Less is More: the case for shorter albums
Advancements in technology have, for better or for worse, changed the way 1. consumers receive music; and 2. artists create and distribute final compositions. Instead of the need to be physically present to collaborate with others that are thousands of miles away, unfinished tracks can quickly be shared electronically with a click of the mouse, bridging the virtual gap between collaborators that are countries apart.
An ambitious high schooler can become a rapper, producer, and audio engineer by watching instructional videos on YouTube straight from their momma’s basement. In lieu of a proper studio, plenty of hits during the SoundCloud era (again, for better or for worse) were performed in a bathroom with makeshift soundproof paneling. DIY mentality, in conjunction with the tech boom, saturated the market of recordings, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. More opportunities to take risks to expand the sound of a genre. More output also means more chances to miss, which leaves an increasing clutter of broken songs to sift through.
Sorting the mess can be a daunting task in 2018. Even with the advent of streaming services - with thousands of neatly organized albums at our instant disposal for the cost of about 12 CDs per year - keeping up with the latest releases is a chaotic schedule to maintain. It shouldn't be a chore to press play on a new project by a favorite artist. "Are you fucking kidding me?" shouldn't be the first thing that comes to mind when looking at a tracklist. That, for example, should be reserved for the optimistic shock of seeing guest features; however, exasperating said phrase at the long runtime or the number of songs has become a negative trend.
There are obvious exceptions, but a CD should not be the same length as a motion picture movie. Human attention spans have unsurprisingly been dwindling because of technology. It's no wonder that why can only focus on something important for about 30 minutes or less. The internet alone stimulates our minds in many different ways to ensure that we're never truly "bored."
Oh, and there's life: social with friends, relationships with significant others, work with people you secretly hate. It's a lot for our minds juggle at once. Even if one sits at home and does nothing but consume music, listening to something for an hour and a half straight seems laborious, not joyful.
Artistic merits exist within these projects, but a few of the biggest culprits of an extended runtime happen to be three of the biggest names in hip-hop: Migos, Rae Sremmurd, and Drake. Culture II (24 tracks; 1hr 45m), SR3MM (triple disc, 27 tracks; 1h 41m), and Scorpion (double disc, 26 tracks; 1hr 30m) rack up 77 songs totaling 5 hours & 56 minutes. In that same time, you could watch Black Panther & Infinity War back-to-back, or take a flight from NYC to London.
Long albums can hide behind the guise of "we're giving more to our fans," but the jig was never fooling anyone. In the streaming age where all sorts of sales records are being broken by the hour, a loaded tracklist primarily has rich goals of achieving RIAA certifications. The logic behind it is to compile as many records as possible, including scraps off the cutting room floor, and see which single pops. Essentially, throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks. Can't knock these artists for their business acumen but with lengthy projects, they run the risk of sacrificing the quality of a finished product. RIAA certifications add little to a legacy in the streaming age if there's an asterisk.
What Kanye West tried to do with five projects in five weeks was disrupt a flow that was endlessly trending upwards. A disorganized circus in Wyoming played active defense against his strategy, leaving the experiment as a whole disheveled. While the panned three-fifths of the session was hastily put together, the two standout products DAYTONA and KIDS SEE GHOSTS succeeded with precision and conciseness, as they took more than a week to plan. Having seven songs per project leaves little room for error but increases the chances of a high, efficient batting average.
Many believe they hit, but there are some groups with the flawed opinion that DAYTONA and KIDS SEE GHOSTS are not "legitimate albums" because their 20-minute runtime. It's fine if they get left off Album of the Year discussions; this isn't a campaign about that. Disregarding them because there wasn't additional filler shouldn't be a valid dismissal.
A complete thought can be assembled in 30 minutes or less. In an over-saturated music economy, stripping a project down to the bare essentials is a merit in and of itself. As streaming becomes the preferred method of listening, the lines are getting blurred between what separates an album from a mixtape or an EP. The EP vs. LP distinction was strict when the boundaries of distribution were as well. Why can't these distinctions evolve with the times? A comprehensive story can be told in 30 minutes or less just as effectively as an hour-long release. The M.O. of "less is more" was influenced by three impressive projects: FETTI, FM!, and White Bronco.
Joint albums - even with three legendary acts such as Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y, and The Alchemist - always look great on paper but are far from a guarantee. Listeners have been scorned by recent collab tapes with chief complaints stemming from the chemistry or lack thereof. Big names will certainly attract an audience. A compilation of throwaways and a lack of effort will dissipate said crowd faster than yelling fire! in a movie theater. Heavy smoke (no pun intended) surrounded the anticipation of FETTI after a surprise announcement. Clocking in at 23 and a half minutes, this powerhouse trio exceeded expectations by delivering an intricate balancing act with two rap styles, seemingly on polar ends of the spectrum, complementing each other like Yin & Yang. Gangsta Gibbs is known for expertly running through sets of triplets in rapid succession, all the while flexing on a 16 with hay makers for punches ("My baby said if I be faithful, she gone hold me down / I'm fuckin' these hoes, I want it all like an only child // About to take a trip, I got coke and dope on my grocery list // Oxycontin pack, I be switchin' rackets like Djokovic"). He slickly does so most prominently on Willie Lloyd and even sings with conviction on Now & Later Gators.
