The rise of 50 Cent and G-Unit through a series of reputation-building mixtapes gave rappers ideas. Lil Wayne’s deluge of free releases in the lead up to his gazillion-selling blockbuster Tha Carter III proved that releasing scores of songs in a small space of time could eventually reap serious financial gain. Wayne and 50’s oddball exceptions have now become the rule, though, and here we are in 2011 staring down an impossible harvest of beats and rhymes. Rappers are now under the impression that domination of music is accomplished through the persistent release of tracks, features, mixtapes, EPs, and the like. Oversaturation, plain and simple. Thing is, not every rapper has what it takes to pull off that kind of industry-wide assault without working on our nerves. This has not stopped anyone from following the path of excess and inundating listeners with more music than we want or need to hear.
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Open any blog, and scroll down the front page. Listen to every song. How much of what you find there do you find yourself listening to twice? How much of it do you find yourself listening to the next day? The next week? The next year? Browse your hard drive. How much of what’s on there have you been able to listen to? How far behind are you? How many songs, albums, mixtapes do you have that you never got around to listening to because that artist (or another one) quickly dropped another project that suddenly required your attention? A lot, right? Artists are way too preoccupied flooding inboxes with tracks to notice, but I do.
The playing field is crowded. If Big Snork drops his Todd Rundgren beat tape on Tuesday, and Yung Lil Bullshit drops his long awaited No Tracks, Just Interludes on Wednesday, and Whoo D’Whoo releases part three in her monthly series of free EPs on Thursday, and I cop all of them, there’s a fair chance that some, maybe even all, of those releases will end up either in the recycling bin or deep in the boondocks of my hard drive or iPod. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to work, write, eat, sleep, drink, and then listen to every single random new release as well as the stuff I already have that I love. Getting someone to download your music is one thing. Getting ‘em to keep it is another.
Quality control is a virtue. Barring, like, the Beatles, there isn’t a single musical act worthy of me listening to EVERY SOLITARY THING THEY EVER WROTE. Why do I get the impression that some of these dudes are literally releasing whatever they record whenever they record it? Take Lil B, for instance. Lil B’s discography has to have hit some kind of Guinness record for Most Songs Recorded By A Rapper. This dude’s got thousands of tracks released, and he’s only been working since 2007. What percentage of that is worth listening to after the first time? Don’t get me started. If you were planning on releasing four mixtapes this year, try tossing out two. The world won’t end.
Brevity is a virtue. Newsflash: you are not required by law to fill out the maximum time allotted on compact disc. There isn’t a penalty for having space left over on a disc. There’s this unidentifiable point somewhere in the back nine of a lot of albums where I begin to realize that I’ve heard everything this artist is musically capable of, even though there’s still five, 10, 20, sometimes as much as 30 minutes left in the running time. Learn from the greats. Most enduring classic hip hop albums don’t last longer than 10 to 15 songs, and they’re rarely longer than an hour. Imagine if Illmatic came out in this climate! That thing would have 20 songs on it!
We do not forget you exist just because you have not released 20 songs in the last month. I don’t know about everyone else, but I get tired of having the same artist in my ear day in, day out. Buzz is an elusive thing, but I know it’s not solely accomplished by remaining just around the corner with new music constantly coming down the pipeline. How many tracks has Jay Electronica released in the last year? Not that many, right? How many cats are still gonna lose their entire minds the day Act II comes out? Jay-Z and Kanye, two of the biggest artists working today, have an album coming out, and we’ve only heard three or four songs from them in the seven to eight months since the thing was announced. Danny Brown only drops a few tracks and features a month. When his album comes out I am going HAM. You can keep a certain distance and have people remain excited about your next release. It’s not unheard of.
Oversaturation is hip hop’s silent killer, and while it varies by person how much is too much, you know it when you see or hear it. It’s a point just at the end of a track-a-week series where you realize that there was barely a keeper in the batch. It’s a point about thirteen songs into a twenty-plus track release when you realize that everything in the bag of tricks has been exhausted, and nothing new or interesting is going to happen. It’s a mixtape too many. It’s a remix you didn’t need to be on. It’s just too much. Focus on crafting your best, on coaching your best performance out of yourself. If it ain’t the best, leave it on the cutting room floor. Not everything you make needs to see the light of day. Quality. Not quantity. Work at your own pace. Whatever you do, please, please, please (RIP James Brown), don’t put anything out just to have anything out.