Originally posted: September 29, 2014
Updated: December 30, 2016
A youth from the suburbs has a good friend that makes some pretty hot beats. The youth has been idolizing rappers longer than he can remember. The youth constantly entertains the idea of making a hit record, just like the ones he bangs in his car on his way to work.
One night, the youth and his beat-making friend hang out and decide to make a track and make it hot. A few weeks later, the song catches someone’s attention, someone with big connections. The song blows up, the youth rakes in his cash and the youth is never heard from again.
Hip-hop has allowed one-hit wonders to come and go as they please. Across all genres of music spanning back many years, one-hit wonders have found their place in history; yet in hip-hop it seems their presence is just as pronounced (hell, Complex has a whole list of them) as those on the opposite side of the spectrum – those with longevity.
Originally, this piece spoke about the output of certain artists around 2012-2014, when artists like Bobby Shmurda, OG Maco, and many others were made famous off the strength of one song. Even more recently, Desiigner famously got signed by the one and only Kanye West based on the hype around his song “Panda.”
This is not to say that hip-hop hasn’t seen its many great one-hit wonders (what more can I say?). But today, now more than ever, it’s easier than ever to break into the industry off one song. This doesn’t apply only to rappers either, actually; DJBooth recently published a piece on how a beat-making hobbyist managed to land a beat on Kid Cudi’s recent project. The industry and the Internet, for better or worse, has made it so easy for wannabe artists to become superstar figures overnight.
The purpose here is not to bash these guys because it’s not their faults. You see, it’s all a buzz game. In our hypothetical scenario above, after the song is made, in some ungodly way, the track gets into the ears of someone at a label and the label decides to act quickly. People are using the song as a soundtrack to their
Vines Instagram videos, the music video on YouTube is getting thousands of hits each day, young kids are using the songs to make dance videos. The trend here is that not only are these songs infectiously catchy, they make great sonic companions to trendy, social media-based visuals.
“So let’s do this,” says the A&R to his boss. “Let’s grab this guy while he’s on the up-and-up until he’s run out of steam. Then, we waste no time in moving on to the next one, but while he’s here, we’re getting paid.”
No harm, no foul. The label grabs the artists involved in the track, tells them the potential they see, the sonic energy that pulsates from the pounding of the bass that infects the crowd at every show, the melodic mumbles that grace every track they make, the money waiting to be earned. But as the hype dies down, so does the artist’s creative output and then, poof, they’re gone.
Need I point back to Trinidad Jame$’ career for proof?
“You a fad, that means your something that we already had /
But once you’re gone, you don’t come back, too bad.”
– Dr. Dre on “Encore”
Originally, I had ended this piece with a call-to-action, asking hip-hop fans to pay no mind to these fad rappers. But two years later, I must admit my taste in hip-hop has changed dramatically. Two years ago, I probably wouldn’t entertain half of the new music I listen to on a regular basis. So I decided to reevaluate my stance on this idea I’ve brought forth and instead offer a different call-to-action.
I still believe one-hit wonders are weak, lazy, horrible examples of the best that hip-hop has to offer; however, every artist has their place in hip-hop. Talib Kweli recently sat down with VladTV and spoke on the current trend that is mumble-rap, an emerging subgenre of hip-hop that has old-school heads fuming.
Kweli notes how it is important to respect the hustle of these emerging acts. Hip-hop, like any other artform, is always evolving and these one-hit wonders and mumble rappers have their place.
You don’t have to like the music, as Kweli notes, but you can’t deny their ambition and movement to bring their music to a larger audience. Just because these artists don’t translate well into your narrative, doesn’t mean they don’t offer value to others.
Instead of dismissing these artists, while I don’t condone the lack of actual (traditional) rapping ability, I see these artists (Lil Yachty, Young Thug, 21 Savage, etc.) as part of their own subgenre of hip-hop. A new deviation, just as jazz-rap, rock-rap, odd-rap, and all the other iterations were before them, and that’s ok with me.
If I don’t want to listen to these one-hit wonders and mumble rappers, I don’t have to – and neither do you.