Quick Or Classic: What’s Best For An Album?

At a time where fans are inundated with more new music than ever before, those that hope to take all the spoils of fame and fortune need to seize upon their 15 minutes in a timely fashion. Many artists are now placing an emphasis on keeping their heads above ground rather than hibernating in a studio for months on end, thanks to the rise of digital media and the obsoletion of physical sales. The rate at which hip-hop projects are being recorded and released is at a near-dizzying rate.

Whether they’re contractually bound by a 360-deal or walking the tight rope of financial insecurity versus creative freedom, the newfound emphasis on turning projects round with increased efficiency has become a recurring trend of late-- and it makes sense, given the industry's sister trend towards brevity.

In a recent interview with Complex, the inimitable Rico Nasty detailed her recent dalliance with an accelerated timeline on the Kenny Beats-assisted Anger Management. Recorded in an intense period of self-imposed exile, they re-emerged five days later with a nine-track project that’s among the most well received in her catalogue. For the New Yorker, working with the increasingly prolific producer for a sustained period of time proved to be a rewarding experience.

"Well it was really fun to be locked in the studio for a week," she said. "A lot of times, I'm super busy and I might really like a tone of my voice, and then two weeks later, I come back and the tone is different because the air is different, studio is different, the vibe is different, the engineer is different. So, it was really cool working with Kenny, working with the same engineer, the same producer, the same vibe, and going to the same studio."

Quick Or Classic: What's Best For An Album?

Juice WRLD - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Crafted in a vacuum that was free of outside influence, this lightning-quick turn-around has been mirrored in the work of Juice WRLD. In spite of its exhaustive duration of 72 minutes, he's been adamant that not only was Death Race For Love laid down in four days time, but that “every song but two or three of them on the new album are all freestyles.” A method that he adopted on 2018’s Goodbye And Good Riddance save for the international smash of “Lucid Dreams,” his sentiments about how he simply “poured his soul into it” echoes Denzel Curry remarks to HNHH about the construction of last month’s ZUU: "Oh, I freestyled the whole thing. Went from mind to mic. The pen and the pad is the middle-man if you already know what you’re going to say."

Perhaps most alarmingly of all, the process that governed Migos’ overwrought Culture II is one that-- on paper at least-- feels like it’s born of a general apathy towards their output. As relayed to Pigeons and Planes, DJ Durel has said that "We'll do one song in 20 minutes. If they really want to take their time on it, they'll take 40 or 45 minutes. No more." While he is insistent that it’s not an abdication of their artistic duty but a by-product of "the zone" which means "there's no way you can stop them from laying down a good song," the lukewarm response and complaints of listener fatigue that greeted its release leads to debate over whether this tact is the most effective.

After all, both Nas and Kanye West have conceded that it took them at least four years to craft Illmaticand The College Dropout while iconic projects such as Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill took upwards of a year from conception to release. Now that the quickening pace of a recording process is worn as a badge of honor, the concern lies in the possibility that musical growth or development will be cast aside in favour of retaining social media traction and keeping the business side of a musical career afloat.

While the music industry at large accumulates over $43 billion a year, those actually making the music only see a scant $5 billion of that. In tandem with this finding, the same Citigroup report also highlighted one of two paradigm shifts that helps explain why artists may feel pressured to work so quickly. 

"The music industry is in the midst of two profound changes. First, consumers are increasingly opting to rent — rather than buy — music. Second, the demise of physical music has prompted artists to tour more often, driving significant growth in concerts and festivals."

So, in an era that is predicated on a need for low risks and high rewards, the argument in favour of the hastened production would be that it skirts around the possibility of spending months or years honing a project only for it to arrive to a tepid response, which by extension, could hinder a worldwide demand for tour dates, and everything that follows. In many ways, the organic benefits of this are best encapsulated by Chance The Rapper’s 10 Day Tape that was made during a suspension from school and largely put him on the map.

Quick Or Classic: What's Best For An Album?

Jay-Z - Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

For artists that are still cutting their teeth, they don’t have the luxury of time that’s afforded to a camp like TDE, Lil Wayne’s five-year journey to Tha Carter V or Dr. Dre’s ability to rear his head once every decade. Instead, they’re opting to employ an instinctual style that has its roots in the lauded creative process of Hov, Drake and others. Throughout the duration of his 2004 documentary and concert film Fade To Black, producers ranging from Timbaland to Rick Rubin marvelled at Jay’s ability to show up, get in the booth and "remember 20-30 raps" in his head. A creative formula that he describes as his "rain man," Hov has stressed that "I don’t suggest that for everyone. For me it was a natural thing."

In a similar vein, the 6 God has referenced that many of his biggest hits come to fruition in an almost serendipitous fashion but his remarks after the release of Nothing Was The Same in 2013 strike at the core of the issue:

"A lot of my hit songs I’ve written in a very short period of time, ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home,' I felt like we finished that in like two hours…I’m not a guy that does 40 songs for a project and picks 13 of them… I don’t really dispose of too many songs. I have stuff that didn’t make this album, definitely. But I don’t have 20 or 30 of them. I have four or five records that just didn’t make it because again I was trying to keep it concise."

Through these two examples from hip-hop’s ruling class, we see that while pouring over every single syllable can be counterproductive, the fast-food method of working can be equally counterproductive for the sprawling, hour-plus mega album that often exists today. In this sense, burgeoning artists that are hellbent on an efficient use of studio time should seemingly aim towards the concise projects of Denzel Curry and Rico Nasty rather than a bloated collection that is optimized for the reductive algorithms of streaming services such as Culture II. Ultimately, the studies have shown that it’s the billowing pockets of the industry that’ll be thickened rather than the artists themselves in such an endeavour.

Sound off with your opinion on the matter in the comments.

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