For years, we have maintained that, in the era of on-demand streaming, there is no longer a difference between a mixtape and an album—if a project is made up of all original music and made available for digital purchase, it's an album, period—but after watching Ferg break down why he decided to label his latest release a mixtape instead of an album during his recent appearance on The Breakfast Club, it's hard to disagree with his philosophy.
Initially, when Ferg is asked by show co-host Charlamagne tha God to explain the difference between an album and a tape, he admits, "Back in the days, when we was listening to cool mixtapes and all of that, it was over instrumentals and people's beats and stuff. Basically, your own remix. But this is all original music. And we're selling it, so I don't know the difference between a mixtape and an album."
Almost immediately, however, the A$AP Mob member pivots, coming to the realization that he does, in fact, know the difference, delivering an answer that actually makes perfect sense:
"I feel like, [a mixtape] is more artistic freedom," Ferg explains. "An album is so serious. With Always Strive and Prosper, my last album, it was so serious about my trials and tribulations, how I became A$AP Ferg, jobs I had before, all of that shit, but this mixtape was basically like an open door policy where I had, like, all my friends come and we just made music and had fun. It was, like, not so serious. We just wanted an excuse to party on the song."
From the label perspective, it's marketing semantics; from the fan perspective, new music is simply new music; from a critical perspective, if it's not a proper album, it can't be directly compared to previous full-length releases; but from the artist perspective—the perspective from which Ferg provides his explanation—the "mixtape" designation means, as Ferg clearly states, artistic freedom. It means less pressure from critics. It means being able to provide a home for songs that would be unfairly judged if housed under the album umbrella. It means being able to screw around in the studio and having a safeguard in place against critical judgment.
Of course, every artist is different, but a decision on one particular designation over another doesn't necessarily come after a finished project is constructed. More often than not, artists simply record a wealth of material—hundreds, even thousands of songs over a period of months or years—and then intentionally slot individual records onto either their album or mixtape, depending on the sonic and thematic direction of a project, the producers involved, etc.
Since I am not an artist, I will continue to call every all-original full-length body of work that is released for stream and purchase an album, but if Ferg and friends want to label their own works as mixtapes, despite the fact that the term is outdated and literally doesn't make sense, that's fine too.