I would hesitate before ever claiming there was too much music in the world, but sometimes I do worry over the state of the unknown talent. There was a brief window in time not all that long ago where a catchy song and a working knowledge of social media would be enough to at least land you a few blog mentions, but today’s competition is so fierce the most artists need more than that to even be considered for coverage. Most artists either need to know a music writer, know an artist music writers like to cover, or somehow create a viral smash hit that becomes so popular music writers have no choice other than to shut up and pay attention to what you’re doing. All of three of those options are harder than they seem, but they do work if you work them.
Every year a few artists manage to emerge from the underground in a way that makes everyone turn their heads. You might not ‘get it’ or enjoy what is being created, but the level of notoriety they are able to reach in an incredibly short amount of time is so immediate and overwhelming that you cannot avoid their presence. Fetty Wap did this incredibly in 2015 well while making the most of “Trap Queen”. The song’s viral success lead into a string of chart-topping singles that dominated radio and rap blogs for the majority of the year.
Remember how much you loved(then eventually hated) this song last year?
In 2016, few new artists have been as divisive upon entering the global music conversation as Canadian solo artist Lil Yachty. Some might call him a rapper, but to do so would be to set unfair expectations for his music. Yachty is not a rapper just like Adele is not necessarily a pop artist. Both Yachty and Adele are capable of being those things, and sometimes they are nothing other than that, but the extent of their artistic talent and expression has the ability to transcend those genre classifications. Like most major artists today, Yachty fall in between everything that is popular today, and in by doing so has enabled himself to do just about whatever he wants from song to song. Maybe he raps the whole time, or maybe he sings with a heavily slathering of autotune on his vocals. Anything is possible and that plays a big role in his continued success.
It’s safe to safe say Yachty has some buzzworthy friends.
Yachty recently told The New York Times, a publication he mentioned in his 2015 single “Minnesota”:
“I’m not a rapper, I’m an artist. And I’m more than an artist. I’m a brand.”
Hip-hop notables were among the first to recognize what Yachty was doing with his music. By the time Yachty’s now frequent ‘best of 2016 nominee′ mixtape release Lil Boat was the talk of the internet he had already booked a number of guest verses, including D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” and Charlie XCX’s woefully underrated “After Party”.
It is nearly impossible to walk away from an encounter with Yachty’s music without having an opinion. It’s intentionally polarizing. Yachty wants you to decide how you feel up front and act on it. He knows If you connect with his vibe and pursuit of endless happiness through sing-song hooks with deeply personal, yet deceptively amateur lyrics that you’ll subscribe to his social media accounts and eagerly anticipate more of his material. If you don’t then you will likely will do none of those things, but you may be so turned off that you decide to talk about Yachty on social media or some corner of the rap digital universe.
Yachy’s music is cleverly constructed to both entertain and inspire immediate reaction, which in turn creates a currently unstoppable wave of opinion, news, and conversation in a digital space that demands new content 24/7. This is no doubt a nightmare for those who are immediately turned off by his free-wheeling musical spirit , but for those who ride his wave it is a pleasant disruption in a time when music – and perhaps the world – needs more original thought and perspective than ever.
In an age where the smartest way to navigate the music business is by developing a unique sound you own without the backing of a questionable contract no one has done it better this year than the young man born Miles Parks McCollum in August of 1997*. To deny his intelligence because you do not connect with his sound is just foolish. Instead of judging or hating Yachty’s critics would be wise to learn from his moves. He’s younger than 99% of the so-called industry professionals, myself included, and he’s done more to change the way we believe artist development works in the last twelve months than anyone. He took a risk and it paid off. Whether it not he can harness it again in 2017 doesn’t really matter because his rise has made it possible for another new thinker to rise through the ranks.
The lesson here is simple: With a new year on the horizon there has never been a better time to embrace the person you always wanted to be, both as a professional and in your daily life. Be weird, and realize your idea of weird is often just a lack of familiarity. Take risks. Be bold. Commit to being yourself more than ever before, and find a way to express yourself through your creativity.
* = As someone who will be 30 in 2017 this is both inspiring and heartbreaking. A tidal wave of emotions, if you will.
James Shotwell is the Digital Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also the Film Editor for Substream Magazine and the host of the Inside Music podcast. You should consider following him on Twitter.