If you’re still sleeping on our Top Prospects series, here’s the deal: we partnered with A3C—the largest annual hip-hop and culture festival in the country—to provide our faithful readers, as well as aspiring artists, with firsthand insight from the next wave of artists poised to change the musical landscape.
Since we've already highlighted each artist individually, before our Top Prospects showcase on Wednesday, October 5, at Aisle 5 in Little 5 Points, we decided to compile some key moments from our discussions with five of these incredibly promising up-and-comers, each of whom provided valuable insight into both the right and wrong moves they’ve made during their initial journey towards artistic greatness.
Whether you’re an aspiring artist yourself, or just a loyal student of the game, you’ll appreciate these gems.
The number of potential pitfalls an artist on the rise can incur in today's music industry climate is staggering, which is part of the reason why there are so many great artists in the world you’ll never hear. It only takes one wrong move or one missed opportunity to decimate a promising trajectory, and one of the marks of a truly great artist is learning from and never again repeating those mistakes.
Simply allowing the wrong individual into your inner circle can often be treacherous. “One mistake I made is signing to my first manager,” noted DMV-raised Top Prospect K.A.A.N. It’s important (read: vital) to trust the people who you entrust with your art and your business, knowing that they have your best interests in mind and represent you in an organized, professional manner.
Another frequently made mistake is not taking a career in music seriously, plain and simple. The internet completely changed music consumption, and as a result, an up-and-coming artist now has hundreds of thousands of competitors all vying for the same time and attention. Seattle emcee Dave B realized early on you cannot treat music like a hobby, explaining, “if you're gonna dedicate yourself to something, it can't be done for leisure.”
While leisurely releasing music can come with its own set of problems, releasing music too frequently is its own faux pas. Increasing output without giving yourself time to develop artistically can be equally detrimental to your musical legacy, as both Innanet James and J.I.D. have experienced.
A mistake I made was not trusting myself and being patient. A friend told me this song was dope, and coming off the success of “Black,” I got geeked and just threw anything out. - Innanet James
One early mistake I made was trying to do things in a rush or before its time. I also used to feel like I had to make things seem a certain way based off of image, I had to check myself on flex raps. - J.I.D.
In the same vein as a lack of motivation, artists often consciously miss opportunities due to a perceived lack of value.
Georgia native Kelechi spoke with us about initially passing on opportunities that, looking back, would have likely advanced his journey much quicker:
I have friends who are further along, who I have messages from 2011 asking me to come out to SXSW, or fly to this place, or this place, and I never saw the value of just getting up and doing something, even if I didn’t know what exactly I was getting up to do. What I realized within the last few years is that you don’t always know what’ll come from meeting with this person, or going to that event. So do everything worth anything, until you don’t have to.
Kelechi’s insights signify one of the great parts of the artistic journey - often your mistakes become your greatest weapon through the lessons learned and experiences gained.
Of course, there are a million “music industry experts” that can attempt to explain to an aspiring artist how to “make it.” The truth is that a lot of intangible variables must occur at the same time in order to create success, and it’s the trial-and-error process of aligning those variables that will offer an artist their most crucial revelations. More often than not, the advice of a self-aware fellow artist is more valid than anything you’d going to get from a $50 music industry seminar.
Innanet James, who previously detailed releasing music he should've held onto, also suggests patience and selection for up-and-coming artists, saying, “...releasing the right song is key.” Given the quality of his new project Quebec Place, James has seemed to find a groove in his release structure, and his brand is now stronger because of it.
Every piece of art released should coherently represent your artistic statement—if you have one—and selections too many tracks on a project, or even too many features, can hinder that representation.
One good thing I did was work alone for years, focusing, because I was still trying to get comfortable and understand writing and recording. If I had people I consistently worked with early on, I don’t think I would have made the best music I could. It'd be different. You can’t do it alone forever, but early on it, was important for me because I could be me and do whatever I wanted, without an added opinion at a time when I was just trying to create, and be creative. - K.A.A.N.
The hip-hop game can be incredibly daunting for a new artist, and there are admittedly more ways to do things the wrong way than to do them correctly, but in the end, it often comes down to a mindset. Your art is a product of your mental state, your emotions, and your voice, and if those are in alignment, hard work and experience can take you far.
A wise move would definitely be to have a consistent work ethic. It kind of trickled over into everything else once I decided I wasn't going to stop. - Dave B
It’s important to understand that for the vast majority of artists, becoming self-reliant on selling music will be a constant process and not a quick cash-in.
Countless artists that the average hip-hop head would consider legends still face the same monetary struggle as newcomers, but most will tell you that the lifestyle it affords and the creative freedom experienced are worth every single hardship they’ve faced.
Don’t be afraid to take losses. Rely on small victories, and don’t dwell on them either. When things go wrong, our mentality is “Whew, alright, on to the next.” When things go amazingly well, our mentality is “Whew, alright, on to the next.” It’s how you keep from getting stagnant, from getting discouraged. As long as you’re working hard between your wins and losses, you’ll see progress. - Kelechi
Of course, every artist would love to make the right decision every time, but in life and in music that’s just not possible, and that last bit of advice is what it all comes down to—not everyone can win, and more likely than not, you’re going to fail, and often.
As cliche as it sounds, the value is in parlaying those losses into knowledge and using that knowledge to win the next time around. Good luck!
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Nam-Chi Va