In the world of sports, an athlete retires when they lose the passion for the game, or when they become physically unable to perform. Year after year, the pain and stress of the season will eventually take a toll on the mind, body and spirit. While the decision for an athlete retiring is almost concrete (i.e. Michael Jordan, Brett Favre), the line gets blurred when it comes to artistry; music to be specific. In reiterating a previous statement, athletes leave their respective sport “when they become physically unable to perform”; which makes sense, but these same rules do not apply when it comes to music. Barring a vocal disability, a musician’s career can extend for as long as they desire; which brings us to the question: “How long is too long?”
Two of the most popular artists of the millennium are that of Eminem and Lil’ Wayne. Both of their careers have spanned over 20 years, and their impact has not been restricted to America; their influence is on a global scale. Not only have they been able to set the bar when it comes to record sales, but their level of talent and consistency of their releases throughout the years have pushed the envelope for the culture of hip-hop. In recent years many people believe that they have regressed in terms of their output, quality and overall drive. Although these things may be true, they can also be subjective.
Marshall Mathers (p.k.a. Eminem) burst onto the national music scene in 1999 with the release of The Slim Shady LP. The album was met with both critical and commercial success, debuting in the top 10 on the Billboard charts. What separated Eminem from the rest of the pack wasn’t totally dependent on his skin complexion, but lyrically, he was just better than everyone else. Since then, he has become the highest selling artist of the 2000’s in America, with ten #1 albums and five #1 singles. His most recent album, Revival, has been panned by critics and fans alike. The consensus has been that Eminem, being the introvert that he is, has become out of touch with the current climate in music. The public has always linked him to his contemporary, Jay-Z, who has maintained his relevancy due to his uncanny ability to reinvent himself and adapt to the times. Em’s talent level is still there, but his music has failed to translate in the modern-day music scene that has become dominated by streaming.
A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, Dwayne Carter’s trajectory was perhaps the most atypical we’ve ever seen. Initially a member of the southern supergroup The Hot Boys, Lil’ Wayne was a rising star on a label full of superstars. As time progressed, business matters caused the core of the Cash Money Records label to disband, leaving Carter as it’s lone breadwinner. The demise of the CMR imprint seemed imminent, but while pressure makes some people fold, it turned Lil’ Wayne into a diamond. In 2004, with the release of Tha Carter, Weezy released a dizzying flurry of albums, mixtapes and features in the subsequent years. The culmination of all his hard work and sleepless nights was that of his seventh studio album, Tha Carter III, which became the highest selling album of the year, in any genre. His chokehold on the music industry lasted for about three more summers, with projects like Rebirth, I Am Not A Human Being and The Carter IV all topping the Billboard charts. Since 2011, legal troubles and disputes with label head, Bryan “Baby” Williams have affected Lil’ Wayne’s music. His fans attribute him taking a step back semantically to an apparent lack of focus, not a lack of talent.
Both of the aforementioned rappers have been a staple in hip-hop culture for quite some time, and they’ve reached heights that some of us can only imagine. With their careers on a steady decline, when would be the opportune moment to call it quits, if ever? With such polarizing music being released recently, we can still see those flashes of brilliance every now and again. It is obvious to many that these two artists still have a lot more to give before they officially “hang it up”, they just may need to re-adjust their focus and dedicate the time needed to mesh with the current state of music. Regardless of how far many feel they have fallen, they will always possess the ability that made them legends in the first place.
Honestly, it may be time for Eminem and Lil’ Wayne to move on from music, but who is really to say when the time is right? What many people fail to realize is that music isn’t necessarily for the audience, it can sometimes be for the artist; and an artist can make music for as long as they deem fit.
So, to Eminem, Lil’ Wayne, and any other musician that may have lost that fire, that passion for the art that has made them great at what they do; never stop searching for it… because when you find it, your true fans will always be waiting.
Feature image Artwork done by Ryan James Huddleston