Rap arguments on the internet are hardly ever worth the fight. Music is subjective and every listener has their own criteria for quality. This feels especially true when there’s an age gap. But, every once in a while, there’s a chance for an old head to provide some perspective. It’s a position I found myself in after reading Drew Landry’s recent editorial here on DJBooth, “The Streaming Era Is Fucking Exhausting.”
Mr. Landry’s point is simple: there are so many new music drops it’s hard to keep up. He believes technology and streaming services are to blame. I disagree. Technology isn’t the problem, it’s us—the listeners. Before I get to that, I’d like to provide some context.
I’m almost 33 years old. I started listening to rap when I was 10, which puts us somewhere around 1996. As a kid growing up in South Florida, access to my favorite rappers was limited to the radio. The only way I could ensure multiple listens of those songs and artists was hitting the “record” button on my tape deck.
Later, I downloaded songs from Napster with 56k dial-up. When DSL, what we now refer to as high-speed internet, debuted, album downloads went from days to minutes.
From my childhood to adulthood, before streaming, I went from cassette tapes to CDs, to MiniDiscs. I used to carry an entire booklet of CDs in my car for my CD player and was thrilled when I finally upgraded to the six-disc CD changer. Before Apple was smart enough to realize phones could double as music players, I’d spent six years carrying two devices at all times to ensure I could enjoy my favorites at any given moment.
It’s within this context we circle back to Mr. Landry’s article. Growing up in an era where music wasn’t easily accessible or portable, and being forced to record radio records with technology which no longer exists, it’s somewhat odd to read someone opine about music being TOO available. It seems to be an argument which I’ll refer to as the “Social Media Effect.”
Social media, and Twitter, in particular, has increased the speed of our consumption. It can make us feel like blinking for more than a minute means things have passed us by. Users feel they have to stay current at all times and that affects how people approach and consume the music.
More than ever before, we now seem less apt to letting albums become the soundtrack to our lives. There’s a new pressure to listen to every record so we don’t miss an opportunity to share our hot takes and be a part of the conversation. It creates a sense of urgency—which is hardly inspired by the music itself—to listen to every new project upon release. This is a human problem.
We, the listeners, should bear some responsibility. Artists are trying to meet the ever-changing demands of their fanbase—a rabid fanbase who quickly and insatiably consumes new music. The only way for an artist to feed fans is with new material. Otherwise, they risk losing the ear and interest of their audience and becoming an answer to the trivia question of “Hey man, whatever happened to…?”
Growing up, it was somewhat significant for JAY-Z to drop an album every year from 1996 to 2003. DMX most certainly ignored industry norms when he released two albums within six months of each other in 1998. Today, in the age of surprise releases and no real barrier between production and distribution, there’s little incentive for the old standard procedure of waiting for a new album.
For comparison, OutKast released three albums, ATLiens, Aquemini, and Stankonia, in 1996, 1998, and 2000, respectively. Biggie dropped Ready to Die and Life After Death in 1994 and 1997. Tupac, considered a prolific recorder in his time, and rumored to have had several hundred songs in the vault, took five years to release 2Pacalypse Now, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., Me Against the World, and All Eyes on Me from 1991 to 1996.
On Halloween, Curren$y dropped his joint album with Freddie Gibbs and The Alchemist, Fetti. It's his fifth project of 2018.
Artists likely wouldn’t release this much music if fans weren’t clamoring for it. As more artists built followings on the endless stream of music releases, the rules of release dates, anticipation, and proper rollouts have gone the way of Myspace. In a Frankensteinian twist, fans demanded more music and now they’re overwhelmed with options. They’re dying at the hands of the monster they created.
As a longtime music listener who remembers life prior to streaming, it’s clear technology has changed, and improved, the access we have to music. Music releases have certainly become more frequent but consumption habits are still that of the listener.
People don’t blame an all-you-can-eat buffet for providing too much food. We blame the person for overeating.