Sunday night, likely following the closing of Rolling Loud, hip-hop’s biggest music festival which took place over three days in Miami this past weekend, TIDAL’s own Elliott Wilson shared a common complaint that spans the lifetime of live music: artists performing over their recorded vocals.
Wilson posted a screenshot of a tweet from former hip-hop writer-turned-artist manager Joe Money to his Instagram, as we do now in 2018, which paints new school rap artists as lazy because, in essence, many of them let their recordings do the work while they let loose on stage.
In response, self-proclaimed one-hit wonder Trinidad James suggested that these young artists just haven’t figured out what the rap game is all about. “It’s kids performing for kids,” he replies, which is true. But then, James launched into some dangerous territory, suggesting that the new wave is age-specific and—somewhat rightly—asserting that the new school of rap artists doesn’t care if older fans come to their shows.
While James raises a valid point within his comment, let’s start with a base fact: wanting more from the next generation does not make you a curmudgeon. Of course, if you carry a bias against their sonics, you’re not really critiquing so much as attacking, but that’s not the case here. As critics and consumers, we must hold entertainment creators to high standards if we wish to see them improve, and responding to critique by claiming someone is too old or too young, too this or too that, for a specific art form is reductive and keeps artists and music from evolving.
If an artist or act is seeking longevity, graduating from rapping over or lip-syncing to recorded vocals is not just an option—it's a necessity. A career in music, in the long term, subsists on touring and if an artist can deliver with a good live show, he or she could be eating off this hip-hop shit well into their late 80s.
With that, James is right in one respect: some of these kids—both fans and the artists—just don’t care. They see hip-hop as a big party with a check at the end of the night. As an artist, if you know that your base just wants to rage, by all means, make the music and produce a show that delivers that raucous energy. But remember energy changes.
Meaning, the young cats running around on stage to their own vocals must learn how to capture that energy and retool it for a live show that will allow them to evolve from rappers to performers. To sustain a career in any business, you must always be casting a slightly wider net, increasing your base and your bottom line. Without expanding your on-stage repertoire, the audience will eventually putter out, the money will dry out, and the career will be no more. A younger audience with little to no expectations eventually turns into an older audience with elevated expectations. Sure, maybe the kids don’t care now, but in a few months, a few years, they’re going to need more than booming energy to satisfy themselves—The Law of Diminishing Returns even applies to moshing.
After all, it's much easier to keep an audience hooked instead of trying to win them back, delivering a live show that bridges technical performance with that “fuck this” attitude that’s permeating rising hip-hop acts.
For now, the kids may want to rage, but rage has an expiration date.