Why Artists Need to Collaborate to Stay Relevant
by Denisha Kuhlor
Hip-hop collaborations are nothing new. Rappers have long come together, whether to remix a track, partner on a song or introduce a newer artist to the masses. While collaborations were once a necessity to get looked at by a record label, they are now a necessity to stay relevant. Artists like Cardi B have made records with both established and new artists to serve her audience until her next album release.
Artists with digitally native fanbases need to keep their audience satiated. Consumers are flooded with nonstop content. They can easily shift their attention (and capital) to artists who give them more to interact with. Collaborations help artists keep up with the demand for new music, lowers the pressure of creating on their own, and boost their relevance with potential new fans.
Keeping attention is much harder than capturing it
Today’s fans have endless content at their disposal. This is the generation that binge-watches an entire TV season on Netflix. In the past, appointment television allowed a show to be culturally relevant for months. But your favorite Netflix show has a much shorter shelf life.
The same has happened in music. Consumers have more exposure and access to more music than ever before, which shortens its shelf life and makes it harder for artists to stand out.
Spotify ushered in this dynamic by giving consumers access to millions of songs at the touch of a finger. And while TikTok has helped many new songs and artists reach prominence, it has also birthed a new generation of “one-hit wonders.” In the past, the term “one-hit wonder” still gave some name recognition to the artist behind the song. But now, there are so many popular one-hit songs from TikTok that listeners may recognize the song, but can’t tell you who the artist is.
The more these artists make music with others in their circles, the less likely it is that they will become the next anonymous one-hit wonder.
Both older and newer artists gain from working together
It’s been over four years since Cardi B’s only album Invasion of Privacy was released, but thanks to her collaborations she is just as relevant today, if not more.
Cardi is currently promoting her new song with female rapper Glorilla titled “Tomorrow 2.” Glorilla got signed to Yo Gotti’s record label Collective Music Group in July 2022 after the success of her song “F.N.F (Let’s Go).” She is still building her fanbase and getting great exposure. She recently performed at the BET Hip Hop Awards and won Best New Artist. For both Cardi and Glorilla, “Tomorrow 2” is mutually beneficial. Cardi gave Glorilla a great co-sign, while Glorilla’s freshness extends onto Cardi.
Prior to working with Glorilla, Cardi has had songs with Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, Ed Sheeran, Normani, and more. Plus, Cardi frequently interacts with her fans across multiple social media platforms. Cardi also has an endorsement deal with Playboy and her own liquor-infused whipped cream. All of her collaborations have helped her quell the demand for her sophomore album while still serving her fanbase.
How superstars maintain their commercial dominance
Ironically, on Drake’s Certified Lover Boy he raps about having “No Friends in the Industry” on an album full of collaborations with new and old artists. His album features Tems, 21 Savage, Kid Cudi, Lil Durk, Lil Baby, Giveon, and more. It’s proof that established stars still rely on collaborations too.
Ahead of the album release, Drake took out billboards in multiple cities to mention that an artist from that city was featured on it. This invited the city to listen to the album because they love their hometown heroes. Part of the reason Drake has been able to maintain his commercial dominance is due to his ability to collaborate with talent early. He was one of the first superstar artists to do a song with City Girls, Migos, ILoveMakonnen, Fetty Wap, and others. Many established artists have adopted this strategy as well. They have increased the number of collaborations and are more likely to work with newer artists earlier in their careers.
Staying relevant both on and off-camera
Many artists have recently voiced their frustration with labels pushing them to promote their music on TikTok. Today, an artist’s dominance is underwritten by their ability to capture and maintain attention. Ideally, this would be primarily achieved through their music, but that’s rarely enough. To stay relevant, many artists also have to give fans access to their lifestyle, off-camera personality, and everything in between.
Most artists know that this is effective but they choose to not embrace the times. Frank Ocean and Adele are great examples of this. They rarely post on socials, and we know how Adele feels about TikTok. However, they are an exception to the rule. They grew highly engaged fan bases that have been conditioned to expect extended periods of time in between new music. Newer artists do not enjoy this luxury. As the shelf life of music continues to drop, artists need low-stake ways to satiate their audience, experiment with new sounds, and iterate on their flows. Collaborations allow them to accomplish this while still providing new material to stay relevant to their fanbase.
Denisha Kuhlor is the founder of Stan, where artists learn how to find, grow, and engage a global fanbase.