HipHop x Sports
“Surviving with big names that could’ve made your career stop…
… All that, and your man is still here and I’m still hot”
I’ve always been fascinated with what goes into making a “secret formula for success” in the rap game and what constitutes a rapper belonging in an elite or legendary class. Every rapper has an ego the size of their girl’s ass and thinks they already belong in this elite group, but beyond their obvious persona of arrogance and insecurity, as a fan a lot more goes into judging if a rapper is truly deserving of being called elite. Unlike what rappers say, being rich and living the life of a star isn’t even close to what success means. In addition, being at the top of the Billboard charts, even if it’s for 20 weeks in a row and considered “the anthem of the year,” doesn’t necessarily mean that this artist belongs in the upper-echelon of rap either. History has shown that it takes much more than some quick popularity to be successful as a rapper. There’s much more to it … And this definition of success that I will explain is deserving of the highest degree of respect and admiration from rap fans.
(Read my thoughts on success after the jump by clicking on the link)
It’s amazing how success and popularity are so fleeting for nearly every rapper we once called our favorites growing up. If you’ve been a hip-hop fan for at least five years, think about the variety of artists that have come and gone for you. Think about the songs you used to play on repeat five years ago, and then compare them to the ones that you play today. Aside from a very few, odds are the rappers that are played in 2008 are not the ones being played in 2013 … And this isn’t because your tastes have changed or you’re growing older or more mature or whatever. Sure, trends change in society and newer and newer fads eventually replace the older ones. However, for the most part, a rapper’s biggest difficulty (which, more often than not, they cannot overcome) is maintaining success & relevancy in the rap game. A particular artist may have a successful month because of a hit single, a successful year because of a hit album, or a successful couple-year period because of a good run. However, more often than not, these artists slowly start to fade and become irrelevant. The ones who have avoided this pattern are those that adapt to the changing times while maintaining at least a piece of their identity along the way. With a music industry that is epitomized by the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality, artists who have suffered a pitfall in the way I just mentioned were not able to keep up with a starving group of other rap artists who are as just as hungry for success as they are.
Two of the most obvious examples of “elite” rappers who were once on top of the world and now are more or less irrelevant are 50 Cent and Lil Wayne. Other less-obvious examples – artists like T.I., Young Jeezy, Ludacris, Jadakiss, Fat Joe, Ja Rule, etc. etc. (I didn’t put much thought into that list – so don’t take offense if I included one of your favorites) – include rappers who were not necessarily on top of their game but were still very popular at a certain time. All of these artists have faded from relevancy for one reason or another.
Sometime back between 2003-2005, right in between 50 Cent’s albums “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” and “The Massacre,” if you were to tell me that 50 would fall off the face of the earth in less than 3 or 4 years time, I would be baffled and probably wouldn’t believe you. This guy was on top of the world at the time, selling 700,000+ copies of “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” and over a million copies of “The Massacre” in their first weeks. Then all of a sudden, 50 Cent gradually lost his popularity. His beats were less catchy than they used to be, his rhymes were just more of the same, and his whole persona of “gangster rapper” was getting old. For one reason or another, he lost his edge. I don’t have the answer for why he fell from grace, but my point is that success as a hip hop musician most of the time leaves you as quickly as it comes. Lil Wayne, once self-proclaimed as the “Greatest Rapper Alive,” is another example of a rapper who could once do-no-wrong and now is viewed as more or less irrelevant. For Wayne, his career peaked right around the time of Tha Carter III, in which he too sold over a million copies in his first week. During this time, every track that Wayne was ever featured on became an instant hit. It’s like everything he touched turned to gold; he could do no wrong. As time went on, however, his one-liners became more and more tiresome, and the weird lines and choices for beats that Wayne used to get away with no longer enticed fans. Today, Wayne’s latest album “I Am Not A Human Being II” earned the #1 Most Disappointing Album of 2013 according to hotnewhiphop.com … In my opinion, Wayne turned too much to the cheesy punch-line rap. People got tired of it. And thus, Lil Wayne was pushed into irrelevancy to be replaced by hot and new young rappers dying for their chance.
The fact is that most rappers inherently do not have the ability to stay successful over a long period of time. This isn’t because we as listeners change our tastes as we get older or become different people. In addition, I would agree that society has changed and has introduced new and exciting trends that may outdate older ones, but I wouldn’t agree that this reason alone explains the inability to stay relevant. I would say that most rappers can’t stay successful because they can’t adapt and stay original. The rap game is like a food chain. There are constantly new, young, and exciting rappers trying to make names for themselves. There’s also constantly new hit rap songs emerging on the radio just because some new rapper was lucky enough to get a hold of the right beat and become popular. Because of this “survival of the fittest” dynamic, rappers that don’t adapt and thus become stagnant are often going to be pushed under the rug and fade into irrelevancy… And unfortunately, the game is so over-saturated as it is that the only artists that are getting any of the fans’ attention these days are the ones putting out hits either non-stop or right at this very moment.
With that being said, I think the secret formula to success in hip-hop is longevity. I truly admire a rapper that has been able to stay relevant over such a long period of time. It shows his ability to adapt, get rid of old facets of his repertoire that didn’t belong, and develop new weapons in his arsenal. It was easy to point to 50 Cent or Lil Wayne as the best rapper in the game when they were selling a million CDs in a week, but the true formula for success lies over a longer journey. I give a ton of credit to artists like Nas (the reason why I inserted his line at the beginning of this editorial), Jay-Z, & Eminem (among many others) for being around for such a long time and still earning the respect and popularity for their music to this day.
Here’s my bottom line – I don’t have the answer for how to be successful in the rap game. I think that a number of different factors contribute to a rapper falling from grace and there are also a number of reasons why a rapper happens to stay relevant over such a long period. I certainly know these patterns exist, but I also don’t know why that is either… The point of this whole thing is that I believe success by a rapper should be marked by longevity and an artist’s success over the long haul. Like I said, any “up-and-coming artist” in the world can get lucky enough to hop on a hot beat and shoot to the top of the charts. Most of the time these artists’ one hit wonders will crash and burn the second the rest of their album is released. And just like that, they are back to being a nobody.
An artist that even has the ability to consistently put out albums over a 15 year span has to be doing something right… And ones that are even more talented who could have their albums or songs from their album rise to the top of the charts time after time clearly have the secret recipe for success and are deserving of the highest honor… This is how we should measure success. So the next time you jump to a song on your iPod that sits atop the “Most Played of 2013 category” playlist, think to yourself: Will this artist even be relevant to me in a couple years?