How does an album reach classic status?

How does something reach classic status?Recently I’ve been sorting through some of my possessions. I am, like many hip hop enthusiasts, a hoarder. I horde anything: Hats, trainers, comics, magazines, books, gig tickets. But one of my biggest collections has to be CDs (sorry, no vinyl) and sorting through some of them recently got me to thinking about the “classic” status.

What makes an album a “classic”?

Note: The word “classic” could be interpreted in a number of ways, for the sake of this article, I’m using the word to describe an album that will be regarded a classic in the eyes of general music listeners regardless of the genre they listen to or the culture they are involved in, think the kind of people who might read Rolling Stone, NME or Billboard, rather than avid readers of hip-hop blogs and publications (i.e. you). For example, no matter what you like, it would be hard to deny that Nirvana’s Nevermind is a classic body of work, whereas a lot of people might argue that Bleach (their debut) is better, it hasn’t had the same impact on pop culture. I will also use the term “underground classic” to refer to something that, although a brilliant record, hasn’t directly impacted a wider culture directly, for example El-P’s I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. For those of you who despise labels, I apologize in advance, it’s just to help outline what I’m looking at within the article!

1. Quality

Obviously one of the factors is the quality of the LP; bad albums rarely receive “classic” status, unless they are somehow culturally significant, likely relating to nostalgia or context as opposed to the quality of the output. But, what interests me is the other elements that I think are involved in becoming “classic.”

2. Time

Another of the major factors in becoming a classic is time, even an instant classic can only be observed years after it’s release. Even the word itself suggests a period of time has past. I personally can’t think of anything that is undoubtedly a classic in the past ten years, the last classic that springs to mind for me is Jay-Z’s Blueprint, although there has of course been albums that I’d say are currently on the boundary of the “classic” status; Outkast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below, Lil’ Wayne’s Tha Carter 3, 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Tryin perhaps…

3. Success

Unfortunately commercial success is a huge factor in bagging the “classic” status outside of the hip-hop culture. And, the three albums I just mentioned came to mind when considering which albums from the past ten years might be classics, are by no means the “best” albums necessarily, but their success have allowed them to alter the status quo of how people view hip-hop music and it’s boundaries in some way or other, even if simply because, like 50 Cent’s album, they sold so many copies that they introduced a whole new generation to the genre. Some of my favourite albums are way better than these (in my opinion, of course) but I don’t think, say, Atmosphere’s GodLovesUgly would necessarily be considered a “classic” (perhaps an “underground classic”, though) simply because it hasn’t reached enough ears to be able to gain such a status.

4. Originality

“Classic” albums also usually bring something new to the table, whether it be conceptually, stylistically or sonically, it is rare nowadays that a straight up “boom bap” record is really going to go down in history as a classic album, as people will generally resort to the pioneering LPs of the sound (i.e. Gang Starr, Nas’ Illmatic, etc). This is why I feel like there are a tonne of underground albums that are almost faultless, but won’t be remembered as classics in the future, due to the fact that they didn’t have that extra push.

Before I get an inbox full of messages disgusted at the fact that I cited Get Rich Or Die Tryin as a possible future classic over GodLovesUgly or in defence of your favourite artist’s LP, please consider that what I’m discussing here isn’t about which album is the best, but more so questioning what the “classic” status might mean, on a wider scale rather than just personal favourites and underground (or cult) classics. and of course, as usual these is all just my own thoughts and opinions.

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