Most days, I wake up feeling like I’m already running behind. Gotta get up, get to it. Now. If I’m conscious, I’m probably at least a little restless. It’s not that I don’t take care of myself — I drink lots of water, try to get enough sleep — it’s that even when I’m handling business, sometimes it feels like everything’s urgent. There’s no time.
So: I hop out of bed, say my prayers, make my coffee, and bang some hard shit through the speaker as loud as I can while I get ready. I want something that matches my energy early in the morning. Something urgent, honest, and as concerned with family as with the self. That means lots of Mozzy, Nipsey Hussle, and Dave East. It also means one of my new favorites, Nip’s collaborator Bino Rideaux — recently, I can’t get enough.
Some of that is the usual attachment you get to an artist you really connect with. Rideaux’s music carries the tone and quality of soul and blues without sacrificing the confidence, self-determination, and persistence of spirit that makes hip-hop so infectious. It takes the pressure off, helps me keep hustling; I love it while I have it and I crave it when I don’t. But I also mean that literally, there isn’t enough. His 2018 EP 4 is a certified thumper — but its four tracks have a total runtime of barely eight minutes. And while 4 may be Bino’s shortest complete project, it’s not uncharacteristic for him to produce two-minute songs. His full-length debut, Sorry 4 The Wait, features two of them.
Rideaux’s not the only one. All across hip-hop, artists are opting for shorter tracks: Future, Gunna, and DaBaby have all made multiple tracks that are over before you can finish cooking a three-minute egg. Tierra Whack’s Whack World crams 15 tracks into 15 minutes. That move to brevity likely has multiple outside factors, whether a pay-by-the-stream business model that incentivizes bumping listeners through as many tracks as possible, or the rise of social platforms that turn every app into an opportunity for more content. However, though it’s likely those things nudge artists toward shorter songs, there’s something else going on, too — a move by artists like Whack and Rideaux toward a new kind of creative cohesion, a unity motivated by artistic vision rather than the market.
I remember how people responded when Kanye West dropped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with its extended instrumental runs and the nine-minute long “Runaway.” At the time, songs were usually three to four minutes long. Some of my homies said ‘Ye was being ridiculous. No one would listen that long. Of course, they were wrong. Artists kept making longer and longer songs.
I was still a teenager back then so I can’t say, but I wonder if people felt like they had more time. If the Obama-era veil of prosperity, peace, and harmony made people feel comfortable enough to go slow. There was something impressive about an artist who could keep me interested for that long; to be sustained in the music of one song so long let me fall into it, the way you fall into the world of your favorite show when you watch a bunch of episodes in a row. The first time I heard “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean, I had to find my way back to my body and the headspace I had been in before it played. I was younger then, and it felt nice to luxuriate in the music and be mesmerized. But I’m older now, and I often want to feel inspired more than captivated. I need to hustle.
That’s exactly what I get from Rideaux’s 4. From the first few seconds of its opening track, “Take Risks,” it’s clear that there’s no time to spare — just guitar and drums picking up, signaling the drop to follow, then the boom of Rideaux’s voice. His cadence and bravado are as aggressive as the drums; when he gets to the last line of the hook, “you ain’t been in that mud, you ain’t had to get it, really had to take risks,” his voice opens around the words. The line contains both grief and triumph, laced through with a recognition of a humble and painful history.
4 cuts no corners. It hits your head, your heart, then leaves you with its aftershocks. Spareness isn’t a sacrifice.
There’s a breadth and depth there, a wholeness. It’s speaking to parts of a single self that are often presented in opposition to one another, under the presumption that one by necessity must cancel out or diminish the other. We can either be winners or losers. We can be strong, or we can know our pain intimately enough to name it. But Rideaux holds his power and his pain together. His strength is never compromised by his expression of suffering; in fact, it’s heightened. And as soon as the moment comes, it’s gone.
The same is true for the song that it fades seamlessly into: “Best Life,” which at just under 90 seconds long is somehow both the gentlest and the densest sound on 4. Every bar hits. The bluesy “On My Name” is maybe the most vulnerable song on the album. There’s a tinge of exasperation in his voice as he sings “n***a gotta lose everything a few times ‘fore he try to feel me / I’m from the bottom of ’em, tryna make momma proud of sum’n ‘fore they kill me.” It’s been five minutes and I’m already deep in my feelings, but before I can process anything, the final track “There for Me” brings back the force and energy of the opening song. If Rideaux was reflecting during the middle two tracks, he’s now moved back into action. And then, it’s over — the sound, but not the impact.
That’s the thing: 4 cuts no corners. It hits your head, your heart, then leaves you with its aftershocks. Spareness isn’t a sacrifice. The same goes for Tierra Whack’s Whack World: Despite its breakneck pace, it’s an absolute musical and visual masterpiece. It wastes nothing. It can’t afford to. By using less, the content feels richer, and begs revisiting. Both move quickly through a spectrum of emotions — from melancholy and exhaustion, to grief, to power and defiance. That range makes their music feel at times like a kind of gospel or confessional poetry.
Projects like these aren’t the default — not even close. It’s still common to see songs stretch past six minutes, and entire albums are often much longer. I’m thinking of Drake’s Scorpion with its 90-minute playtime, or Curren$y’s Pilot Talk Trilogy, a triple-disc project that clocks in at just over two hours. Yet, despite the argument that long songs and projects demonstrate a kind of mastery, there’s something alluring about projects that leave me wanting, wondering why it had to be over so soon.
There are few things that I love or value where I truly believe that I have enough. There’s money, access to information and resources, and language to describe my feelings and experiences. Most of all, there’s time. Time to work or time alone or time with loved ones. It all feels precious and fleeting, like you could you never have enough — especially if you’ve lost loved ones to violence, incarceration, drugs, or any of the ways this country kills us or traps us into killing ourselves. I wake up knowing I have to be all in on anything that I want for myself or my family because today might be my last chance to try. I’m not naive enough to think that I’m the only one who feels the pressure. I think we’re all more desperate than we should be — or than we’d like to admit. Black people have been getting out of bed tired and hustling through the day toward peace, freedom, joy, and excellence for generations.
Brevity in music like Rideaux’s reminds me of the immediacy of my own life and the lives of so many people like me. It tells me there’s no time for anything but the truth — so start there and keep moving. The music doesn’t give me time to rest, and I appreciate that. It reminds me that while I don’t have that luxury, I can still win. I just need to keep up.