The coming battle over the duration of rap albums – The Undefeated

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When emcee Vince Staples released his self-titled fourth album this summer, the introspective project continued Staples’ path as a picture painter with vivid lyrics about his upbringing in Long Beach, Calif. The most surprising aspect of the album was how short it was.

With just 10 songs lasting just over 20 minutes and with a singular producer at Kenny Beats, the album was reminiscent of the golden age of rap where shorter albums were rife and quality was a priority. on the quantity. And the first reaction was encouraging: the album debuted at # 21 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 20,000 copies in its first week. It was the second biggest debut in Staples’ career, with one reviewer praising the album as a “artwork. “

But in a world focused on streaming, is it really possible that shorter rap albums are making a comeback?

Vince Staples released his self-titled fourth album this summer, which contains just 10 songs and lasts just over 20 minutes.

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“There is definitely a conscious decision as to how many songs are there [the album], it’s a streaming strategy, ”said Hovain Hylton, CEO of Cinematic Music Group, which is home to artists such as Cam’ron and Smoke DZA.

To understand why the music industry thinks more is better, look no further than how Billboard calculates album sales. In 2018, Billboard adjusted its weighting around flows in album sales. Every 1,500 plays of a song on an album is equivalent to one album sale. So an album with 15 or more songs is probably more likely to attract more streams than a 10-track project.

For labels, the more songs on an album, the more opportunities an artist has to secure coveted spots on playlists and the more likely the album will achieve Gold and Platinum certifications from the Record Industry. Association of America. And these accomplishments can help sell an artist to a brand.

“Record companies are keenly aware of consumer habits, analytics and trends,” said Brian “Z” Zisook, co-founder and vice president of content operations of the music streaming app service Audiomack. “They are undeniably the driving force behind the construction of these massively long albums.”

Still, the change was a revelation for artists of a certain age. “Wayne had never released an album in the streaming age,” said Lil Wayne manager Mack Maine of the 2018 release of Carter V. “Everyone was like, ‘Yo, you gotta put more songs in there because that’ll make the streams go up.’ “

In the pre-streaming age, whether an artist had 20 songs on an album or 10 songs, what mattered most was selling CDs that sounded at the cash register. Maine recalled Lil Wayne’s thought process around creating longer albums, such as 500 degrees, released in 2002.

Wayne’s thought process, from what he and I talked about, was that we view our albums as nourishing people like food, so he always wanted to make sure the consumer was full after listening. the album, ”he said.

But the trend towards longer albums may be changing. “We have a project coming out soon that will only have 10 or 11 joints,” Maine said of an upcoming Lil Wayne album.

J. Cole performs at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on September 17 in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Others in the industry believe changes to recording contracts could further this trend.

“I think we could eventually start to see more deals and singles deals structured around what makes sense in today’s market,” Zisook said. “A lot of these artists who make themselves known through TikTok or social media don’t necessarily have an album, let alone multiple albums.”

And as the entertainment choices for music fans increase with a variety of unlimited TV, movie and game streaming services, and a large amount of musical discoveries taking place outside of Spotify on platforms such as TikTok and Twitch, the album stuffing to increase the number of streams may start to decrease.

“Building longer albums to boost opening week feeds, I think, will decrease, as we see the total runtime for individual tracks continuing to decrease,” Zisook said. “Artists who don’t tell stories are in the best position to get in and out of the tracks. ”

The golden age of rap was built on storytelling and the journey of listeners. Artists such as Nas, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, and others wrote screenplays as much as they wrote rap songs. Juxtapose that with the new one research indicating that TikTok is the # 1 place for discovering new music for platform users. Most new artists on TikTok need to grab someone’s attention quickly with a catchy hook or easy-to-follow call and response or dance-related lyrics, leaving the storytelling in the past.

But it is unlikely that a change in the duration of the albums will happen soon. Of all the albums that reached number 1 on the Billboard Best Rap Album graphics in 2021, only one, that of J. Cole Off-season, lasts less than 40 minutes. It is also the only album to contain less than 15 songs. Drake and Kanye West’s recent best-selling albums were bloated deals, each lasting over an hour. Yet critical reception for Drake and West’s new albums has been mixed, with many fans creating their playlists condensing projects for better perceived quality and shorter listening time.

“What I liked the most about Vince’s new album is its brevity,” Zisook said. “In a world where consumers’ free time is limited, how we choose to spend that time requires a calculation. If I have an hour to listen to new music, either actively or passively, I might be more interested in listening to three projects that are 20 minutes shorter than hitting play on a slog from a 23-track album, More than an hour.

There was a time when concise rap albums ruled the day. It was called the “golden age” of hip-hop, spanning roughly the mid-80s to the mid-90s. LA Weekly‘s listing of the 20 best hip-hop albums of the Golden Age, most are less than an hour long and contain less than 15 songs, including several 10-song projects like Big Daddy Kane’s debut album Long live the Kane. One, the ultramagnetic MCs Critical Strike, records over 21 tracks and lasts over an hour.

“I remember the big albums were about 10 songs,” said AZ, a rapper who worked with Nas many times. “From Michael Jackson to Illmatic To Criminal spirit with KRS-One. Lots of great albums got right to the point and got the job done. “

Most recording contracts stipulate a specific number of songs that the artist must deliver. In the recent podcast series Making the plan by Breaking Atoms, there is a clip of Just Blaze (at 25:52) telling a story that Jay-Z was unwilling to record more songs than he was contractually obligated to deliver because he wouldn’t be paid for anything beyond his 13-song cap.

The plan is now considered a classic and was the first hip-hop album chosen for the National Recording Registry in the 21st century. Would have The plan have been a 20-track classic or more? Everything is possible. But the cohesion and quality of the project continue to make it an album celebrated today.

When it comes to fans and music critics today, one of the first social media reviews when modern rap albums are released is their length and bloated track lists. As Craig Jenkins writes in The Vulture review for Drake Boy in love certified, “There are too many songs, too many rhythm changes, too many competing ideas.”

Whether or not the music industry begins to move away from albums or begins to reduce the trend of bloated tracklists, one thing is for sure and that is quality, replay value and timeless music creation. will never go out of style.

“Quality matters forever. For hip-hop, for country, for rock, for pop, for R&B, ”AZ said. “Quality is the key. Quality is king.

Sometimes less is more.

Adam Aziz is a writer and publicist living in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @brokencool.

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