In the fight for space in the increasingly overwhelmed attention span of the average music listener, consistency is paramount. If an artist or group can continue to pump out music that connects with the general public, they’re all but ensured success—especially in the digital era where the distribution playing field has been mostly leveled through streaming.
Eric B. & Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, OutKast—a large number of iconic rap groups have had lengthy catalogs that kept their legacy at the forefront of the culture, but is there a magic number of albums that a group must hit before being solidified as a tried-and-true rap group?
You gotta be four albums deep to even be considered a proper fucking group. I want RTJ 1, 2, 3 and 4 to be like Led Zeppelin 1, 2, 3 and 4. The next one will be our masterpiece. Shit, why can’t we hit 7?
I understand the point Mike is trying to make here, and there’s no arguing that the majority of rap groups historically have had discographies spanning at least four projects, but if I might play devil’s advocate for a moment, there are plenty of iconic rap groups that never hit Mike's necessary criteria to be considered a “proper fucking group.”
Take the Fugees, for example, who are one of the most revered groups in the culture’s history and only released two albums (with one largely forgotten) before their unfortunate disbanding. Was the group that released The Score—undebatably one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time—any less of a group due to their short-lived output?
How about N.W.A, one of the most iconic rap groups ever? They also only released two albums, yet the pioneering foursome is still being studied and talked about to this very day for their contributions as a group. Surely, the collective that introduced the world to Ice Cube, one of Killer Mike’s driving influences, was a “proper” group, no?
You might be thinking, “OK, you scoured Google and found two legendary groups with limited output, so what?” How about Clipse (three albums), Dead Prez (three albums, begrudgingly counting Information Age), Organized Konfusion (three albums) or The Lox (also three albums)? These are all indisputably “proper” groups who failed to crank out four albums in their lifespan. Granted, The Lox and Dead Prez are still capable of putting out a fourth before calling it quits, but you get my point.
As important as consistency is in maintaining relevance, potency is an equally viable attribute in cementing the legacies of groups. Black Star, for instance, only released one proper album and if you listen closely on a quiet night, you can still hear hordes of backpackers fighting the urge to let loose their long-held breath for a legitimate follow-up.
Was Killer Mike trying to cement a standard for groups to be considered legitimate in his comments? I doubt it. His remark did, however, lead me to some research that revealed a surprising number of rap groups that are generally considered iconic with minimal output, which speaks volumes about those particular groups’ abilities to craft poignant, engaging music.
Just like there is no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, there is no magical number of albums that makes a group a real group and there is no cutoff for how many albums a group should put out.
That said, we're all looking forward to RTJ4.