Earl Simmons. Does the name ring any bells? Well, his alternate persona/rap personality may bring up a few memories: DMX. You know, the “Stop! Drop! Shut ‘em down…,” “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind…,” “X gon’ give it to ya!” and “Lord give me a sign!” guy. DMX was considered to be the resurrection of hard-core, gangster rap when he was in his prime. In addition, he is the only artist in the history of music to have five consecutive number-one albums. Recently, DMX released his seventh studio album, six years after his most recent release, “Year of the Dog…Again.” “Undisputed,” the title of his seventh album, only sold about 19,000 copies in its first week. I went out and purchased the 2-disc deluxe edition the day the album came out, hoping my support would help bring the fallen rap star back to acclaim. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this was the case.
But you don’t want to read all about DMX. I mean, I’d like to, but the majority of people probably forgot that he was even still in the music industry. DMX is a prime example of how hard it is to maintain limelight and recognition in a society where media floods our every step. If, as an musical artist or actor, you want to maintain a Bruce Willis or U2 level of popularity with your fans and general media alike, you have to work extremely hard. Furthermore, I’m not exactly sure what it takes to actually accomplish this. So I’m going to try and give a few ideas of what I believe that artistic entities need to accomplish in order to maintain some semblance of limelight.
Do they have to redefine themselves, or change their specific style? The two examples I mentioned previously, Bruce Willis and U2, did exactly that. U2 started out as an alternative rock group, singing about subjects of all kinds. Love, religion, social injustice: all were topics U2 had covered. Then, after their prime in the 80’s, they redefined themselves with a new style during the 90’s. Instead of staying with alternative, they adopted a more electronic, pop-oriented sound that some fans embraced wholeheartedly and some put off as U2 trying to stay relevant. Then after the critically disappointing “Pop” album, they once again reinvented themselves in the 00’s. They reverted back to their 80’s style, yet watered down their lyrics for more radio-friendly messages. Even now, in the 10’s, U2 is selling out concerts and their albums are being eaten up. Their most recent tour was the only tour in the history of music to sell out every single show. Are they lucky, or are they just geniuses at keeping their fan bas happy?
Now to the second example, one I won’t cover as extensively since I don’t have as much knowledge of his career as much as I do U2. Bruce Willis has somehow outlasted so many actors in his ability to sell a movie with his name alone. Even with movies that were not critically acclaimed or loved by his fan base, he was able to maintain a built-in audience who would see his films. While other actors have been able to hold on to their star appeal, I believe Bruce Willis is a prime example of someone who does this while still varying his roles. He’s been in comedies, he’s been in dramas, and more often he’s been in action films. Despite his stepping outside of his comfort zone more than a lot of other actors do, he’ still bankable. Studios still want his name on the advertising, and want him in the lead role.
Part of DMX’s problem may be that he had that six year lapse between albums. U2 and Bruce Willis, to my knowledge, haven’t had that kind of lapse between works in their careers. If they did, it was related to a justifiable hiatus. DMX’s “justifiable hiatus” involved a prison sentence, drug problems, and dealing with his personal demons. I’m not trying to downplay his drastic issues, but it definitely kept him from keeping his name in the media’s light. So what does it take? How do you change yourself to meet the new needs of media, while maintaining your current and active fan base? How to you stay relevant in a world where we can see new and exciting things within second on our phones, tablets, and computers? It’s possible, as we’ve seen from artists, actors, etc. all over the board. Then again, maybe it’s like the old adage goes: out with the old, in with the new.