Sometimes the hype outweighs the finished product.
It’s my 100th article for Elevator and if you think I’m going to be dramatic then you’re absolutely right. I have yet to shed my thug tear, though. Anyways, early on in my time writing here, I wrote about The Element of Surprise in music and how it circumvents expectations, allowing us to enjoy music free of any bias or influence. It’s an enjoyable experience that we don’t get enough of because many artists prefer to go the traditional route. A planned promotional rollout, singles, graphics, active use of social media and announce a tour.
Take the Dreamville cohort for example, who is currently holed up in Atlanta with the likes of Rick Ross, Wale, T.I, Tay Keith, Westside Gunn, Reason, Vince Staples, and several other artists as they look to complete Revenge of The Dreamers 3 in just 10 days. It’s been an exciting experience for the fans, as artists have posted their invitations to the sleepaway camp of sorts and pictures or videos of each other in the studio on their Instagrams. Naturally, fans are expecting this to be some serious heat. The way J. Cole has been rapping and this new mindset he has certainly added fuel to that fire. He’s in a creative space and bringing a lot of heavy hitters into his world.
Yet, I fear our expectations are almost too high. We may be too excited about all of these creative minds being together and anticipate something they can not provide. Not to say the album will be bad, I reckon that is almost impossible with the people they’ve gathered. However, there is no piece of music that is perfect. You can always find something. And when it comes to the mega stars, people are quick to point out the flaws in their albums. So for Article 1 hundo, I wanna look at some of these albums and where they may have fallen short. Disclaimer, I personally like all of these albums but liking an album doesn’t make it free from critique or any kind of disappointment. These are my takes but also things I’ve observed.
Queen – Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj had been the sole leader of the woman rap game for nearly a decade until along came Cardi B. Nicki didn’t react well to the threat Cardi posed to her throne, so she rolled out her fourth studio album and made sure people knew what the vibes were upon hearing it. She was looking to place her foot down firmly and maintain her spot.
The rollout was aggressive, with initial singles “Barbie Tingz” and “Chun Li” though only the latter made the album. She followed up with the booty shaker “Rich Sex” featuring Lil Wayne and the poppy love song “Bed” featuring longtime collaborator Ariana Grande. Amidst all this, she was causing a ruckus on social media which meant she was either super confident in what was coming or merely looking to generate hype.
The product of this is a 21-song album, with many different kinds of sounds but no real cohesion. The highs were high, like the Caribbean-influenced opener “Ganja Burns,” the lyrical-melodic hybrid “Hard White,” and the heartfelt ballad “Come See About Me.” When it came to the lows, the bar was on the floor.
“Barbie Dreams,” though catchy and creative, missed the mark in capturing the essence of Notorious B.I.G‘s “Just Playing (Dreams)” and just came off as an attempt to get people talking and increase streams as she name-drops every relevant rapper. “Sir” features Future and an amazing beat from Zaytoven and Metro Boomin. The lyrics from both are boring and uninspired. And I know Nicki is known for her pop songs, but “Majesty” was dreadful. Even the fast Eminem verse and Labrinth‘s sneaky vocals couldn’t fix that.
Overall, Nicki didn’t meet the expectations she set for herself. The queen-like effort we anticipated came off as more of a misguided heir. And everything she’s done after, including starting beef with Travis Scott and all the Queen radio episodes have made it hard for us to even want to acknowledge the good she’s done musically. Sometimes, it’s better to let the music talk and Tweet less. Still, love you Onika. You made the “Monster” verse.
Scorpion – Drake
This one is kind of given based on the fact Drake is really only competing with himself nowadays. He’s pushed himself away from the traditional rapper niche but toes the line enough to deliver the lyrical stuff for the purists, melodic stuff for the parties, and pop stuff for the charts. Any time he announces an album, it causes an uproar. This rollout was especially heightened by the beef with Pusha T and Kanye West. We now know it made him go back and add to the album, and when he started promoting “A Side, B Side” the expectation was a double album with a different edge to Drake.
We got a double album for sure, with 25 songs to consume, and though it has multiple bright spots in “In My Feelings,” “Nonstop,” “Emotionless,” and “March 14th” the overall feeling was he did too much. The stan in me doesn’t agree, but the objective analyst in me can understand. Strip down both sides a bit and put out maybe a 15-track project, and I see very few projects that could top it. We don’t have the luxury of eliminating songs though and have to take it for what it was.
