Collaboration Albums: Do We Really Need Them?

With reports claiming that Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are finally working on their long anticipated (depending on who you ask) album, I just want to take a step back and really take a look at collaboration albums.

Collaboration albums, especially in Hip-Hop, are a very weird subject. We don’t get a BOATLOAD of them, but at the same time we aren’t necessarily foreign to the idea either. We get a lot of group collaborations like The Young Money album, Self-Made (MMG), Cruel Summer (G.O.O.D Music), and so on. When it comes to duo collabs we get those too, maybe not the dream team combos we always wanted, but still pretty decent ones nonetheless.

Yes, we got the high profile Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration, Wayne did a whole album with Birdman (sadly, oddly enough it wasn’t the worst thing ever since Wayne carried most the project), and in the trap world it seems like every artist is linking together to drop mixtapes with one another. And there are many more examples of collaborations we can talk about.

But why don’t we see more collaboration projects, and does rap really need them?

Well, my first guess is honestly, artist don’t have the time to link and do a whole album together. I'm sure Drake is very busy touring and building his legacy and brand; just as a Rick Ross may be doing the same. So they might not have the time to come together and make a
whole album.

Another reason probably lies in the vision and direction of the album. Sure artists can make hits together, but can they come and envision a whole project together and make a complete album if they both have different directions they want to take the music? If I want to make the greatest conscious album ever and you want to make all hits, can we really come together and put that all on the same album? In a perfect world you could, it’d be the best of both worlds, but reality doesn’t work like that.

That’s the pitfall of crew (MMG, G.O.O.D Music, The Firm, Rock-a-fella, etc) albums of today, dating all the back to 90’s. It’s like they’re chasing hits, everything seems so forced to be a banger; an album full of attempted singles if you will. You get the feeling that they didn’t sit and chalk out a direction for the project, but with that many people how could you really? Maybe the point was to make a record full of hits.

The idea of prime Nas and Biggie making a complete album together, or any two rap legends, might be a fans dream but it rarely ever works out. And even when it does it’s often highly criticized.

My personal biggest issue with collaborations is, don’t come together and get everyone’s hopes up just to release an average album you could’ve released alone. It’s like if Batman and Superman came together to barely beat Joker, when Batman barely beats Joker on his
own. What’s the purpose of bringing Superman?

I do understand that if two high profile artist come together the music is never going to live up to the hype the fans give it, because we are going to expect so much, probably too much, that’s life. Just look at Watch The Throne, even though it got good overall reception some still complained it was too “poppy”.

So does Hip-Hop need more collaborations between artist? I’d say no just based on the simple fact that collaboration albums typically don’t turn out as special as we hope. I’m not saying it has to be your best/most meaningful work ever, because only your best work is your best work. But it has to be up there, it has to be special in its own way, something you can’t duplicate alone because after all you are bringing together the energy of two different artists.

In the end, should collab records become the wave I hope artist take the time to put the extra work in to make the albums successful. Just like two all-stars in the NBA doesn’t mean guaranteed success, two stars (or more) on one album is just the same. Have a path for the album, if you’re going to make an album of hits that’s fine, just make sure they are all actual hits. If you’re going tell a story, make sure everyone is on board with the story.

Don’t sell me a bunch of forced verses together for 16 songs and call it an album. Don’t sell multiple high profile names making average music they could’ve made alone. Sell me a well thought out, planned, complete project.