In many ways, Spitta Andretti is just different. If Freddie is a renegade assassin, then the New Orleans native is a cerebral marksman that moves with grace and precision who is equally as lethal. Curren$y's flow embodies a cool ass nigga; his presence will be felt without ever doing the most ("It's like divin' out the plane / Once that music hit our veins / Tins of Rose Champagne // Mascara telling her tale, Revealin' her pain"). A confident calmness, exhibited on Saturday Night Special and No Window Tints, showcases skilled rap ability without needing to spazz out. And what's left to say about Alan The Chemist that hasn't been said already. There's a masterful, haunted essence to his production that's sharp, distinct and one-of-a-kind. The sample-driven, minimalist landscape The Alchemist provides for the duo is deranged and beautiful, manic but never frantic. No one truly dominates except FETTI as a whole; Gibbs, Spitta & ALC co-exist without intruding each others space. These veterans understand the strength of effective teamwork.
Vince Staples can rap his ass off. He's technically sound, quick, witty, and intelligent. At such a *young* age, the North Long Beach native has a wisdom that resembles a man in his mid-40s. People think his interviews are hilarious. All of the above is a recipe for a hip-hop star in 2018, not to say that he isn't. How come he's not universally beloved? The beats. For lack of a better phrase, the "robotic production" on Prima Donna and Big Fish Theory - two solid pieces of work with underlying creativity - has been sonically off-putting to some. The thing is: he doesn't give a fuck. It's evident by his brash attitude and the way he carries himself. Vince's latest project, FM!, thanks in part to the chameleon-like super-producer Kenny Beats, is a more palatable experience to all listeners involved. At just over 22 minutes, FM! is a straightforward concept album on the surface: someone turning on Power 106 ("Big Boy's Neighborhood" to be specific) hearing him rap about his life. In meta terms, it could be interpreted as a voyeur’s experience of a real story; a brief snapshot of a complex individual that's witnessed the traumatic pain of street life, but disguises it as entertainment. The visuals to the ironically titled, E-40-featured FUN and the song itself captures that point. With assistance on the hook by Jay Rock, Don't Get Chipped is a weary, bass-heavy track that talks about remaining skeptical even after you've "made it":
Everybody say it's lonely at the top
I want my homies at the top
My little homie, he got shot
And now I'm moving by my lonely with the .40 and the mop
Finna pull up early morning and somebody getting dropped
I throw a party on your block, like I'm Tommy the clown
Hundred thousand dollar car, bet you proud of me now
Took my mama out the set, house as big as my mouth
That balance between light and dark keeps Staples on edge, knowing that his work isn't done. Ty Dolla $ign, Kehlani, Buddy and Kamaiyah (“head on a swivel, no bleedin’ me!”) all make an appearance (engineered by MixedByAli) to help provide as much of a vibrant West Coast feel as possible. Even 1-verse snippets from Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt, with dashes of segments of Big Boy's Neighborhood, add to the authenticity of the FM! radio show. Vince Staples had much to say in this concept album without belaboring the point.
Action Bronson has had one of the most interesting careers in entertainment since the start of the decade. After breaking a leg in the kitchen, gourmet chefs don't typically end up signing to a major as a result of releasing critically acclaimed mixtapes. They don't typically parlay their success into two television shows AND a book deal. Completely self-made. Last year’s effort Blue Chips 7000 may have indirectly foreshadowed the chaotic gap between 2017-2018. Unlike the nonretail mixtapes Blue Chips 1 & 2, 7000 (retail) felt...forced and uncharacteristic. 2018 marked the end of the Atlantic partnership and the Queens-bred talent cut ties with Vice for not fully appreciating him. Like OJ speeding down the 405 in '94, White Bronco is Action Bronson's burst of freedom (under less grave circumstances). 26 minutes was all that he needed to confirm his return to true independence.
When left to his own devices, Bam Bam has an incredible ear for beats. Having enlisted heavyweights like Harry Fraud, Party Supplies, Daringer who have collabed with him before, these producers helped to restore the feeling from earlier in his career. The narrative on White Bronco, never explicitly stated, is wild and cathartic - something that can't be tamed. He's at his best when his shit talking with a grin with absurd one-liners and quotables you can't help but laugh at ("all these women calling me Taye Diggs," "my haircut is like Dominican folk art," etc.). On the soulful Knxwledge-produced Prince Charming, there's a mix of reckless hilarity and controlled sentimental moments that a well-balanced Action tape sounds like. Featuring two of his closest friends (Big Body Bes and Meyham Lauren) and fellow statesman ASAP Rocky, White Bronco is a strong return to his independent roots in a major way. Sometimes the raps aren't perfectly strung together, but that's okay. He sounds free of constraint, happy to be himself again (“Hold up, just let me roll up, bitch, I'm 'bout to fly // Your boy been out his mind, tears fall out his eyes”). The signature "it's me" rings louder these days.
It was a struggle to power through both in one sitting, but 03 Greedo and Lupe Fiasco are examples of artists who had a legitimate reason for their lengthy projects. Greedo dropping an official album exceeding 90 minutes, God Level, just days before the start of a 20-year prison sentence is understandable. Lupe's Drogas Wave is a deeply thorough epic that's meant to be dissected for years to come. I see why it's over an hour and a half. A slight variation in production for the course of damn near two hours is unnecessary without a purpose. The three recent examples by FETTI, Vince Staples, and Action Bronson are proof that a condensed album can be just as declarative as a sprawling "full-length LP."
It's a low stakes investment for both the consumer and content creator. If it works, great; bump it multiple times until it falls out of rotation - it's bound to eventually reach the same amount of plays as the 30-track CD. If it doesn't work, great; move on to the next project - literally in the case of the artists; sometimes a fresh start is needed. Too much music to listen to is a great problem to have but we're adults now, we got shit to do. Less is truly more in an increasingly congested world of information. If you don't have anything interesting to say for an hour+, please keep it under 60 and...