Imagine this scenario: You’re at a party, it’s barely started, there’s music blaring from the speakers, and a small cask of iced drinks at the centre of the table. You and the six people sharing the table make one or two glances at each other, waiting for who will literally “break the ice” and pick out a drink, when a server arrives with a tray-full of hot, sizzling small-chops.
The usual; Samosa, puff-puff, little bits of chicken, buns, beef, tiny bits of plantain. You can’t complain. Life’s good.
You pick out two pieces of the steamy puff-puff with a toothpick and stuff them in your mouth. It is what you expected. Hot, soft, tasty. You revel in it for a bit. Then you move on to the samosa. Then the hot, spicy beef, then the buns…
Everything hits the right note on your taste buds and by the time you’re done with your plate, you’re making cute faces at the usher in charge of your table. She takes the cue and directs the next server to your table. It’s probably illegal–you think to yourself–but as a good Nigerian, you must reward impropriety. You make a mental note to tip her later.
You commandeer two plates this time and after a savoury five minutes, you’re back to making cute faces at the usher again. She blushes back and obliges you one more time. You make another mental note to ask for her number afterwards, too. Shooters shot. Ha!
You commandeer two plates again, and, immune to the disapproving looks across the table, you gobble them in succession, complete with a bottle of coke.
Small Chops (5) - (0) You.
But you don’t care. In fact, you want more, but the Amala you came for won’t eat itself, so you pipe down.
Rather subtly, after every plate, the “small chops”, so small in quantity and unassuming, leaves you with just enough satisfaction to hunger after one more plate.
Not enough to satisfy you, but just enough to make you crave more.
I think you can see where I’m going with this.
When Kanye announced that his album would comprise 7 songs, there were gloomy reactions to the release. Some people argued that those were EP numbers and that it would be too short. Some others were altogether dismissive about the body of work, as they had “cancelled” Kanye over his controversial comments earlier. Some even saw something more ominous in the works: that his recent comments and this new “idea” made him seem like a man on the cusps of insanity and that he needed help.
Even his label mate and president, Pusha T, was critical about the idea. When Kanye told him about using the same number for his own album, he was totally against it, retorting, “No, man, I got a whole full album right here. What are you talking about?”
Even I, a Kanye Stan, wondered how he was going to pull it off. I mean, a good album is supposed to tell a story, or expound on an idea, right? How do you add the necessary nuance and depth to make a story good enough when you’re basically giving us crumbs?
Besides, on an average, an artist puts out an album at most, once a year, and some, maybe once in two, three or even four years. Are seven tracks good enough for your fans to savour in one, maybe two years?
Kanye’s response was venomous. “What’s a full album? What do you think a full album is?” He spat back. “Tell me what a full album means. What is that? I think, in seven songs, you can get everything you want off, and we can have the most concise, strongest project ever.”*
I remember reading that and thinking, “oh my, he’s gone crazy, hasn’t he”?
I was wrong.
“Guyyyyy the album is mad!!!”, My friend exclaimed as I walked into his room the morning after DAYTONA dropped. His excitement wasn’t unexpected. We are both Kanye stans and we love Pusha T dearly too, so, naturally, we were going to like the album.
“I’ve listened to it over 10 times”, he continued. Okay, I won’t lie, that sounded a tad obsessive and exaggerated, to say the least. I mean, it hadn’t even been four hours yet and dude claims to be on over ten listens. I listened from his phone and, of course, the album was good. Really good. But it wasn’t until later in the day when I got the album on my phone that I fully understood what he meant.
This is what the album does to you: You start listening, enjoying the tracks and taking them all in, then poof! It’s done. Nineteen minutes and fifty-eight seconds. You feel cheated. Like, I know it was just seven tracks, but, that’s it? Really?
My friend wasn’t lying. It takes less than two hours of continuous playing/ streaming to attain ten listens.
Slightly distraught, you go for another listen, and another, and another, then you start rapping your favourite parts along.
“Dance contest for the smokers
I predict snow, Al Roker
I only ever looked up to Sosa
You all get a bird, this n***a Oprah”
-Pusha T, (If you know, you know)
Then you start to notice the subtle masterful production; the parts where the beat perfectly accentuates the rapper’s tone and puts emphasis on some lines or verses, the parts where the production sounds hollow and forgettable enough to make you pay more attention to the lyrics. All that, and more.
These are things that you notice after about a month–or more–of listening to an album. But here you are, digging through all the goodies, like an excited kid on Christmas morning, on the first day.
