They say you have your entire life to write your first album. Well, you have a much shorter time to turn around your sophomore effort. It’s mighty hard to follow-up a successful debut, thus the term “sophomore jinx.”
But a flop could very well be in the cards. In this case, an artist is lucky to get a crack at redemption with another album. Some of rap’s greatest albums have come off the heels of either a mediocre offering, or a hard act to follow.
We examine the sophomore releases that well exceeded their predecessor and helped lay the foundation for legendary careers in hip hop.
A Tribe Called Quest
Debut: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)
Sophomore: The Low End Theory (1991)
The crew from Queens impressed off the bat with their debut which featured rap classics like, “Bonita Applebum,” “Can I Kick It,” and “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo.” But album number two would be the project that caught the ears of critics and casual rap fans. Tribe’s groundbreaking production on The Low End Theory would be their calling card for albums to come, and songs such as “Scenario” and “Check The Rhime” would become two of the group’s greatest hits.
Debut: Blunted On Reality (1994)
Sophomore: The Score (1996)
The Fugees jumped on the scene in 1994 with a unexpected sound that matched the trio’s unusual lineup. The first single “Boof Baf” didn’t win them legions of fans, but the Salaam Remi remix to the group’s second single “Nappy Heads” kept the Fugees boat afloat. Blunted On Reality would be the group’s last commercial failure, because two years later The Score would take the music world by storm.
Debut: Juvenile Hell (1993)
Sophomore: The Infamous (1995)
Havoc and Prodigy released their debut Juvenile Hell as teenagers, and the song “Peer Pressure” is proof of their primitive state. The album floundered, causing the Queensbridge duo to head back to the drawing board. The end result — a bonafide hip-hop classic in The Infamous . Lead by the street anthems “Shook Ones,” and “Survival of the Fittest,” The Infamous exterminated any memory of their debut, setting in motion a career still going strong to this day.
Debut: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)
Sophomore: ATLiens (1996)
Big Boi and Dre were the first rap act ever signed to the legendary LaFace Records, and in 1994 they set out to put Atlanta on the rap map with their debut. The album garnered some success, eventually going platinum and helping the duo snag a Source Award in 1995 for Best New Artist. Their second LP, ATLIens would bring Outkast into the mainstream thanks to the song “Elevators (Me & You).” Tracks such as “ATLiens,” “Jazzy Belle,” “Wheelz of Steel,” and “Two Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac)” gave early Kast fans a sneak peek into the group’s sonic future.
Debut: The College Dropout (2004)
Sophomore: Late Registration (2005)
In what may sound blasphemous to many Kanye West fans, his second album Late Registration completely blows College Dropout out of the water. Only a year after his debut, Kanye’s musical growth took a big leap forward on Late Registration— whether it was bringing awareness to the atrocities in Sierra Leone, or having Jamie Foxx summon the spirit of the late Ray Charles on the smash hit “Gold Digger.” Late Registration served as Kanye’s true coming out party, even winning a Grammy that year for Best Rap Album.
Debut: Ironman (1996)
Sophomore: Supreme Clientele (2000)
When Wu-Tang members began dropping solo albums in the ’90s, nobody expected Ghostface to be the member to end up with the best solo career. GFK’s sophomore album would ultimately be his best work to date, and lay the foundation for the other 9 albums that followed. Tracks like “Cher Chez La Ghost,” “Apollo Kids,” “Mighty Healthy” capture Ghost in his finest hour. Many consider Supreme Clientele and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx to be the twin peaks when it comes to Wu solo projects.
Debut: 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
Sophomore: Strictly 4 My N***** (1993)
Many rap icons drop classic debuts, but 2Pac’s 2Pacalypse Now it’s not heralded in the same fashion as a Biggie’s Ready To Die or Snoop’s Doggystyle. Obviously Pac didn’t have the luxury of a Dr. Dre or Puff Daddy guiding his project, but he did have Shock G who was a musical mind in his own right. Whatever the case may be, 2Pacalypse Now , fueled by the singles “Brenda’s Got A Baby” and “Trapped“, just scratched the surface.
Debut: I’m Serious (2001)
Sophomore: Trap Muzik (2003)
T.I.’s story is pretty amazing when you think about how poorly his debut did when it dropped in October of 2001. The album’s first single “I’m Serious,” which was produced by The Neptunes, failed miserably and his record label didn’t even bother with a followup. Never one to accept defeat, Tip would bounce back by solely catering to the streets with the release of his In Da Streets mixtape series. Tip’s stock also rose significantly after his breakthough performance on Bonecrusher’s “Neva Scared.” His second album Trap Muzik would fulfill all expectations— selling a million copies thanks to tracks like “Rubberband Man,” and “Let’s Get Away.”
Debut: Words From The Genius (1991)
Sophomore: Liquid Swords (1995)
Many know GZA as the soft spoken, cerebral lyricist from Wu-Tang. But back in 1991 he was known simply as the Genius, and thanks to label politics dropped a thud of a debut lead by the single, “Come Do Me.” Years later GZA would have his revenge — not only with the massive success of Wu-Tang, but with his second solo effort as well. With tracks such as “Liquid Swords,” “Shadowboxin,” “4th Chamber” and others,”Liquid Swords runs laps around GZA’s debut album.
Debut: Infinite (1996)
Sophomore: The Slim Shady LP (1999)
Eminem was a complete nobody when his debut dropped in 1996, Infinite was a super underground release that featured a young Marshall still fighting to find his identity as artist. After years of struggling in the dark, Eminem would eventually get his big break after he was brought to the attention of Dr. Dre. What soon followed was The Slim Shady LP, a multiplatinum album that was a far cry from his debut three years prior.