As you may or may not know I am currently in the process of putting the finishing touches on [insert mixtape title here]. This past Friday (March 25th), I played Phella an updated version of a storytelling verse I did to a Kanye West beat. As opposed to its predecessor, this one was recorded from memory (not off paper), and sounded it. After listening to it he asked something along the lines of “we both know you can rap, so why not prove that with a verse and a catchy hook, instead of a four minute story to a beat that reaches overkill after its 2 minute mark”. Although we agreed that it was better than the last, his reaction made me question whether or not it was worth releasing.
At this point Phella and I have built a big brother/little brother relationship. He’s looked out for me on numerous occasions, and continuously keeps pointing me in the right direction. It’s almost like I walk through the dark paths he’s already taken; so instead of me having to fall (and waste time and energy), he’ll warn me about the pot holes ahead. For instant, I’m sure I probably wouldn’t have explored recording without a piece of paper in front of my face had it not been for him. And although it requires a bit more effort, it’s more practical and saves trees!
I understood his concerns with the record. And I don’t think he was telling me to dumb it down either. But being a brand new artist, with no major big named affiliation can be tricky at times. Of course you want to get people to listen to you, but their attention span will be very limited simply because they don’t have a reason to listen to you yet (dope raps don’t seem to do it anymore folks). The logical solution to this problem would be, make “shorter, catchier, straight to the point” songs, right? But what if you don’t want to get your point across right away for creative reasons?
Believe me when I tell you (as a song writer), making something that sounds like something else is not at all difficult; just because you’ve heard something like it before. And although the argument can be made that that route may get you more listeners, I say it can be counter-productive. Let’s not beat around the bush: straight to the point means listener/radio friendly type songs. But those kinds of songs just make you “another guy with a song” in this context. In retrospect, that four minute verse could’ve been summed up in a punch-line; but then how would I standout?
In this day in age I don’t think anybody really believes that the songs on the radio are really the songs that the majority favors. If that was the case Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat” wouldn’t have charted. What happened was the radio got paid to play it and did so; so many times that it had to catch on and if you didn’t like it you had to deal with it (honestly, I refuse to believe that no self conscious respecting man took that song seriously). Soulja Boy successfully sold his song and dance and was able to stick around after the song; but off the top our heads, can we name the artists who made “Stanky Leg”, “Dougie”, and “Hit’em with the Flex”? No hate, but I couldn’t.
Maybe if these artists had songs that stood out (not formatted like others or filled with average Rap song content), then we’d be able to remember them. And whenever somebody would try to put them down, one of their fans could come back with, “go listen to “[insert song title here]”. But that’s the difference between Rappers and Hip-Hop Artists; we care about content, lyrics, and the all around art of what we do, Rappers don’t! They follow whatever “the new thing” is to stay afloat.
To furthermore differentiate rappers from Hip hop artists, let’s take Joe Budden and Yung Berg for example. While they were both introduced to most of us through “straight to the point” records, one strayed while the other stayed on that lane. Aside from songs Yung Berg made in 2007, nobody can name one of his songs; as opposed Joe Budden who when his name is mentioned, you’ll hear “Dumb Out”, All Of Me”, and “In My Sleep” before you hear “Pump It Up”. Therefore if Joe wants to make a “Touch & Go” his audience is more forgiving due to him having more substance in his portforlio.
I hear radio friendly songs all the time that don’t chart; and the reason why is: those songs don’t work without the proper backing. It’s not to say that I’ll never make one of those types of songs (because that’ll be stupid and also limiting myself). I have in the past, and could most likely do a better job at it now. But my main focus at the moment is turning heads, and trying to make sure that I’m not just another voice in the cheer. So breaking away from the “norm” from time to time would be perfectly fine; art doesn’t have a norm. Picasso didn’t ONLY use red just because it might catch more people’s attention.
The time will come for me to make these kinds of songs more often… but it’s not today. At this point I feel like I still need to make stuff that ten years from now people will point to and say, “this stood out to me in 2011”. And at the same time I still need to challenge myself and try to bring something new to the table; like Slick Rick did with storytelling, or Big Daddy Kane did with compound syllable rhyming, and even Rakim with the calm, and subtle way of flowing. I still need something like that to be unarguably the greatest of all time. No matter how far it maybe, that’s what I’m gunning for; and I can only get there by going left.