Rappers: Stop Making So Much Music

Meek Mill’s album Dreams And Nightmares was supposed to drop next Tuesday. Instead, it’ll drop almost two months later on October 30. Why? As Rick Ross, Mill’s “bawse,” said, “He's still putting the final touches on his debut, making sure it's a classic, and [that's] most definitely what it will be.”

You got that? Meek is being extra meticulous in an effort to hit the streets with a classic.

Meek was recently on San Francisco’s WiLD 94.9 and had this to say: “When I come out with an album, I want to have a classic album, an Illmatic, Hard Knock LifeGet Rich or Die Tryin' type.”

We could get smarmy and dissect Mill and Ross’ classic quotes about Meek’s supposed upcoming classic album. But we won’t. And, on the real, shoutout to the cat for aiming high. Digressing, however, here’s an observational question: Did you say, “finishing touches,” Rozay?

I ask with incredulity, because, the hip hop marketplace is like a buffet these days, with artists churning out troughs and troughs of food/music to gluttonous diners/consumers. Finishing touches? There are never finishing touches on that pan of mashed potatoes at the Golden Corral – it was the sixth one made that hour.

Actually – pardon me, Meek. Let me fall back.

Mill is dope young emcee. He doesn’t serve slop. He’s had some straight up-n-down street-heaters (“Imma Boss,” “Tupac Back,” “A 1 Everything”). But the man has released such a prolific truckload of music in the past 18 months that it’s almost a shock to recognize that he has yet to drop his “official” debut (you know, the joint Wikipedia lists under “studio albums,” as if Meek rigged a makeshift booth in his homeboy’s bathroom  to record  his Dreamchasers mixtapes).

Since showing up on nine tracks on Maybach Music Group’s Self Made, Vol. 1 in May of 2011, Mill dropped Dreamchasers in August 2011 (19 songs), showed up on a couple of Rich Forever cuts in January, released Dreamchasers 2 (20 songs) in May and was spitting even more bars, still, on Self Made, Vol. 2 the next month.

Is there such a thing as saturation? Even with today’s deviant form of music consumerism, there has to be a breaking point, a point where it is no longer artistically sustainable and/or beneficial to continue cooking and serving.

There’s a reason that Ross’ God Forgives, I Don’t hasn’t resonated the way Teflon Don did two years ago. It’s because Ross has been so ubiquitous in the interim that his latest joint – not divergent in sound or subject from all his other recent material – is just more of the same. It’s still entertaining and still very relevant, but not vital.

New Orleans rapper Curren$y has been putting out two, sometimes three, albums per year since 2010. He dropped Stoned Immaculate in June, just four months after he released Muscle Car Chronicles. That level of output is admirable on many levels, but it’s also risky and exhausting.

Late last year, around the release of Take Care, Drake reflected on the creative pressure he felt making his “official debut” Thank Me Later, released less than a year after So Far Gone, which was introduced to the world as a “mixtape.”

“It was just very weird to make an album, for sale, in four months on a tour bus,” he told GQ.  “[Thank Me Later] wasn't So Far GoneSo Far Gone was my first album, so I felt like it was unfair to me. Like damn, I just made So Far Gone. Now I have to come right back out with another piece.”

Before 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne totally reconfigured the idea of mixtapes and reconditioned consumers’ appetites/expectations between bona fide (studio/official) album releases, there was a rhythm to rappers’ output. Basically a rapper would release an album and then, in the span of 12, 18, maybe 24 months, the rapper would drop a few singles and make a couple videos off that album, tour, hit the studio to make a new album, release a street joint from the new album in the works, then come out with a radio single/video for the upcoming release and then drop the new album.

Some artists – especially the meticulous creatives – go years and years without releasing albums because of pedantic standards for their releases. Andre 3000 will drop 16 bars (when it’s enough, that is) for almost anyone these days, but his Love Below follow-up is no closer to our iPods than musically-OCD Dr. Dre’s Detox.  Questlove, a perfectionist in his own right, says this type of rigorous filtering (only allowing the best material to reach consumers) is one of the reasons the resurfaced D’Angelo is always a risk to leave us with 2000’s Voodoo as his last effort.

"To get five songs out of [D’Angelo], we had to throw away at least twelve that I would give my left arm for," he said in a recent magazine article.

Rappers, in their defense, typically don’t have that luxury. With album sales becoming an almost archaic idea/notion, rappers eat off all the food they’re serving, too. Serving the internet with this constant flow of new material is how they keep booking shows, which has supplanted album sales as their main source of income. Much of the material doesn’t sound obsessed over, but, let’s be real, the consumers pick over the food/music they’re served, anyways. They grab a few songs for a playlist they run into the ground and then (oh, cool!), in a few months, another mixtape/EP/album  from  that artist pops to download from Hulkshare.

Some artists, like Drake, are uncomfortable with these conditions. Extremists, like, D’Angelo and 3000, eschew it altogether, but maybe to their ultimate detriment.

But you can’t argue with the fact that allowing time between releases has historically added significant heft to albums. Artists need time to collect themselves and breathe. And I need time to breathe as a consumer. When Stevie Wonder was creating “classics of the classics” every year in the 70s, he didn’t film a music video for every song on those albums and he wasn’t rolling up in Curtis Mayfield’s sessions to sing hooks. There might bea handful of artists in the vicinity of Stevie’s league working today – if that.  So, you’d think the mortals – even the very talented ones – might not want to flood the internet with three and four albums worth of material in 18-month spans. It has a cheapening effect – it really does.

In a few weeks, Sony Music is going to release Bad 25, an anniversary edition of Michael Jackson’s 1987 classic. It will contain a good amount of unreleased work. Can you imagine if MJ would have been slinging around all that material between Thriller and Bad? Bad wouldn’t have had nearly the mystique it carried then or today. (Note: I think very highly of Bad, ranking it below Off The Wall and above Thriller).

Meanwhile, Spike Lee’s documentary on the making of Bad will be screened at the Venice Film Festival next week. It’ll give us a rare look at two geniuses (MJ and album producer Quincy Jones) at work making a classic. We’ll see them sending incredible music to the cutting room floor and witness them morphing exquisite ideas into epic songs.

So is that what this two-month delay for Dreams and Nightmares is really about, like Meek and Ross claim? Are they back in the lab tweaking, fussing-over, OCD’ing Dreams And Nightmares into, as Meek referenced, an Illmatic­-like one-for-the-ages? I’m dubious. My guess is that the album will merely be a good effort by a talented cat and that this release date push-back is meant to give the next single (reported to be “Maybach Curtains,” featuring Nas) time to act as a stronger lead-in than “Amen.” This new album probably won’t be any better or different than Mill’s previous glut of 2011-2012 material. I’m betting Dreams And Nightmares =  Dreamchasers 3: Self Made, As Well

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