In the Rotation: The Dangers of the One-Hit Wonder


By JOHN WYATT – NEWS SECTION EDITOR

“Pop the molly, I’m sweating” has become a fun, loveable quotes among our generation that everyone seems to use. The phrase itself comes from southern rapper Trinidad James’s hit “All Gold Everything.”

For five to six months after its release in the summer of 2012, the song could be heard nearly every weekend at fraternity houses and dorm parties.

For that half a year or so, Trinidad James was riding a huge wave of internet buzz. Not even half a year removed from the release of “All Gold Everything,” it was announced that he was signed to Def Jam records, joining the likes of Iggy Azalea, Mariah Carey, and Kanye West in one of the music industry’s biggest labels to release his debut album.

Things were going pretty well for the rapper.

What follows, however, is the sad yet predictable tale of virtually every one-hit-wonder’s career.

Following a re-release of Trinidad James’s first mixtape Don’t Be S.A.F.E on iTunes under the Def Jam banner, his follow-up mixtape, 10 PC Mild, created virtually no buzz (radio or Internet).

Jan. to Aug. of 2014 saw a smattering of songs and guest verses from the rapper, but he still failed to create any critical reaction. It was at this point that critics, fans, and record labels began to read the writing on the wall.

Cue Aug. 1, 2014: Trinidad James announced through his Twitter that he had been dropped from Def Jam records and that what was supposed to be his major label debut album would be released as a free mixtape.

To add insult to injury, the rapper also had to beg (through Twitter) contributing artists/producers to not ask for compensation saying that he had “no money.”

While several fans and critics had a field day on the Internet in reaction to the news, this episode points to serious issue within the music industry: the problem of signing young one-hit-wonders.

Trinidad James is just one face in a mural of forgotten artists within the music industry.

As radio stations and our musical tastes are shifting increasingly toward pop hits that can be played at a party or sing along to.

Record labels and artists alike are feeling the pressure to create a song that will simultaneously sell thousands of albums and keep an artist on the radio.

As a result of this pressure, powerhouse labels prematurely sign Internet sensations such as Trinidad James, Chief Keef (although he managed to at least make three or four hits before his populaity faded), and the dozens of other artists who drop off the map after their Internet hit fails to hold people’s attention any longer.

The most successful artists are the ones who know how to navigate the line between mainstream appeal and underground/critical praise.

As an example, I’ll use one of my favorite rappers right now: Kendrick Lamar who is, arguably, one of the most popular rappers in today’s music. His major label debut Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was certified platinum in the U.S. and produced three singles that cracked Billboard’s Top 100 and two more that almost hit the Top 100.

What’s even more impressive is the fact that the album received universal praise from critics and fans, even being called a “classic” by a large majority of listeners.

This tremendous success was not some fluke or lightning in a bottle. It was the result of a talented artist developing and crafting his sound over several years and projects before stepping into the pressure that comes with being a major label artist.

To put a young and often inexperienced artist into the spotlight so suddenly is incredibly unfair. On numerous occasions the artist has yet to even discover their own sound and often falls into the easy trap of making generic knock-offs of whatever sound is popular at the moment, stunting whatever artistic development lay ahead of them.

But artists aren’t the only ones hurt by this practice. This short-term plan for making money and crafting mainstream artists often hurts the record companies more. On top of the ridicule that comes from fans and critics for having to drop an artist whose failure was predicted from the beginning, it also has to be a huge waste of money and resources for the record labels.

These artists spend hours in the companies’ studios, using their sound engineers, their equipment, and their spaces to record an album that more often than not doesn’t generate much money (or no money if the artist is dropped before the album is even released).

Also, in Trinidad James’s case, having big-time artists and producers make guest appearances on an album comes with a hefty price.

Has the music industry learned from this embarrassing episode?

The sad answer is no.

Right around the same time Trinidad James was dropped from Def Jam, Vine sensation and rapper Bobby Shmurda burst onto the scene with his internet hit “Hot N*gga” and the accompanying “shmoney dance” that has created thousands of YouTube and Vine parody videos of the rapper’s famous dance.

In July, he was signed to a two-and-a-half million dollar deal with Epic Records. Since his signing, Shmurda has already remixed “Hot N*gga” with artists such as Chris Brown and Busta Rhymes, and getting co-signed by several other famous names.

While Bobby Shmurda’s career trajectory remains to be seen, it’s safe to assume that it probably won’t go very far.

As for Trinidad James, he released a few songs after his mixtape and actually received some praise from critics. While he may never get any radio play again, he at least can now enjoy making music without the pressure of a major record label hanging over him.

The point of this article is not to condemn any of the artists mentioned or even pop hits in general. Creating a pop hit is a necessary thing in mainstream music these days and it is the Top 100 hits that often define a decade’s culture for future generations.

The problem lies with the record labels that prematurely sign a young artist and expect him or her to crank out hit after hit.

While it looks like labels will continue to fall flat on their face chasing these hits, there is some hope. The rise of indie labels and a growing rejection of mainstream principles among younger and newer artists can help make our music industry a bit more welcoming and nurturing for new artists.


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