EP vs LP vs Mixtape: What’s the difference?

Written on April 20, 2020

When you first start to listen to hip-hop (or really any music for that matter) you probably don’t even notice the EP or LP that is sometimes attached to the end of a project name. To the majority of listeners, it doesn’t really matter, they just want the listening experience right? Hip Hop has been my go-to music genre basically since I was born but I didn’t care to learn the difference between an EP, LP, album, and mixtape until a couple of years ago when I started to venture into a wider audience of music.

I always wondered why some artists would put out three or four mixtapes a year and never an album while others only seemed to put out albums every year or so. Were these artists just choosing to do so as personal preference or was there a reason behind labeling a project an EP versus an LP?

This post isn’t going to be a history lesson but you should understand that the terms EP and LP originate from the vinyl record format of audio.

Long Play (LP) / Album

Let’s get this out of the way, an LP or Long Play is the exact same thing as an Album. For the rest of this post, I’ll be using the term album. Those two are the only two interchangeable terms when it comes to labeling a body of work.

An album is a collection of songs (or playlist) that an artist or band releases to the public that is supposed to be 100% original. This doesn’t include samples that the artist or band could have used during production. They average anywhere from 10 to 13 tracks at about 40 minutes in length. Although those are the averages, I’ve heard albums that clock in at 14 minutes in length like Kota the Friend's Lyrics to Go, Vol. 1. I’ve also heard albums that clock in at 72 minutes like Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. As you can see, the difference can vary widely.

Artists are judged, sometimes harshly, based on their ability to put together a great album. It’s an amazing insight into what’s going on in that artist’s life at that moment in time. A great album needs to have top-notch production, high replay value, be memorable, and have impressive lyrics that stand the test of time. Albums are also judged on sales numbers (a bit too heavily in my opinion).

You have probably heard the term “discography” and this refers to the collection of albums that an artist has put out. In the Hip Hop community, most of the time (not always) the artist with the “better” discography is considered the “better” artist.

Sidenote: I hate using the term “better” in Hip Hop because music is highly subjective from person to person.

Single

A single is usually just one song that is put out by an artist to promote an upcoming album or to build interest for that artist. Often times though, a single will be a different version of a song that they’ve released in the past such as an acoustic version, acapella, remixes, or just the instrumental.

Extended Play (EP)

An extended play is a collection of songs that is not long enough to be considered an album but is also longer than a single and is typically used as a promotional tool to build an appetite for an upcoming album.

They average anywhere from three to six songs at about 20 minutes in length. The release of an EP or single is also common when an artist is trying to keep public interest while still working to complete their full-length album. EPs are starting to become more popular in today’s digital streaming age due to how easy it is to put out music and how easy it is to consume that music. Some notable EPs are:

  • Feet of Clay – Earl Sweatshirt
  • 13 – Denzel Curry
  • Cilvia Demo – Isaiah Rashad

Mixtape

A mixtape is another promotional body of work with the major difference being mixtapes don’t always have to be 100% original because they’re usually free to the public. Mixtapes will contain remixes, experimental songs, filler songs or songs that didn’t make the cut for their studio albums. Interestingly, mixtapes are really only used in the Hip Hop community and not in any other genre of music.

Hopefully, this post will help clear up any confusion you might have had between these terms. At the end of the day, all we as listeners want is great, high-quality music regardless of what it’s labeled as.

About the author

I'm not music expert but I know what good hip hop sounds like. I'm just a dude who loves music and feels that non-mainstream hip hop is under-represented and under-appreciated. All thoughts and opinions are my own but I'd love to discuss.

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