From Anderson .Paak to Russ: The Art of Perfecting Your Craft

"You must evolve your craft."

American Idol meets aspiring rappers is what BETaccomplished with One Shot, its 2016 competition showcase. For the first time on television, hip-hop dream chasers were able to fight for a chance to escalate their ambitious passion to a new plateau. Ryan Payan, one of DJBooth’s remarkable interns, was in attendance for One Shot’s first season finale, but what stuck with him from the experience was never aired on television, a memory exclusive to the audience who witnessed the moment unfold.

Sway Calloway, legendary hip-hop reporter, radio personality and the host of One Shot, was asked by several emcees in the audience for a chance to rap. He said yes, allowing a select few to rock the mic and even blessing their skills with a warm approval. This led to a request by one of the artists for a shot to be on Sway In The Morning. Before walking off, Sway responded, “That’s a whole ‘nother beast.” He would later return and find the youngsters, this time to give them a bit of advice: “Perfect your craft. Then evolve it. You must evolve your craft.”

Sway has heard everything from pre-fame Eminem rapping in the ‘90s to a post-2000 Kanye ranting about clothes. He is a voice that can be trusted; Sway is to hip-hop what Zordon was to the Power Rangers. His comment about craft evolution wasn’t meant to discourage, it was possibly the most constructive criticism someone in his position can give. The emcees were eager for their one shot, a chance to perform on an acclaimed platform, but Sway felt they weren’t ready. Impatience is a curse that plagues most artists—I don’t know the skill level of the artists who rapped for him but Sway’s words will hopefully instill a sense of patience and perfection that they will carry long after the show ended.

The most difficult part of being an artist in the music industry is being heard. Technology has allowed for home recording, so making the music has gotten easier, but making sure it doesn’t fall on deaf ears is a mountain of an obstacle. Especially in this age of oversaturation, it’s becoming more difficult to not only break in but stay in for an extended amount of time.

Sway In The Morning can be a great avenue for an artist to reach the world, but are you prepared for what comes with that opportunity? Is the artistry up to par for the attention to come? Are you prepared to record the kind of music that will keep that attention? When the spotlight becomes too bright too fast it’s very easy to burn like an ant under a magnifying glass in the Miami summer sun. Everyone cries for success but how many are ready for it? Are your art and craft prepared for what mass attention brings?

The music industry is a cold, cruel and unloving business. WorldStar and social media changed the landscape to where fame and notoriety are very easy to obtain through outrageous means. If you truly care about being an artist that survives through their music, it’s important to prepare for a long journey. An artist like Russ is seeing massive amounts of success right now, both in terms of record sales and streams, but years of releasing music had to happen before the label came running and before the release of his debut album. He found a limitless drive to flood SoundCloud with music, and instead of burning out he continued to heat up. The consistency created an audience.

Creating—constantly creating—allowed Russ to win in one of the most unorthodox ways. It was an attempt to drown the industry, to flood the world with his music, and the process is a slow and steady one, but he continued until results were made. Producing, rapping and engineering all his music allowed Russ to grow while no one paid attention, and now those skills are allowing him to prosper while the world continues to become acquainted.

"I’ve been making beats for 10 years, I’m 24; I've been making beats for 10 years and before I even had a Soundcloud I dropped 11 self-produced albums and that’s the narrative that I really want people to understand, this is not just “What They Want.” “What They Want” is one of 87 songs on my Soundcloud, which is after my 11 albums that I produced, engineered and wrote." —Russ, Billboard

A majority of the artists who find long-term success in music aren’t the ones who are put in the position overnight but have spent countless hours improving and evolving their craftsmanship. Being presented with an opportunity before the art is prepared could lead to disastrous results.

Anderson .Paak is the perfect case study for a generation of eager creatives and why it’s important to master your craft. Dr. Dre didn’t put him on half of Compton because he was popular, he was simply impressed by what he was creating. Anderson’s gift didn’t develop in days or weeks but through years of practice and striving for perfection. He is hard work personified, walking artistic evolution.

The same can be said for Kendrick Lamar, an artist who didn’t find his voice until after he changed his name. If you listen to K-Dot and then you listen to Kendrick, you'll hear two different artists;  two different skill levels. Kendrick could always rap, but the artistic development happened slowly. GKMCTPAB, and DAMN. aren’t albums you make as a larva. Kendrick didn’t awake one day as one of the most astounding rappers but was dedicated to pushing his limits and emerging better than he ever was. Three acclaimed albums later, he’s still pushing those limits.

J.I.D, one of DJBooth’s favorite rising stars, is an impeccable rapper. The way he plays with words is that of a scientist. Signing to Dreamville has brought him an extraordinary amount of well-deserved praise and admiration, and it doesn’t diminish the years when he wasn’t before the masses. The years spent underground and ignored is where he cultivated a style and improved the penmanship that allowed him to flourish. J.I.D’s future is bright, but only because he persevered through a dark past while on a dim path. When you dig into his past work, the lyricism is jaw-dropping, but The Never Story showcases much more range that will separate him from those who rap well and those who create memorable music. Countless artists have this story, many more will experience the aches of patience, and their art will be better for it.

Do you want to be good or great? Famous or immortal? Do you want temporary notoriety or eternal engravement for your art? Good and bad are subjective. There are ways for all music to find an audience, but the music that lasts tends to come from artists who don’t suffer from stagnancy or comfortability. OutKast evolved, JAY-Z evolved, Kanye West is forever evolving, and even a newer artist like Young Thug is showcasing growth with every new release. Every artist has to decide how they want to be remembered; what they want people to take away from their music. A good manager, PR, label or major co-sign can be the cause of eyes watching your every move. But what will you do when the world is watching? What will you present and will it be ready?

"Making it" is subjective, but most artists want to see the fruits of their labor sooner than later, which is why it’s important to mentally prepare for a long, uphill journey. Because it rarely happens quickly. Not just as a starving artist but as a successful one, life doesn’t get any easier with money, glitz, and glamor. Success just means more to lose, more at stake, and the difficulty of getting back on top after falling off. No amount of connections and opportunities will open up possibilities like excellent artistry. The craft and art still matter when you see the big picture and not a quick come-up, when you want to make art that moves people, not moved to the side minutes later.

Perfect your craft. Then evolve it. Continue to evolve until it’s simply undeniable. Then, when you do make it to Sway In The Morning, the world sees a fully formed artist and not the makings of one.

By Yoh, aka Yohvolution, aka @Yoh31



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