What’s the difference between a mixtape and an album?
The respective definitions of these two units of song collections have repeatedly changed over the course of hip-hop history, and modern technology democratically revolutionizing the means of recording and distribution has blurred the line between the two like never before. Ty Dolla $ign’s recently-released Beach House 3 provides an interesting case-study to reevaluate their “genre” distinctions.
Apple Music describes these 20-songs as “the third installment of Beach House, a MIXTAPE series,” while Wikipedia goes with “the second studio ALBUM by American recording artist Ty Dolla $ign.” The phrasing of these descriptions reveals an increasingly outdated mode of thinking, wherein mixtapes become albums due to corporate involvement, as if musicians needed to play with the big (money) boys to elevate their amateur mixtapes to the celebrated realm of albums. Yet with more and more artists taking control of their work, the relationship between mixtapes and albums should not keep perpetuating this hierarchical notion, one that insidiously suggests “the man” gets to dictate listeners’ classifications.
Instead, albums and mixtapes should be defined on purely artistic terms by their compositional nature. To retain the informality long associated with mixtapes, this moniker should be attached to collections of songs compiled with little overarching sense. If they seem to be nothing more than a series of potential singles – with no trace of anything being developed from song to song – without a unified identity, then best to call it a mixtape.
Under this definition, Beach House 3 must be considered an album, and a very good one at that. Ty Dolla $ign clearly put thought into its makeup, as evidenced by the repetition of “famous” in the titles of many songs evenly spaced out over the record. Each of these acts as a sort of header for their respective sections, introducing ideas explored in the subsequent songs. Every section comes with a distinct sound, making for a seamlessly-paced listening experience when heard straight-through. Just note how Ty packed all of the features into the first half of the album, contributing to its bouncier, more radio-friendly vibe. These other voices gradually fade away as the album wraps up, leaving only Dolla $ign to rap alone on the more subdued and restrained songs that close out the proceedings.
Needless to say, Ty Dolla $ign understands the oft-forgotten importance of precise track ordering – a hallmark of albums, NOT mixtapes.