He explained the child stuff well, which people felt entitled to but then folks felt he explained too much. Fans have always said he could put together a strong collection of R&B songs but disapproved of him dedicating merely a 13-song volume to it within an already hefty two-disc set. There’s no winning when you’re the biggest artist in the game as everyone will want different things but you can never satisfy everyone. Though I love the album, in this time where people complain about too much music he surely could’ve gone a route highlighted by brevity and conciseness. That’s just not in his nature anymore and I don’t think it ever will be.
The Good Music 7’s – Kanye West and co.
This one is slightly difficult to put on this list as there is a good amount of the 36 songs this cohort put out in a little over a month that I enjoyed. The concept was amazing, and it seemed like Ye was prepared to return to musical form. The splash DAYTONA made was especially pleasing, and created optimism in fans that the month of June would be epic. I mean, a solo album from Ye, a collab with him and Kid Cudi, a Nas album and the long-awaited LP from Teyana Taylor all produced by Mr. West? Sounded epic.
For the most part, it fell flat. There were peaks, like DAYTONA, Kids See Ghosts and KTSE. The solo effort from Kanye was met with harsh criticism and called rushed. NASIR didn’t feel like the typical output the legendary rapper would give, and almost as if there was a creative disconnect between him and Kanye. Perhaps the albums would have been received differently if all the hype around the label releasing five short albums in five weeks wasn’t so influential.
With such legendary production Kanye has put out through his career, we had faith that he still had it in him despite his political affiliations and wild Tweet rants. The mixed reception to the whole month honestly could be a result of the sour taste we have toward Kanye and anything affiliated. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that what we expected and what we got were two very different things. That same energy was not kept. At least we got “Gonna Love Me” and “Reborn” from this.
Drip Harder – Lil Baby and Gunna
I listen to this album often and think “man, what are people not hearing? This is solid.” It certainly is, but solid was the minimum expectation after the year these two young men had. After several collaborations, them announcing their joint effort just made sense. They’re running buddies with similar sounds and dynamic capabilities. “Drip Too Hard” was a quick hit and created much excitement in fans for perhaps the best collab album we’ve gotten since Watch The Throne or What A Time To Be Alive.
For the fans, it felt evident that Baby and Gunna were working too hard this year in various different areas. Drip Harder was labeled as rushed and more an attempt to combine the two’s bubbling hype rather than creating music that could last. There are some great songs aside from the single, like “Off White Vlone” featuring NAV and Lil Durk, Lil Baby’s solo song “Close Friends,” and the Drake-featuring “Never Recover.” The only song that seems like it has staying power is “Drip Too Hard” and even then, how long before a similar sounding song knocks it off its pedestal?
Astroworld– Travis Scott
It is an undeniable fact that when anyone looks back on 2018, they will think of Trav and the alternate reality he created with this album. Having promoted it for two years, rolled out sick visuals but keeping hush about who was involved, all the fans knew was to expect the unexpected. He played to the mystery but not listing his features, so every collaborator was a pleasant surprise that caught fans off guard. It’s my personal #1 for the year so this is tough to write.
The production on this album was versatile and truly unlike any other. It made it a unique, enjoyable listening experience with many “oohs” and “aahs” like young kids would say at a magic show. Has anyone ever been to a magic show where every single trick was amazing though? Probably not. For Trav, even if he put a load of time and effort into constructing the best magic performance possible, some of the tricks were just lackluster.
Standout songs like “SICKO MODE” and “YOSEMITE” ring off to this day, but the 17-song album is almost too cohesive to the point where certain things fall in the shadows. In a way, it’s genius to construct one long rollercoaster-feeling project. On the other hand, a lot of it is simply good and nothing more. Not necessarily amazing or groundbreaking as the promotion made it feel. Which is okay, because too many he still had the album of the year. It’s unrealistic to expect every single song to be amazing. I’d be interested to speak with someone not in his hive who could objectively say they love every single song and there’s nothing that could’ve been added or tweaked.
A lot of this conversation not only has to do with expectations but objectivity. Not only do we view albums a certain way because of what the artist brands them as, but their fans and how they go to bat for them creates a natural resentment toward certain content. Drake and Nicki certainly suffered from this. Ye dug himself and G.O.O.D a pretty deep ditch but Push, Cudi and Teyana had some ladders ready though they couldn’t save the entire label.
Trav, Baby, and Gunna simply suffered from being too popular and likable. Being labeled superstars so young creates a lot of pressure to rise to the occasion, but the occasion is far beyond anything any artist can reach. I’m not sure if we will ever be able to avoid this reality though. Maybe I’ll have an answer in time for article 200.