Songs are getting shorter and shorter these days. It’s normal now for legit hits and deep cuts in hip-hop to clock in at less than two minutes of run time. While that length feels shockingly minuscule to most, some records under that parameter prove that short and sweet can be the key to a notable feat.
But why is that the case in today’s hip-hop landscape? Derrick Aroh, senior vice president of A&R at RCA Records, attributes the quicker tracks to the market that they’re released into. “Unfortunately, kids in this day and age just have a shorter attention span,” he says in an exclusive interview with XXL. As a music industry expert with over 11 years of experience, he’s witnessed the change firsthand. “The artist more than likely has the same type of thing, or they just know that the kids have a short attention span and they just accommodate those kids. And it’s that simple why these songs are occurring so much.”
Some of the tracks that Aroh is talking about include Sleepy Hallow’s 2020 needle-moving, platinum-selling drill anthem “Deep End Freestyle” and Kanye West’s 2019 gospel trap hymn “Follow God,” also a platinum record. Those songs are obviously on the fresher side of time. The method of going smaller is fully in motion now, but artists have been testing the idea for decades now. Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt cut “Friend or Foe” is only 1 minute and 49 seconds. That track came out in 1996, about 10 years before Lil Wayne’s Carter II track “Walk Out,” a 1 minute, 8-second number, reached the masses in 2004.
Over the years, fans gravitated to shorter records for a number of reasons. Most notably, Aroh believes that keeping a record concise in structure is a cheat code. “When you’re doing two minutes, it’s compact, that means everything is in there,” he adds while noting the length of GoldLink’s jukebox favorite “Crew.” “You get high replay value because you replay what you like to hear. And we all know the hook is what we like to hear the most, so if you have two minutes of hook essentially or a minute of hook with a little bit of verse in between to break it up, that’s an optimum experience for the eyes of the kid that has a low attention span.”
Furthermore, Aroh, who has recently worked with acts like Latto, Childish Gambino and Brockhampton, believes that anything more than three minutes might take away from the effect of a song. “I think [with] two-and-a-half [minutes], you get the job done,” he explains. “You get enough of the song in. You get enough hooks in, you get enough verses in and it’s not too much. But I think the further you get from 2 [minutes], 45 [seconds], it becomes labored.”
Everyone from fans to music executives alike know how formulas change over time, but one thing’s for certain: brief tracks are in right now. With that in mind, looking at a wide-ranging spectrum of 50 rappers from both old and new school classes, here, XXL spotlights the best hip-hop songs that don’t exceed two minutes. From RIAA-certified smashes to interludes to hidden gems, check out the best of the best below.