Is becoming a "successful" rap artist easier now than ever before thanks to the proliferation of on-demand streaming? According to Eminem, an artist who rose to prominence while CDs were flying off store shelves, it depends.
Alongside his manager and Def Jam's new CEO, Paul Rosenberg, the veteran MC shared his perspective with Billboard:
"I think rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick [Lamar] and Joyner Lucas rap to be the best rapper. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do. Some people might not care to be the best and just know how to make good songs, and some people make wack songs. [Laughs.] Hip-hop is always evolving, though, and that to me is the most important thing about staying in tune with what is going on."
While Em doesn't directly address the central question posed—to him, being "successful" means being considered the best or among the best—nor does he touch on how streaming has allowed artists who "make wack songs" to become successful, Rosenberg's follow-up answer hit the nail on the head.
"I think it's not so much the quality has gone down as the fact that this access to be able to post your music for the world to see and hear immediately has removed the barrier to entry," Rosenberg explained to Billboard writer Dan Rys. "So you're able to post things that, maybe earlier on, you wouldn't have had the ability to get people to hear because it probably wasn't good enough."
Exactly. Wack artists have not only always existed, but they've also become massively successful (Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, Tyga). But whereas back in the day, it was also cost prohibitive to create a record—booking studio time, hiring an engineer, pressing up CDs, printing artwork, etc.—in 2018, an artist can literally record a new song in his or her bedroom and upload it to their SoundCloud or Audiomack account in less than 30 seconds. No budget? No problem. An artist no longer needs a studio, an engineer—at a minimum, an artist should have their record properly mixed—or physical distribution and printing.
Eminem agrees: "You wake up and people are like, 'Alright, what are you going to put out now?' What do you think, I made my album last night?"
Streaming has allowed fans to have access to almost all of their favorite works in the palm of their hands, while also singlehandedly saving the entire music business. For artists, though, it isn't all roses. Sure, streaming has given artists newfound money—revenue that for nearly an entire decade prior to 2015 was missing entirely—but it also has made becoming "successful" that much harder because the competition has increased tenfold.
One giant step forward, two steps back. Wash, rinse, repeat.