Gluttonous, music connoisseurs crave feasts even while their plate is stocked with a full course meal. Devouring mixtapes for breakfast, EPs for lunch, albums for dinner and singles for dessert. More, more, more, there’s this bottomless desire for more, and if not fed, they just move onto the next buffet line. I’m not exempt from this description of a consumer, my desires for a new Frank Ocean album are well documented, but I have to ask myself, did I truly walk through every room of Channel Orange? Did I shit in every bathroom, bathe in each shower, explore every layer, reach an appreciation that goes beyond, “this is good, what’s next?” Why are we so fascinated by what is coming rather than truly cherishing what we have? We're so quick to label something timeless while simultaneously expiring its existence by requesting a replacement, something newer, a trending topic.
The conversations surrounding an album are at their highest during the speculation stage, when all you have is an album cover and tracklist to spark your imagination. That anticipation pours into social media, it creates a community of starved and deprived listeners staring into the unknown with wide eyes. And sometimes, rarely, our expectations are met, or even exceeded. And when they aren't, we blame the artist for not matching our imaginations.
I remember the disappointment of hearing "Hello Brooklyn" for the first time, I thought this would be Jay and Wayne’s sparring session, two warriors swinging swords and slinging fire, but the outcome is a forgettable, Auto-tuned misery. This happens time and time again: "Swagger Like Us," "Forever," and of course "Lift Off." Sometimes, the most incredible and talented fail to produce their prowess for peers. That doesn’t stop us from being sucked into the trap of false excitement every time though, expecting an immaculate slam dunk and feeling let down when we get a flamboyant lay-up. I once prematurely judged a song for featuring Gunplay, I expected him to be completely poison. It took me months to overcome my judgment, and it just so happened to be the verse of his career on "Cartoon and Cereal."
Either way, good or bad, we eventually have to face this product we've been anticipating. The release date leak date is a grand event, the starved and deprived community comes together and lets their thoughts overflow, interjecting their opinions into a sea of other opinions until we’re submerged in a unified pool of thoughts. It’s like everyone gives their “1 Listen Review” at once; we argue, debate and then chase after the next cover and tracklisting. It becomes old news the moment there’s a new topic, something shinier, more mysterious. Lupe’s album is basically already in the retirement home, Joey’s album will be yesterday’s news before the season finale of Empire. Music as an intimate entertainment has been changed, it’s now only a source of social discussion.
Album anticipation is like the anxiety of having sex with someone for the first time. In your mind there’s this perfect sequence of events: what you will say, how you will move, filthy ideas that would put Brazzers to shame. But very rarely does the intimacy reflect the imagined X-video script (ex: J. Cole's "Wet Dreamz"), and even if it does, if you don’t hear wedding bells in between the claps of boots knocking, it won’t be long before your imagination wonders to co-worker Kelly’s causal Friday cleavage, or Tyrone’s linebacker physique. The cycle of craving the unknown continues.
Art needs time to manifest, but the internet's constant desire for relevance makes that hard. We are truly living in the era of, “only funky as your last cut.” What happens once Andre3000 drops a solo album? Does he ruin himself indefinitely by feeding us what we want most? Same goes for Jay Electonrica. Will Act II only be a masterpiece if it never drops? At this point can the reality match the expectation? Music is the offspring of creativity, emotion and time (with the occasional shot of whiskey.) Realistically, we can’t expect artists to put out the best product without having “time.” D’Angelo made fans wait 14 years, he didn’t care about relevance, but about delivering a product that represented his art form. He showed me that listeners need to be humbled by patience, that music is a gift, and should be cherished.
Let’s stop treating hip-hop like the Playboy mansion and more like the Smithsonian.
[By Yoh, aka Mahatma Gandyoh, aka @Yoh31.]