In light of praises and criticisms of recent projects from "veterans" Kanye West and Jay-Z, I posed a question to a wide range of true Hip-Hop heads from every era to gauge their opinions on the issue. Each of their opinions shared some similarities, and several differences. Read how each person felt and compare it to your own opinion.
"Are maintaining relevancy and reinventing onesself one in the same when it comes to the longevity of an artist's career?"
R.E.C. (Age 40):
In my opinion, you got to stay true to yourself as an artist and mature in how u present yourself. The real question is, staying relevant in who's eyes? Because some of these artists are only around as long as their record execs say they hot. [The plan should be:] You get control of your music and release it on your own terms with no outside influence as far as marketing, promoting and hell, the producers you work with. All that plays a part.
Those are just my top 3 that matured in what they talk about and control how their product is presented to the masses. Some of these artist dont have that luxury and either sell out to gain more money or force people to join them. I didn't mention The Roots but on the real ask that question and look at The Roots' career. To me they haven't reinvented themselves at all [and still have remained relevant]. Instead, they have spent their careers remaining within their element while at the same time putting newer acts on. If that didn't make sense, think on it for a minute and smoke an L to it...
Jules Esquire (Age 38):
To me, reinventing is totally necessary for growth and longevity. Take for instances the latest Jay-Z album. Jay has to maintain relevance by changing his rhyme pattern and style of music in order to sell to his core fans who are now younger than us.
Pops (Age 46):
I don't think they are the same thing. In my mind I equate maintaining relevancy with holding place in the status quo. And I equate longevity with shaking up the status quo. His [Jay-Z] life would get so much easier if he stopped trying maintain his place and moved on to whatever is next.
Ra'z al Ghoul (Age 21):
I'm going to say no. The definition of longevity is "the length or duration of life." If an artist's career dies down and doesn't release anything for an x amount of years there is no longer life to said individual's career. However one can stay relevant by reinventing themselves. For example: Wayne reinvents himself down to his controversial clothing he wears but somehow manages to make the News on the Google tab section or as a main story on hotnewhiphop.com for something he does in music occasionally.
Kanye West has reinvented himself with his transition of an artist more likely to be featured on a Lauryn Hill song, to the crazed, dub-step, pop, rapping "genius," we know him by now that samples German bands (like he did on Yeezus). With that being said he still stayed relevant.
As far as not staying relevant but reinventing yourself, Juicy J is a perfect example. After Three 6 Mafia split up, Juicy J wasn't really making any major noise (commercially), but since he allied himself with Wiz Khalifa and Taylor Gang, his career was resurrected. His ratchet style has always been there, but he had to incorporate new ways to do what he did and gain the youths attention. Now his fan base is probably bigger than ever because of his reinvention.
Eminem is another great argument for this. His style changed completely. When Em first debuted he had lyrics about killing bitches, homosexuals, and his fucked up life. Then he left for x amount of years and didn't release anything (not trying to put a lifespan on anyones abscence). When he returned to the game he spoke of his change and laid things to rest (excluding his freestyles). His voice doesn't even sound the same. He TRULY had to reinvent himself.
I don't know what amount of time and/or circumstances is considered enough for someone that needs to be reinvented though.
TwonJonson (Age 30):
When you really think about how the question is presented, answering it directly is actually pretty difficult. An artist sustaining their career over an extended period of time might not even be a direct result of remaining relevant or reinventing themselves. When you look at The Roots example given by R.E.C., it's safe to say that the two are not one in the same. Artist's take several different routes to stay afloat in this game. The true challenge that most artists face is money vs. fans. They struggle with trying to decide which paths make the most sense to them. The ones who lean more toward their fans are often the type who I would consider "artists," as their focus is typically more on making great music and pushing the genre forward. Others, who are rarely ever able to shake the label of just another "rapper," lean toward the money and as a result, experience careers that are short-lived.
Then you have artists who try to tackle the ultimate challenge of appealing to both a wide range of fans while at the same time raking in as much cash as they possibly can. Those are the ones who typically end up dealing with the most scrutiny because they stretch themselves so thin trying to appeal to too many fans. They can't help but piss off several other fans in the process.
As you can see, most folk's perspectives on the question above include references drawn from their own era compared to today's expectations of a rapper or artist. At the end of the day, all we care for as fans is great music, though. It hurts to see artist's whom we praised in their hey day succumb to modern day trends that don't fit what we have come to know and love from them just to sell a couple more records. But "selling out" is hardly a reinvention of onesself. Instead, it is a "by any means necessary" approach to attemping to stay relevant, which ends up being detrimental to the genre.
An artist reinventing their sound and finding success with that is what is healthy for the genre, because it inspires other artists to expand the genre further. Kanye West might have mastered this craft, which helped birth artists like Kid Cudi. It's not always necessary for an artist to switch things up, but for those that do, the reason behind them changing their sound is what should be judged. Is it for the money or for the love of music as an art form?
As always, you can share your thoughts with the BITM crew on twitter