There’s a problem in hip-hop and it’s been looking at us dead in the eyes for years. A problem that has turned loyal fans into non-subscribers. That problem is the artist achieving mainstream success. We hear it all the time, “[insert artist name] is so mainstream. I don’t fuck with them anymore.”
The process of an underground hip-hop artist into mainstream fame starts out with one thing: true, gritty stories of pain and struggle. This symbolizes their core audience by meeting them where they are because essentially, that’s where the artist is in their life. Their lyrics make them relatable and in turn garners loyalty from the listener. For an example, listen to Cudi, Curren$y, Big K.R.I.T., and a list of other artists. Their loyalty is unmatched.
Something happens however with some artists when they start to get noticed by major labels. They start to lose that sound that got them noticed in the first place. I like to attribute this to a larger check dangling in front of their face and having that pressure of now catering to a different audience, i.e. white people, who buy the records. We won’t get into that discussion but we will entertain the relevancy of this situation.
“Starships” by Nicki Minaj is a terrible hip-hop record. Rosenberg was correct. However, Nicki Minaj is a mainstream artist who has tried to maintain her core audience but also reach out to larger ones. It has proven unsuccessful. When 80% of you’re album sounds like it would be played in a party that neither I or any of my friends who worship hip hop will be attendance, then you’re core audience is lost. With the fickleness of the music industry today, I hope she can do something to recover from this but hip hop doesn’t work like that. You can’t jump back and forth.
Once you’re core is lost, consider yourself a mainstream artist or a dud because when you’re gone, you’re gone forever. Mourn forever.