Hip-hop group Migos has America’s No. 1 album, but not everyone is celebrating.
The Atlanta rap trio’s new record, “Culture II,” which follows last year’s chart-topping “Culture,” has met with mixed reviews from outlets such as Pitchfork, which called it “a formless grab bag compiled without much care” and rated it 6.4 out of a possible 10. “While it’s an ambitious swing, the 24-track project lacks the commanding relevancy of its predecessor,” the Fader wrote.
Much of the criticism has focused on the album’s length: With 24 tracks that last an hour and 45 minutes, it is nearly double the length of its predecessor, which spawned the hit “Bad and Boujee” and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. It also highlights a new issue in the age of streaming: More tracks mean more royalties and higher rankings on the charts, prompting artists to release longer albums.
Every time a song is streamed, an artist earns royalties. Many fans will listen to a favorite artist’s album from start to finish, at least the first time. If there are more songs, the artist racks up more income and ranks higher on the Billboard music charts, which factor in streaming.
Migos is “trying to game the system,” says
music critic at New York magazine. “I worry that it’s going to work so well that people are going to think, what’s stopping anyone from doing this?”
A spokeswoman for Capitol Music Group, which operates a joint venture with Migos’ label, Quality Control Music, said no one was available to comment.
In late 2014, Nielsen Music, which provides numbers for the Billboard album charts, started counting 1,500 on-demand audio streams as equivalent to one album sale. The change has been a boon for hip-hop artists, whose popularity on streaming services had previously been underestimated by the record industry.
Released on Jan. 26, “Culture II” had 199,000 “album equivalent” sales in its first week, including 38,000 traditional album sales and 225.6 million on-demand audio streams, exceeding the 131,000 album-equivalent sales “Culture” earned in its debut week, according to Billboard. That is the strongest streaming week for any album since
“DAMN.” last spring, which generated 340.6 million streams.
Hip-hop albums are typically 50 to 60 minutes, with 14 to 17 tracks, Mr. Jenkins says, but longer albums are on the rise.
In 2016, the rapper Drake released a 20-track album, “Views,” which he followed in 2017 with a 22-track project, “More Life,” that he called a “playlist.” R&B singer
“Heartbreak on a Full Moon,” released last fall, has 45 songs. (The deluxe edition adds 12 more.)
A long album isn’t necessarily a bad one, and “filler” tracks aren’t new. In the CD era, fans of all musical genres routinely spent $15.99 on albums with a few hits.
But as listening habits change in the streaming era, listeners with more options may not be as resistant to a hodgepodge of songs in an album. Music-industry watchers say that artists could be fighting back against the low compensation of streaming royalties by releasing longer albums.
Billboard is fine-tuning how it accounts for streaming. Last month, it began giving streams on subscription services like Apple Music and Spotify’s ad-free, $9.99-a-month tier more weight than the “free” streams on YouTube and Spotify’s ad-supported tier.
“Culture II” has some fans, though even they tend to point out the duration.
Hip-hop outlet XXL says the album’s length “does eventually wear the songs thin” but applauded it overall, adding “listeners might not hear a smash hit at every turn but they still very much exist.”
A fan on
@SecularSocialDem, echoed the qualified praise: “If you removed half the songs it would be a solid project.”
Write to Neil Shah at firstname.lastname@example.org