When the writing doesn't come, in the air hangs a vile sickness. Writer’s block is a kiss of death unlike any other, but often as artists, we take the block to its unnecessary ends. We force the work. We burn out. We run on empty, and keep running as if there are no repercussions. Burnout is the culmination of the sickness of writer’s block, is its own horrendous beast. Burnout wipes out the mind and the body and can feel like a thorny backslide.
In the streaming era, where the music moves at an untenable pace, artists are always at risk of burning out. While everyone—or damn near everyone—experiences burnout to some degree, there must be ways to beat burnout. There must be ways to overcome severe exhaustion and a blank mind. Speaking with Sacramento’s Mozzy, Buffalo’s Benny The Butcher, Chicago’s Chris Crack, and the Bronx’s Maliibu Miitch, we ventured to find out what burnout looks like in hip-hop, and how we can overcome its trappings.
To conquer the beast, we must first name it and in that regard, all the artists we spoke with agreed: burnout is when you are running on fumes.
“It's when you have nothing else in you,” Maliibu Miitch says. She attributes burnout to the byproduct of the daily struggles of an artist: catching flights, missing sleep, pushing yourself to fulfill the pressures of the streaming era.
“Everyone's like ‘I gotta rush to put out this,’ or ‘I gotta rush to do this,’ but I never been concerned about the pressure. I always say, ‘Let it flow… ’ Being in this industry, it could mess your mind up,” she adds.
Seconding her are Benny The Butcher and Mozzy, who specifically believes burnout is “when you continue to write about the same thing, you keep using the same words, you have no inspiration. You're recycling.”
Interestingly enough, our most prolific artist, Chris Crack, who released six projects in 2018 alone, does not believe that there has to be a point of burning out.
“Why do you gotta burnout?” Chris asks me, rhetorically. “I don't see myself burning out, because I still got more work to give. It's like, there’s always gonna be something to talk about. There's always gonna be something new to create. I don't experience burnout.”
For Chris, burnout is staved away merely by living a balanced life and following your purpose. He believes that so long as you are doing what you are meant to do, you won't burn out. He does, however, advocate for breaks and self-appraisal.
“Sometimes I gotta force myself to stop because I'm just doing too much,” he says. “People who are just doing it because it's hot now to be a rapper, them dudes, they do burn out very easily, and they keep burning out consistently, 'cause it's not their purpose.”
Though Chris confirms he's reaching a point of obsession with his music, he also admits to not being much of a studio rat. “I don't lock in like that,” he tells me. “I go probably every other day, for four or six hours. Of course, I gotta have time for myself to do whatever I need to do.” Whether he knows it or not, this ability to step away is the reason why he does not burn out.
Chris Crack’s approach to music should sound exceptionally healthy because as Maliibu Miitch tells it, burnout is caused by ignoring the signs your body is sending you.
“Just overworking yourself and not taking care of your mind and your body,” Miitch begins, “we don't give our bodies proper time to take rests. We're jumping on flights and changing hotels, going to different states, and stuff like that. You gotta take care of your body better.”
Mozzy also sees burnout as a byproduct of the streaming era weighing heavily on artists: “I think it has a lot to do with being overworked because you're consistently on the grind. You're trying to stay relevant and present. You're trying to keep them checks rolling in.”
The reality for nearly all artists is the anxiety caused by a fickle streaming model and fickle industry at large would be enough to knock anyone out.
“The last time I burnt out real bad was a month ago. I had finished Plugs. I flew straight from LA to New York City, got off the plane, went to my hotel, showered, and did a whole album in two days with Westside and Conway. Then, I finished a whole project with Smoke DZA, and at the end of the project we thought we was ahead of it and it was one more song, but I was going back to Atlanta the next day. My boy got me out the bed, like I was in drawers, like ‘We gotta finish [the album],’ and I didn’t feel like doing it at all.” —Benny The Butcher
So the operative question becomes: What do we do about burnout? Primarily, the answer is to take time for yourself, when possible.
“If I have something that I can't get out of, I work through it, but if I absolutely cannot [do it] I go back home,” Maliibu Miitch says. “I go to visit my mom. I'm very family oriented, and my family always checks me back in.”
For Mozzy and Benny The Butcher, a change in scenery is often required. “If you can't think of nothing creative, then you probably gotta watch a movie, or listen to a Nas album, a JAY-Z album, an Eminem album,” Benny explains. “One time, we flew to Puerto Rico to record a Hitler tape, on Westside Gunn’s shit. We started The Plugs I Met in LA. That's what we do. For us, if we are working on a new project, it's ‘Yo, let's fly to such and such.’”
Despite the answer to how to avoid burnout being borderline obvious, there is a fair amount of mental training that has to go into taking time off. Time off, often, means time not spent working on what makes you money, and yet, balance is critical. If there is no time taken to bask in your accomplishments, what are we even working towards?
“You gotta train yourself to take time off,” Mozzy details. “I naturally do it because I know I need it. I know it's inevitable I gotta get some rest. Let me enjoy some of this. Let me take a step back and look at my accomplishments and find some inspiration in that. Let me look at where exactly I was going, and am I there yet? If so, let's set new goals. Let's turn it up a notch.”
In that vein, Miitch turns taking time off into taking time, period. She doesn't push herself to write when the words aren't flowing, and frankly, she's okay with that.
“I like to take my time when writing a song,” she tells me. “I will write a verse and come back to it. I'll write a hook and then a verse, and I'll have to come back to it in a week. I've always been good with giving myself time. I don't give a fuck what everybody else thinks.” Patience and balance, the perfect storm.
Conversely, Benny admits he has no semblance of balance in his life when he is away from home. “I haven't eaten,” he says with a snarl. “I don't eat. I smoke weed all the time. I’m not gon' lie to you; I don't take care of myself. I can't wait to get home to India, she gon' take care of me when I get back. She gon' make sure she holds me down.”
Often unable to take time off, Benny uses his passion for music to get him through burnout: “It's about being a gladiator, going against yourself and living up to the moment. Great people make great things happen when they need them to happen. I think the talent and the passion, and intellect, can help you fight the burnout.”
Where Mozzy and Chris agree—passion can get you through the worst of burnouts, especially when you're not in a position to take time off—Miitch doesn't see it that way. When she reached her breaking point in 2013 and subsequently took three years off music, the reason she went back to the craft was her family. If it were up to her, as she alludes, she would have staved off rap altogether.
“The only thing that kept me going was my family,” she says. “Getting up every single day and knowing that I could write one song to change our whole life. That's how I've always been. That always kept me motivated in going back to rap. It was always my family.”
Now in a much better place, Miitch keeps her mind right by keeping her man by her side and maintaining a team that cares about her. She still grinds, as all the artists we spoke to grind, but she understands life requires balance. She is honest with herself, and has learned to say "No."
Ultimately, burnout is your body’s signal you're living an unbalanced life, figuring out how to recharge and realign yourself are essential to being an artist. When we finally reach that point of balance, we can live a life as put-together and fulfilling as Mozzy’s.
“This is something I would do for free; it's therapeutic for me. It assists me with growth, with living. The fact that I actually get paid off of this, it balances out perfectly. Any window of time I have to spare, I usually spare with [my family]. I wake up every day with my daughters present. I'm just hella thankful, hella grateful.” —Mozzy