The only thing more difficult than making it to the top is staying at the top. It’s for that reason that artists like Jay Z are respected by anyone aspiring to achieve—and maintain—greatness. Fans point to a high level of skill and consistency to explain the mass appeal of popular artists while critics chalk it up to favoritism and a cultural dying appreciation for “real Hip Hop.” However, there are artists today that can release music sporadically, build a following with no perceivable skill, or both! In reality, the underlying theme that connects the greatest successes in any industry is a simple, yet fleeting balance of promise and payoff.
For every critically acclaimed Childish Gambino, there are ten abandoned Chance The Rappers. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find many differences in their respective lists of traits. Along with having a generously overlapping demographic, both creatives depart from the norm stylistically. And of course, both rappers get busy on the microphone when it’s time to. So why is it that one is able to make tidal waves on the timeline while the other is still inundated with jokes about loving his wife?
Let's dispel one myth right now; the perceived "fall off" of an artist has nothing to do with skill.
The relationship between fan and creative is an unspoken bond built on trust. Every concert attended and every piece of merchandise purchased is an expression of, “I trust you to continue to represent my values, to be an object of admiration, or to at least continue to provide that feeling.” In response, every lyric written, every song performed, and every project produced is an artist’s way of delivering on that promise. It’s for that reason that rebranding is so risky. It’s for that reason that social proof (features, cosigns, record deals, etc.) is so powerful. It’s also for that reason that an album like Chance’s The Big Day might have felt less like a fun expression of love on wax, and more like a jarring, sharp left turn for listeners. To this day, fans are recovering from the whiplash and are hesitant to forgive those unmet promises.
A more recent case of unmaterialized promise is that of Jack Harlow. Kentucky’s rising star came into 2022 with a platinum record under his belt, placements on the charts, and a feature from the biggest artist of the decade, Drake. With enough hype to prompt the customary “industry plant” rumors, the First Class rapper’s career was beginning to take off in a major way… Except, it hasn’t.
Despite its commercial success, Jack Harlow’s Come Home The Kids Miss You, has not made the level of impact one would expect from the “next big thing” in the game. Rather than a Drake stimulus package, Churchill Downs served as a bitter reminder of how much more polishing Jack should undergo before being compared to the greats.
If the public discourse around artists like Jack Harlow and Chance The Rapper feels harsh, it’s because it is! Such a reaction should be no surprise given the level of excitement and attention are given to the artists.
So, what does redemption look like in a genre so quick to write its stars off? How does one make a Yeezy-like return to the pedestal when impressions are so quick to solidify?
In my opinion, it begins with what Chance is already in the process of his Writing Exercise series; strip away all that came with the promises and get back to the core.
In the same way that Peter Parker chose to abandon his industry-grade Stark suits in favor of sewing his own, one has to put away every cosign, dial back the Broadway-level productions, and renounce anything else that critics can point at to justify their relevance… and get back to the bars. Because the truth is that Harlow is super without any of those things. The reality is that Chance's bars never left. But people need reminding and the easiest way for them to see it is without the superstar addons—whether they have rightfully earned them or not. Hint; they have!
It's my belief that this concept of “falling off” is a dying one. As artists continue to independently create their own platforms and develop meaningful relationships with their followers, they will create their own sense of “success” and rely less on the opinion of the general public.
The truth is Chance hasn’t lost it in the slightest. It’s a matter of fact that it took incredible work ethic and talent for Jack Harlow to get where he is. But with great promise should come great payment. And people will accept nothing less.
With so many examples of those who have succeeded and fallen short of their promise, it’s likely that we’ll find ourselves continuing this conversation in the future.
Until then. Stay up!
Written by Jon Geronimo // @ScreamGeronimo (IG) / @ScreamGeronimoo (Twitter)