If Hamlet had been a contemporary music artist, “to release or not to release an album” would have been his renowned motto. That scenario is out of the question because he is Shakespeare’s fictional character – and yet, some roaring names from the music industry seem to follow this conflicting mantra as if they live by it.
Kendrick Lamar, one of rap’s major league visionaries, dropped his fifth LP Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. That was just a week after he set the hip-hop industry ablaze with his symbolism-packed The Heart Part 5 single. Do you know what’s also five? Five years since he released his last studio album.
For more than 60 months, Lamar has laid out from the music industry, keeping his artistic output relatively quiet. Sure, he sporadically resurfaced from the shadows to collab with artists like The Weeknd and curate Black Panther‘s soundtrack album.
But his hard-hitting lyricism and unapologetic West Coast narratives were still not getting sown in a fresh-out-of-wherever album.
Many had faith in the unknown, dubbing his absence as an ongoing creative journey that would translate into solo music production sooner or later.
Some believed that behind his cold silence, there was a team of PRs trying to build up the hype as a marketing ploy. Few kept their hopes of an upcoming album to the bare minimum, thinking Lamar decided to pull the plug on his music career.
Over the years, his fanbase has been hungrily – if not patiently – waiting for a tweet announcing new stuff in the cooking. At least a leaked song to wipe away the bitterness of being ghosted for so many years, for Christ’s sake.
That was until last summer, when the Pulitzer winner rolled out clues about his DAMN. follow-up being en route – but without mentioning if it will drop tomorrow, next year, or somewhen in the following decade.
“See you soon enough,” the rapper closed a note attributed to Oklama, a cryptic website he shared on social media. Fans got what they’ve been craving for – Lamar finally returning with the bounty. Yet, in the absence of any clues regarding when, where, and how, did he really satiate the fans’ hunger for his musical DNA?
Somehow – it’s a sign of saying, “Don’t worry about me. I am still in the game,” but it transcends into a digital hype, backed by fans’ hot-blooded prying for an album release.
Behind Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers’ Apple Music record break for 2022’s most first-day streams is Lamar’s creative vision – but also fans’ greedy thirst.
“I listened to each of the 18 songs at least 30 times the day when the album dropped,” Brad says. “I’ve been a fan since his early days, so him dropping an album after five years felt like Christmas morning.”
It’s only natural for someone who worships Lamar’s wordplay and storytelling to get hyped up after receiving the silent treatment for years. But the over the moon feeling is at the end of a road full of patience, anxiety and jitters.
“There were times I thought that’s it. That he retired and that DAMN. will be remembered as the last part of his musical legacy,” Brad explains. “But as a fan, I guess you never stop believing he will be back at some point. You always hope for a fresh album release.”
Lamar isn’t the only one who made his fans believe he hung up his crown off the record – mystery man of R&B Frank Ocean worships the culture of tongue-tied scarcity too. Just like Lamar, Ocean takes his time in building the staircase toward his string-bleeding, erratic, and supremely confident deconstruction of contemporary soul.
Elusive and independent, his presence in the music realm has ebbed and flowed, seemingly personifying his name. Since his 2011 Nostalgia Ultra mixtape debut, Ocean’s sole symbol of production consistency was between dropping the mixtape and pouring his heart out on his first album release, channel ORANGE.
Besides that, his music career has always been sprinkled with substantial gaps between releases – the longest one being up to date. It’s been over half a decade since he broke his four-year musical silence with the hazy mix of Buddhahood and nostalgia, Blonde.
Following his teasingly cryptic Tumblr post “I got two versions. I got twooo versions…” and a series of blown deadlines, the tearjerker saw the light back in 2016’s summer.
And it didn’t get by unnoticed – it stole the show, despite Ocean’s decision not to submit it for the Grammy Awards.
Blonde was the third fastest-selling album of 2016. And yet, what seemed like a hasty ascent curled into a question mark.
A master of the disappearing act, cult icon Frank Ocean seems to be in his zone only when draping in the shadows.
It comes as no surprise since the artist described himself as “super-envious of the fact that Daft Punk can wear robot helmets and be one of the most famous bands in the world” in a New York Times interview.
Since Blonde, there have been no social media posts shedding light on whatever journey he is on right now. No new interviews that would give the slightest clue about where his mind is at. All that’s left is over three million fans hoping to hear word of an album, an EP, or at least a white flag.
People might argue there is no such thing as impatience when it’s been almost six years since his last album drop. Years clicked by, so getting worried about Ocean abdicating his throne is a cinch.
The layers of anticipation built through the years translate into impatient fans flooding the social media channels with comments like “Frank, where the album at?” and rumors of what would be considered a premature retirement.
We can handle bands breaking up – we did pretty well after My Chemical Romance called it quits and when Fergie left The Black Eyed Peas. It stings for sure, but at least we made peace with the fact that we should move on with our lives because new music won’t be in the works anymore. We can manage dead musicians.
But dealing with active artists who won’t add fuel to their music repertoire feels like putting salt on an open wound.
So how does this silent treatment impact an artist’s fanbase – is it the cold feet effect, bitter heartbreak of witnessing your music hero rust in the rails, or fervent curiosity?
“It’s a mix of everything,” Eric explains.
“You will have moments when you will think that too long has passed and you grew out of Frank Ocean’s music.
But these are white lies – you will always come back to his last album and remember all of the things that made you like him in the first place.”
Eric is part of the gang whose three wishes would translate into three Frank Ocean album releases. In spite of his favorite artist’s heart-wrenching absence, he believes Ocean hasn’t completed his music mission and will come back – be it next week or next year.
Whenever that happens, Eric will be ready to devour each song, lyric, and beat as if it would be the very first album he listened to.
“I know a few good years have passed, but I am patient. Getting ghosted by your favorite artist is not the most pleasant thing in the world, but it doesn’t make you like him less. You have to understand and support your artist when he is MIA, too.”
At the end of the day, music artists are craftsmen – and craftsmanship requires patience. The albums that jolt the music industry and live rent-free in our minds for years to an end don’t just happen overnight. They require a bold vision, thrilling narrative, and, above all, time – be it a month or a decade.
That’s what music is about – listening to a song needs to feel like sitting in a planetarium where the artist’s memories, emotions, and muses are reflected across the sky.
And if the artist decides to low-key enter the realm of artists such as André 3000, then so be it. We have to (literally) face the music. Idols like Lamar and Ocean molded a cultural legacy to which we can come back in a screen tap. They are workaholics who always push forward – next challenge, next single, next set of lyrics, next album release.
But sometimes, there is no next.
As their world revolves, so should their fans. Choosing to worship and support an artist also means staying by their side when they take years to drop something and even when they decide to leave the industry. In the end, that’s the magic of their craft – it comes when you least expect it, but when you most need it.