS IDENTITY AND ITS PLACE IN BUILDING RELEVANCE AND LONGEVITY
Can you tell one poopy di from the next scoop diddy whoop poop? Cos I can’t. Every act sounds the same. Money, drugs, women…poop. No identity. Break out the torches and pitchforks, I’m about to upset you.
Somewhere after the inception of music labels, music became the new oil. Deceptively so. “All you have to do is string together a few words and sing a melody, right?” How hard could that be?
That gave rise to acts like Weird Al Yankovic. Now don’t get me wrong, Weird Al was a different type of artiste in his own right (a parody act), but what he did, gave people who didn’t understand what he was doing the idea that even they too could make music.
Enter one hit wonders.
It became less about an artiste’s talent and more about a “hot beat and a catchy hook”. But at least you still needed the basics, right? You still needed to be able to hold a note.
Then T-Pain came along and ruined everything.
Yes, I blame T-Pain. Now all anybody had to do, was sing and auto-tune the fuck out of it. Craft was gone, replaced by synthesizers and software, and with that, a change in the way we perceive music.
Nobody cared about making a good song anymore, just the next hit. And in case you’re one of the confused, the two are never the same thing.
“Irreplaceable” was a good song. “Harlem Shake” was a hit song.
“Adonai” was a good song. “One Corner” was a hit song. See a pattern here?
The excuse is always, “that’s not what the people want”. Newsflash, not even the people know what they want. They loved Lil Jon and Soulja Boy at some point remember? YEAAH! But how many Lil Jon or Soulja Boy records have survived the last decade compared to Michael Jackson’s or any other legend’s body of work? None. And you know why? Because no matter how long it takes, form is always temporary and class is forever permanent.
Kendrick has an identity. Beyoncé has an identity. Why? Because not only did they hone their craft, but they made songs about something. Their hit song was never bigger than the artiste, but an extension of their genius. Purple Rain is never bigger than Prince. Prince is the genius that came up with Purple Rain. Thriller is just one in a collection of hits Michael Jackson made; Welcome home by Osibisa. There’s a reason why people look to those icons, because they found the words for how they feel and the emotion in their voice to carry it through.
Music was supposed to elevate. Now, it just sedates.
We have become drones, looking for the next vibration; addicts looking for the next hit. But there’s one thing about an addiction. You either break from it, or you die from it. Either way, it ends.
There’s a reason why Michael Jackson, Tracy Chapman, Youssou Ndour, Osibisa, Sade et. al are timeless. They sang songs about something and through their songs, they stood for something.
“Stand for something or die in the morning”. Kendrick knew what he was saying even before he became it.
So, my question now is this: African artistes, what do you stand for?
Do you have an identity, or are you here to make another hit and chase after the next one?
You’re an artist remember? Tell your truth. There are over 7 billion people worldwide, trust me when I say you’re not the only one going through your particular hell. Speak to them. That’s how you grow a cult following. That’s how you become relatable. And that’s how you stay relevant (word to Sarkodie’s latest video freestyle). Because people know you. They trust you. They see your weaknesses, your failings, vulnerabilities. They see the things that make you cry, the things that make you happy and they live vicariously through you. Why? Because you are the only person that can say the things they feel.
Your work needs to be an extension of your being, not the other way around.
That’s what makes you an artist.
And if you can’t do that, well then…maybe this isn’t for you. And if you insist it is, then I’m sorry to say…well, not really – you’re not an artist, just a money hungry, deluded person who has decided this is their new hustle.
Oh, you may finesse the system, you may get your money. But the same system you helped build, will tear you down. Because at the end of the day, they will find a new hit, and you will be forgotten, cursed to eternally chase after your next “big song”.
Creating music is an art. It’s almost…ethereal. Spiritual. Creating is in the realm of gods.