By Clayton Tomlinson
After three years, two of my favourite rappers released new albums on the same day.
Both Pusha T and A$AP Rocky released their last projects in 2015 and have left music fans waiting – very anxiously in my case – for what they were going to do next.
It is, to be melodramatic, a sign from the artistic gods that Pusha’s Daytona and Rocky’s Testing are great works. They leave you wanting more and not disappointed by the wait.
But, beyond the music itself, this ‘event’ has me to think about the ramifications of their artistic choices. Especially when rap is split between the artistic, higher ideals of rappers like these two and the fun, more entertaining rap that’s basically self-expression as a means of feeding yourself – most trap rappers release a mixtape a month, for example.
There’s the rap you hear in Ale and the rap you listen to after a break-up, a bad day at work, etc. Is one better than the other? No.
But this division pervades creative output of all kinds, and since I like rap and you do too, hopefully, it is useful to frame creativity through this art form and not another.
But to be blunt, more thought was put into Daytona and Testing than would be put into a project that’s gestation period is barely longer than its runtime. And there’s a difference between rap that is deliberate and rap that is fun but ephemeral.
Again, not trying to stratify arts any more than they already are but there is a difference, let’s not shy away from that.
When you give Daytona a listen, you are left speechless. You are left to consider the message behind a song like ‘Santeria’ that Pusha wrote after his road manager was stabbed to death.
Rocky is doing something wholly different – in the arts for art’s sake vein. He’s blending the multiple cultures – drug, fashion, black and the many others he skirts – into an artistic statement. He pulls ideas from every facet of his life and makes mind-bending trippy music.
I think it’s rather rare for deliberate artistic thought to be on the forefront of mainstream culture. People waited a very long time for these albums and the wait paid off, as I’ve noted.
What silver-lining is to be drawn from the fact that these rappers put their artistic process above the demands of anything else?
Each time I listen to these two works, whether it’s vacuuming, walking my dog, or before a date, I draw new and different meanings. Good art, like these rap albums, causes a deeper reaction in the person listening to it.
While Lil Pump is a great way to get fired up before a club rip, he will not help you grow emotionally. But Pusha is dealing with the very process of emotions in his music.
A$AP’s album is harder to pin down, but that’s the point. It is so completely different, while still causing the same goosebumps, the same ‘woahs’ that say Kendrick Lamar gives you on Damn.
The sign from the artistic gods, then, is that good art comes in many forms, in many ways and on no one’s term but the creator’s.