Best Artist You Can Be // Maxing on Artistry
Hello everybody! This is just the beginning of a series I'll be adding to over time focusing on the core elements of building ourselves up as artists specifically in the areas of Hip Hop.
Shouts out Hyde for adding a bit of spice to this article, we hope y'all can benefit from this.
[NOTE: This piece is a mental primer, meant to inspire you, the video below is a breakdown of building yourself as a lyricist via technique, which can also be used to expand your skills as a producer. Be sure to check it out]
THE CULTURE; WHO YOU ARE
When I say culture, I don’t mean old school hip-hop, popular hip-hop, or anything in between. I mean the essence of what hip-hop music is about, going back to Grandmaster Flash and beyond. I mean the very vibrations of the genre, particularly the drum beats.
Without going into a detailed history of music, which you could (and should) research on your own, we can look at what music has meant to humanity across history. Singing, dancing, and drumming predate human records and span across all cultures without exception. Compared to our relatively short lifespans, we’ve been making music for an eternity, and it’s the only truly universal language we have. Strip away the linguistic barriers and music is something fundamentally understood by everyone -- regardless of their upbringing, race, nationality, or culture.
Jump ahead to Grandmaster Flash and there are obvious similarities, but one should always remember that hip-hop was created by the people, for the people. It is the music of the masses, and hip-hop has long held a reputation for allowing people to rise from the bottom, as can be seen in many of the artists who find success in the genre.
Hip-hop is about the underdog. You might think that because artists like Lil Yachty are popular, this isn't as true as it once was. But I'd argue that artists like Yachty are - in a way - the underdog of yesterday shining today, just like Kendrick, who is using his shine in lots of interesting ways. The spotlight is always on the move one way or another.
In short, you certainly can benefit from watching the game closely, but if you copy moves, you automatically box yourself in. If you want to make great music, set your foundation and get to know yourself. Make art from your heart. It’s really as simple as that.
If you’re reading this right now and thinking to yourself “well, I don't know what to say or make; I don't know if I represent this culture, or if it fits in with my everyday lifestyle,” then you have two options. One, drop this right now and become a gardener or something. If you really don't think you have it in you to succeed, or you don't think you'll get it out of you, then you are at an insanely tall brick wall of your own creation, and you may as well consider something else.
The second option is to humble yourself. Deeply. Because no matter who you are, honesty, gratitude, and humility are the foundation for any healthy vision/message. It’s also healthy for you, your mind, your life, and all the people in it. Nobody can ever beat your honesty. Same goes for a humble, positive attitude.
When you think back to the early days of hip hop, it seems simple. Speaking for the underdog and bringing people together. A small crowd in a packed warehouse dancing to some beats they’d never heard before (avoiding the miniature apocalypse outside) sounds fantastic to me, and likely to you too. It’s a great way to forge community, and it has such an easy, effortless feel to it.
Today, however, this art is global, and you, as a hip hop artist, have to think carefully about what you bring to the table from that foundation of individuality we talked about. THAT is the only originality. From there you get notes, sounds, syllables, and so on and so forth, all mapped out and ready to be arranged.
If you truly intend to embody your role as a speaker on this planet, then you can't do it on some ‘yeh idk I jus do this for fun’ vibe and then be talking about your grind and hustling sites for plays hoping and praying to hit something catchy enough to magically open a door to fame, fortune, and world renown. For the majority of, well, everybody, it doesn't work like that.
You need that ‘read the dictionary for an hour every day’ type of attitude, and that ‘spend three years writing two songs a week’ type of hustle.
That's the attitude that sets you up for success, and that’s the hustle that gives you the insight, self-knowledge, and practical skill necessary to achieve your potential.
LET’S FACE FACTS
Man, this rap shit is tough. You have to have a dynamic delivery, top-notch quality, captivating energy, and a memorable message to effectively reel in fans. Everything after that is more fuel for your fire, and the same principles on entirely different scales apply to engineering and production. It can take a decade (or even longer) to find your sound and reach your audience. But you have to accept that and embrace it. The barrier to entry in the music industry has become so high (particularly if you’re after greatness, not just mild success), and not everyone can make it. Barely anyone will make it, in comparison to the massive ocean that is the artist community on and off the internet in the modern world. It takes a ton of work just to reach the lowest threshold of acceptability. Making music that’s ok - much less good or great - is as challenging as it’s ever been, and you’re likely to have more competition than ever before.
