How To Last In Rap Post-Internet: It’s All About The “Maneuver”
At some point in the early aughts, things in the world of rap changed. Some artists, like Nelly, Bow Wow, and Ja Rule, who’d ascended during the late `90s, were falling to ill circumstances of all kinds, while Soulja Boy and other acts of the “ringtone rap” era were viral before we even started throwing the word around.
During this period, the lifespan of artists became even more impermanent, with songs—rather than albums—being passed around by listeners like a hot potato.
YouTube was booming, file sharing in the post-Napster age was a given, and the years that followed inspired artists to develop a new model. To make use of a new term made famous by Makonnen–a perfect example of an artist that encapsulates the aesthetic being discussed– in this day and age it’s all about how good you are at “maneuvering.”
Over the past decade, we’ve seen artists continue to step out of their comfort zones to explore greener pastures. For example, Future noticeably stepped away from and scaled back certain elements that were teeming in his debut release—like the endless mentions of how much money he was making and designers he happened to be wearing. By making his subsequent releases more personal, he was able to reach a larger audience. Kanye’s constant reinvention from album to album is tantamount to what we saw from Madonna. This is because of the artists that he surrounded himself with, like Kid Cudi and Travis Scott, who helped bring out latent aspects of his character. The result is a catalog brimming with artistic exploration.
Artists like 2 Chainz and Pusha T began their careers in duos under the umbrella of distinguished collectives—Disturbing Tha Piece and Star Trak respectively—but have since found greater success as solo acts. With each of these artists, reinvention, productivity, and the drive to create something new and fresh while others copied trends is what gave their careers a boost.
This means of creating content and reaching listeners is nothing new to rap’s new class of MCs: they work freely and without the leash and muzzle of record company executives grimacing and seething with anxiety over how to capitalize on the viral success of insert-artist-name-here.
That said, artists have to act with immediacy and a drive like never before. Lost tapes no longer exist; studio sessions are constantly being documented on social media, and singles or one-off tracks fall like raindrops in a storm. Learning how to maneuver in this new space that rap occupies requires you to be ever-present, constantly creating, and displaying an “it factor” that can transform your ripple into a tidal wave. If you don’t you’ll drown.