Music after artists complete physical change -- by Ashley Tannehill, September 2006
The test of going through a physical transformation under the surveillance of the millions of questioning, cynical, or prying eyes of the public has definitely merited respect. Especially if your name is Michael Jackson, and your transformation comes complete with a complexion change and nose job. Or if a woman, such as India.Arie, relinquishes her "crown and glory" to the bold look of baldness. Or if Nelly strips his bandage from beneath his eye and pops back into the music scene with what appears to be a naked face. These external changes bring to life internal changes. They come equipped with their own self appearance issues and psychological commotion, and can be evidence of feelings of liberation, stress, growth and maturity that lace their post-transformation music.
India.Arie distinguished her pre and post-transformation stints with her latest album, Testimony: Vol. 1, Life & Relationship. During her nearly four year hiatus, in which she cut her dreadlocks and rummaged through a variety of styles, Arie stumbled upon, and decided to popularize, one unpopular notion: "I Am Not My Hair" (cleverly the title of her first single). Although there are several parallels between her latest album and the previous two, Arie punctuates this album with social views and critiques, and relationships and life lessons that are more potent in this release.
She reveals more about herself and views, unfolding and discussing the pain and lesson from an ended relationship. The album reached a diary type openness, discussing physical insecurities and making an allusion to Melissa Etheridge, while relaying that we are free to do what we want with our hair, and more heavily, in life. This self-emancipation approach to life began with the stresses change, and was solidified for the public through her album.
Busta Rhymes had even greater disparity, probably one of the greatest, between his pre and post-transformation content, sound, and sales. Busta abolished his hip hop trademark- the dreadlocks that fell down his back- and subsequently watched his latest release The Big Bang sell a monumental 209,000 copies during its first week. This allowed him to have the first number one album of his music career. Busta consummated his transformation with more mature, introspective content hidden from fans for nearly sixteen years.
The idea that post-transformation music must meet the sexy-sophisticated expectation was epitomized when Nelly, known for exploding onto the music scene in 2000 with songs that started a Midwest "swang" epidemic, released an album fully dedicated to the more sensual, sensitive side of R&B. A bandage that had once masked the skin beneath his eye and hindered the refined look Nelly was approaching, was removed when his brother was released from jail. Thus, he released the anxiety surrounding his incarceration and distributed Suit and Sweat.
Suit, the R&B CD released concurrently with Sweat, surprised fans when Nelly sprinkled his usual mix of collaborators, such as, Lil' Wayne and members of his St. Lunatics team, with country-music star, Tim McGraw. This crossover was indicative of the post-transformation music theory.
When artists remain true to themselves after such a physical change, their music reflects a new state of mind. They relay lessons and maturity, allowing fans to appreciate their honesty, and their willingness to open themselves to those who cherish such authenticity.