This is a guest editorial written by Radamiz, an independent MC from Brooklyn, New York. In October 2018, Radamiz released his single "NYNYNYNY" on Payday Records. You can watch the video below.
One of the most frustrating aspects of being a hip-hop artist in 2019 is this seemingly societal pressure to create a "banger." I understand the reason artists are encouraged to craft records with HIT potential: money. Music that is easily playable in clubs and daytime radio rotation can change an artist's life. A hit song can generate income which can last a lifetime. All the viral components—the memes, the dance crazes, maybe an athlete raps along with you and boosts your celebrity—are born from hit records.
Once an album is released, everyone begins skimming through the tracklist to find the “banger.” Record labels push artists to produce bangers to build out a seemingly successful career, and digital service provider (DSP) playlist creators incentivize this creative approach with their daily and weekly song selections.
The problem is that, usually, the need or self-imposed desire to make an IG-clip anthem comes with the cost of potentially ruining your artistic longevity. Seventeen-to-24 track albums don't cater to a fulfilling listening experience for the fan; they are repetitive shots-in-the-dark, hope against hope that at least one record makes it onto Rap Caviar and into the ears of other playlist matriarchs. We've entered the age of listening to the same song over and over again, with a different title and artist name. This shit must stop.
I understand the incentive for record labels to sign artists who are banger-centric. Signing an artist and giving them an advance is an investment, one that isn't recoupable. But labels no longer provide artist development services to ensure their acts have long and sustainable careers. You need to arrive with a semi-finished product.
The single comes out. The money gets recouped, enough. The second single comes out. It duds. The album comes out. It duds, too. OK, it's time to sign 10 more artists!
The problem with creating bangers and trying to sustain a career on bangers is that the biggest songs must come from an organic place. To expect an artist to give you the same feeling every time they release a new record is blasphemous to the purity of the creative process.
Once artists succumb to payout potentiality, the artistic quality of our genre as a whole starts to crumble into something a general audience can make a mockery of. Hip-hop was created to serve numerous purposes and has been sustained because of the contrasting components it includes in its varying styles. It has historically been just as relevant on the dance floor as it is in the confines of your home on a boring Tuesday.
I don't need Talib Kweli making music to soundtrack my trip to Up & Down at two in the morning. I need Talib Kweli to deliver something for my long walks or when I'm in need of some education. J.I.D is just as necessary as Playboi Carti in 2019.
Labels and major media outlets often signify “hits” as some kind of benchmark for an artist’s ascension, or that a consistent producer of hits is more valuable than an artist who prefers to deliver full bodies of work. There are no “bangers” on Saba’s Care For Me, but many consider the album to be one of the best album releases of 2018; Earl Sweatshirt went anti-hit on Some Rap Songs and it is one of the strongest bodies of work in his catalog; JAY-Z wasn’t out to make hits when he made 4:44, and he practically delivered a top five album in his discography; and Mick Jenkins is rapping better than he ever has before on Pieces Of A Man—without any beats from Maaly Raw.
Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE going to the studio and making big energy songs like “Save The Youth” or “poweR,” just as much as I love to explore other sounds. But I also understand the balance that we, as artists, must achieve. We need more JAY-Zs in the game to represent a flourishing career that is still going more than 20 years post-debut. Artists like myself and many others are working hard to craft a legacy as opposed to pursuing a quick cash grab. We deserve to be around for the long run and it is our responsibility to train the fan’s ear to appreciate music made to last.
One of my fears for the future of hip-hop is that artists who aren’t making “bangers” will be pushed so far away from our consciousness that the general consuming public will lose complete interest in helping sustain those creatives. The tweet that sparked this guest editorial has led to fans and acquaintances reaching out to me concerned and disappointed in some of their favorite artists. Trying to strike the perfect balance between appealing to a mainstream machine while still feeding a core base is a fool's errand.
Just recently I spoke with Little Torment, a UK-based MC who recently visited New York specifically to work with real spitters. Our conversation quickly led to a mutual realization of how few independent MCs who don't prioritize making bangers are able to feed their families nowadays, and the imbalance it perpetuates Stateside and overseas.
In a recent episode of the Complex show Everyday Struggle, show co-host DJ Akademiks applauded Interscope signee Tierra Whack for creating a diverse body of work instead of another album he’s been listening to with “the same song over and over.” If Ak, who has famously championed the influx of newer artists who don’t put lyricism high on their priority chart, is starting to call out the current landscape on its repetitiveness then clearly a need for change is past due.
With artists like Tierra Whack, Rothstein, Kota the Friend, Dave, Melii, Madwiz, Westside Gunn and others climbing the ranks, hip-hop is headed in the right direction—with or without bangers.