EP vs Mixtape vs LP vs Album: The difference

Image by Lebo Kunene a.k.a SpeakOfTheDevil

I finally get to write about something very close to my heart. Something I love… Hip Hop.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy any of my previous articles of course (I just have that extra zeal for this one) — I’m a bit of an old school writer — I only write when the inspiration comes to me.

Man, was I inspired when I wrote this! Mostly because the Hip Hop fraternity in South Africa uses some Hip Hop terms loosely and even, inter-changeably! I took it upon myself to correct the misunderstandings regarding albums, mixtapes, LPs and EPs.

The best way to start thinking about these formats — or rather the way I got to understand these formats — is that they are all bodies of work and that they are all playlists.

The term EP for example, stands for Extended Playlist or just Extended Play — a project (or body of work) too short to be an album but more than one song and therefore too long to be a single *chuckles*. It can also be used as a prequel to an album (Rick Ross’ The Albert Anastasia EP). These can also be sold — at a lesser price than an album — and have proven to be successful marketing and sales tools for some artists and brands. A billboard article describes these as Short Albums and “a rare Music Business success story”. This, a pivotal assessment of the format, as more and more artists look to move away from major labels and recording institutions to what we call Independent stables. EPs are also usually under half an hour or so, but there are some that are longer (Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo comes to mind).

The only terms that can be used interchangeably are Album and LP as they are one and the same. LP stands for Long Play which is, in essence, a full length album.The Wikipedia definition reads as “[An] Album, is a collection of audio recordings issued as a single item on CD, record, audio tape, or another medium. Albums of recorded music were developed in the early 20th century, first as books of individual records, then from 1948 as vinyl LP records…”

Albums are the most important format because artists are severely judged on how well they put these projects together. In Hip Hop, the album is sold as an experience, and everything pertaining this project is taken into account: from the lyrical content to the production, to the features, to the album covers and sleeves. The best albums tell a story about the artist’s headspace and what they want to share with the world. Through these albums one can examine how an artist has grown: by looking at their priorities, the influences in their lives (artistic or otherwise) and the manner in which they serve the project to you. LPs are also measured in terms of sales. The best albums occupy top spots in charts for weeks and get certified Gold or Platinum, with some even reaching double or triple Platinum over time as a result of their physical copy sales, digital downloads and streams.

A Mixtape on the other hand can be an Album or EP (in terms of length), but it is not sold (unless on hard copy — to cover the costs of putting the music on disc). It can never be sold. It is given away to promote the artist(s) and generate a fan base. It is also commonly used by unsigned artists looking for their shot at the big time. It is (almost always) a bad idea to release and sell the album of an unknown artist. The effort simply doesn’t justify the outcome. Up until recently, mixtapes couldn’t be considered for The Grammys. Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book is the first Grammy-award-winning mixtape. Much closer to home, Nasty C’s Price City mixtape proved to be a huge mainstream success. Leading to the rapper’s “overnight” fame and recognition, this body of work served as the launching pad for an award winning career, a record deal and an endorsement deal.

Say what you will but these little differences in these naming conventions make it a topic of great interest to our Hip Hop community, much more when Drake refuses to call More Life an album :-) (but that’s a topic for a different day). I hope my little written piece offers some closure.

In Hip Hop we trust.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.