Music 101: Album, mixtape or playlist, what’s the difference?
Wizkid’s major label debut Sounds From the Other Side debuted on the US Billboard Top 2000 Album Charts at #107, a few places below King Sunny Ade’s Synchro System album, which peaked at #91 over three decades ago. Oddly, there has been a lot of confusion about what to call the historic project. Wizzy himself has called Sounds every name under the sun, other than an actual album. But being that Sounds is first – a 12-track project, second – was released for sale, and third – contains only original music, the “Ojuelegba” singer has been looking a lot like Robinson Crusoe on his own misinformed island.
Wizkid has dressed down Sounds From the Other Side by calling it a mixtape and at other times, he has incorrectly referred to it as an EP. In a recent interview, when asked why he didn’t just call it an album, the singer explained that his original plan was to give SFOS away for free, then a ‘friend’ who listened to it talked him out of his original plan but, apparently, not out of his original talking points.
It’s a similar situation with Starboy’s accomplice Mr. Eazi who released Accra to Lagos – Life is Eazi (Vol. 1) earlier in the year.
God has blessed Nigerians with good fortune but there are two in particular that have been His most favoured children in recent times. One is our last president, Goodluck Jonathan, and the other is someone many still argue whether he’s Nigerian enough to vote in the next elections. A Ghana-trained singer has added calculation and strategy to his own good luck; he too is making history and recently followed in the footsteps of King Sunny Ade, Majek Fashek and Nneka to perform on late night TV in the US. Mr. Eazi insists his heavily-promoted project too was a mixtape, even though, again, it is available for sale, has 14 tracks and contains only original music.
I’m beginning to wonder whether these titles still mean anything in 2017 since the only value a project title seems to have nowadays is semantic. The definitions for an LP, EP, a mixtape, and now a playlist, are fluid, and projects are defined more by the purpose of their release than anything else. When songs had to fit onto one side of a piece of vinyl, or were limited by the length of tape on a cassette, or by the memory space of a CD, artists had to limit the number of songs that made up a project and consequently, what they called it. But the boundary-less nature of streaming, in particular, may have torn up the rule books and blurred those lines forever. Everything has changed, and with streaming projected to surpass all other formats this year and become the number 1 way the world listens to music, things will change even more. However, even though things have changed, that Seyi Shay embarrassingly calling an EP an ‘electric package’ last year is enough testimony that, in Nigeria, our global change is mixing dangerously with perception management and our own misinformation.
EP is short for ‘extended play’ and was originally created to define a collection of songs (usually not more than 5) that is greater than a single but less than a full-length LP or long play. Both EPs and LPs are ‘structured’ bodies of work but an LP is synonymous with an album and has historically been seen as the most significant of all music releases. Mixtapes, on the other hand, are music compilations that emerged in the era of cassette tapes. In hip-hop, mixtapes were originally a platform for DJs to showcase rappers, and then later, an avenue for rappers to release usually non-original music, independently, and often times, for free. These days, the mixtape is bigger than rap, it is now any project that is too long to be called an EP and too risky to be called an album.
The next step in the genealogy of music projects in free-form ought to have been the playlist, but, just like they’ve done with mixtapes over the years, artists have hijacked that format as well. Drake calling his last project, More Life, a playlist was a musical coup because, up until that point, playlists were a collection of songs curated by tastemakers, streaming services, even users like you and I. Playlists are different from albums in that they may be periodically updated and they have themes, so Banky W initially calling his newest project Songs About You a playlist, Drake-style, was baffling, since the project was formatted like every other one of his previous albums.
Coincidentally, all 3 of these artists belong to the same family tree – Mr.Eazi is Wizkid’s music cousin via the Starboy co-sign, and Wizkid is Banky’s son via EME. Their relationship obviously doesn’t mean anything but it does seem like all 3 artists refused to call their newest albums by their rightful names for non-artistic reasons. I would imagine Banky wanted to escape the scrutiny that would come if his under-promoted album didn’t do too well, while Mr. Eazi and Wizkid appear to want to remain fresh and brand new to their new audiences, and prolong their introductory, honeymoon phase. It’s all a strategy.
So, when next you hear an artist calling their new album something other than its rightful name, it probably has little to do with the actual music and everything to do with marketing and managing your expectations.