In a post for Future and Zaytoven’s magnificent Beast Mode 2, it became clear that after the exhausting 25-song adventure that is Drake’s Scorpion and the short and sweet morsel that is Pusha T’s Daytona, Beast Mode 2 was like a refreshing happy medium with regards to its succinct yet fulfilling length.
However, almost as soon as the words had left my keyboard and the post had gone live, I found myself questioning that sentiment. I’d called it the “perfect length” for a rap album, but my naturally skeptical inner voice almost immediately chimed in with questions, interrogating the very concept. What is the perfect length for an album? What are the criteria? And why, oh why, are we rap fans so damn obsessed with this idea of perfect album length in the first place?
The album length discussion always crops up from time to time, but particularly around Drake’s decision to make Scorpion 25 songs almost immediately after Kanye West’s GOOD Music had gone on a mini-album rampage of five 7-song “albums” in the span of the same number of weeks. That deluge of new music followed a seemingly industry-wide trend of supersizing albums to exploit streaming figures that included Migos’ Culture II, Drake’s two previous projects, Views and More Life, and even Future’s own double album from 2017, Future/HNDRXX.
All of this discussion resulted in any number of music fans asking the album-length question in a struggle to define just what differentiates an EP, an LP, a double album, or mixtape, with everyone weighing in with opinions about the perfect length for an album. The debate even stretches to considering the “future” of album length, as if these trends are indicators of an overall revolution for projects yet to come.
So, let’s put the debate to rest: There is obviously no such thing as an ideal album length. Albums should be as long as they need to be to accomplish whatever specific goal they set out to achieve, whether that’s to fudge the streaming numbers to inflate the perceived interest in the artist and generate revenue or tell a concise, complete narrative in a specific amount of time.
As for what defines an EP or an LP, the answer is simple: Whatever the artist deigns is appropriate for their individual purposes. It’s how Kendrick Lamar could get away with releasing the 15-track Kendrick Lamar EP in 2009, following that up most recently with DAMN, an album that was ostensibly shorter with only 14 tracks and a runtime of 55 minutes. Between those two releases were the blank Memorex CD-filling To Pimp A Butterfly (79 minutes), the 12-track Good Kid, MAAD City which somehow comprised a runtime 13 minutes longer than DAMN.‘s, and Untitled Unmastered, a “compilation album” composed of eight Butterfly throwaways that plays through its 34 minute runtime more cohesively than the majority of rap albums released the same year.
Obviously, the elements that originally restricted albums to these original categories have become obsolete — hell, even the term “albums,” which originally grew out of the name for the twelve-inch vinyl records on which the music was pressed when there were no other alternatives, seems quaint in the era of instant streaming collections and user and brand-curated playlists that have largely eliminated the need to own physical media in order to listen to a given song. In fact, with the on-demand nature of services like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Soundcloud, Pandora, and Youtube, many listeners are more comfortable simply picking and choosing individual favorites to play or trusting in computer algorithms to help them discover new tunes similar to their existing taste than simply purchasing an album and letting it play from end to end.