The problem with hip-hop albums

Within hip-hop, there is an extreme amount of talented artists. Creative artist, skillful artists that have honed their craft. Lyrically, they’re modern day Shakespeares. But so many of them have trouble crafting a truly great album. Why is that?

First of all, I have to point out, what I mean by a truly great album is an album that has virtually no tracks that are skippable, where every song on the album is an important part of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up an album.

Listen to Ready to Die, and you’ll get what I mean. The album starts out with Biggie’s (RIP to the greatest MC) birth, and it ends with Biggie’s sucicide. Along the way, we see Biggie going from ashy to classy. Not only that, but there are songs on the album that can suit ANY mood. If you’re in the club, who wouldn’t want to hear Big Poppa? You feeling like you want to hear a funny song? Gimme the loot.  An incredible story? Warning. How the hood’s changed? Things Done Changed. Just some straight up (incredible) rapping, The What or Unbelievable. And so on.

The same thing goes for Life After Death, although I personally feel that the peaks on Life After Death are higher than on Ready To Die, there are also deeper lows and the overall cohesiveness isn’t on Ready To Die.

Cohesiveness is the key word here. How many great hip-hop albums AREN’T cohesive? Listen to a Tribe album. It always sounds like a Tribe Called Quest album. The sound is there. Listen to Reasonable Doubt & Blueprint, Jay-Z’s two greatest albums. Incredibly cohesive projects, especially compared to Vol. 2 & Vol. 3, just to name two. Illmatic is cohesive, mostly because it was short, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Illmatic is picked as Nas’s best album, nor that it’s often ranked as the greatest hip-hop album of all time (personally, I think Ready To Die is better).

Now listen to a… Game album. It’s got 23 tracks, if you count the intro, skits and bonus cuts. And almost every track sounds different, probably because he used 13 different producers (if I counted it right). There’s no cohesiveness to the project. So some of the songs were dope, I’ll be the first to admit that (actually, I have no problem to admit that), but the overall project isn’t more than good. If it was cut down to 13-14 tracks, using 3-4 producers, I think the overall album would’ve been way more solid than it was.

Last year, two of the best albums I’ve heard were Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 and Drake’s Take Care. I’m a huuuuuge Kendrick Lamar fan, I’ve been a fan of his since he dropped Overly Dedicated in 2010 and to me it was no surprise that Section.80 was as dope as it was, but the amount of pure dopeness that exists in that album is amazing. First of all, the project feels INCREDIBLY cohesive. Every beat on there felt like it was handcrafted for the album. Kendrick told the stories of Tammy, Keisha and of his own generation through the album. Some tracks stand out, like Hol’ Up, Blow My High & Rigamortis,  but they fit the album perfectly since they are lighter tracks that lift the mood of an otherwise very dark album.

If you look at the production credits, you can see that there’s 8 producers on there.  But Tae Beast, Willie B & Sounwave are all part Digi+Phonics and Top Dawg Entertainment, they know how Kendrick works, they know what Kendrick expects and wants from them and therefore the production sounds handcrafted, because it basically is. Also, Kendrick’s engineer, Ali, mixed the album masterfully.

I’m not a huge Drake fan, I enjoy some of his music, but I don’t particularly like him as a person, but I’ll be the first to admit that Take Care was a very good album, mostly because of the overall sonical cohesiveness. Drake never strays away from the formula, every song fits the album, and while Drake isn’t that lyrically and technically impressive, it still makes a very good album. And it’s no surprise that 14 of the album’s 20 tracks (including bonus tracks) were produced by 40 and T-Minus.

Another point to make is that the four albums I’ve mentioned, Illmatic, Ready To Die, Section.80 & Take Care all had few guests on them. Illmatic had ONE guest verse, a fantastic one by AZ. Ready To Die also had just one guest on it, M.E.T.H.O.D. Man, who also provided an amazing feature. Section.80 featured some singers, but only three rappers were on it (I’m not counting the RZA vocals on Ronald Reagan Era), GLC, Ab-Soul & ScHoolBoy Q, who all had great futures.  Take Care had a few more guest spots. The Weeknd and Rihanna provided singing, Lil’ Wayne provided verses on two songs. Birdman had a feature. Nicki Minaj featured on Make Me Proud, Rick Ross featured on Lord Knows (Just Blaze is fucxing crazy behind the boards) and Three Stacks (a.k.a. André 3000) also had an amazing verse on the album.

So, my tips to all of you rappers out there?

  • Create a cohesive project. Don’t try to go in every direction possible
  • Stick to a few good producers instead of trying to get a beat from the hottest producer at the moment.
  • Create concept albums and try to stick to them.
  • Make songs and albums that are timeless.
  • Be original.

Peace & Love with y’all!

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