[PC: Twitter @kmichelle]
Accompanying the hyper-focus on sociopolitical egalitarianism currently aggravating tensions great and small across America’s 50 states, another question should be also confronted, one that is glossed over, or ignored entirely, by mainstream circles of thought. The question of ‘What does it take to be an Artist,’ ‘What does an Artist look like’, and other related inquiries warrant a more concentrated investigation due not only to the unmitigated access every [financially-able] individual has to the world of music-creation [regardless of the genre] but also when assessing popular, orthodox Artists who, for one reason or another, maybe seriously lowering the benchmark for what is to be considered ‘good music’ in the 21st-century. The conversation must be had about the ever-expanding world of music and its amorphous, if not non-existent, regulations, where anyone can become a streaming Musician in just a manner of clicks, regardless of if their music has managed to achieve a standardized level of quality. Even established artists must confront the polemical issue of maintaining ‘quality’, even if their discography has proven them to be a superior musician. This was clearly evident in the public response from Eminem’s 2018 Album ‘Kamikaze.’
It was met with relatively moderate fanfare, Metacritic awarding the Album a 62/100, while the Review-Archive site Anydecentmusic bestowed the Album with a 5.6/100, although on the lower-end the prominent site Allmusic assigned a lowly 2/5 for the Album stating, “Its insularity suits the solipsistic worldview of Eminem, and its monochromatic pulse also puts his astonishing verbal facility in sharp relief.” I was cursorily alerted about the Album’s disappointing compositional stature through a critical exposé about Eminem’s post-career demise and attempted resurrection via NPR's Rodney Carmichael who, with a castigatory lens supported by historiographically-oriented musical commentary, exhibited Eminem as a Rapper who has become disconnected with the innovative present and his own natural talent, not only through his dependency on out-dated speech and derogatory epithets now deemed uncouth, but also with his underdeveloped feudal angst and pitiful attempt at ‘lyrical miracle whip’. Such a dialectic of quality over quantity and the supported need for its addressal was then again spurned by comments made by the American R&B Singer [and Television personality, but her comments are impactful nonetheless] K. Michelle [Kimberly Michelle Pate] who, via her Instagram on Nov. 30th, 2020, had stated her ambivalence towards the musical world, specifically regarding the paradoxical attainability of a musical career, where anyone can become a singer, but their efforts may be inaccurately placed. She writes,
"I'm so sick of y'all making a mockery of music. God gave everyone a certain gift. Everybody can't sing and lord knows everybody ain't a rapper. Please [People?] playing In and destroying a gift that was given to heal the world is just sad and some should be embarrassed to call this [it?] a musical interpretation [...]"
[PC: Getty Images via Shondaland]
These statements come from the Artist who, from her childhood, studied music at a professional level alongside acoustic-guitar, and was practically trained to become a vocal musician, first studying with the famous Voice-Teacher Bob Westbrook, coach for Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears among others. She then proceeded to higher- education at Florida A&M University in 2001 and entered their Department of Music by auditioning via yodeling. However, prior to her choice to pursue music full-time, she had graduated with complete Honors and had received multiple invitations to Law Schools, and thus when Hip-Hop Artist Ciara stated that, “Without education, you have nothing” in front of a roaring crowd at East High School in 2010, followed by K. Michelle’s supportive message “You are capable of doing the same thing [Having a musical career]. Take it from someone who sat there,” these messages are not something to be taken lightly. Education is incredibly important in the shaping of one’s Artistic being, and whether or not it comes through the form of formal music lessons, YouTube practice sessions, or collaborative occurrences [i.e., rap battles, gigs, mentorship, etc.] what is being stressed by K. Michelle and advocates for universal education is the importance of discernment, critical thinking, and above all else, the willingness to be changed for the better. That change may not come through music and may also show itself through other mediums, and for K. Michelle it manifested in the form of Production, finally pursuing her Law career, and other consumer ventures, but this is not to say that music has stopped touching her life. Rather, she understood that her musical career was a stepping stone, another step in her quest to live her dharma [her true path in life according to Buddhist teachings].
Pursuing a musical career, especially Rap/Hip-Hop inclined, is a precarious business, and unadvisable for those who lack a clear goal, sufficient talent, proper mindset, or even a baseline amount of self-awareness which can alert them to paths not to be taken, or situations to be avoided. This includes pursuing music itself. An article posted in 2018 highlights this fact, that ‘rapping’ [or pursuing a performance career] is a fluctuating career choice, and whose dividends are rarely to the creator’s liking, “If they spend 2gs to promote a show, they’ll make $1,900 back.” The eternal question then still remains, ‘What makes you so special that you think you can be a performer?’ If you cannot answer this question, what are you doing with your time? Originally applicable to cow-herders, the environmental situation called ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ which shows the ever-present fate of the spoiling of any beneficial resource, is a shining example of how the Music Industry operates in the 21st-century, and how the mindset of ‘anyone can become a singer’ is more harmful than helpful to the next generation of performers. For The Washington Post, in 2014 Robert Bruner had called this sustainability crisis in its musical format the, “winner-take-all phenomenon,” where the high-tier exceptionalists utilize resources and ‘win’ prizes [Awards, merits, deals] to such an extent, that those with less positional power are unable to or simple cannot attain a fraction of the top's collective wealth.
Keep this in mind when you say ‘I want to be a Rapper, Singer, Musician [etc.]” It is not that you cannot make it, but the more pressing question is what do you have to show that will freshen the respective field? Are you authentic? If this question seems hard to answer, then I would start there first before disseminating your work. Critical thinking cannot be forgotten, keep up, please!
Writer: John David Vandevert [Johndavidvandevert.com]