Artists always seem to put out their best stuff first. Their first album/mixtape/EP seems to hit listeners and attract them more than some of their newer stuff. Why is that?
Rappers, bands, singers all go through huge creative changes through their careers. The 20-year old Kanye West isn’t the same Kanye West we see now. Why was The College Dropout better than Yeezus? Why did Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail seem to be wayyy below his debut album Reasonable Doubt? Is it fan perception? Or did the artist lose connection with fans after fame?
It’s a little bit of both, with other factors poured in as well. People, as listeners, want something new from our favorite artists, but with a familiar sound. Let’s look at Kanye West for a second. The College Dropout was an album for the regular people. The song “All Falls Down” was the song that took aim at the privileged while telling a story of high school type love. The song “Spaceship” gave people hope that they could, just like Kanye in his song, quit their graveyard shift and fuck their his bosses, which leads to a fantasy spaceship flying them away from problems. Up and down, The College Dropout spoke to the regular people, and that’s what is missing with some of his more recent albums.
Look, I’m a huge fan of The Life of Pablo, but to say it is to the extent of greatness that his debut album is at is just blasphemous. The Life of Pablo is Kanye’s ode to his success and his challenges since those successes, but it lacks the type of connectivity he gave a decade ago. I can’t connect with paying my cousin $200,000 to get my laptop back, or wifing up Kim Kardashian and becoming “the new Jacksons”. TLOP is great, but not great in the way The College Dropout was. But that’s not his fault.
The fact is, people change. That includes artists. Why would Kanye rap about the struggle when he beat the struggle? It’s impossible for artists, especially those who have spent decades in the industry, to recreate the magic of their early projects. We yearn for it, and that’s why we tend to critique their newer albums more unsympathetically. Us fans want what our favorite old artists can’t give us, which is why we look for a new and younger version of them.
The creativeness as artists could change as well. With new sounds influencing music, some artists try to adapt and change with the new generation of music. If they don’t, they’ll become stagnant. We listen to 50 Cent as a throwback artist. His newest music has fallen flat because he tried to bring back his old style with an early 2000s beat. It’s not a bad idea, but it has failed more often than not. So even when the artists give us old sounding stuff, we want new as well. Artists must balance bringing in the old style with adapting to new sound. As for changing styles from album to album, artist Kid Cudi comes to mind. His classic debut album Man On The Moon: The End of Day was much better received than his more recent indie album Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. Cudi’s style changed drastically and his fanbase didn’t hesitate to let him know.
In all, it is unfair to expect these artists to bring back the ‘old’ stuff in new ways. Mostly because us listeners will never feel the same sentiment or have the same connection with the new albums that we had with the old.
Artists will continue to make great albums, but none that remind us of the old.