"There are three things which the public will always clamor for, sooner or later: namely, novelty, novelty, novelty." —Thomas Hood
Those words above were written in the early 1800s, but they ring just as true today—if not much more. Humans have always pursued novelty; it’s one of the greatest motivators of innovation we’ve ever known.
What’s different today compared to the rest of recorded history, however, is the pace at which we discover and consume novelty. When the internet connected the globe, it brought the collective experiences of billions of people within arm’s reach. Literally, with the tap of a screen we can be exposed to the output of people we don’t know from thousands of miles away.
The benefits of this increased connection have been innumerable, but we’re also just now beginning to see how it affects our interactions on both an individual level and a more broad, cultural level. Music has undergone one of the most violent upheavals of consumption, especially in the youth-dominated genre of hip-hop.
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Joey is absolutely right, but he's far from the first artist to notice. We at DJBooth have racked our brains regarding our ever-mutating relationship with music consumption, and just hours after Joey tweeted his thoughts, Chicago artist Ravyn Lenae shared a similar sentiment on her own Twitter.
In the current streaming age, the attention span of the average listener, especially young ones, has plummeted, but it’s not their (our) fault—not directly anyway. As I wrote earlier, the chase for novelty has been ever-present in humans, but that desire has been magnified intensely by a digital landscape that connects us with the entire world.
Artists are not without blame in this, either. While those like Joey and Kendrick Lamar, among others, have helped to temper the fleeting attention span of listeners with thoughtful content that often takes years to assemble, listeners are elsewhere inundated with artists that instead maintain their relevance through a constant barrage of quickfire releases.
When Future is dropping two albums in as many weeks, it’s not unreasonable to wish for the same from Kendrick. It’s unreasonable to expect that sort of output from everyone, but when fans are receiving it from several artists (and it’s working), it stands to reason that after a while it becomes a baseline expectation. After all, we can only pursue novelty from the foothold of our most current achievements.
No one has yet figured out how to curb an attention span that seems to be waning by the day (at least that I know), but there’s probably just as big of a chunk of the industry fighting to keep it that way. Since retention will inevitably suffer when music is consumed quickly, the churn and burn methodology, which artists themselves freely admit takes very little effort, has turned into a real cash cow.
Hip-hop has always been about a balance in content, and if we expect artists like Joey Bada$$ to put out content that provides a balance to the more whimsical content of the majority of artists, we have to tweak our time-frame to allow for the creation of that content.
JAY-Z once asked, “Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?” As listeners, we need to be honest with ourselves about what we want to dedicate our time and attention to and then prove it by actually dedicating that time and attention.