In the music industry, where singles have dominated commercially since the business was invented, the Hip-Hop genre has done a better job at putting out albums that are artistically and commercially successful than any other genre. Hip-Hop’s biggest names have built up their brands based off of album releases. This has happened time and time again throughout the past twenty-five years, and it has not changed. Nowhere else in music is the album format working as well as it is in Hip-Hop right now.
The ‘Classic Albums’ of Hip-Hop
It was early Hip-Hop that established the idea of putting out a ‘classic album’ and that established the template from which so many others have followed. Going back to the 1980s, Run DMC’s Run-DMC (1984), LL Cool J’s Radio (1985), and NWA’s Straight Outta Compton (1988) all suit this definition. In the 1990s, there are even more examples with A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory (1991), Dr. Dre’s The Chronic (1992), Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (1993), Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (1993), Nas’ Illmatic (1994), The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die (1995), and Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt (1996) among others. There is a long history and a tradition in Hip-Hop of the ‘classic album’ format that have turned these names into mainstream stars.
Going from Underground to Mainstream
Any artist that has broken out to mainstream commercial success in Hip-Hop has done so on a wave started from an album. Most recently, Kendrick Lamar built up a wave of momentum first from Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012) and then finally solidifying his reputation in mainstream culture with To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). There is no one in the world of Hip-Hop that doesn’t know the name of Kendrick Lamar, and that comes from the work put into these albums and the promotions surrounding them.
Hyping the Release Date
Much of Hip-Hop is about building up a brand, getting people excited for that brand, and promotions. In recent years, some of the genre’s major artists have dropped singles in anticipation of the album release and in using this promotional strategy, these artists have been able to gain commercial success from not only the individual single releases but then again in the album release. Take Nicki Minaj’s The Pinkprint (2014) which saw a string of singles for eight months before the album release – Pills n’ Potion in May, Anaconda in August, Only in October, and Bed of Lies in November.
Your Album is Your Product – Sell It
Every brand needs something to promote, every business needs a product to sell. In Hip-Hop, the album is your product. It’s why Drake’s Views (2016) gets him a seat on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to promote it. It’s why Kanye West’s Yeezus (2013) allowed him to set up a number of promotional appearances across the world. The album has always been the product.
Every Artist Needs his Album
The product is not a YouTube video, is not a feature on someone else’s song, is not a production credit, and is not dropping a single. Dropping a single is a drop in the ocean. The album is what every Hip-Hop artist needs to focus on. The template has been set. This is how those artists that have already put out their features, maybe a mixtape, and that has gotten a little bit of press – the album is what carries them to a new stratosphere.