(Great) Art Takes Time.
And, if we are all in agreement that art imitates life, then we must agree that you cannot cheat the living part if one is to create sincere art… Right?
To begin, I begin with my truth. Five years on from its release… I still do not love Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN. A few tracks into listening to his new album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and I said in a group chat with my boys ‘I’m so glad this album took him five years to make.’
I spend a lot of my time think about the creative process. I think about my own. I think about that of artists that I admire, that inspire me. I listen to podcasts, read interviews, articles and books which provide insight into their creative processes, hoping to pick up whatever I can that will work for my own creative process.
But, and this caveat is perhaps the most important thing one should take away from reading this blog: there isn’t a one size fits all for art, for artists. So whatever you read here, just remember that the most important thing to do for your own creative process is to find what works for you. Nothing I say is ever gospel. Just my own understanding of my creative process, the creative process as a whole, what works for me and what I aspire to achieve as an artist.
Okay, let’s continue.
I’ve long felt that there’s something in taking your time to figure out what you want to say and the subsequent impact doing so has on your art. I’ve observed oftentimes artists make an incredible album and then fail to live up to it with the next album. This is often most noticeable, but not limited to, debut album followed by the sophomore album. It’s worth noting, considering Kendrick Lamar is the catalyst of this piece, that this isn’t applicable to him because I loved To Pimp a Butterfly (maybe even more than good kid, m.A.A.d city, I can never decide which of the two is my favourite. Love them both for different reasons). Even with those two examples, what helps massively is that he was exploring two very different things. His debut album is a concept album that explores his adolescent experiences in Compton whilst his sophomore album zoned in on the political, speaking to the zeitgeist of the time, the Black Lives Matter movement.
Recently I listened to Craig David on The Diary of a CEO Podcast. He discussed his meteoric rise, the release of one of the greatest albums ever Born to Do It (still unbelievable that this was the debut album of an 18 year-old, in which he wrote every single song) and the subsequent pressure to quickly turn around a sophomore album Slicker Than Your Average. Twenty years on, equipped with the gift of hindsight, Craig David mused over the challenges of going from recording an album inspired by 16–17 years of life experiences for material then the expectation from the record label to get straight back in the studio to produce a new record. What is there to say, what life have you lived in that time that is worth saying something about, that adds something new to the conversation?
From a practical sense, though, the obvious unignorable thing that impacts all of this is the ability to simply survive. Not everyone has either A) The success or B) the lifestyle (whether by choice or otherwise) that can afford them the liberty to take unlimited time to create i.e. be truly led by the art. Many have to make decision based on money haffi mek. I cannot begrudge those people.
It is not lost on me that the ability to take your time creatively is, in many ways, a privilege. Especially in this day and age. I definitely don’t have the answers or the solutions, how could I? I’d need to write a book, do a study, a thesis, a PhD or something. What I do feel confident in saying is that unfortunately, those who are disproportionately impacted by this are working class artists from underprivileged backgrounds who don’t have the choice but to consider how they are going to be able to pay their bills, keep a roof over their head in a way that often means they can’t make the best decisions led purely by their art.
Greatness takes time. You can’t rush greatness.
I feel like I’ve been saying the above for as long as I can remember and today, still, it rings true. Listening to Kendrick’s album has evoked an introspectiveness towards my creative process, a conversation that’s always going on inside me. The importance of being led by the art. But, despite my (relative) success, I — too — am the working class artist from an underprivileged background who doesn’t have a choice but to consider how they’re going to be able to pay their bills, keep a roof over their head. The privilege I currently have, however, is that I am able to make most decisions led purely by the art. Not every single decision, but most (worth noting that I’m actually meant to be prioritising a script at the moment, but this was a small example of me being led by the art instead of telling myself ‘you don’t have time for this’ and I feel quite proud of that).
The conclusion I came to this morning whilst in the gym is one that I cannot control:
I am currently co-creating a TV show with two of my mates. It’s an idea we first started working on independently in 2018. It got picked up by a production company last year. And, God-willing it continues to go smoothly, I would hope that it hit screens in 2024. Inshallah. And hopefully that show will be an award-winning smash hit 😂 (laughing not because I think it’s ridiculous, no dream I have is ever too big. Just laughing because it’s the bit I can’t control) that also makes me comfortably wealthy. And if that happens? Then I need to remind myself of everything I’ve taken in from the artists that I admire and inspire me and not allow myself to be rushed.
(Great) Art takes time.
To come back to DAMN. I need to clarify. I don’t dislike DAMN. But a hot take I thought of this morning whilst listening to the new album and trying to put together my thoughts for the group chat is:
Damn is a poor man’s good kid, m.A.A.d city that’s trying too hard to appease a mainstream audience, crossed with trying too hard to satisfy all the thing people say about Kendrick’s artistry. It feels like an album that was made with an awareness of the outside voice, rather than one that shuts out all external noise, particularly in order to serve art critics.
It had songs, it had moments for me. I enjoyed it. I just wasn’t wowed. It didn’t captivate me the way all of his other albums are. Whilst I loved all the others from the very first listen, it’s not even about that. There are many albums that have grown on me over time. Sometimes you definitely know from the first listen (Daniel Caesar’s debut album Freudian comes to mind, I knew that shit was an instant classic on the first listen). Other times, you need to listen a few more times, let it sink in, it grows on you. But we’re five years on and I’m yet to fall in love with DAMN. I was very glad to see him win a load of accolades and honours for it, especially in light of him not having received them for the previous albums.
I’m delighted that Kendrick Lamar took five years to make this album. I can hear through the lyrics, the storytelling, the artistry, the production (Mirror sounds like a throwaway track from DAMN., but I don’t mean that in a negative way — just sounds sonically aligned with the production of that album) that he’s lived life, had new experiences, had conversations, a whole lot of things and it has — inevitably — served his art for the better. Much like how Jay-Z’s best album in years, 4:44, was the aftermath of being honest, truthful and vulnerable in putting his authentic life experiences on the record. Also why College Dropout, 808s & Heartbreak and My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy are so notable in Kanye West’s discography. And, well, every single Adele album which is a particular fun example to use when you consider that all of her albums are titled after the age she was when she began to write it, noting where she was in life (N.B. My music tastes are more eclectic than this, I swear, but I am quite mindful of how much time I am spending writing this when I should — in fact — be writing a script. This is also the reason for any typos you find; I’m not spellchecking this, it’s not paying me. Soz). A non-music example of this is multihyphenate Michaela Coel going from Chewing Gum Dreams to I May Destroy You.
(Great) Art takes time. You cannot cheat the living part if one is to create sincere art.
Until the next time I have something to urgently say that’s too long for a Twitter thread and I’m not satisfied with just saying it in a group chat… 👋🏾
P.S. Just want to note that my multi-talented friend Duval Timothy (there is literally nothing this guy hasn’t/can’t do … Have a gander on Google) produced two tracks on Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, co-produced another two and has co-writing credits on all four of those. You should check out some more of his music, here 🙂. South London continues to collect Ws on the global platform 🏆.