The dreaded Sophomore Jinx. Many of your favorite artists have succumbed to it.
It’s every emerging artists’ dream to burst on the scene with a heralded debut album. It sets the tone for his or her entire career, after all. But when the pressure mounts and the follow-up release fails to reach the heights of its predecessor, careers could be derailed.
That Jinx is no joke. But it’s not unbeatable.
Let’s look at 12 hip-hop acts that not only sidestepped the sophomore slump, but created albums that were even better than their debuts. Many of these second albums are considered hip-hop classics.
Sometimes, the second time is the charm.
OutKast’s debut instantly became a landmark album for Southern rap. But it’s the brilliance of their second album, with an extra-terrestrial theme that became a metaphor for their position as hip-hop’s most intriguing outsiders, that pushed creative boundaries. It’s dark, bold and absolutely brilliant.
Debut: Blunted on Reality
After a promising but tepid debut, the Refugee Camp kicked in the door with their second album, an almost cinematic effort that is still widely regarded as of one of hip-hop’s most treasured releases. It just took one album to turn Wyclef, Pras and Lauryn Hill into megastars.
When you have a debut as strong as Ironman, topping it would be an insurmountable task for most artists. But Pretty Toney isn’t most artists. Ghost’s mind-bending metaphors (alongside stellar production from the RZA) makes this set arguably the greatest solo Wu-Tang album to date.
Debut: Juvenile Hell
Mobb Deep’s debut was barely a blip on rap’s radar in 1993, an era when legit classic albums were being released monthly. Two years later, they’d have a classic of their own. The Infamous showed the maturation of Havoc and Prodigy — tighter rhymes, stronger production and more menacing themes. It became the template for countless East Coast rap records.
Debut: 3 Feet High and Rising
De La’s second offering is all about evolution. Their heralded debut was known for its lightheartedness but in an attempt to shed the label of “hip-hop hippies,” the follow-up was an edgier showcase of their lyrical prowess. De La Soul was far from dead; this is the album that ensured their name lives on.
Debut: Yo! Bum Rush The Show
PE’s sophomore effort is nearing its 30th birthday, yet it remains as relevant in 2016 as it was in 1988. Public Enemy’s debut may have opened the nation’s eyes to injustices, but It Takes A Nation… grabbed listeners by their throats. Its honest, brutal truths have become legendary — and a template for many artists who preceded its release. It’s arguably the most important album in rap history.
Debut: People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm
Tribe’s first album is home to some of the most memorable songs in the game, but their second outing was a true game-changer. The Low End Theory became the face of the jazz-rap movement, creating one of rap’s most renowned sub-genres and cementing Tribe as hip-hop pioneers.
Debut: Lord Willin’
Pusha T and (No) Malice’s first album initially turned heads thanks to “Grindin’,” a single that hit with the force of a meteor.But no single track stands out on their sophomore effort, which gives every track equal chance to shine — and shine they do. The duo turn trap raps into an art form, examining both the glory and grief of the drug game. Hell Hath No Fury is like a critically-acclaimed novel, a work so engrossing that you can’t turn away.
Debut: Words from the Genius
Liquid Swords is often erroneously called GZA’s “first” album. That honor goes to Words from the Genius, GZA’s pre-Wu-Tang Clan debut. By the time Liquid Swords dropped, GZA was an even more ferocious MC, who crafted one of the best albums of the mid-90s.
And I bet some of you thought The Slim Shady LP WAS Em’s debut album. Nope, Eminem’s first studio album, 1996’s Infinite, showed lots of promise — promise that would finally be achieved three years later when Em hit mainstream. Eminem’s lyricism was unearthly here, from the frank depiction of broken families to the over-the-top (almost cartoonish) violence. A star was born.
Debut: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
I’ll admit, this was a close call. Unquestionably, Cube’s debut was a commercial juggernaut and a critical masterpiece. But Death Certificate pushed the envelope even further — it’s much more brazen than its predecessor; the harsh truths of urban life cut even deeper. The anger is palatable and its impact is undeniable.
Debut: Ready to Die
Yes, I’m fully aware that Ready to Die is one of the greatest rap albums ever recorded. Yet Life After Death is even better – which speaks to its own greatness. Double-disc albums are typically a bloated nightmare, crammed with filler and ineffective tracks. Not here. Twenty years after its release, every track still resonates — each one telling an individual story that ties into one massive package. It’s the best double-disc album in hip-hop history — actually, it’s one of the best albums in the game, period.
Which sophomore rap albums do you think beat out their predecessors? Let us know below.