Scarcity vs. Surplus
The mixtape era was an incredible time. Artists unexpectedly released a brand new compilation of music just about every month, in some cases every other week. In middle school and high school, I remember rushing home every day after school (or after the occasional cypher) to check DatPiff for the latest drop. Whether it was a new, original beat from the in-house producer or a guest verse from a major act in the clique, it was still fresh material that felt familiar.
We as fans were definitely spoiled during this era, and no one ran the circuit to their advantage better than the South. Artists like Lil Wayne released quality mixtapes bookended by studio albums. From 2003 to 2011, he released six studio projects (seven if you wanna count "Rebirth,") and eleven mixtapes. Hate it or love it, but Weezy is one of the most important figures in hip-hop, helping the genre bulrush its way into the mainstream giant it is today.
He used the "more is better" strategy and completely flipped the industry on its head. But an argument in favor of an taking his or her time in creating content. Take Dr. Dre for example. His life trajectory in music is truly something to admire. In the span of 30 years, he went from DJ, to producer/engineer, to emcee, to multi-million dollar business executive.
Dre's his extensive production history and work behind the scenes is well known, but when it comes to his own albums, he does not rush into anything. He dropped The Chronic in December 1992, a classic piece of art that set the foundation for 90s hip-hop. He could have continued his hot streak until the flame burned out, but he didn't. Dre didn't force anything for the sake of a drop. Instead, he took a step back to focus on producing and growing his brand. When the time was right, he hit us with 2001 in 1999. 2 for 2 with solo studio albums.
A little over a decade passed before a definitive update on his planned third album Detox came out. It was scrapped in 2014, and instead Dre was inspired by the city that raised him and the biopic he was making at the time. Enter Compton. Dre really showed out on his latest record, a high-quality album that wasn't forced, which defines and sums up his legacy: patiently efficient with a deadly accuracy.
Pros and cons can be pointed out in both approaches, but they're not law. The most important thing for an artist to do is to stay in their lane when it comes to either strategy. Adopting a style that you're not comfortable with, in all walks of life, could really hurt your game. You become stale if you're not consistent, and you will get blasted for subpar work that was rushed.
Thanks to streaming platforms, it's easier than ever to find new music. Fresh acts pop up on the scene daily, making artist discovery the most flooded that it's ever been.
It can be overwhelming to keep up with new releases. In terms of the "surplus approach," many artists have continued to use this method of success. When Gucci Mane came home from his most recent bid, he didn't skip a beat, releasing six mixtapes and four albums in less than 20 months.
New age rappers have adopted the same mentality:create as much music as possible and share it as frequently as possible. "After making six or 700 hundred songs, we'll pick the album," Future said in an interview.
Even if these are just reference tracks or stems, that's an insane number. Not unbelievable though, especially after the massive 2017 that Future had.
Then you have artists who are very reserved when it comes to producing content, even in modern times. The "scarcity approach" has worked for established rappers.
Take JAY-Z and Andre 3000. Both were highly popular in the 90s and 2000s, but have slowed down their gears in the last decade. HOV dropped three albums in an 8 year period, and Three Stacks? Well, he's been completely off the grid besides the occasional sample. They're both well into their 40s and removed from rap full time, but when they decide to make their presence felt, we all pay attention.
Jay Electronica is another rapper that comes to mind. It's crazy his debut single dropped in 2007 and there's still no album attached to it. But being too scarce might be a bad thing, as it could lose you fans and financial opportunities.
In the end, scarcity vs. surplus comes down to listener preference. We shouldn't be demanding artists to push out content for the sake of doing, but we shouldn't really get pissed if they push out "too much" content. If you ain't feeling a particular style, move on and just let 'em cook.