It’s one of the consistent conversations in hip-hop and popular music at large: the single vs. the album.
As album sales continue to dip and streaming and videos spur the marketability of singles, the debate is as active as ever. On Tuesday, Vince Staples and No I.D. weighed in, stressing that building relationships is more important than a hot solo track.
"There’s no such thing as a hit," Staples said in an interview with Hypetrak. "If that was the case, we’d only be hearing the same songs. It’s something that connects with people, and I can’t really pick what connects with people. I just make songs that I have to make. I should feel like every song should potentially be huge. No one really ever knows what’s going to be big, they just choose songs that are reminiscent of something they once felt. It has to happen to the right person at the right time and situation for it to become a hit, so I don’t really try to focus on singles. I just aim to make the best body of work—no one is talking about the best single from 10 years ago."
While it is certainly debatable whether or not we’re hearing the same songs with regularity (cough, radio, cough), Staples has a point that all music is cyclical and reminiscent of foregone feelings. However, the choice between making singles and making albums is also a choice about what kind of artist one wants to be.
Staples offered up one of the year’s best top-to-bottom projects with his Summertime ‘06 collection. Devoid of any true singles, the work operates as a single by telling his story of growing up in Long Beach. For Vince Staples, that works just fine. J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive is another good example and that effort earned Cole his first Platinum plaque after a couple albums that were decidedly more single friendly. However, in the modern music landscape immediacy will always be valued, hence the penchant for artists “Draking it,” i.e. rolling out radio-ready singles without any real solid plans for an album. You can also "Future it" by dropping lots of mixtapes with only a few memorable tracks on each.
Everyone will drop a single now and again, but the true mastery of musicianship in 2015 is the ability to find that healthy balance that will both keep your name in the conversation and allow time to build toward a seminal release.
Yes, we are in a "new era" both musically and technologically, but there has always been the back and forth between those who value a song by its lonely and those made to be heard within a larger body of work. For every To Pimp A Butterfly, there is a “Hotline Bling.” For every Tupac album, there's a Puff Daddy single. For every Vince Staples, there's an army of young artists just trying to make that one big song that will "blow" them up. Looking at it objectively, though, it's hard not to be in favor of artists taking more time with their craft.