TAKE #24: deluxe albums and “the co-opting of rap criticism”

I’m trying something new with the TAKEs this week and sharing my thoughts on multiple topics, instead of just one like I’ve normally done. I don’t know why I wasn’t doing this before, but here we are lol. If I like, I’ll probably keep doing it like this.

Thoughts on ‘The Co-Opting of Rap Criticism Is About More Than Just Music”

I was scrolling through Reddit the other day, and someone posted the link to a Vice article by Kristin Corry. Among other things, the centerpoint of the article is a conversation around how rap/hip hop journalism is a world that is increasingly being co-opted by non-Black (usually white) men. Instead of Black folks being able to write about Black music (and be compensated and acknowledged for that work), non-Black folks are able to infiltrate the world of Black music to the tune of global recognition. It’s really an amazing piece and something that I’ve thought a LOT about. I particularly think of this in the context of Anthony Fantano’s music reviews. I used to be a fan of his videos – not a big one, but I’d watch them often; every time an album came out, I’d wait for him to drop a video to hear his thoughts. And eventually I found myself wondering…”why am I waiting/searching for the thoughts of this white man on the music of my people?” and that led to a “coming to Jesus” moment lol. And from then (especially when I started writing about music myself), I’ve had a major issue with the way that he (and other Non-Black people) are seen as being this institution for Black music criticism.

Non-Black folks – young white men, in particular – LOVE hip hop, for reasons I’ve expressed in other places (check here and here). And when that love is paired with access to resources that Black folks don’t have access to, you get people like Fantano, or websites like Complex or Genius that aren’t run or founded by Black folks but make the majority of their content (and money) off of the work that Black folks do. Including the work of their Black writers and staff, who have been open in the past about how unfairly they’re treated compared to their white peers. But those stories don’t make a sound – or they bubble for a moment and then 2 days later, things are back to normal. When I saw the post on Reddit, I knew that there was gonna be very little interaction with it – the folks over there in the hip hop subs don’t like talking about race – and as of today, the post I saw has zero comments and 13 upvotes (compared to a review by Anthony Fantano (posted 11 hours ago, at the time of me writing this) that received 769 upvotes and 96 comments). That’s why this blog exists. I think it’s imperative for Black folks to make and have their own spaces to talk about Black cultural products. There CAN’T be a sole reliance on white-majority spaces to do right by us. There are lived experiences that Black folks have that are necessary for understanding the stories that Black folks tell in their music and art that non-Black folks will never understand. So I was very happy to see that article pop up; it was a bit of a reminder for me to keep going with the work that I do over here. You can read Kristen’s article here.

The Utility of a Deluxe Project

I don’t exactly remember why this thought popped up in my head a couple of days ago, but I spent a pretty significant amount of time thinking about it. If you’ve read anything on thursday email before, you know I’m NOT a fan of long projects. Give me 12-14 songs. 30-50 minutes MAX! That’s IT. The shorter the better. But there has been an increase in rappers dropping deluxe versions of their projects a month or so later after the initial release. People are adding like 7-12 extra songs that add upwards of 45 extra minutes to the initial release.

And I just don’t imagine that anyone but the stans are listening to these deluxe albums in full more than once??? Like I said with Ty Dolla $ign’s new project, once a project reaches 13 songs, I need it to wrap UP. And I guess that’s because I enjoy being able to listen to a project all the way through. I’ve listened to TABOO (2018), Is He Real? (2019), IGOR (2019), and Awaken My Love (2016) (and others) so many times all the way through, and those projects run an average of 41.5 minutes, with Is He Real? having the most tracks (at 14). Most of the time, If I’m gonna listen to a song from one of these albums, I just end up listening to the whole thing. So I guess I’m wondering what the point is of making projects longer and longer. I know that’s been a thing since basically the beginning of music lol, but I thought we’d moved away from that. Especially during a time, where people want things faster and faster. But we’ve obviously entered into an era of people making extra long projects (I actually noticed this intentionally for the first time when Migo’s dropped Culture II (2018) and that project was 9 songs longer than Culture (2017) and 47 minutes longer). There’s an obvious advantage of being able to capitalize off of a project twice. And if someone needs to be able to fulfill label contracts (e.g. they have to release 4 projects in 4 years), they could really just do two initial releases, add 9 songs to make a deluxe version of both, and they’d have their 4. I’m not sure if that’s a way to go about a situation like that, but if so, maybe that’s it?

It just is kind of unfortunate because I feel like there’s something special about being able to listen to an entire project, and it’s not just full of random songs, but it’s full of songs that were meticulously put together. It forces artists to be intentional about what songs they release. There’s definitely nothing wrong with a deluxe album, but what experience are fans getting with that? And maybe it’s because people aren’t always expecting that the whole deluxe project will be consumed all the time; maybe they’re just expecting fans to piecemeal? Maybe fans are just expecting to piecemeal? They’ll listen to the whole thing once, find 5 or 6 songs they really like, and just rock with those? I don’t know. That just isn’t the way I listen, I guess. I actively go into a project wanting to be able to save the whole thing to my Spotify library, and I hate when I only have a song or 2 that I like. I don’t know…I’m just struggling with…the POINT lol. Why not just make an EP? With the 9 songs that would be added to the initial release?? It would still be a second project???? WHY ARE PEOPLE DOING THIS??? (edit: literally right after I finished this up, I saw someone say that Deante’ Hitchcock’s deluxe version of BETTER (2020) does some cool stuff with rearranging the tracklist, etc. instead of just adding songs. So if there’s intentionality like that, deluxe albums could be really cool opportunities. But if people are just doing it for the sake of doing it, again I ask, WHAT’S THE POINT?)

here’s something else you might like…

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