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I don't know if this article is important, but it's kinda interesting.


Are Rap Albums Really Getting Longer?

How the lengths of popular hip-hop records have shifted across the last 30 years.

Graphics by Patrick Jenkins

Lists & Guides

July 27 2018

So far, 2018 has been dominated by a seemingly endless run of huge rap records with intimidatingly long tracklists and runtimes: Eminem, Migos, Post Malone, G-Eazy, and Drake have all held the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart this year with LPs that include at least 18 tracks and run for more than an hour. The apparent trend has been met with critics decrying the deluge as a crass way to game streaming numbers. Then Kanye West, ever the contrarian, went against the grain by releasing a run of conspicuously brief G.O.O.D. Music albums that all clocked in at under 30 minutes. It all made us wonder: Are rap albums really getting longer? To investigate, we compared the runtimes and number of tracks of the Top 20 rap albums on Billboard’s year-end charts from the past 30 years.


Our data begins in 1988, the first year Billboard’s year-end Top R&B Albums chart featured at least 20 rap albums. At this point, hip-hop was evolving from a singles-oriented genre into an album-oriented one, with full-lengths like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (58 minutes; 16 tracks), EPMD’s Strictly Business (44 minutes; 10 tracks), and rap’s first double album, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s He’s the D.J., I’m the Rapper (72 minutes; 17 tracks) among the year’s most popular rap records. But overall, the biggest hip-hop albums of 1988 were decidedly succinct compared to what would come later, with the average runtime at about 49 minutes, and the average number of tracks at around 12. And, as always, format played a role: Most people in the late ’80s were buying cassettes, and ingrained limitations including the modest capacity of physical media helped keep runtimes in check.

The shortest popular rap album of the late ’80s was Brooklyn MC Dana Dane’s Dana Dane With Fame, which managed to pack all of its goofiness and dark humor into 37 minutes of breezy rhymes and beats. On the other hand, the longest was As Nasty as They Wanna Be by 2 Live Crew—18 tracks and 79 minutes worth of horny, bass-heavy party music, with each of the four members getting their own tape side. While As Nasty as They Wanna Be’s commercial success was partially due to the censorship controversy that surrounded it—the album was ruled obscene by a federal judge, making it illegal in parts of Florida for almost two years—it also helped pave the way for more lengthy, bawdy rap albums.


As the ’90s progressed, both the average number of tracks and average album runtimes for the biggest rap records increased sharply. This trend peaked in 1998, when hip-hop albums ballooned to an all-time high of about 75 minutes and 20 tracks long. The popularity of star-stuffed movie soundtracks like 1994’s Above the Rim (77 minutes; 18 tracks) and 1998’s Master P comedy I Got The Hook-Up (78 minutes; 21 tracks), along with cinematic double albums from 2Pac, the Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan contributed to the decade’s bulge.

The ’90s also marked the golden era of the CD, which allowed artists to create longer albums without worrying about having to flip over a cassette or vinyl record. CD players also allowed people to flick between songs with ease, making gargantuan tracklists feel more manageable and encouraging artists to take more of a something-for-everyone approach. The longest album this decade was Scarface’s 1998 feature- and filler-packed opus My Homies, lasting 136 minutes.


After rapid growth in the ’90s, rap album lengths stayed high throughout the first 10 years of the 21st century. In fact, hip-hop records were never longer than they were that decade, when the average popular album ran for about 17 tracks and 67 minutes. It felt like every rapper was trying to make their feature-length statement around this time, even as the popularity of MP3s rose, and the music industry went through a tech-addled tailspin. Album lengths were evolving faster than the physical media that supported them, resulting in many albums being released on double CDs. There was OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (135 minutes; 39 tracks), UGK’s Underground Kingz (129 minutes; 29 tracks), and JAY-Z’s The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse (112 minutes; 25 tracks), to name a few. Even Nas, whose 10-track, 40-minute 1994 debut Illmatic is often held up as a model of concision, got in on the extravagance, releasing his longest-ever album, the 87-minute Street’s Disciple, in 2004.

But as rap vets were stretching out their creativity during this time, some younger stars were compressing hip-hop in new ways. The shortest popular rap album of the 2000s was 13-year-old Lil Bow Wow’s Beware of Dog, which lasted only 11 tracks and 34 minutes. Meanwhile, newcomers like Lil Jon and Soulja Boy achieved some of the first viral internet hits with quick, catchy hooks and even quicker ringtones, which became a billion dollar business dominated by rap music in 2007. This shifted the focus of the genre away from albums, and back towards the success of singles.


Average album track lengths and runtimes dipped slightly in the early 2010s before steadily increasing over the last few years, as hip-hop/R&B became the most popular genre in America. Meanwhile, with the rise of streaming this decade, the average number of tracks has grown, from about 15 in 2010 to 17.5 last year. This could be because streaming services incentivize artists and labels to pad track listings in hopes of capitalizing on these platforms’ click-based monetization systems. The expansion of hip-hop’s cultural footprint has also played a part: The longest popular rap album this decade was the 2015 cast recording for the wildly successful Broadway musical Hamilton (142 minutes; 46 tracks).

That said, the 15 albums that have reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart in 2018 have had less tracks and significantly shorter runtimes on average compared to records from the previous three years. So for every extravaganza like Migos’ Culture II (105 minutes; 24 tracks) or Drake’s Scorpion (90 minutes; 25 tracks), there are more modest statements including J. Cole’s KOD (42 minutes; 12 tracks), Jay and Bey’s Everything Is Love (38 minutes, nine tracks), and Kanye’s Ye (23 minutes, seven tracks). This current disparity likely stems from artists and labels’ uncertainty about how to best utilize the freedoms associated with streaming, where the technologically imposed time limits of CDs and cassettes no longer apply. And if the wide range of this year’s runtimes tells us anything, it’s that rappers are still figuring out how to best navigate this latest technological turn.

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Interesting read

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