To promote the release of Run The Jewels 3, El-P and Killer Mike recently sat down for an interview with Pitchfork contributor Jeff Weiss. The entire feature is outstanding, especially the part where the duo discuss how a turbulent 2016 helped to shape their latest album, but one quote from El-P, in particular, stood out the most.
At the very end of their conversation, Weiss asks both artists if being older has made it easier to handle the level of success they've experienced over the past few years. In response, El-P reveals that in 2008, he hit "rock bottom" after the death of close friend and fellow artist Camu Tao. Before connecting with Mike for his 2012 album R.A.P. Music, the 15-year rap veteran admits he lost all his money and his way, questioning whether or not he wanted to continue making music. “I don’t know if there’s room for me in this business, in this form,” he thought.
So, what changed?
Simple: El-P stopped giving a fuck.
I had reduced my ambition to trying to make great records, and that’s when I was re-born. I was like, “Oh, wow, that should have been the point the whole time.” I spent the first half of my career trying to be everything for everybody else. I had to realize, “Man, you have to be who the fuck you are.” That’s what I encourage any artist to do: just stop giving a fuck as soon as possible. - El-P, Pitchfork
Of course, El-P's advice is great in both theory and practice, but it's easier said than done if you're an artist who signed a contract with a major label and that major label is expecting you to release music that can be marketed to radio.
For example, in 2011, Yelawolf compromised his art on his major label debut Radioactive to please the suits at Interscope, but the label dropped the ball and failed to properly market and push the release. Yelawolf, who has since changed his name to Michael Wayne Atha, vowed to never make another album like Radioactive following the release and, like El-P, realized the hard way that you should never compromise your artistic integrity to please anyone.
On the other hand, artists who are independent or who have signed record contracts that afford them true creative control, like Drake, J. Cole, and Logic, would be smart to follow El-P's wise words. Don't try to please your fans—even the most loyal supporters are anti-artistic growth—and certainly, don't try to please the industry. Focus on pleasing one person and one person only: yourself.
Now, if you're an artist looking to make a quick buck in music and you don't mind having a career that lasts for less than five years, sure, go ahead and try to please everyone in an attempt to gain their undying love and support. Unfortunately, most of these artists don't realize that there's a cap on love and support, both from a label and from a fanbase, and once the next version of you—a young artist who's also just looking to make a quick buck—arrives on the scene, you'll vanish quicker than Frank Ocean after an album drop.
El-P's advice even extends beyond artists and creatives in the music space. Every day, DJBooth receives criticism on social media and via e-mail about the positions that our writers take in our editorials. If we praise a Drake or a Kanye West we're labeled as "dick riders," but if we criticize their words, actions or music, we're automatically pegged as "haters."
We know that if we try to please everyone, ultimately, we will please nobody. As a result, we make every attempt to speak from the heart, be truthful, and remain unafraid of what our subjects or readers might say or believe. Basically, we don't give a fuck.