What is growth? Like what actually is it? Is it simple as change or is it something more? The internet defines growth as a “process of developing or maturing physically, mentally, or spiritually”. In terms of art, we always ask if an artist is growing in some shape, form, or fashion. Almost as a marker to test if the artist is getting better or not. So the word itself is thrown around pretty loosely just to gage if you like the music more than the last project. It is a word used to criticize more than praise. But usually, in the same breath, we’ll then hear fans saying they want something similar if not exactly the same as the previous project – wanting a part two more anything else. Hence, there’s a basic disconnect between the artist and fan/listener and it begs a question to be asked: do we really want our artists to grow?
The knee jerk reaction to such a question is ‘of course!’ Most people would say that back, almost as challenging that statement. Who wouldn’t want to see their artists improve and get better as they continue? As you get older and age in your taste, you want that artists grow and mature. You might want to have that relatability or connection to your artists when you’re growing as well. So when they don’t fulfill that, you might feel hurt or betrayed. So there’s often a backlash or criticism towards it. But why is that?
Don’t we want our artists to make what they want? Their art. It is theirs after all. They made it. They enjoyed creating it at some point in time and thought it was good enough to put out there. Shouldn’t we just take it as it is and choose not to purchase it or not? I understand that can lead to a problem in thinking as well. As the listener, we can choose not to listen to something, but as a consumer – because music is a business – we pay for our artist’s art. The stake we have in it is that we’re paying our hard earned money to someone we “respect” or “enjoy” to give us good music.
In that thinking, we should be able to demand something of our artists, right? But then we get into the area of entitlement to someone and their art. Because even though artists are selling something, it is theirs to sell. They can do whatever they want with it. DMV rapper, Wale, even spoke on it before on Twitter (since deleted), frustratedly saying “y’all obsession with nostalgia is so dangerous”, because as the artist grows in their own way, we want or expect something different without knowing their headspace. Even Jay-Z said, “niggas want my old shit, buy my old album”. And it’s not entirely false. The old catalogue is still there. Available for a listen and visit anytime the listener wants. It’s fine that way right? Do you still have a say or desire for it? What does it all mean for us as the listener when the artist is also tired of hearing the complaint? That’s it. We can’t really do anything about it.
I’ve discussed how we react when the artist does change, but what happens when we encounter artists that don’t change and make music for their fans and demographic that they originally reached? Some could argue artists like Raekwon and Migos fall in that vein. Oh, there it is. I have the audacity to compare a respected vet to a group that only appeared this decade. The answer is simple. They work for this comparison because one could make the case they fit in the latter half of this argument. There hasn’t been “musical growth” for either of these artists in my book. When someone is a lyrical beast, such as Raekwon, the audience is expecting is for him to put together a song that consists of great rapping. When it comes to Migos, you expect them to put out a banger that bumps in the whip. All we want from them are good songs. So what is the difference there?
We look at artists and how they market themselves. One that comes to mind is Kanye West, a public and self-proclaimed musical genius who elevates his music as high art. Another example is Jeezy, a street-king legend, who provides anthems for the hoods he once thrived in. They both make music. But we look at what we expect of them differently. One we expect to push musical boundaries and from the other we expect trunk rattling, grimy records. Is it their fault that we expect them to do these things? Yes and no. When coming out they established their perception through interviews, appearances, and the music they provided. But then it falls on the audience for how the music is received.
So after all that, it begs the ultimate question of what we’re asking for. When these two kinds of artists release a song, what is the one thing we expect from both of them? Above all else, more so than growth or artistic maturity. The question we should ask is, is the song good? After this back and forth of questions looking at the artist and listener, the best question to ask yourself on whether the new song we’ve received from the artist always boils down to that. Because at the end of the day, we only care about whether the song itself delivers to YOU. Not anyone else, but you. The maturity, or lack thereof, doesn’t really matter in the face of us liking the song or not. Because you’ll be the final judge on whether you like the song or not. No growth or maturity. No real change in sound. You’ll like what you like. So the answer to the question of us caring about the artist growth isn’t yes or no. It’s that we don’t really care as long as the music is good. So at that point, you have two options. You can either put your headphones on or just press play.
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Featured image taken from The Spectrum website.