Nicki Minaj made headlines recently by saying she, in so many words, hates some of her biggest hits. Listing songs like “Anaconda,” “Starships,” and “Your Love” as tracks she wishes she never made, Minaj sent shockwaves through her fandom. Some have said she’s clueless to her own legacy. Some have vowed to stream the beejeezus out of “Your Love” and still stan “Old Nicki.” All in all, it was an interesting look at fandoms and social media as a whole.
The funny thing is: I get exactly where Minaj comes from on this.
On a far smaller scale, I became known for a song during my UMD days. It was a song that people always expected me to perform or emulate. I’d come out with new stuff, but people would always say “Speed, where’s ‘Feel Me‘?” It became a bit of a running joke in my songs to reference it, but dismiss its importance. Sure, it made people know who J dot Speed was. However, it wasn’t all there was to me as an artist. That sort of thing can be stressful, as you’re looking for growth and people always make references to your older stuff. On one hand, it’s great because you made a song that stuck. On the other, if it’s not fully who you are, you feel a type of way about the song years down the road.
As I’ve grown up and moved further away from the J dot Speed era–it’s been almost a decade since I used that name for new music–I’ve come to appreciate “Feel Me.” It was a tiny bit of lightning in a tinier bottle. It was, for a bit, my “Starships” at Maryland. People were hyped up to say “Feel Me, from the East to the West/Feel Me, you know that I am the best.”
That said, there is still a part of me that wishes I didn’t rap “burn away remains of pathetic films of yesterday” over a post-crunk piano beat.
For me, it was due to stress I felt trying to replicate the magic to keep people interested. People wanted another “Feel Me” and I felt obligated to give them one. The thing about being an artist is, even if you’re making dope stuff, you can lose focus of yourself at times. Artists, even the anti-people ones, have people pleaser tendencies. The year after “Feel Me” (mid-2007 to mid 2008) was one of the first times I felt artistic burnout. It caused me to lash out at people, send pseudo-subliminals at others, and just hate my music. I still did tracks and some did okay. However, I felt hollow and began questioning why I did music in the first place.
After (finally) casting aside “Feel Me,” I said “hey, you’re not getting that from me anymore.” I put the shades and the durag up and moved on. Once I did that, I elevated my music to a level that had sites like Soundclick consistently putting me in their top 100. Eventually, because of saying “No Mas ‘Feel Me’,” I grew into the Speed on the Beat writing this here op-ed. That isn’t to say “hey, don’t experiment with different energies and sounds.” I’m not saying that and Nicki Minaj isn’t saying that.
However, artists, it is to say it’s okay to dislike your old stuff. It’s okay to want to move past it. It’s fine to want to reinvent yourself as an artist. That’s even if your fans liked the past or it brought you success.
Kurt Cobain didn’t really rock with the version of Nevermind we initially got in stores–even though it’s Nirvana’s biggest-selling album. Nirvana, in fact, moved away from playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at gigs. Jay Z went on record saying “niggas want my old shit? Buy my old album” on the aptly-titled “On To The Next One.” Jimi Hendrix made sure we never got the same thing twice. There isn’t a single song in his discography that sounds like “Purple Haze,” even though that is my favorite Hendrix track. Prince reinvented himself so many times that, by the time he died, he dropped about 40 albums. Each one was different, even if they were born from the same era (ex. Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, and 1999 were–technically–Purple Era albums, but they couldn’t be further apart).
Even as people pleaser-y as artists can be, we’re still human. As humans, we grow and evolve every day. We don’t want to be the same person we were ten or twenty years ago–at least not completely. We hope that listeners/readers/fans rock with the changes as much as they did with what got us in front of them in the first place.
But, as humans, we also don’t have to like something–or continue to like it–just because fans do. We can acknowledge it happened and continue about our merry way.