While I would never wish artistic stagnation on anyone, I can, on some level, identify with that pang of disappointment when you watch one of your favorite artists ditch their core audience in pursuit of mainstream success.
Very rarely is an artist able to achieve the type of prosperity that Top 40 hits and global tours bring without inevitably leaving behind some of the very things that made people love them in the first place. Even when it does happen, that kind of success tends to accelerate the half-life of an artist's career.
In Billboard’s recent cover feature on the Future, Epic Records chairman and hip-hop fixture L.A. Reid attributes Hendrix’s success to his desire to stay true to his base. "He has chosen to put out music that really fed his core [audience]," said Reid. "He has had radio hits, but they weren’t mainstream, Top 40 hits. But he didn’t want that. And my take is that it elongates his career.”
Reid definitely has a point. While Future has absolutely reached the level of success that most artists can only dream of, he’s done so while maintaining his original sound and without alienating the fans that have been with him from the start.
Even the multiple radio hits that Future has had in recent years—“Commas,” “Wicked,” “March Madness”—have maintained the core sound that Future is known for, somehow managing to bring the mainstream to him rather than chasing whatever is currently popping.
In fact, it's not a stretch to say Future’s sound IS what’s currently popping, and a quick look at Billboard’s Hot 100 shows a landscape of up-and-coming artists dripping with Future’s influence. Songs like "Panda" and Rae Sremmurd’s “Swang” most likely wouldn't exist without Future having already paved the way for lean-soaked trap anthems to dominate the charts.
Granted, Future’s initial sound was already steeped in the sort of swagged-out, street-informed simplicity that’s ripe for repeat radio spins, but within the last several years, the closest Future has gotten to “selling out” on a solo single is the Drake-assisted “Used To This,” which is really just another notch in the belt of the longstanding relationship between Future and producer Zaytoven.
In focusing his efforts on feeding his longtime fans, Future has joined the ranks of artists like Logic and Kendrick Lamar who have mastered the art of tiptoeing the line between massive success and the ever-important perception of being the people’s champ. The fact that he’s been able to do this despite his sometimes overwhelming release frequency makes his achievements all the more impressive.
Long live, Hendrix.
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