This is a big question most rappers, in fact most artists seem to struggle with at some point. Do you rap to impress or rap to express? What’s the difference? In this article I’m going to go a little further and explain my views on this subject in a way that should be helpful to you as a rapper or aspiring rapper. I think it is worth noting that I don’t know if these descriptions or models have any solid academic backing in the field of psychology these days. That being said I have found them personally useful as a philosophical concept on how to approach being an artist. They also fit in very well with my article on stage presence and how to develop stage presence as a rapper.
The Desire to Impress
First let’s talk about the desire to impress. As artists and performers we all have a desire to impress people. At some level we all want to be liked, we want people to enjoy what we’ve created. We’re social creatures and this is natural. We want to be accepted and dare I say to some degree, we want people to be astounded by what we’ve done and what we do with our abilities. This can be a good thing, but only when it’s balanced with a measured view of ourselves, other people and the world around us. It’s linked to what I would describe as our ego.
To me, our ego is based on what other people think of us. We base our value and our ego on others around us. This has its benefits. It can drive us to work hard to achieve. It can drive us to improve our abilities and technical skills. Part of the reason we want to hone our rap skills is because we want the admiration of the crowd and other rappers.
Therefore we work extremely hard practicing, writing and developing our flow because we don’t want to make any mistakes and therefore look bad, or lose. We want to be better than everyone else in the hope that gives us the admiration we desire. Often it can work, as it can drive us to win rap battles and championships. It can drive us to write great verses and songs and can keep us sharp and limit our mistakes. It can drive us to dedicate ourselves to constant never ending improvement. This is a good thing!
However if we take our ego too seriously and the desire to impress gets out of balance, there is a downside. We can start to base our self worth as a person and an artist entirely on what others think of us. This can cause us to develop a fear of failure and thus never attempt anything. It can lead us to never stand our ground when wanting to be honest and speak our truth, which is something I personally think every artist should look to do rather than shy away from. It can cause us to retract back and just ‘fit in’ rather than stand out. This is death to an artist. No artist should just want to fit in! How can you even impress people if you just want to fit in??
Part of being in touch with reality as an artist and performer is accepting the fact that no matter how good you are, there are always going to be people that hate you. The more well known and more successful you become, the more the haters are going to hate you too. We shouldn’t aim to please everyone as artists, with what we do. That’s not our job! Besides what constitiues good art is so subjective anyway. One man’s waste is another man’s soap as rapper DOOM put’s it. This is why we need to be aware of what I consider to be the more important force in artistry.
The Desire To Express
You can’t always be number one in the eyes of others. Sure, the desire to impress can give you the extra drive necessary to become number one however you define it as a rapper, whether it’s releasing a number one single, album or being a champion battle rapper, but these achievements are fleeting and don’t last forever. What do you do when you’re no longer number one? Or when you might not be on your best form for whatever reason? Or when you come across an artist that might be considered better than you?
Many people get discouraged and perhaps even quit because they’re no longer receiving that much needed ego boost from impressing others. This is when you have to remind yourself what is hopefully the real reason why you’re an artist!
This is where the desire to express comes in. To me the desire to express is linked to your sense of self esteem rather than your ego. I consider self esteem as being based on what you think of yourself rather than what others think of you.
When you’re more concerned with expressing yourself it can add clarity to the direction your art is going. Trends and people change and looking to adapt to them isn’t always a good thing.
You have a greater chance of lasting and standing out as an artist and being an individual by focusing on expressing yourself honestly. Think to yourself who am I? What are my thoughts? What matters to me? What am I feeling? How can I express that?
The other great thing about focusing on expressing yourself is no one can take anything away from you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ‘the best’ in anyone’s eyes. It doesn’t matter if people don’t like you. You’re still able to express yourself. Whether others like you or not is irrelevant because you’ve done what you set out to do and that’s express yourself!
The big reason I rap, make beats and write songs is actually because I don’t feel I have a choice. I have a burning desire to create and express what I think and what I’m feeling. It runs so deep, the only way I can alleviate that burning sensation is by doing just that, expressing myself.
So in short, be aware of others and by all means listen to criticism when it’s constructive. Use your ego and desire to impress to push yourself to be as good as you can possibly be. But always remember the importance of what you’re really trying to do and that’s to express yourself. No one can ever take that away from you no matter what happens because you’re the only person needed to do it.
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