How Snippets Are Changing Rap Music

For nearly a century, albums and singles reigned supreme. Now, we’re living in the era of the snippet.
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It’s happened to all of us at least once: We hear a snippet of a Drake, Young Nudy, or Playboi Carti song on social media, and in the months that follow, these 30-second clips torment us as we wait for the complete, finished product. We fall in love with the promise of the snippet. We build up an idea of what the completed song would sound like, only to be disappointed by the final product, or, worse yet, never hear the final product at all. In desperation, we take the snippets the Internet has gifted us, stitch them together, and in the DIY spirit of hip-hop, turn them into charting gold.

In 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” became a global sensation, thanks in large part to TikTok. The video-sharing social network application helped to elevate the record to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, proving snippets were a legitimate means to promote music. Artists, both mainstream and underground, took note of the growing trend and put their twist on the phenomenon. Tyler, The Creator created high-quality snippets to roll out his GRAMMY-nominated album, IGOR; Megan Thee Stallion created a “Snippet Hotline” for listeners to hear her single “Sex Talk”; and Denzel Curry released a 13-minute compilation of snippets on YouTube, which, in the first 48 hours, generated one million views.

With a definite market for snippets, mobile applications like the previously mentioned TikTok and Triller, which enable artists and fans to make short videos interacting with the latest hits, are playing a foundational role in creating hip-hop’s newest stars, including Lil Nas X, Blueface, and bbno$. Snippets have not only changed the way artists approach the creative process, but also how fans are consuming their content. 

Artists know they no longer have several minutes to keep us entertained. Over the past 10 years, the average length of a hit-song has decreased 30 seconds, from four minutes to three minutes and 30 seconds. As songs continue to become shorter, the snippet will continue to play a necessary role in capturing the listener’s interest and imagination.

In 2018, Lil Uzi Vert released a snippet of himself dancing to the chorus of “New Patek,” the first single off of his highly anticipated sophomore album, Eternal Atake. Almost immediately, fans went crazy over the 30-second snippet, eagerly contributing their moves to the “New Patek” dance challenge on TikTok. At the same time, The FADER included the viral snippet in their list of “Most Anticipated Lil Uzi Snippets,” and XXL dubbed him the “King of the Preview.”

Snippets and song fragments such as Playboi Carti’s “29 Opps” or Travis Scott’s “Lamborghini” were never designed to replace full songs. Now, they take on a life of their own, overshadowing the actual song itself. Today, listeners play an active role in the compilation of new music, eagerly assembling and organizing rare snippets—such as Carti’s “Cancun” and “Buffy the Body”—into conspicuous playlists on YouTube and SoundCloud, hidden away from the eyes of vigilant labels scouring the Internet for leaks. One anguished fan even paid 500 dollars for a 30-second clip of Kanye West’s still unreleased “Black Bruce Wayne.”

“Snippets, in some circumstances, ironically, can give [fans] unrealistic expectations as some cuts don’t even make the album,” says Nicolas-Tyrell, a music and culture journalist who has contributed to HypeBeast and HighSnobiety. “They also serve as grounds for critique, like in the case of Justin Bieber’s recent snippet with Murda Beatz and Quavo.”

Zachary Schwartz, a fellow contributor to DJBooth, echoes Nicolas’ sentiments: “In one of the greatest cultural ironies of modern times, you’d be hard-pressed to find a viral ‘snippet’ where the full version matched or exceeded expectations. Snippets are great at building hype, but we have yet to understand that the snippet, in most cases, is the hottest version of the song.”

Not everyone agrees the rise of snippets is a net negative. “In today’s hyper-stimulated world, snippets make sense as a marketing tool: mashed up, fleeting teasers that are meant to spark more interest,” says David Ma, a freelance music writer with bylines for Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, among other outlets. “I don’t think expectations are unrealistic because snippets put the onus on the listener to commit or go elsewhere.”

In 2018, Kodak Black and Travis Scott released a snippet on Instagram of the pair dancing to their upcoming single, "ZeZe.” Immediately, the dance and snippet began circulating on the Internet before turning into a meme now known as “Kodak Black’s Dance.” Several months later, when “ZeZe” was released officially, the song debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100. Many fans, including myself, were disappointed by Kodak’s verse on the final version on “ZeZe” and frustrated that he removed the humming section that appeared in the snippet. In between pre-release and launch, he destroyed the song. 

On the flip side, in May 2019, Playboi Carti previewed his verse on Young Nudy’s “Pissy Pamper” on Instagram Live, which a fan had recorded and uploaded onto YouTube. By the end of the week, the snippet was transformed into a full-length song and catapulted to No. 1 on Spotify’s Top 50 Viral Chart under the title “Kid Cudi.” A revolutionary moment for hip-hop: The most viral song in America wasn’t even a complete song; it was a fan-produced looped snippet. 

Labels and managers did their best to scrub the song from the Internet, but nothing is ever truly gone once it hits the world wide web. The verse was eventually officially released, but it didn’t matter. The leaked snippet already cemented Carti as one of hip-hop’s most popular rappers and proved to the industry that an artist could chart without even releasing a finished song.

For nearly a century, albums and singles reigned supreme. Now, we’re living in the era of the snippet. If an artist wants to reach their fans, quickly, the easiest way is by releasing a snippet on TikTok or Instagram. But what if instead of chasing a momentary deluge of adoration and validation, they held back their work to ensure the eventual delivery of the highest quality product? Would Compton native Roddy Ricch’s new single “The Box” have reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 if he leaked a snippet of the record last October?  

As Marilyn Manson once said, “Music is the strongest form of magic.” As a new decade begins, snippets, suddenly, have become musicians’ most confounding illusory trick.

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