WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A CLASSIC RAP ALBUM?
“It’s almost an emotion I search for… I don’t want you to get it right away. If you get it right away there’s no risk being taken… if you’re able to wrap your head around it, and be like, ‘ok cool I get it, it is was it is, a good song,’ that’s not what great music is. Great music takes a little work on your part. It takes you almost elevating your listening level, and becoming a bit more of a sophisticated listener because of a song or because of an album.” - Drake, speaking on his new album Views
As expected, Drake’s Views sold over a million “equivalent album units” the first week it was available.
A million copies.
My iTunes tells me I’ve now played the whole goddamn thing nearly 20 times through (not counting the number of times I’ve made the puppy of the moment play it as we make love at his place). I said in my review that it was an album that needs time to sink in, time to percolate. And now that I’ve had some time to practically memorize it in its entirety, it makes me wonder…
What makes a classic rap album?
Is it units sold? Mass appeal? A Rolling Stone or Pitchfork certified 5 stars out of 5?
I would ask, can it stand the test of time?
Do you even know a classic the first time you hear it?
Do you even care, so long as it satisfies a momentary itch and makes you smile?
To begin, I would always, always argue quality over quantity.
Our brains latch onto dichotomies, so let us look at what past classic albums have done.
Nobody was this hyped for Tha Carter III (the most recent classic rap album of our time?), because nobody had time to be! After Tha Carter III dropped, sold a million, and Wayne teased about Tha Carter V, we still didn’t even get this hyped. And the Tha Carter IV ended up being pretty terrible.
But Views… being announced in July 2014 (2014!), the speculation, hype, all the mystery surrounding it… I wonder what it must have been like to listen to All Eyez On Me or The Black Album. Illmatic. Ready To Die. Whatever you consider a classic album.
That shit just snuck up on everyone, sinking into the culture as we played it over and over in the whip, at the house party, made love to it.
Every new release was defining the rap game itself, which was being defined from the ground up.
Today we’re witnessing the music industry scrambling to redefine what it means to make a classic. What it takes to create something that will shift enough copies to gain relevancy (how do you even define “copies” these days?). Something that has enough playability to deter someone from pirating it without a second thought (or at least less people than usual). And then we chronicle the whole thing in words and pictures and memes and tweets.
Jay-Z huffed and puffed out a few more less-than-mediocre albums in recent years. Weezy, as we’ve recently discovered, is contractually obligated to force albums into fruition. And Kanye is engaging in social suicide to gain a sort of relevancy no rapper, let alone decent human being, should ever want to attain (and only time will tell what becomes of the music he’s been putting out).
We caught a glimpse of what the culture shift could be with What a Time to Be Alive.
An album which, in my humble opinion, was flawlessly executed in terms of it being created in 9 days, a 24 hour notice before launch, playing it twice through on Beats 1 with next to no commentary for how or why it was happening. But it also moved 1/19th the number of copies the second week (and rightfully so).
Lemonade and The Beyoncé Experience are probably the best examples of just what is possible in the industry; adding a visual element, an imminent tour, and keeping it so layered in secrecy that there’s no room for speculation and/or massive let-down when it doesn’t live up to the hype (have you listened to Lemonade? That album is seriously lacking without, or rather, seriously improved by having its accompanying visuals). Pitchfork aptly describes Beyoncé as demonstrating, “MJ-level talent [meets] pop-perfectionism in a moment that defined album-cycle disruption.”
But the question remains - Will Views go down in the history books as a classic?
When we think about classic rappers, classic rap albums, what is Drake? Where does he fall in the rat race for first place?
Drake is very much a product of the “now,” the forefront of what it means to be hip, to be cool. He’s the king of memes (both creating them and being at the butt of the joke), club banger after club banger, fashion killer, sports fan, playboy, the list goes on.
He's so far managed to hit all the right spots in the pop culture realm, without coming across as Kardashian-level thirsty [edit: he's tiptoeing along the edge at the moment]. But is that enough to gain a level of status that transcends the now?
Does society make the artist? The album?
We’re a product of our reality as much as we’re both the creators and the consumers of pop culture.
And Drake is a product of the reality the collective has created. It makes me wonder if the negative reviews put up by RS, et al. reflects more of a disappointment in ourselves than anything. No album can fill the void, let alone one from a rap artist who’s not actually a contender for best rapper alive.
Thinking about moments in time, Drake said, “Great music takes time to understand.”
Drake has not regressed in terms of his projects or talent over the past five years.
Nobody has come close to what he's achieved.
He has not regressed in numbers, magazine covers, Raptor’s wins, video-vixens banged. I can only imagine that this album will not regress in popularity and if his next album flops, will go on to become a classic, and IYRTITL or NWTS don’t.
But let me ask you, kittens - what do you think makes a great album? Then, what makes it a classic? Sound off below (or just write us a bunch of Drake love… whatever you feel, we don’t judge).