Why Less is More in Today’s Musical Landscape
Let me start by apologizing for stepping on your release date in the first place … We were building a bond and working on music together including squashing the issues with Cudi at our office.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) September 5, 2018
Among many other things, the advent of the internet and digitally streamed music has pushed the music world towards a shorter attention span. Today’s musical culture favors shorter songs over long ones, new tracks over old, and more recently, hits over albums. The idea of the Album has grown increasingly foreign for new listeners over the years, as EP’s are now quickly skimmed and extracted for hits rather than absorbed in full like the vinyl era demanded …
This past June, however, gifted us with two drastically different albums that are monumental in their own right: Drake’s record shattering Scorpion, and Kanye’s bipolar episode of Ye. Both seem to put the industry on pause and bring a popular appeal back to this concept of the Album, but differ primarily in one important aspect: length. Drake’s Scorpion clocks in at ninety minutes and twenty-five tracks, ultimately resulting in a wide range of work with little sense of cohesion. Ye on the other hand is a fleeting yet dense twenty-three minutes, providing a snapshot of bipolarity that paints a moment in time rather than elaborating an epic tale. Despite the record breaking success of both projects, a first listen to the music and glimpse into their respective effects shows that the inch-wide mile-deep approach of Kanye’s seven track work is much more impactful than the mile-wide inch-deep effort from Drake.
Both Drake and Kanye have succeeded in developing what feel like other worlds in their past works. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was an hour long epic and a deep journey into all corners of the creator’s psyche, and Take Care invoked new moods and complexities of emotions that had never been felt before. This time around, however, both artists seemed to take a different approach. Drake seemed to attempt to say as much as possible which, consequently, often results in actually saying very little, while Kanye chose to speak volumes in a series of moments, making every short minute worth while. Nonetheless, both albums move away from a cohesive and definitive body of work and take new approaches at opposite ends of the spectrum of length.
Scorpion is, as most of the audience at this point agrees, realistically about forty minutes too long. Despite highlights such as the Mariah Carey chop-up of Emotionless, the deeply infectious In My Feelings, and the fact that Aubrey somehow got permission to use Michael Jackson vocals, Scorpion still comes off as, for lack of a better word, boring. While many devoted fans seem to be excited simply by the fact that there is so much new Drake material to experience, the wary listener will disregard certain songs and likely never listen to them again. For a twenty-five song album from arguably the biggest pop-star of our modern era, the prevalence of throwaway songs here make this album ironically underwhelming. There is no real theme, thesis statement, or epic realization from Drake or his audience here, and in trying to cover all bases and say as much as possible, he actually says very little. The shotgun approach that Aubrey Graham has used this year indirectly demonstrates the value of the digital attention span, and ultimately speaks volumes to the power one can have in merely seven songs.
Ye is by no means anywhere close to Kanye’s best album. It can often sound rushed, it has some bold statements, and in the end it is flawed, arguably even sloppy at times. However, it is these exact blemishes that ultimately add to the albums appeal of an honest, open, and dynamic look into the artist’s life. Ye now and even years down the line will function as a snapshot of a brief period of time in Kanye’s career. Ye does not mark an era or artistic phase like 808’s and Heartbreak or Yeezus do, but rather a time capsule holding remnants of Kanye’s manic bipolar activity of early 2018. And although this album does not span very long, it goes eerily and profoundly deep. Tracks like I Thought About Killing You and Violent Crimes seem to go deeper into Kanye’s mind than any moments on Scorpion do for Drake, and despite less to say on Ye, you can tell that every word from Kanye’s mouth matters. In just 23 short minutes, Kanye West lays everything out on the table for the whole world to see, from bipolar episodes, drug abuse, marital issues, fears of fatherhood, and suicidal tendencies, all while flowing together well with no trace of doubt or dishonesty. This is a work that, in a mere fraction of the time that Drake uses, lasts much longer in the hearts of its’ audience.
This is not to discredit big projects under smaller ones or to favor depth and density over range and brevity, but rather to illustrate what seems to work in our current musical context. In 2018, the power is in the fleeting image, the brief moments, and the sketches of a larger picture. There was a time for the epic, the monumental, and the larger than life that is Drake, and surely his streaming numbers suggest that parts of that time still linger. However, in an industry where new material is just a click away and where new becomes old in a matter of seconds, the power over the masses lies in the minimal.
… and then there is Ninja of Die Antword has his own very hot take on this duo:
Kanye West photo credit to Pieter-Jannick Dijkstra.