ScHoolboy Q's upcoming project has been my most anticipated album of 2016 for six months now. Oxymoron's a personal classic, and the prospect of a new Groovy Q collection filling up the next two years of my life like it has the last two years is enough to push me to irrational levels of want.
I'm not alone. TDE's army is constantly begging label head honco Top Dawg to let out a flood of new music from the entire roster, and now that they delivered an unexpected Kendrick album in the form of Untitled Unmastered, the focus of those demands have rested on Q's bucket hat. About three weeks ago, fans got more than they could have anticipated in THat Part, a six-minute song feature the legend Kanye West.
It was kinda like a big deal, and yet the reception to the single's been lukewarm at best, and Top Dawg's not pleased.
For the record, I seem to be one of the few people who genuinely enjoyed "THat Part." It may not have been the epic song we all hoped for when we saw Kanye would be invlolved in a TDE song for the first time ever, but it moves. That bass oozes sweetly through my head like a crack in a bottle of syrup, and Yeezy comes through with some quotables. I could do without Kanye's Young Thug impression on the second half of his verse ("eh!!!"), but fine. The Chipotle line alone got a laugh out of me, I've got no complaints.
More than anything, this is a powerful example of the blessing and the curse that comes when you invite your fans to be more than just fans and become "supporters." It's such a common tactic in the days of social media that we almost forget there's another option. It seems like in order to be successful in 2016 an artist seemingly has to make people feel like they have a personal stake in the album's success. I've seen Strange Music "supporters" buy four copies of an album just because they love to see Tech N9ne's name rise up the charts next to major label artists. They genuinely feel like they've made it when he makes it, and that didn't happen by accident. It's a deliberate plan to build the kind of direct, deep connections with consumers that fuels every hive. J. Cole's proven to be excellent at executing that plan, flipping fan friendly Dollar & A Dream tours and music premieres at fan's homes into an album that went platinum with very little radio support.
Leveraging those kind of fan connections can be intensely powerful, but it also creates a strange relationship between the artist (and/or the label) and fans. When fans feel like they're co-owners of sorts in the music, when you've prompted them time and time again to invest their money in your success, is it any wonder that they feel entitled to demand music? When fans are urged to become "supporters," when the artist-consumer relationship is framed as a partnership of sorts as opposed to a group that is purchasing a great product because the product's inherently so great it demands to be purchased, you also risk turning that relationship into a job and exhausting fans. If I'm just not feeling "THat Part" but purchase it anyway out of a sense of obligation, it can feel less like love, less like "support," and more like a task to be completed. Do you really want your fans to look at your music like a NPR pledge-drive?
Fans can be hypocrites, demanding classic music daily RIGHT NOW and then complaining when the music rushed out to meet their lust doesn't match expectations, but so can labels. With great support comes great responsibility, and you can't expect fans to feel like they're literally or figuratively invited into your home, like they're an integral part of the movement's success, and then bristle when it feels like there are many hands on the steering wheel of your business. The most successful artists ever - Jay Z, Eminem, Kanye West, etc. - have all done masterful jobs of making fans feel like they can relate to them, like they're a part of something larger than themselves, without ever directly treating those fans like fundraisers. And as much as the music landscape has changed, new artists and labels looking for true longevity and highly-scaled success would be well-advised to follow in the footsteps of those legends.
Support can be exhausted, but consumer demand for great art is infinite. With Q's new album set to arrive any day now, let's hope it's the kind of music that's so good it doesn't need to ask for support.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.