Creative Freedom: The Musical Ingenuity of Solo Artists

Creative Freedom: The Musical Ingenuity of Solo Artists

Photo Credits: DAVIS WHALEN / AGGIE

The bigger the waves, the smaller the band

In 2009, a fourteen-year-old musician named Thebe Neruda Kgositsile (at the time known as “Sly Tendencies”) logged onto Myspace and received a message from a fan, Tyler Gregory Okonma aka Tyler, the Creator, who was interested in linking up to skate and make music. Not long after the Myspace days, Sly came to be known as Earl Sweatshirt and then joined the rap collective “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All.” Despite the international fame of the rap unit, solo tracks from Earl and Tyler (as well as the other members Casey Veggies, Frank Ocean, Domo Genesis, Hodgy, etc.) began to gain more popularity than expected. This inevitably caused OFWGKTA to split up and thereby allowed Earl, Tyler and other members to flourish as solo artists.

Together, these artists created music. Apart, these artists are creating a movement. OFWGKTA produced classic tracks to vibe to — some you may remember skating and rapping along to while wearing AUX cord headphones, “Yeah we’re swervin’ in the Jeep, while I’m rollin’ up the tree / Litter Life don’t give a f*ck, that’s why we f*ckin’ up the trees.”

Safe to say though, “Litter Life” is dead, and so are the homophobic references in Earl and Tyler’s music. Now, in their most recent albums, audiences can pick up themes of existential insecurities, sexual exploration and racial dilemmas of the 21st century.

In the case of OFWGKTA, the dichotomy between the lyrical integrity of the group versus solo artist is grand, which poses the question: what’s changed? The times, surely. But what causes the lone wolf to grow more aware when it’s separated from its pack? Could it be that all solo artists have more space, time and creative freedom which ultimately allows them to create songs that not only tell a story but tell society’s story? Or is it that creative differences tend to arise more often when a group is formed?

Around the same time of OFWGKTA’s formation, a band called The Dee Dee Drums was in its infancy and circulating its way through the Australian pub scene in 2005. After a few more local sets, the frontman, Kevin Parker, began to write and record his own music, releasing it online under the name “Tame Impala.”

Parker’s lyrics, too, have made a distinct transition from his early music which told stories of unrequited love to his later albums which uphold deeper, existential themes that are akin to human concern. As his name grows in popularity and him in maturity, so does the quality of his music. That’s not to say that his, nor OFWGKTA’s, early music was totally superficial. However, as they grow more comfortable into their solo career, so too does the importance of the messages within their music.

The creative freedom the solo artist has in the creation of their music is undoubtedly a facet of their genius — no expectations to be met by other band members. Only a service to the self is required. Admittedly, this is the story of a plethora of artists: Mac Demarco, Father John Misty, Beyonce, Lauryn Hill, George Harrison and even Elvis Presley. The list is endless. And either these artists have once diverged from their larger group or have focused on their solo career from day one, which has allowed these artists to create the immortal jams we know today.

Maybe an equation has been found for the reason why a number of bands have broken up over creative differences. Everybody has a story to tell. When too many creative minds gather in one place history shows there to be two outcomes: the creation of masterpieces or the division of masterminds (thinking specifically of Rage Against the Machine — a band that planned to change the world through their political message but couldn’t keep it together due to their differences).

Nevertheless, it was required of Rage Against the Machine to split up for frontman Zack de la Rocha to produce his solo album — a 20-song composition on which he speaks freely about his revolutionary politics, thus solidifying his name in rock ‘n’ roll history as a “revolutionary legend.”

Of course, Rage was considered one of the most politically charged bands in history long before Rocha’s solo album, but it was only in that album where he was able to speak to his ultimate purpose in “joining the millions worldwide who have stood up to oppose the Bush administration’s attempt to expand the U.S. empire.”

When an artist is left alone with their creativity, a story of their individuality begins to surface. But what are the chances of other individuals being alive and facing the same sort of story?

Kendrick Lamar, though he has no background of breaking from a group of musicians (being a solo rap legend and all), does well with relaying stories of his upbringing as an African American who grew up on the streets of Compton, Calif.

In his studio album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” the medley of songs on the album create a powerful visual image of the mass incarceration rate of black Americans by way of his lyrics. He brought to life a visual aesthetic during his 2016 Grammy performance, as he and several other individuals took the stage burdened with shackles and chains, attempting to dance and perform to their fullest potential despite their metallic oppression. All of this was a statement specific to Kendrick’s own vision — his own story to tell but surely the story of others, too. 2.3 million others to be exact.

The solo artists’ story finds its way to the individual — multiple individuals — who can then relate to that story as a petrol to create their own; all of which results in a collective story, a social movement. Of course, a group of musicians can surely create stories that result in the same outcome, but the creative freedom that solo artists have is unprecedented. And considering that musicians, artists, activists, etc. are all humans alike, it goes to show that these stories they tell are likely to be much similar to ours. Maybe this is the reason why we grasp onto these singular artists and build them up as idols and representatives of our deepest dispositions.

2019 is shaping up to be a big year for some of these solo artists, with talks of Kendrick Lamar releasing a new album, as well as Tame Impala, who goes on tour for the rest of the year, starting with Coachella. Plus, Mac Demarco is soon to drop his new album, “Here Comes the Cowboy,” which is confirmed to release in May, around the same time he will begin touring. This year is shaping up to be an important one for the solo-artist… more so for Earl Sweatshirt, not really for Elvis.

Written By: Clay Allen Rogers — arts@theaggie.org