By Isaac Rosso Klakovich and Karlton Tate
Last September, two of the rap industry’s most prolific trap artists, Travis Scott and Young Thug, released two of their most successful albums to date, dropping “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” and “Jeffery,” respectively. Despite sharing one common track, the projects are completely different listening experiences. “Jeffery” is a lean nine songs plus a bonus track, whereas “Birds in the Trap sing McKnight” is a meandering 15. Like many contemporary hip-hop artists, Scott fails to recognize that when it comes to tracklists, less is usually more. Tight and concise tracklists make for more focused and enjoyable albums, and are something that many modern artists should strive to create.
For many artists, long tracklists can lead to a lack of focus. Two of last year’s most popular rap albums, Drake’s “Views” and ScHoolboy Q’s “Blank Face LP,” could have been dramatically improved if the artists had trimmed some of their project’s fat.
“Views” clocks in at a ridiculous 81 minutes with over 20 tracks of monotonous dance hall rap. If Drake had slashed some of the derivative or bland tracks to make it a crisp eight-track mixtape, the project’s critical reception may have greatly improved. This would have showcased a shift in style for hip-hop’s biggest star, and would have ameliorated the monotonous repetition of the thematic material and overall sound seen on “Views.”
A similar sentiment can be expressed towards “Blank Face LP.” Although the project is far superior than Drake’s offering, it still has plenty of superfluous tracks. The hard hitting gangster aesthetic that ScHoolboy Q strives for is compromised by a handful of generic radio hits that would have made more sense in the context of a different project. At 13 tracks, “Blank Face” may have been in contention for hip-hop album of the year, but at 18 tracks, it’s merely another solid project from ScHoolboy Q.
Today, artists will often release new albums alongside a “deluxe edition” of that project, as some music listeners enjoy doling out a few extra dollars for more of their favorite content. Despite their claims, these “enhanced” versions of the musical work are almost always worse than the album’s standard edition. Often times on deluxe editions, bonus tracks, which are usually leftover songs that didn’t make the official release, are ungracefully tacked on to the end of the project. Most of the time these tracks have been cut for a reason, and only serve to muddle any thematic focus of the album.
Very few artists have been able to master the art of a lengthy yet thematically consistent release, but Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” should be a model for artists who seek to create longer projects. Lamar recites a spoken-word poem to offer transitions between the album’s multifaceted themes and motifs, and every single track on the 88 minute album bolsters these ideas.
Fayetteville, NC rapper J. Cole’s recent release, “For Your Eyez Only,” is a perfect example of a project greatly benefiting from succinctness. Although the album was met with mixed responses commercially and critically, it is undeniable that its compact tracklist is what generated the praise for the project’s fairly tight narrative. If more artists work towards slimming down their tracklists, then music listeners will enjoy more coherent and meaningful projects.
Photo courtesy of Cleveland.com and Rap-up.com