And you have to embrace that. There is no other moment than this one. Right now. Don't ever hold back. Get hungry, get real, and defeat your demons so that you can move up and out. Look at the challenge before you and revel in it. Appreciate how hard it’s going to be; contemplate how few people make it to the other side; and decide, right here and now, that you’re strong enough to beat it and even enjoy it in the process.
In order to save the world - or even just to provide positive influence to the world - you must first save yourself. Furthermore when you come back around to that pen after every battle don't just talk about what happened. Look beneath the surface. Search beyond whether you won or lost, or the girl who left you. Be introspective. Go deep.
So, what makes a great artist?
It’s a difficult question to answer (and impossible to answer objectively), but that doesn’t mean it shouldn't be asked. The sheer frequency of effort and attitude, geared towards growing yourself and inevitably your artistry plus thinking diligently upon everything you do always striving to improve is the determining factor of how great anyone is at anything. As long as you are maxing out on your potential, spreading your wings and flying you are as close to great as anyone can subjectively be.
And what are you willing to sacrifice?
Some of the most iconic and impactful artists in history sacrificed everything except an arm and a leg to get where they ended up. Many sacrificed as much or more just to have a sustainable career. On a grand scale, any career at all is a rare accomplishment for artists in the present day, and the cost to attain one may be greater than you expect.
In order to succeed, you must be willing to accept the challenge. If you take hip hop seriously, it becomes your life, and if you don't take life seriously, well, I think you know where I'm going with this.
Every obstacle is an opportunity for growth and a story to tell. What's important is that you convert those experiences into wisdom on a consistent basis, while maintaining your patience with yourself and the world around you.
This music s**t doesn't come overnight. Relying on the possibility of a miracle without striving to be exceptional in turn destroys any real possibility of forward progress.
To put it another way, if you aren't WOW-ing yourself, what makes you think you'll wow anyone else?
YOUR ATTITUDE AND POSTURE
First off, let me say this: before you can be honest with the world, you have to be brutally honest with yourself - as well as patient and understanding. Appreciation and awareness become wisdom, even if it’s the constant grind of writing over and over just to find your sound, or having to work 2 jobs to take care of your kids. There is wisdom to be harvested from whatever’s happening in your life - however mundane it may seem.
From here, you have the opportunity to easily bring out an open, honest attitude and exhibit confidence in a manner that others can respect and benefit from internally. We are all empaths just by terms of sense, and music has a big impact in the way people feel this day and age. Your ability to bare your soul to your listeners will have a major effect on how people feel about your music. Give people something to hold on to and empathize with and you’ll earn their support.
This isn't to say you should inflate things like depression or puppy love and bring in some attentive ears (and there's certainly nothing wrong with that), but without a resolve - an anchor - it's likely not going to stand the test of time. This applies to everything from your brand to your lyrics. On another hand, you can explore things like abstract lyrics and concepts by getting to know artists in that area of whatever genre and then applying the techniques you discover and pick out just by observing. From there, you can add in all your own observations of life, as unbiased as possible.
Your honesty with and belief in yourself will take a lot of weight off your shoulders and really allow you to get to work, internally and externally. Write lyrics, spit them, record them, analyze them, listen to other dope rappers and contemplate, trash, and repeat. Make a drum break, give it variations, tune everything, expand it, build a melody, do a rough mix and play it back, analyze it, listen to some dope producers and contemplate, repeat. This is how we improve as artists.
Occasionally in the beginning, you'll have things worth sharing, and thanks to the internet, feedback is never too far away. Keep building your sound, growing, and improving. Take the feedback you receive graciously, and start over as many times as you need to. With enough practice and patience, you’ll improve, and before long you’ll have a lot worth sharing.
Make the absolute most out of every moment you have. The more you do, the easier it’ll get to be honest. To see the wisdom in everyday life. Then it’s just a matter of putting it on paper.
If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk you can dance.
In the next part of this series, we'll break down lyrics, deliveries, techniques for teaching yourself how to sing and be more versatile, how to inspire yourself, and how to balance studying the greats with striving to become one.