Hip-hop praises the hustle, so Easy Mac definitely got his props for building a name for himself with no major label. His debut album, Blue Slide Park, was the first independently distributed album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 since 1995’s Dogg Food. This was just off his mixtape buzz.
This victory wasn’t enough to give Miller street cred though; Loaded Lux would note he was "Easy Mac with the cheesy raps." A lot of critics would go on to slam him — especially a 1 out of 10 rating from Pitchfork. He wasn’t going to let the negatives keep him down though. He reinvented himself as a weirdo rap connoisseur and got himself a new circle of friends that included the likes of Action Bronson, Domo Genesis and ScHoolboy Q. You can even say he’s at fault for starting the superfriends era of rap that Kendrick Lamar broke down with “Control.” Fortunately, Miller got to release the solid Watching Movies With the Sound Off in June, which solidified his new approach to rap, which has since got even weirder on releases like Faces.
The transformation from Zev Love X to MF DOOM (then simply, DOOM) is the most tragic entry on this list. Born Daniel Dumille, MF DOOM started out as part of rap trio KMD alongside Rodan and young brother DJ Subroc. The group essentially shared De La Soul’s satirical voice minus the Native Tongues’ connections and would release the widely expected Mr. Hood in 1991.
That would be the group’s only album with Elektra records. Within the course of one terrible week in 1993, Subroc was hit and killed by a car while crossing the Nassau Expressway, Elektra Records dropped KMD, and Black Bastard, the group’s sophomore album, was shelved reportedly because of the controversial, Sambo-featuring cover art.
MF DOOM spent the next few years in obscurity and homelessness, recoiling from his cruel treatment from the industry. He’d soon return in 1997 rapping at open mics with a stocking over his head, and in 1999, he’d don the famous Doctor Doom mask for his solo debut, Operation: Doomsday. The mask wasn’t just a gimmick, which is something that Mm…Food and Madvillainy can attest to.
These days B.o.B. is more focused on making hits than creativity, but perhaps that’s how he always was. The Atlanta native was your rapper-slash-singer who knew how to play the guitar and even threw you the occasional curve like featuring Andre 3000 (who he’s been compared to) and have Morgan Freeman guest on an album. His idiosyncrasies worked out for him, especially on his No. 1 debut, “Nothin’ On You.” Try keeping those feel good, wholesome vibes when "We Still in This Bitch" comes on the radio.
With the way things were looking in 2009, Wale wasn’t supposed have two Billboard top five albums and a No. 1 Hot R&B song. Attention: Deficit was a solid album, but critical acclaim wasn’t something Interscope could rest its laurels on with only 28,000 sold the first week and 168,000 copies pushed thus far. So they dropped Wale, only to see him rise months later with the MMG clique. His path was set after debuting the largely successful “Lotus Flower Bomb” in 2011. The only downside to Wale’s come-up was how his perceived attention to materialistic excess (his affiliation to the eternally flossin’ Rick Ross should take some blame) alienated fans of his backpacker days, especially does who loved his Mixtape About Nothing. He wasn’t getting his due though.
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik gave the impression that the two sides of OutKast were very similar in their homegrown, southern worldviews. However, Andre’s experimentalism started becoming increasingly apparent in later albums, from the way he dressed (exhibit A) to his dynamics. The classics kept coming, Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s perspectives continuously drifted further apart until they essentially had a solo album in Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. The latter had Andre at his most eccentric, and the fans ate it up too.
Formerly known as Murda Ma$e, the Harlem World rapper made his way back onto the music scene with 2004’s Welcome Back, the product of a Christian reawakening. The album was certified gold and the comeback lead single had some Billboard success, but in retrospect, the album was one of the more forgettable ones in Bad Boy canon. Mase is attempting another comeback sans the Bad Boy backing, and has released two singles for the upcoming Now We Even — “Why Can’t We” and “Nothing.” Neither has received much buzz, though.
Fans who’ve been following Snoop Dogg’s career are aware of when he dropped the “Doggy” and that weird phase when he was signed to No Limit. The most jarring change came in 2012, when he decided to change his name to Snoop Lion. The artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg said a trip to Jamaica and encounter with the Nyabinghi branch of the Rastafari movement opened up his “third eye,” which consequently meant Snoop Lion’s first reggae album. Although it didn’t fare too well commercially or critically, Reincarnated did get Snoop Grammy-nominated for Best Reggae Album.
Yes, even the man who made the country-referencing, Billboard-topping “Timber” was a kid trying to rap his way out of the corners at one point. Check out the video below; yes, that’s Pitbull in the braids freestyling a capella during a tour. This then-newcomer released his debut album in 2004 (M.I.A.M.I.), in which he displayed a blend of reggaeton, more traditional rap, and Lil Jon-assisted crunk. He eventually broke out of it in 2009, when he scored his first international hit with "I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)." Now, he’s being played once within a 20-mile radius as you read this.
Eminem remarking that hip-hop was the only thing he was “decent” at once applied to his very craft rather than his way of life. Infinite is undoubtedly the most slept on his catalogue; he was airtight with his rhyming and breath control before he signed to Interscope. The critics did have a point though. As good as he was on the mic, he didn’t have enough of a personality to separate himself from the other bustling ‘90s acts. Hip-hop saved his life, but Slim Shady boosted his career. It wasn’t until he introduced his sociopathic persona in The Slim Shady EP that he took his next step into stardom.
Perhaps there’s no other hip-hop artist who’s changed his image as much as West has while still remaining successful. In fact, that constant shifting image has sort of become the core of career instead of just being the man who made backpacking cool in the mainstream sights. He’s switched from super-producer everyman; to shutter-shade wearing, stadium conquering artist (Graduation); to mourning auto-tune singer (808 & Heartbreak); and to experimental satirical egoist — one foot consistently flirting outside of hip-hop. During his progression, he’s pulled back his humble perspective — or the public's perception of it —to reveal a figure who blurs the line between brave self-confidence and unashamed arrogance. He’s continuously pushed units, too.
From Kanye West to MF DOOM, we look at the artists who were successfully able to change up their style without damaging their careers.
Superman isn't Superman if he inexplicably switches from superpowered do-gooder, to some sort of motorcycle-riding anti-hero, to maniacal villain, and back and forth between the extremes. Such mythology is a big part of the hip-hop culture, as well as proper marketing. Any marketing novice and comic book savant knows that consistency is key to building one's image/brand. A rapper who constantly switches up can lose a fan base or market, or even worse: he or she gets labeled as a fake for wearing different styles (there's nothing worse than not being real). It didn't work out too well for party rapper-turned street gangsta MC Hammer, whose most recent cling to relevancy came from a Jay Zbar.
That sort of slander didn't come for these rappers. The following 10 artists were able to switch it up on their audience without losing too much of a fan base and even gaining some new believers. Some of them even managed to make their new style not only believable but compelling, too. Without further ado, here are Rappers Who Switched Their Style Up.