Let me put this in perspective. One of my favourite rap albums of the decade is J Cole’s “Born sinner”. I listen to the album about twice or three times a month–even till today–but I don’t think I have ever listened to it twice at a stretch, ever. The playtime is fifty-six minutes and forty-seven seconds, with an average track time of three minutes and fifty-two seconds. It is a whole meal, you listen once, and you’re stuffed.
The brevity in DAYTONA, or Ye, or Kids See Ghosts, or Nasir, however, makes for easier listening. By the time it takes to listen to an average album once, you’ve gone through a seven-track album about three times, and you’re probably still not content. It is small-chops; not enough to satisfy you in one take, but just enough to make you crave more. You’re never really stuffed, though!
The dig here, however, it that all–or a majority of–the tracks must be really good for you to pull this coup off successfully. Undoubtedly, DAYTONA was a 7/7, but look at Ye, I thought the first track was terrible upon my first few listens. By the time I got caught up in the web of replaying the songs over, I started accommodating it. Now, imagine if I felt the same way about three or four of the seven tracks, the album automatically becomes unlistenable to me. And this is where the danger lies. It takes a lot of self-confidence, and maybe a hint of mania, to pursue the seven-track archetype. But then, it’s the crazy ones that break new grounds.
This is where I think many artistes are now. There’s probably this raging fear of sales dipping, so instead of putting out seven-track albums with five to six very dope songs, they are generally more likely to pursue “the scatter-bullet” approach and drop sixteen track albums, and hope that they can manage three or four hit songs, while the others are average. It is the safer approach, but, ultimately, is it more profitable?
Taking sales, and streaming numbers–which have recently been included as a part of album sales–into consideration, it would take over two listens on DAYTONA, or Ye, to equal one on Born Sinner and any other sixteen-track type album. This is probably why we’ve had an influx of bloated albums with over twenty, or even forty tracks (Rae Sremmurd’s triple album or LP, comprising 27 songs; Drake’s Views and More Life, 20 and 22 tracks respectively; Migos’ Culture II, 24 tracks, and more). It’s all a numbers game. And it is working.
So, why change a perfectly working system?
Look, however much of a stan I am, there’s no chance of me being delusional enough to say that Kanye had all this figured out. In fact, when asked about it, he simply said that he had a “spiritual connection” with the number is why he chose it. But it does seem like he’s up to something.
Ye sold a total of 208,316 units in the first week, with almost 60% of that figure accounted for by streaming. From my calculations, the only major hip-hop albums that have been released this year that have had this 60/40 and more streaming over pure sales value are Post Malone’s “Beerbongs & Bentleys” and Cardi B’s “Invasion Of Privacy”. J Cole's “KOD” didn't do that well on streaming numbers considering the fact that it sold way more than “Ye”.
However, the problem with using streams as benchmarks for album sales is that a particular banging single can skew the numbers, as in the case of “Hotline Bling” making Drake’s “Views” album go multi-platinum. So, if you put out a sixteen-track album and you have a monster hit that racks up, say, one hundred and fifty million streams, the RIAA ascribes it to your album sales using their 1,500 streams = 1 album sale benchmark. This means that, thanks to that single, your album has sold 100,000 (150,000,000/ 1,500) more copies - even if nobody listened to the other tracks.
This happens way more than usual, but, Ye had no pre-release headlining singles. I'm not even sure there are any elaborate plans to push one song above the others. Let's compare this to KOD,which had no headlining singles too, and sold more, but still accounts for less streams (in % of the total sales). It's highly likely that people, just like me, are listening to the songs on Ye over and over, because it is easier to listen to. Small Chops.
Some tracks are raking up more streams, which is normal, but it is in no way on the scale of Hotline Bling in Views. The numbers are quite evenly dispersed.
Moment of truth. Maybe I exaggerated a bit. Maybe this seven-track archetype shouldn't be called genius, yet. Afterall, it hasn't even been two or three months, but seeing as it can be economically viable, and has great entertainment value I would really love to see smaller, more concise projects from artistes. More 6/7’s than 5/13’s, and please, definitely more 6/7’s than 2/23’s. Please.
Caveat: This whole article is largely conjecture, drawn up from my experiences and probably heavily subject to bias--in writing and research--for obvious reasons. Still, I think these are ideas worth exploring, which is why I have penned them down at all.
By Smish for Urban Central follow him on Twitter @Smish001
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