When Kobe Bryant retired from basketball, it was father time for him, that’s what we “blame” for snatching away the speed, talent and tenacity of someone who once appeared more than just a mere mortal on the court. For athletes, ultimately no amount of will power or desire can stop the body’s inevitable decay. The limitations ball players face that lead to jerseys hanging from the rafters aren’t issues that rappers confront. The two aren’t comparable. Maybe that’s why retirement is vastly different in music—in rap the word “retirement” is shouted more than announced. Throughout the years there have been countless rappers who promise to withdraw from the industry, making proclamations that last only a few months, if not a few minutes. Retirement always appearing to be more of a fleeting feeling than a sincere promise.
I have a lot of pressure on me.I️ have songs stashed up .I just don’t think they qualified for my album .Sometimes i think is ready sometimes i think it’s not so I’m going to take my time till it’s right.
— iamcardib (@iamcardib) November 19, 2017
A lot of these retirement announcements come from frustration with the music industry. The overwhelming industry that eats hearts and devours souls can push an artist to think that minimum wage would be less stressful. Back in 2011, Waka Flocka Flame swore he would rather work at Wal-Mart than continue to rap; he claimed that the game was too fake and that he would quit at the year’s end. Then he dropped the strip club anthem “Round Of Applause,” got a Drake remix and he hasn’t mentioned retirement since. Right before the release of his now acclaimed debut album, Kid Cudi took to his personal blog to quit being a solo artist, writing that the drama in his life due to fame had become too much to bear. “Ima drop out of this shit before niggaz try and crucify me,” he wrote in the rather personal post. We all know that he didn’t, but imagine if the only Cudi album was the first Man On The Moon? Lupe, B.o.B, Jay Electronica, T.I. Hopsin,
This isn’t only the case for rap or hip hop artists alone, this phenomenon takes places across genres. Before releasing her latest album, 25, in 2015, Adele had been on a 3-year break. During that time, she gave birth to her and boyfriend Simon Konecki’s son, Angelo. Before her break in 2012, she revealed that when she was constantly working, her relationships failed. D’Angelo, Maxwell and Lauryn Hill are other classic examples. Maxwell’s journey probably parallels D’Angelo’s most closely. The Brooklyn-born singer released three platinum albums between 1996 and 2001, earning frequent comparisons to D’Angelo, then seemed to disappear entirely. A new album, Black Summer’s Night, was originally slated for spring 2004 but has been delayed repeatedly.
The reality is that as fans, we have extreme expectations of our artists. We expect them to do everything: to have the confidence to kill live shows, the vulnerability to write real music, the insight to charm interviewers, the fearlessness to be forward-thinking, the strength to not care what people have to say, and forever remain humble all at once. In this day and age, the industry also moves much faster than it once did. Not only do artists have pressure from fans to make more great music, those who are signed also often have pressure from labels to do the same. The pressure on these artists to constantly innovate can get paralyzing too, as they always want to bring something different to the table and push boundaries. As Cardi B said in her recent tweet, “I have songs stashed up. I just don’t think they qualified for my album.”
The fact these acts are no longer bowing to the music industry’s traditional factory-churn approach could lead to artistically stronger albums, and a healthier industry. Saturation often does more harm than good, both in terms of artists’ health and commercial appeal, however. It’s the cruelest rule of the modern entertainment business. You have to kill yourself working to get noticed but once you’ve achieved that recognition, woe betide if you’re in their faces too much.
It has to be hard to let the game go. How do you just quit? How do you walk away from the microphone that doesn’t judge when you speak your soul into her? How does one step away from the burning spotlight and the high that comes when the crowd applauds and cheers? It’s not the same for those that work conventional careers or jobs, to retire is to beat the game. Retirement is the pot of gold you receive for reaching the very end of your employment. The point in your life when you can leave your job or career a little older, a little wiser, maybe a little wrinkled but mostly relieved to cross the finish line. It’s the future that appears too distant to touch but you know it’s always there waiting to reimburse your years of hard work and endurance.
For most artists though, retirement is death. Creating stops when the heartbeat does. The only true retirement for an artist is the brief moment of peace in-between ideas.