What I’ve Got: The Future of Streaming Music,“Playlists” and Drake

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This past weekend, rapper, actor and “meme” extraordinaire Drake shattered streaming records – yet again – with 89.9 million streams on Apple Music in 24 hours with his latest release. “Who cares? He’s a popular artist – one of the biggest around. What makes this special?” one might wonder to himself/herself. Well, intriguingly, Drake has insisted on calling his latest release not an “album” nor a “mixtape,” but rather a “playlist.” Clocking in at nearly an hour and 30 minutes with over 22 tracks, it appears that Drake was less concerned with crafting a cohesive “album” (by traditional standards), but indeed was attempting to make music that appealed to all the different sects of his fans (from those who appreciate his dancehall-tinged music to others who prefer his R&B ballads to fans who prefer his rapping over trap beats). 

In doing so, Drake is betting that the streaming age that we live in – an era wherein artists are not paid by the album, but rather are paid per song stream – to justify a bloated album length. Rather than narrowing down the record for its best songs to a more traditional length (10 songs), Drake has instead taken advantage of the fact that the longer the record, the more money he will likely see. In the words of New York Times’ resident hip-hop journalist Jon Caramanica: “the playlist suggests an aesthetic shift from the album, which in its platonic ideal form is narratively structured and contained, a creator’s complete thought expressed in parts… This format — relaxed, circuitous, able to take in both his own work and also work by others — is particularly well suited to Drake, who’s as definable by his taste as by his sound.” 

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