Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Death Of the Album!!! well, lah dee dah

It's been a while since I've done a "mini-post," huh? Well - apologies to all you bloggers with writers block, struggling to come up with content and all - but I just have too much to blog about. Post ideas come and at least half get away. But I just read another blog post[sorry, lost the link - it wasn't that good anyway], reminding me of a post I meant to write the last time I read a blog on the subject. It was talking about how the mp3 age, along with all the other crappy things it's doing, is going kill the album.

No, I'm not talking about vinyl[for once!], but how, with the way the music industry is headed, we'll soon see most musicians giving up on releasing ten to twenty songs all in one go and calling it an album. And instead every artist will record, market and release an individual song at a time. It's been debated back and forth, but let's assume for the sake of assuming things that they're right.

Now, I know most of the heads active on the internet are in their early- to mid-twenties and think hip-hop started with A Tribe Called Quest. But really, hip-hop started with the single. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Busy Bee, Treacherous Three, Spyder-D, etc etc all released just one single after another. Each song had to be hit-worthy to make any noise. Only years later did most of the artists start compiling these singles into little albums; an it really wasn't until the major labels got involved in the 80's that hip-hop joined the other musical genres in recording bunches of songs at a time, filled with half-assed... album filler.

Being the first rapper signed to a major label (Mercury), Kurtis Blow pretty much got a head start on everybody else. And look at his debut album: "Throughout Your Years," "All I Want Is This Girl," "Taking Care of Business?" The only songs worth a damn are the ones that were released as singles. How about the Sugarhill Gang? Can you tell me you'd really miss them if "Bad News" and "Passion Play" were never packaged and released with "Rapper's Delight?" And the trend hasn't changed from then to now, except today we also throw in a crap-ton of skits and bad rap intros (ask Max if he'd be sorry to see the back of those) into the mix.

Ok, sure; I can name the same classic albums you can, with nothing but really good songs from back to front (or, at least, only one or two weaker links in the bunch). Do you think that accounts for even 1% of hip-hop albums, though? And even those artists who did record those 1% have all since gone on to record albums filled with junk later in their careers, pressured by industry expectations to just keep putting out pounds and pounds of material, most of which we'll never listen to more than once.
Do we want quantity or quality? Promising underground artists (like, oh say... Living Legends, Ras Kass, Atmosphere, Hieroglyphics, everybody on Def Jux, etc) have all spread themselves way too thin, releasing tons of material. All those guys have proven they're capable of releasing great songs... but instead we get album after album full of songs where it's like, "ok, this song has a nice beat but the writing is clearly half-assed... this one has a few good lines, but a lot of corny verses in between... this one has good lyrics, but the beat sucks." Kool Keith bragged in an interview about writing an entire album in 24 hours (I think it was either Matthew or Sex Style)... And people ask why he hasn't managed another Critical Beatdown.

So, should we really be sad to usher in an era where there's no longer a safe market for bad songs? Where artists won't release a song unless it can stand on its own? Where the rhymes are worth saying and the beats actually catch your attention? Where we can sit down and listen to music without or fingers on the Fast Forward button?

once rapped on "We In There," "my people died so I could rhyme! Do you think I'm gonna get on the mic and waste my nation's time?" To me, returning to an era where an MC will only pick up a mic when he has something to say is no tragedy. And let that >1% of artists who really feel artistically compelled to complete a full album at a time do it... just when they feel up to it.
I still say support vinyl... but only when it's worth supporting.

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