By Adrianna Elias
In a 1999 interview with MTV, Prince delved into the impact of violent themes in music on youth and our culture. His statement from that interview, “Pretty soon we’ll be sampling the sample that was already sampled,” still resonates more than ever today.
Most people often find it challenging to embrace new music. It seems like everything has been done before. How could it not, with the vast digital landscape and the ease of music creation and consumption? While the digital age offers benefits, it has also led to an oversaturation that dilutes the profound influence artists can have. This prompts a debate between performance and social status and art versus the artist’s brand beyond their music. Why don’t artists create bodies of work with significance instead of focusing solely on chart-topping singles?
Personally, I am drawn to the nostalgia of what has made artists break out and sustain success for years. Examples like Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and the rise and fall of Brockhampton demonstrate a deliberate strategy of world-building within their music. Fans discuss an artist’s “era” because they know that when they play an album like Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” they are transported to a specific moment in time with visuals and a narrative that unfolded in real life. To connect with listeners, artists must strike a balance between relatability and personal storytelling through their music. Storytelling involves stitching a story through audio, complementing the song with visuals, and articulating their own creative process. What inspired them? Who did they collaborate with? How long did the album take to create? While sampling is acceptable, artists should explore less obvious, untapped sources, nodding to nostalgia and influence thoughtfully, not excessively.
However, one might argue that some artists prioritize their image over their connection to their audience. There is a fine line to tread. For instance, Tyler, the Creator, meticulously crafts worlds around his music and engages his fanbase by selling clothes tied to each era. Albums like “Call Me If You Get Lost” might be less relatable than “Igor,” but the surrounding art changes perceptions. Tyler’s transformation from “Flower Boy” to “CMIYGL” was intentional, leading to a shift in his audience and earning respect as an artist from the majority. This raises questions about how black artists often face harsher criticism for their “outrageous” music compared to white musicians who have done the same without backlash. While Tyler samples, he pays homage to his influences and stands out due to his sound’s versatility.
Notably, there are artists like Steve Lacy and Kevin Abstract who possess a keen ear, a clear vision and the ability to execute sampling correctly. They pay homage in a way that earns nods of approval from music history enthusiasts. Pharrell Williams and Quest Love are also noteworthy examples. Unfortunately, musicians sometimes are not taken seriously due to their image, but artists like Megan Thee Stallion demonstrate intentionality in their music. Her image and music align; she is here to make music for a specific audience. If you do not get it or hate it, it is not made for you. Not everything caters to everyone, which is not bad. Objectivity wanes when it comes to music. If a sound does not align with our trained ears, it is easy to dismiss it as “bad.” Yet, what does that truly mean for music to be ‘bad’? Music taste is subjective and varies from person to person. To me, music is not about accolades; many artists like Kendrick Lamar did not receive the praise they deserved until far too late due to systemic media and industry biases. There is constant music circulating, making it harder to find an artist or genre to dig into. When you really look for your own music taste and once you find that — embrace the sound and sit in the music. That is what I love to do. There does not have to be profound meaning in music, but there can be a meaningful impact on people that is equally important.
Spirit, talent, vision, execution, and an artist’s image are all crucial components of becoming a successful icon. Evolution in sound must align with the audience. Some artists risk stagnation, while others are content making similar music for all their careers.
Written by: Danielle De Lucia