For over three thousand years, our relationship with those who are able to create music has been one of reverence. Music has been the stimulus of countless cultures, many of which claimed it to be an invention of the Gods.
Over the last century, the purpose and perception of musicians, at least in the Western world, have mutated to the point of near-mythical absurdity. We place musicians on a pedestal unlike any other, fawning over their failures almost as adoringly as we do their successes.
To be an artist with any semblance of recognition in 2017 is to simultaneously be tabloid fodder, occasional actor, political commentator, philanthropist, cultural spokesperson, and of course a musician. There’s a lot of hats to wear, and many of them were never meant to fit these heads in the first place, but nevertheless we judge timeless legends by their ability to do so with minimal flaws.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the role of an artist, and how we as the public interact with that role. It’s an incredibly weird dynamic, and in the digital era, it seems to be changing by the day.
Not only does it distil a complex societal dynamic to 200 words, it’s kind of perfect:
I'm a man. I'm a human being, and I'm a man, and, you know, all the other things—artist, son—those things tend to fall further down the list. And I just try to walk that course with my complications. I try to walk with my strides and revelations as well. And I just have to be as vulnerable to life, vulnerable to understand. Every artist, I don't care who they are—they could be the most nefarious, lean-drinking, gun-toting, drug-selling felon, whoever—everybody as an artist who has had some form of success has to be vulnerable. And that doesn't stop. I just continue to do that. That's my role.
So if I come across something—which I definitely do—which is racism or sexism or homophobia or chauvinism or classism or an elitist, then you just have to blow the whistle. Even if it's upon myself. Even if I fall guilty. You have to be willing to examine it. It sounds sexy, but it's like the old adage that making sausages is an ugly process to witness, but when you eat it it's great. You've kind of got to go through the mud as an artist. I'm no different. I'm not exclusive from that.
To be fair and accurate, that quote was actually 206 words, but that number just doesn’t pop the same in a headline. Tip’s masterful explanation of the duality of celebrity in this quote is art itself. His first statement is a reminder that above all, Q-Tip, the same as all of his predecessors, contemporaries and successors, is human. He happens to be a 46-year-old human named Kamaal Ibn John Fareed from Queens, New York and experiences a unique array of perks and tribulations that inform his art.
I say that to say, Q-Tip’s art can and should only be judged through the lens of his particular experience on this planet. Tip’s music can be interpreted in millions of different ways, but any moral or personal inquiries into Tip’s music must be placed within the context of his life, and the same goes for 21 Savage, Jay Z or Lil Yachty.
The remainder of Tip’s statement not only hints at a universal connection between all artists—vulnerability is indeed a staple in the career of every single musician in existence—but offers a glaring reminder that artists don’t miss out on painful reminders of humanity’s limitations just because they’re famous.
On the contrary, artists are wrong just like you and me. And they’re largely a product of environment, again, just like you and me. The difference is, their perspective is revered and therefore is often treated as a subject to be studied rather than an expression to be admired and discussed.
Tip’s four-plus decades worth of experiences allow him to come to peace with the reality of that dynamic and his words, just like his legendary verses, offer inspiration and unity to those who haven’t quite figured it out yet.
To err is to be human, but to be a musician in 2017 is to err under the scrutiny of the public eye, and that can’t become a hindrance to creativity.
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