Tomorrow Canadian rapper Drake unleashes his highly anticipated new album Scorpion. A double album – a concept that normally would be overlooked in a post-streaming world – Drake’s instead drawing attention not only to the length, but by dividing the album into two “Sides.” Rumors speculate that one will be a pure rap album and one will feature more R&B centric tracks, but being that “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What” are on separate tracklists, it’s hard to say.
Still, for the most part, a double-album is a major signifier in a rap artist’s career. Often a victory lap at a point of pop culture dominance, Drake’s is the first major double-album of the decade. As a refresher, here’s what we have in hip-hop history to compare it against.
The first ever hip-hop double-album was DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince‘s He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. Perhaps more famous for winning the first ever rap Grammy for “Parents Ain’t Nothing But Trouble,” 30 years ago it was the first rap album of such girth to warrant a double vinyl pressing.
However, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper was trimmed down by several minutes to fit on a single compact disc, leading to the widespread belief that the first rap double-album was the first rap double CD, No Limit Records‘ Down South Hustlers: Bouncin’ and Swingin’. Released in 1995 as No Limit was beginning its rapid rise to national prominence, the collection’s 155-minutes of rap music was a major selling point compared to the similarly priced single releases of the year.
Of course, the most famous No Limit double-disc is Master P‘s MP Da Last Don. The iconic hologram cover and rumors of Master P retiring at the absolute peak of his popularity made for a legendary roll out. While No Limit had started the trend of rap double discs, MP Da Last Don‘s music more closely follows the blueprint set by two landmark double discs that shifted rap between these two No Limit bookends.
The legendary 2Pac‘s All Eyez on Me cemented his legacy as one of rap’s icons. Released six months before his 1996 death, the album was a product of one of the most prolific recording tears that the genre has ever seen. Between legal woes and film shoots, Pac was an absolute machine in the studio, producing so much music that some 22 years later we’re still hearing new material from these sessions. All Eyez on Me collected two discs of Pac’s best work from the time, and is considered by most today to be his masterpiece.
Sadly, the next 12 months would bring Pac’s death as well as The Notorious B.I.G’s, forcing his double-disc Life After Death to be release posthumously. While Pac’s magnum opus was the result of almost a mathematical average of applied creativity, Life After Death was to be Biggie’s victory lap around the entire rap game. Biggie needed two discs to, not just proper bring to life a sequel to Puffy‘s cinematic vision from 1994’s Ready to Die, but show off his entire tremendous range of MC abilities. From channeling Schooly D to outshining Bone Thugz on their own track with their own style, Life After Death is a master-class in “I’m the best at all things rap.”
That same year Wu-Tang Clan had their massive crossover coming out party with Wu-Tang Forever. The culmination of Wu-Mastermind RZA‘s five year multi-label plan, the double-disc release showed the power of the Clan in full force as they made cross-genre headlines touring in support of the album with Rage Against the Machine.
Rap double-discs then became the showcase for rap groups to show their unified front and their powers combined. 2003 saw the star-making platform that was The Diplomats‘ Diplomatic Immunity. A polished mixtape come to life and produced with a top-dollar sheen, it made Dipset a full-fledged movement in hip-hop and to this day boast the unique combination of sounding of its time with a well-executed timeless quality.
Ironically, the double-album medium showed a great divide in one of rap’s most consistent groups. Outkast released a dual album that was essentially two solo albums packaged together. Big Boi‘s Speakerboxxx and Andre 3000‘s The Love Below were both crossover smashes, landing the group the rare diamond certification of 10 million albums sold.
But the double-disc also signifies a rap group coming back together stronger than ever. When UGK‘s Pimp C was released from prison in late 2005, he had dozens of notepads assembled of ideas for reuniting with parter-in-rhyme Bun-B for their comeback album Underground Kingz. Perhaps the best album on this list, Underground Kingz was delayed for almost an entire year before its August 2007 release, debuting at #1 as “International Players’ Anthem” dominated the summer and became an instant hip-hop classic. Sadly, member Pimp C would die four months later.
Sadly, most hip-hop double-albums tend to be greeted like JAY-Z‘s Blueprint 2. Reaching a critical peak, JAY decided to double down in 2002 and drop two discs of material, as well as his quality control. While there’s some amazing songs on it, the bloated filler resulted in a lukewarm reception and is remember far less fondly than either Blueprint or The Black Album which fell before and after it respectively. Perhaps JAY himself felt the same way as he had the album retooled and released as a single disc: Blueprint 2.1. It’s also not on YouTube, which may also be somewhat telling.
So, where will Drake’s Scorpion land in all this? Are rap double discs cursed? Will the American-Canadian exchange rate mean we’re only getting 1.3 discs of material? Tomorrow, we’ll know for sure.