Lil Wayne just dropped I Am Not A Human Being II. The album is a glaring example of what happens to a great artist when they run out of things to say. The two overarching themes of IANAHB2 can basically be summed up thusly: “B***h , come sit on my face” and “Just so you know, n***a, your girl’s been sitting on my face.”
Hip-hop is an unapologetically crass art form. But the great ones, like Wayne, usually interweave that crassness into content that also features a whole lotta wit, heft and insight. Weezy is one of the best to ever do this. He just doesn’t do it anymore, because that tank is on empty.
IANAHB2 is Wayne’s eighth studio album. That’s a full career for a lot of rap artists. But, as we know, Weezy’s solo career followed his public introduction as the little tyke in the Hot Boyz crew. He’s principally repped on seven other albums, as part of the B.G.’z, the Hot Boyz, with Birdman or as frontman for his Young Money crew. And then there’s “Wayne the Guest Verse Mercenary.” Dude’s discography is whatever word means “more prolific than prolific.”
But, of course, it was the glut of mixtapes Wayne released between 2004 and 2008 that featured his finest moments, created the legend and will cement his legacy. The man put out mixtape, after mixtape, after mixtape, after mixtape. Still, the human imagination can only conjure but so much. By the time Tha Carter III dropped in 2008, he was operating off creative inertia and his album sales were bolstered by newcomer fans of his newfound status as a bona fide pop/rock/rap star. IANAHB2 “only” sold about 220,000 albums in its first week – chump-numbers for a mega star. That’s “Lil Wayne Fatigue” – as in, “Lil Wayne is creatively tired” and “folks might be tired of Lil Wayne.” That’s what happens when homeboy drops enough music in five years to last about five artists their full careers.
This brings me to Schoolboy Q. He was recently interviewed on the DJ S.Whit & DJ Clark Kent show and has this to say:
“I mean, I’m trying to sell records…This is what I’mma say to ya. Cause I hate when I say the wrong sh*t. I come off to cocky or unhumble…It comes a time where you gotta stop giving out so much free music. Cause you give out so much free music. Why would I buy your album and I just got three of your free albums? I may buy your album. You know what I mean? We haven’t gave out nothing free since 2009.”
Now, Q is talking about economics, the business side of things; but it’s all tied to the artistic process and how/if listeners choose to consume the product. On one hand, constantly giving out free music can condition consumers to expect your art for $free.99; but, just as much at play here is the inevitability of listeners no longer having an appetite for what the artist is seeking to feed them.
In the two years between Teflon Don and God Forgives, I Don’t, Rick Ross released two mixtapes and two other collab albums with his MMG crew. God Forgives has sold about half of what Teflon Don moved.
Q released a mixtape, Gangsta & Soul, in 2009 and, since then, hasn’t dropped any other free music; instead, choosing to release two studio albums, 2011’s Setbacks and last year’s Habits & Contradictions. Now, in the interim, he’s appeared on a truckload of singles – enough to be legitimately “hot in the streets.” But Q seems like a lone dissenter in today’s bulk-music market. Every other day it seems like we’re getting a new Joey Bada$$ track. Ross is shooting a NEW video, for a NEW single off of an upcoming NEW album.
Of course, it’s up to each listener to exercise some personal self-control. For instance, in the lead-up to the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I steered clear of almost all of Kanye’s “Good Friday” offerings. In between Section.80 and good kid, m.A.A.d city, I chilled on Kendrick Lamar. I’m about to put young Joey on pause and hope that the torrent of music he’s making isn’t draining the creativity-tank I hope is on full when he finally slows down to make his official debut album.
Last summer, Ross’ MMG henchman Meek Mill pushed me to write a “think you might wanna chill, maybe?” piece (Rappers: Stop Making So Much Music). This was the gist:
“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.”
We can acknowledge that, ultimately, it’s the artists’ decision to create music at whatever clip they feel is warranted. But, a little discretion has to be in order. Because we see the end result. We went from Wayne spazzing over “Ambitionz az a Ridah” on The Dedication 2 to him spitting “I get at ‘em, like Yolanda.”
Then again, there’s the other extreme – we’ll call it the Jay Electronica Syndrome. We really wouldn’t want that.