In a response to a tweet stating he is retired, Kendrick Lamar replied with a link to his website, https://oklama.com/.
Kung Fu Kenny turned Oklama
Kendrick Lamar released a statement on the site announcing his album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, is set to release on May 13th. As the new album release date draws near, he dropped “The Heart Part 5”, a poignant commentary on the unpleasant aspects of popular culture. In Lamar’s previous address to the public via Oklahoma on August 20th of last year, he calls this upcoming project his “final TDE album”. Paired with his absence from the public eye, fans latched on to the idea of Kendrick’s retirement. They may be missing the possibility of making music outside of the LA-based music collective. Whether or not he chooses to retire, the situation sparks a question. Why do so many hip-hop artists want to retire?
Price of Fame
As the hip-hop community continues to break barriers and become synonymous with popular culture, the fandom for artists in the genre is larger than its ever been. The fans are a polarizing aspect of fame. Without them, there are no streams, album sales, venues, merch, or tour tickets sold. On the other hand, some fans make it difficult for artists to navigate social settings or even social media. Every day people take social media breaks so it is understandable when prominent artists with millions of followers on and offline get a bit reclusive. Fan interactions can push celebs off the grid but, there are many aspects of the music industry that keep them there.
Since artists are so accessible, thanks to the internet, supporters often pester their favorites for matters out of their control. Again, thanks to the internet, we have become privy to the downfalls of the music industry business. We have heard about countless misleading record deals since the 90s and well into the current era. Musicians face the same deceptive contracts in addition to earning a fraction of a penny per stream on most streaming services. Most deals don’t include an HR department, healthcare, or a 401k, so why have we adopted the corporate term of retirement?
Making music is still an occupation, and every job has workplace drama. Aside from the business side of the industry, there’s often conflict amongst peers. Hip-hop may be the only genre where beef between artists is profitable. Or allows constant debates of what or who qualifies as authentic parts of the genre. High measures of success in music even miss the mark on who’s who, like the Grammys. Doja Cat tweeted that she “quit” less than a month before receiving her first Grammy. The tweet came after months of openly expressing her frustrations with her profession and recent debates if she is considered a rapper. Perhaps winning the award sways her in the direction to continue creating.
Hip-Hop History of Calling it Quits
Kendrick and Doja are not the only artists who have been at the top of their game and the center of retirement speculation. In 2019, the head Barbie and one of Doja’s inspirations, Nicki Minaj tweeted that she was retiring to have a family. She has started her family, dropped several features, and singles since. Countless artists announced leaving music after serious consideration or in moments of frustration.
Even people who are considered to be the picture of longevity in hip-hop have announced retirement. Kid Cudi planned on retiring after his first album in 2009. Now, his Man On The Moon albums are on their third installment. Jay Z announced his retirement in 2003, which lasted about three years until he released Kingdom Come in 2006. 4:44 is his critically acclaimed thirteenth studio album and he is almost always included in the top 5 rappers debate. Since artists often come out of retirement, the issue is not a lack of creativity. Is the issue with the complexities of fame?
Almost every artist’s first interview during the pandemic mentioned being grateful to surround themselves with family. They lived like ‘regular civilians’ with the lack of performances and the introduction of face masks. Is a regular life what they crave? Is normalizing sabbaticals a way to reduce the number of popular artists wanting to retire during successful careers?
Finding A Balance
Artists retiring can be one way to decrease the over-saturation of music on the market. It can also be seen as the natural evolution of music. There is always space for new artists to emerge. Artists who have been around can mentor, venture into different creative spaces, or gradually move out of the public eye. What is it about the artist profession that calls for such an abrupt retreat? It can be a culmination of things. Yet, until the fundamentals of fame shift in favor of the artists’ well-being, we may continue seeing artists wanting to put in their two weeks notice.
Should the music industry have a job span? Should there be a limit on fame instead of creativity? Sia may have been onto something with the self disguising wigs. If the person is separated from the music, we may see a different outcome. Either way, If any artists are thinking about retiring, there’s still time before Kendrick drops.