“What’s an album, anyways” Chicago emcee and rising star Chance The Rapper recently told Rolling Stone magazine. It had me thinking, why do emcees care less about making an album as much as hip hop artists of the past used to? Has the music business and culture changed so much that releasing a free mix tape with no immediate monetary reward has become more gratifying than releasing a full length album that could possibly sell millions? But before we answer that question, let us return to what exactly an album is? Surely we all know right? It’s the shit people download off torrent sites or from blogs, and then pretend to have bought then get upset that people aren’t supporting the culture or the artist. Correct me if I’m wrong, you know I’m right.
The album itself besides its obvious dimensions and physical interpretation of either a compact disc, tape (yes, some tapes are still being distributed), or digital mp3 is supposed to be the thing that blows your audience away. Think of this way, you’re watching a magician and he does the old but still effective rabbit in a hat trick, but then follows that up by chopping the assistant up in to a thousand pieces only for the assistant to casually walk on stage seconds later. Yeah, the album is supposed to be the “wow” factor, the moment for an artist’s career that is both defining and everlasting. Since the mixtape concept has substituted the album’s moment of “ah-ha” and artists are delivering their best stuff for free, the album’s presentation has hit rock bottom.
The argument these days to not releasing a LP is why would an artist sign a deal with a major or indie and go through all the paper work of releasing a piece of work you’re not in love with? How often have we heard artists drop an album then bitch that the material is “what the label wanted?” I see you Lupe. It’s far easier to go in the basement, knock down 15 tracks, sample freely, no strings attached, upload to datpiff, and click submit, sit back and admire the download count number. I get it. If I could microwave a career in brain study, I would do it too! The mix tape game is like rap for dummies, no diss. The mix tape game is as oversaturated as twerking videos on World Star. But as much as mix tapes are the “in” thing to do towards generating a buzz, the album, the barcode, and the packaging is still a necessary step to achieving long term success and career sustainability.
Chance The Rapper’s latest, Acid Rap made huge headlines this year after its release, rightfully so by the way, and it was called a mix tape. If you listen to Acid Rap, it sounds like an album, and could be considered an album if a barcode was slapped on the back and sold at Target. Actually somebody smart enough did put a barcode on it, but failed to let Chance know about. I think Chance and many hip hop artists have what a mix tape and album is so fucked up, the confusion leads to ignorance. The mix tape was and always should be the appetizer before the album or what you might call the main dish, you sample what the restaurant has to offer then decide if you want to ball out on the lobster. The hip-hop artist of today is giving the lobster away at appetizer prices.
The album has to have value, it’s the piece of work that has been fine-tuned and delicately crafted for long term listening and mass appeal. That is what an album is Chance. It’s your story, your life, your vision carefully priced at $9.99 at iTunes and illegally downloaded by millions of people who swear they bought it, but it’s the fucking album! Mixtapes are remembered but they’re also stored on external hard drives across the world never to be listened to again, the album? Oh that shit is going to get played again, again and again if it’s good enough of course. That sir is what an album is and its importance to a career, especially a young one like yours. Acid rap was packaged as a free, disposable mix tape, and that’s too bad, because it would’ve made for a great album. Too bad Chance just didn’t know.
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