Jinx This! Top 10 Sophomore Hip Hop Albums
Good morn’ or evening, friends. The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict is proud to present a new blog category: Top Tens! The world loves to put the best (or worst) of things on a list. In fact, if there was a top ten list of things to make a top ten list out of, Music would be at the peak: Top Ten Albums; Top Ten MCs; Top Ten Concerts; etc. Although it’s nothing new, WDHA, as always, will do things with a twist, making lists of things not quite so obvious.
Today, we start things off with Hip Hop. Think about all the classic Hip Hop and Rap albums released in history: Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, LL Cool J’s Radio, NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Nas’ Illmatic, and so on. These albums all have varied styles and sounds but have one thing in common: They’re all debuts. Many artists of any genre contend with what’s been notoriously known as the “Sophomore Jinx,” as their second efforts fail to perform to the level of each predecessor, either commercially or creatively. Conversely, there are rappers who make strong debuts, but they’re not necessarily special, only to came back the next time with a timeless statement. It also seems that when artists are hungry, fresh off the streets into the studio, they’re at their most potent, honest and authentic. After achieving success, the only thing to rap about is how rich you are, or your new car. The Well-Dressed Headphone Addict would like to celebrate those elusive second albums that became classics in their own rights – finding ways to stay fresh, breakthrough and exceed expectations.
10) Paul’s Boutique – The Beastie Boys, 1989
The three white boys from Brooklyn invaded the rap game with their 1986 debut License To Ill. Their follow-up, Paul’s Boutique, flopped out of the gate without a rock-edged single like “Fight For Your Right To Party,” or “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn.” However, overtime, Paul’s Boutique has gained a following and respect for its pioneering use of sampling, courtesy of album producers The Dust Brothers, on songs like “Hey Ladies.”
9) Niggaz4life (Efil4zaggin) – N.W.A., 1991
Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, Easy E and DJ Yellow Boy dropped an atomic bomb on music, as their 1988 debut Straight Outta Compton rendered the rap game forever altered. By 1991, front-man Ice Cube split after money disputes with NWA management and Easy, but the group rolled on as a foursome, releasing Niggaz4life in 1991. While as shocking in content as it’s predecessor, Niggaz4life steered away from potent exposure of South Central’s trials and hard living and instead, songs like “Alwayz Into Something” and the title track glorified the gangsta mentality that ran rampant around them. It featured more melodic production style from Dr. Dre that became the foundation for The Chronic.
8 ) De La Soul is Dead – De La Soul, 1991
Long Island trio De La Soul were the faces and voices of New York’s Native Tongue crew, including the Jungle Brother and A Tribe Called Quest. Their first LP, 3 Feet High & Rising, infused a less aggressive, more tongue-in-cheek sound with hits like “Me Myself & I.” Their follow-up, De La Soul is Dead, was a cynical denouncement of their popularity and so-called “flower power” message. They still managed to keep fans smiling with “A Rollerskating Jam Named Saturdays.”
7) Follow The Leader – Eric B. & Rakim, 1988
Paid in Full, the debut album of DJ Eric B. and his partner MC Rakim, ushered in what’s now regarded as the “Golden Age of Rap.” A record full of Hip Hop standards, like “Eric B. For President,” “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Ain’t No Joke,” was a tough act to follow, but the duo triumphed, delivering the darker, equally classic Follow The Leader. The title track, “Lyrics of Fury” and “Microphone Fiend” left little doubt that Eric B. & Rakim were more than a music group, but ambassadors of Hip Hop culture.
6) Late Registration – Kanye West, 2004
Chicago born producer Kanye West struggled early on, making beats here and there before landing his big break with Jay-Z and Rockafella Records. His own debut, The College Dropout, came amidst a flurry of “Kanye can’t rap” notions from critics and peers, but it proved everyone wrong, as his sped-up soul samples and thoughtful wordplay led to triple platinum sales two Grammys. With high expectations for the next record, West took a risk, hiring Portishead producer Jon Brion to c0-produce it with him. The result was Late Registration, a lush, sonically symphonic canvas of political statements, personal confessions and boastful exclamations. Highlights include “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” “Gold Digger,” and “Crack Music.”
5) The Score – The Fugees, 1996
Wyclef Jean, Pras Michael and Lauryn Hill only released two albums, but are considered rap royalty because of them. Their first outing, 1994’s Blunted On Reality, was raw and lyrically captivating, but the group was still finding its footing musically and commercially. On The Score, they would establish their identity, incorporating their Caribbean lineage with their Tri-State upbringings with tracks like “Fu-Gee-La” and “No Woman No Cry.” But it was a straight forward cover of Robert Flack’s “Killing Me Softly,” showcasing the charismatic singing of Lauryn, that put them into the mainstream. Each member would have solo success, but The Score is the reason, 15 years later, fans are still hopeful for a reunion.
4) The Marshall Mathers LP – Eminem, 2000
The likes of Eminem had never been seen or heard of in Hip Hop before him, and as a white rapper from Detroit, the odds were against him. Thanks to Dr. Dre’s mentoring, Em’s Slim Shady LP shocked many; shocked Hip Hop heads with his skills, and shocked White America with his homophobic and violent references. His next album, The Marshall Mathers LP, took Slim up 10 notches, taking lyrical jabs at all his critics. However, songs like “The Real Slim Shady,” “The Way I Am,” and “Stan” had a introspective tone that transcended profanity. While more platinum selling albums were to come, The Marshall Mathers LP was the platform that made Eminem into the world’s most popular recording artist, even to this day.
3) Life After Death – The Notorious B.I.G., 1997
Brooklyn’s own Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., was a reformed drug dealer who used his experiences to write 1994’s Ready to Die. One of Hip Hop’s first true concept albums, Ready to Die told the story of the rise and fall of a hustle/drug dealer, and tracks like “Big Poppa,” “Juicy” and “One More Chance” became classics. By the time he was recording Life After Death, Biggie was ready to show a different side of himself, a man paranoid by the negatively that came with with success, and songs like “Mo Money Mo Problems,” and “Notorious Thugs” showed that the parallels between being a dealer and a recording artist was all too similar.
2) The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest, 1991
There’s a difference between a popular artist and a game changer. A Tribe Called Quest, a Queens Trio, changed the game with their debut People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm. The incorporation of jazz melodies into a Hip Hop context made Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad into innovative artists. With The Low End Theory, the achieved popularity as well, but without sacrificing the integrity of their sound. Songs like “Excursions,” “Check The Rhyme” and “Verses From the Abstract” fused live instrumentation with progressive sampling from Q-Tip. Then hard hitting tracks like “Scenario” proved their versatility and cemented their legacy.
1) It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – Public Enemy, 1988
And the top spot goes to PE: Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, Terminator X and The Bomb Squad. Following the footsteps of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy took their Black Panther Breakfast backgrounds in an effort to “destroy music.” After their first album, Yo! Bum Rush the Show got them some attention, it was their second release, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, that effectively crushed any conventional methods of making rap music. “Bring The Noise,” “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Rebel Without a Pause,” had an organized chaos that challenged, condemmed and captivated all who could be affected by them. Nation takes it place with Marvin Gaye’s What Going On among the most prodigiously prophetic albums ever in music history.
For better or worse, that’s the list. Don’t agree? Please leave your comments! Agree? Please leave your comments! Did I forget something? If so, please leave your comments! All comments will be read and respected.
Thank you for listening, and remember: Black Americans may only be 1/10th of the country, but that tenth is talented.