The Importance of the "Blowing Off Steam" Album

We’re talking about albums made for the thrill of rapping, not for the sake of flooding the market.
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The Importance of the "Blowing Off Steam" Album

“It was so fucking easy to make, because I was like, ‘Oh, I just gotta rap? Okay!’ You know what I mean? … Alright, that’s easy, that’s what I do.” —Logic

Burning out as a creative may well be the most bitter kiss of death. The relationship artists have with their work is a testy one. The hunger to go hard must be met with the restraint and reminder that life has to be lived and breaths have to be taken. While we romanticize hustle culture, aside from it being physically damning, there is also the truth that churning out content waters down your output and siphons away your creativity. Drop enough albums at once, record enough songs in a short period of time, and everything will eventually tire you out and bleed together into a body of work reminiscent of morose greatest hits.

Yet, in a music climate as demanding as the streaming era, telling an artist to slow down sounds counterintuitive to the new social currencies of relevance and clout. Taking a total break from releasing music sounds like a worse-off kiss of death than simply burning out and releasing rubbish for the sake of having your name in the conversation. To leave the mind of the listener for even a handful of months spells concern when certain artists struggle to hold our attention for full albums, especially when five links to five other records are floating around demanding our strained ears. Yet, in 2018, artists like Logic, G Herbo, and J.I.D have found a better way to avoid burning out while also releasing quality music, while also recharging their creative batteries.

More nuanced than a standard transitional album—a record that signals creative pivots, but not fully realized ideas—the blowing-off-steam album exists as a playground for the artist to create at their leisure and feed their fans without over-exerting themselves. These are the easy-to-do, great-to-listen-to, in-between records that allow artists to stay squarely in our thoughts and at the top of our rotations, but also give them the space to recharge and husband their higher-brow ideas for the album album. 

As Logic told Nick Huff on the release of his legacy-building YSIV album, this is what rappers do: rap. Blowing-off-steam records feature artists creating for the thrill of it, not for the sake of it. That may seem like playful semantics, but there is a serious distinction to be made between Migos' bloated Culture II, an album that exists to game streaming services, and Logic’s ode to hip-hop itself. One record has the propensity to sound tired, while the other can wake up artists and fans in the same turn.

Releasing new music every year since debuting as Psychological, Logic and his penchant for concept albums and message-driven music needed a break in 2018. Even his Bobby Tarantino albums would not suffice, if only because those records still involved Logic’s getting into character. With YSIV, as Logic himself says, he’s just here for the raps. Earlier in his interview with Huff, he described the process of making music as a type of “muscle memory,” and goes on to say that he worked for years to get to a point where the creative process can be fluid and effortless. YSIV is a harkening back to the Logic of old. Taking a breath and channeling his past self gives Logic the opportunity to produce quality music in the present, without risk of burning out or overwhelming his audience. This is all, again, effortless.

“It is more effortless because—I wouldn’t say I put more effort into Humble Beast—it’s my life. It’s easier to talk about the present. Humble Beast I’m talking about stories, I’m going back to chime in on early stages of my life. Swervo, I’m talking about now.” —G Herbo

Coincidentally, “effortless” is exactly how G Herbo described his Humble Beast follow-up with 808 Mafia’s Southside. A banger-driven album that still managed to touch on the depth of Herbo’s emotions and rattling street talk, Swervo played as far less serious, but far more barred up, than Humble Beast. The record was a display of skill, for certain, but it was also easier to make if only because Herb was not reaching into his memory for the hardest stories he could muster. He was relying on the present, which still produced some compelling material.

G Herbo’s “Letter,” which is a touching and bare note penned for his newborn son before his imminent arrival, goes down as one of the Chicago native's best songs to date. Could this song have ended up on a more concept-fueled album a la Humble Beast’s spiritual successor? Certainly, but we can also assume that giving himself space to breathe with Swervo allowed Herb to step into a mental zone where he could pen something so heartfelt and have it roll off the tongue.

Considering the music G Herbo makes, emotionally and physically taxing Chicago drill, having an album that serves as a total release of tension sounds less like a creative treat and more like a necessary mental break. There are only so many times you can rehash homicide and the wretched feeling of loss in your community before you burn out altogether because the subject matter has leveled you to settled ash. Swervo is a record fixated on the present, and G Herbo’s present involves a whole lot of ice, celebration, and relaxation. “On top of being humble, you’re supposed to be able to talk about your possessions,” Herb told DJBooth earlier this year. “I’m pretty sure any artist will tell you, that’s most of the beauty of it and working hard and doing what we do.”

“This DiCaprio shit, I was just like, ‘I can rap better than y'all.’ It was kind of a flex, but, at the same time, it was like some humble shit, like a humble flex.” —J.I.D

J.I.D wanted to take us to the movies, but with DiCaprio 2, he did us one better: he delivered a 4-D, hi-fi experience. Each track on the project is bombastic in its own way. The opening bangers shake tables and side-view mirrors, while the slow jams are emotionally devastating and the sex talk is its own brand of sensual. Everything on DiCaprio 2 feels heavy with purpose and quality, like a deluxe bottle of premium liquor. But here’s the thing, this isn’t even the album. As J.I.D told Billboard: “It's a mixtape. The label is going to call it an album, but we know what the fuck we put into it, we know how we work on albums.”

J.I.D is a special case, too, because the Dreamville emcee went from his debut album to blowing off steam. Meaning, this album is now doing double-time work to prove his lot and break him into the upper echelon of hip-hop. Not only is J.I.D resting on his technical laurels with an impressive fervor, but he is also making a statement: the debut was not a fluke. He’s in the game for real, and he’s got the bars to prove it. Before going hyper-concept with his next album, J.I.D used DiCaprio 2 to net new fans and show his present fanbase that they are in good hands. “People know who I am now,” he said. With as impressive a body of work as DiCaprio 2 in his quiver, another ode to rap for all its worth, J.I.D has it right: the next project he drops is already on our radar. In one breath, J.I.D took care of himself, ensured that fans do not forget about him, and locked himself in as a must-watch candidate for 2019.

Lastly comes the question of: What do artists do once they’ve blown off steam and feel refreshed? The answer, of course, is to drop the album album, where artists have stowed away their concepts and creative strides. Interestingly enough, for J.I.D and G Herbo, the album has much to do with the venerable No I.D., who just so happened to sign Logic to Def Jam. “Nonetheless, we finna drop this No I.D. project and we're gonna go crazy,” J.I.D told Billboard. “This is the conceptual album, this is the one that's hella musical, hella vibes.” Similarly, earlier this year G Herbo told us that he is working on another album. “I never really stop working,” Herb said. “I’ve been working with No I.D. a lot when I go to LA, and I get his insight.” Small world.

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