The A-side / B-side Trend in the Current Scene and What it Means for the Future of Music

The A-side / B-side trend has become a bold, masterful, and thus far, unfailing exploration of the polarizing musical depths of a capable artist’s range. The ability to say so much with a simple two-track-release has introduced a balanced sense of interpretative minimalism that we haven’t seen elsewhere in music, especially in hip-hop where the trend is running wild. Likewise, the ability to wholesomely explore the opposite ends of an artist’s range with an entire A-side / B-side album allows for modern day transcendental musicians to appeal to the entirety of their far-reaching fan bases. 


When it comes to the A-side / B-side single, the term capable artistis the factor most necessary for successful finalization. With a single, there is room for relative perfection and likelihood of a mainstream boom; With an album, there is space for a listener to make themselves comfortable, unearth meaning, and pick favorites; But with a two-track EP, there is a necessity to define meaning through each track’s contrasting elemental makeup. There is no room for imperfection, balance is a requirement, and it must inspire thorough interpretation at both ends of a contrasting spectrum.


But, in its extended sort of brevity, the A-side / B-side provides a form otherwise unavailable in the world of music. Not the relative essay of a single track, and not the novel of an album, but the short story, the novella. While in its immense brevity, the full-length A-side / B-side album allows an artist the option of writing a harmonizing two-part series.


An artist has the option to express and explore their truest reaches of duality – thematically, musically, emotionally, perhaps even theatrically – and put them on display to convey whatever sort of messages they would like. 


So far, one of the grand purveyors of the trend has been Topaz Jones.


His string of 2018 releases have come as six tracks neatly wrapped into three two-track A-side / B-side duos. Toothache/ZoomNectar/Pleasure Pain Passion, and Cotton Fields/For The Better are not simply three impressive and innovative expressions of his music and his growth since the release of his 2016 debut album, Arcade, but are also six individual tracks that provide a glimpse into his bold experimentation across modern music’s breadth.


The way that he has paired off his songs into miniature projects has certainly been done with purpose. Each pair seems to have found a set of complimentary opposites, who, although undoubtedly connected by the undertone of their creator, are boldly different in their stylistic approaches. 


Toothache is a warm, funky, good feelings kind of hip-hop song whose fast-paced lyricism drives its positive vibes, while Zoom is a more low-fidelity and dark take on modern movements fond of the blending of vocal and rap elements.

Nectar is a lyrically-motivated track on a mission whose socially-conscious undertone delivers on Topaz’s more serious endeavors, while Pleasure Pain Passion is a romantic and sex-driven slow-jam that competes with the best of them.

Cotton Fields is a classic rap hit from its production to its flow that classifies Topaz as a top-tier rapper in his own right, while For The Better is more reminiscent of the heavy production, electronic experimentation, and vocal masking so dominant on the current scene thanks to artists like Travis Scott. 

Prior to the release of his excellent May album, CHERISH, London artist Jay Prince explored his duality with an A-side / B-side single release.


The A-side track on which Prince collaborates with fellow London wordsmith and uber-transcendentalist, Kojey Radical, is titled Love Is, and may as Prince puts it, sound like a love song, but nothing that he and Radical have ever put out can be so simply labeled. The complex track boasting of lively, layered summertime vibes and an expectedly firm delivery of lyrical ease that would tie the tongues of any artists otherwise in knots, reads of explorative themes deep and introspective from both artists while connecting over an anthemic hook that screams of warm-weather memories. 


The B-side, which is of Prince's own doing, is less likely to be the song of Summer days, and instead will come to soundtrack its nights. The clubby GLAM is a dance-worthy track that feels like bad decisions of the Kid Cudi kind. No matter your vice, GLAM could come to be its nightly insinuation.


The inherent balance, contrast, and harmony of the two tracks allows Jay Prince to pursue two very differentiating ends of his creative spectrum while still working within the bounds of a short-sided thematic release. More than a single, his A-side / B-side tells a pair of stories through a pair of lenses and yet results in a congruent product – a telling of protagonist and antagonist.

When it comes to the A-side / B-side single, the term capable artistis the factor most necessary for a successful release. Thus, when two artists get together, the possibilities are multiplied, but the odds are turned inward. This is not simply an artist featuring on another’s single; Nor is it the collaborative effort of two artists working in relative harmony within the broad bounds of an LP; It is instead a challenging working towards of balance and unfailing harmony on the starkest of short-length projects without losing the dual-release’s existing necessity as a contrasting exploration of duality. 


Yet, dance producer, NGHTMRE, and prolifically lyrical hip-hop artist, Pell, have achieved success with the duo’s release of the Magic Hour A-side / B-side tape. First comes Swiss – a creative cadence play on Chris Brown and T-Pain’s anthemic Kiss Kiss exploring self-confidence, success, and love. The bouncy, warm-hearted track is a definitive display of Pell’s predominantly positivist approach over a dreamy, echoed strew of crystalline chords from the fingertips of NGHTMRE.


Second comes Lights Low – a dark energy, clandestine undertaking window casing a broader Pell approach built of lust, unpredictable changes of pace, and the enticing usage of his undervalued vocal prowess. NGHTMRE’s ability to change pace from Swissis equally remarkable in the production’s undertone, ghostly, and mysterious demeanor.


Per the requirements of an A-side / B-side release, Magic Hour is able to pull together two tracks that are equally interpretative and listenable as a continued, contrasting pair, as they are addicting, meaningful, and progressive singles. The same sort of seamless duality and present individuality can be applied to the very nature of Pell and NGHTMRE’s artistries which are equal parts displayed in full as solo artists, and expertly paired with one another. 

The A-side / B-side trend reached an even greater sort of as-of-yet culmination with Drake’s marathon release of the double-disc 23-track Scorpion. Though the project is first and foremost a grand exhibition of his stylings past and present, it is also very carefully divided into its A-side and B-side. The former sees Drake attacking the microphone with the lyrical prowess, hard-hitting cadences, and high energies that his more hip-hop influenced creative routes stems from. The latter allows Drake to explore the softer, more undertone R&B and pop influence that has driven so much of his global popularity. 


It would be hard to listen to the entirety of Scorpion and not in some sense or another come to the conclusion that it is a great project. Its length – certainly a risk amongst the recent movement to release shorter hip-hop projects – allows Drake to explore the wide range of his entire career and do so seamlessly. At times, the vast differences between his collection of approaches leaves the album lacking a certain congruency, but honestly, that’s the biggest fault to find with the album.And at the end of the day, the dividing lines between his two grandiose stylistic definitions allows the project to find stable footing. It innovatively embodies the blossoming A-side / B-side trend as its most successful utilization in the modern spectrum. 

To date, the current A-side / B-side trend which may very well have been spearheaded by Future’s contrasting double release at the start of 2017, FUTURE / HNDRXX, has become a remarkable tool for artists to explore their inner dualities and use their creative passions as a way to express their broader strokes to the world. The result is an undeniably intriguing as they speak to the duality within us all, while also allowing artists to obtain information on which sort of approach seems to be favorited by their audience. Given the right sort of artists continuing to pursue the strategy, the A-side / B-side release should be long-lived and add to the complexities of music as a whole.