My love of music mirrors my love of reading. I find the same joy in diving into a book that I find in listening to a new album. When an author wants to get published, they have to have a solid concept or a finished project to present to the publisher. For that work to be printed it has to be a complete body of work so a reader has the opportunity to visualize what is in that author’s mind, from beginning to end. So why does that concept no longer apply to albums? More specifically, why does it no longer apply to Rap albums?
Let’s take into account that Hip-Hop/ Rap are fairly green to the Billboard process. Prior to 1985, they didn’t even acknowledge the categories in the Top 100. It wasn’t until 1986 that Run D.M.C. was able to top that chart to become the first rap act to do so. But somewhere along the line it seems that rappers have come to value the single and what it means for their careers, over the art of an album and what that means for their respect as an artist.
Let’s compare Billboard years so that you can see what I’m saying:
1989: A breakthrough year for Hip-Hop in regards to the charts, and the first year that Billboard introduced a “Hot Rap Songs” category. Top Hip-Hop/R&B Albums included: 3 Feet High and Rising (De La Soul), The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (Slick Rick), and Big Tyme (Heavy D).
1993: A memorable year in Rap with the release of albums like The Chronic (Dr. Dre), The World is Yours (Scarface), and Midnight Marauders (A Tribe Called Quest).
1996: Hip-Hop/Rap dominate with the release of All Eyez on Me (2Pac), The Score (Fugees), and It Was Written (Nas).
These albums were all complete stories, from beginning to end. They influenced millions of aspiring rappers to create and also spread very valid messages from all walks of urban cultures. Now let’s take a look at 2016’s chart:
We now have a “Rap Albums” category (Shoutout to Billboard!). Top albums this year include:
When It’s Dark Out (G-Eazy) – Decent production, much better than his first album. However, nowhere near the creative mark needed to impress an educated rap fan.
King Push (Pusha T) – Lyrically great, amazing production. Misses the mark in terms of holding a fan’s attention for the whole album.
To Pimp A Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar) – Probably the only album this year to be marked as 100% original, from the concepts to the bars.
Views (Drake) – One cannot deny the marketability of this album, there is something on it for everyone. But it lacks fluidity in terms of lyrical content, going back and forth from “I love you” to “I’m trying to prove I’m hard”
Out of these four albums, G-Eazy and Drake held their positions the longest. The singles released off of each album helped hold them at #1. Neither album has a story or a message, just well-produced singles that keep people’s bodies moving. No shade to either artist, but this is where my irritation stems from. The focus nowadays is so single-based that when you do buy an album, there is no constant. The albums are as random as the singles. Rap was never meant to be Pop Music, and in my opinion it has become a very watered-down version of itself in order to handle the turnover of all of the one-hit wonders that A&R’s are filtering through the industry. So let’s take a lesson from Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Tech N9ne, and all of the other rappers that stay making money. You do not have to have 7 mediocre singles to be a rapper, all you need is one great album. Let’s never forget that Illmatic never charted.