Rappers Don’t Need To Make Overlong, Streaming-Friendly Albums To Be Successful

03.13.19 5 months ago

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We all know you can have too much of a good thing. A second helping can turn a delicious meal into a painful lesson in gluttony. A player on a hot streak can hold the ball too long, costing their team the game. As the saying goes: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.

We all also know why album length seems to be exploding lately. Artists like Drake, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, and most recently, Juice WRLD are opting for supersized tracklists that rival some feature films for length, mainly in order to game the rules that govern streaming counts. More songs equal more streams, which equals more equivalent album sales and more streaming revenue (even if it’s not much, in the grand scheme of things).

But with album length seemingly increasing by the year, and more projects to listen to from artists with more sonic variety than ever before, it might be time for artists to re-evaluate how embracing this strategy works in the long run. Sure, they can goose their play stats in the short run, but as we’ve seen, longer albums don’t necessarily stick around for longer overall runs, nor do they stick in the public consciousness.

For instance, Migos’ Culture II spawned a handful of hits, but the critical consensus on the album was that those hits almost got lost in all the mass-produced filler that populated its 24-track playlist. Meanwhile, Drake, the current reigning king of longest-playing long players, stretched both his streak of movie-length albums and audience’s patience with the 90-minute, 25-track Scorpion. It seemed the only thing that staved off so-called “Drake fatigue” was the intervention of social media comedian Shiggy’s viral dance challenge, which elevated “In My Feelings” from fun filer track to hit single status.

Meanwhile, audiences agreed that of the three albums that made up Rae Sremmurd’s SR3MM and totaled a whopping 101:30, only Slim Jxmmi’s Jxmtro felt essential and more consistent than brother Swae Lee’s Swaecation or the group “disc,” Sremmlife 3. While the triple album debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200, it ultimately only “sold” 57,000 equivalent units in its first week, clocking in with the lowest debut week of the duo’s three projects to date and only living on the chart 26 weeks, compared to the first Sremmlife at 122 weeks (peaking at No. 5) and its successor (peaking at No. 4) with 64 weeks. Oddly, it seems as though they may double down on this strategy anyway on their next album, despite evidence that it didn’t really work for them this time around.

Chicago upstart Juice WRLD, who just released his sophomore album, Death Race For Love, this past Friday, added five songs and nearly 23 additional minutes of music to the follow-up of his debut release Goodbye & Good Riddance. While the statistical results remain to be seen (although it’s currently on pace for a No. 1 week with a projected 150,000 equivalent units), it’s taken a critical beating, with multiple outlets noting its inconsistency and fatigue-inducing length. This is despite Juice trying to mitigate the longer tracklist with shorter, freestyled songs, which only serves to makes the bite-sized records blur together, obscuring just how good they are.

Contrast these albums’ receptions with those of shorter, more concise statements like 21 Savage’s I Am > I Was (14 tracks) or 2 Chainz’s Rap Or Go To The League (15 tracks), both of which clock in at less than an hour. Savage scored his first-ever No. 1 debut with his sophomore release; while returns are early, I Am has spent the entire year so far on the 200 and still hovers among the top 20 albums. 2 Chainz debuted at No. 4 with some stiff competition on the chart, but garnered early attention for being one of the best rap albums of the year so far.

Meanwhile, one of the breakout stories of 2018 was Philadelphia iconoclast Tierra Whack, whose 15-song, 15-minute debut, Whack World, was heaped with praise on its debut and instantly made her a name to watch for its variety and creativity. Other standouts from the year included Cardi B’s Grammy-winning, chart-topping debut Invasion Of Privacy (13 tracks, 48:13 minutes), J. Cole’s fan favorite fifth album, KOD (12 tracks, 42:27 minutes), and Lil Baby & Gunna’s stark joint debut Drip Harder, (13 tracks, 38:47 minutes), all of which received good reviews, and similar sales accolades to their longer counterparts without needing to play the numbers game.

While streaming rewards long tracklists can stack the deck for an artist in terms of plaques and first-week sales, there’s every indication that such honors can still be acquired without 20-song tracklists and that shorter albums are actually more likely to achieve recognition for their creativity and quality than the ones that pack listeners’ proverbial plates, hoping to accomplish the same by sheer quantity. Even with technology’s changes to the musical landscape, there is no substitute for a well-curated, focused, and fulfilling work of art. Long albums aren’t just a cheat, they’re a completely unnecessary one — and like most cheats, they seem to wind up backfiring on their practitioners in the end.

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