A list of Hip Hop’s finest, who avoided the curse of the sophmore jinx. The graveyards of music, literature, and movies are littered with the corpses of second releases. Conventional wisdom has it that sequels are the rushed and unloved output of artists who put their all into their debuts – and then simply have nothing creatively to draw upon for their contractually required follow ups. Whilst this argument does hold up to some scrutiny, there are a number of notable exceptions. These ten records mean a great deal to me, and I think surpass the quality and creativity of the artist’s original release. If you could only own 10 rap records, you could do a lot worse than live the rest of your life with these… or maybe you have own ideas? Peace out.
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
Ok, so their debut made them famous/infamous, and arguably introduced people outside of NY to Hip Hop, but listening to it today…it’s tediously teenage & kind of anti-melodic, which is entirely in keeping with its punk-inspired heritage.
For me, this LP is their masterpiece – if this was the only record they’d ever released, it would still deserve a place in the Hip Hop hall of fame. The title itself & the cover art have a mysterious quality about them that makes you want to understand this album more.
And then when you start listening… you realize that the trio and producers – The Dust Brothers – have emerged from their self-imposed exile in LA with a classic. “Shake Your Rump” is where you can hear most clearly the robot inspired, B-Movie drone sound that they’d go onto feature in more commercially successful material, but “Johnny Ryall” is my favorite.
Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
There’s not much more to say about this album that hasn’t been said a million times before. Except, that in almost every other case on this list, the debut albums these artists released were missing a vital musical ingredient that they’d go on to be known for. However, in this case, Low End Theory took what was already brilliant about People’s Instinctive Travels and just made it perfect. Jazz legend bassist Ron Carter provides the bounce on “Verses From the Abstract”.
Gang Starr – Step In The Arena
Released at the very start of January 1991, this is the album that really introduced to the scene that DJ Premier, Works of Mart production sound. On their debut (No More Mr Nice Guy on Wild Pitch) only two songs got really close to the clipped sonic landscape we know off today, this album has 18 of them. Their look was more street too, and when you flip over to the back, you can see where 3 years later Nas’ Illmatic would get visual inspiration from.
There’s a bunch of classic singles on this album, “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight” was a double A-sided single with “Take a Rest”, and “Love Sick” got regular mainstream radio play at the time.
Lord Finesse – Return Of The Funky Man
Lord Finesse, is one of my all time favorite MCs with an instantly recognizable voice and flow. He shared top dog status within the DITC crew with Diamond D, and is the Hip Hop equivalent of a triple threat – not only respected as a rapper but he can also DJ and produce.
Return of the Funky Man is significant as it debuted him as a producer, but it’s his mic skills that shine on this LP. In addition to the title track, posse cut “Show Em How We Do Things” and “Stop Sweating the Next Man” demonstrates his vocal swagger.
Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back
From start to finish this is an all-star line up of Hip Hop royalty, assembled on an album that for some people would be in their top 5 albums of all time. On their debut “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” the same team produced a more stripped back sound, this album debuts the wall of sound assault that they’d be known for. I think it’s safe to say that this album introduced a generation of British teens to Hip Hop as Radio 1 DJ “Dangerous” Dave Pearce is the voice you can hear at the very beginning as the band are introduced to the Hammersmith Odeon on the 87 Def Jam tour, my first intro to live Hip Hop. There are of course a number of stone cold classics on this, but I loved ”Terminator X To The Edge of Panic”.
Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary
KRS-One is a legend of course, but this sophomore album from BDP was a pretty radical departure from their debut “Criminal Minded” (widely credited alongside Schoolly D with creating ‘gangster’ rap.) It’s often said to be one of the first, if not the first “conscious” records to be released and certainly introduced subject matters that KRS-One would play with for the rest of his career. But, I’m not so sure it was ‘the’ first anything; after all “The Message” had been released in 1982 and “White Lines” in 1984. But the look of the album, with the front cover inspired by a Malcolm X photo, created a kind of Hip Hop ideology; an urban call to arms that was politically motivated. If it was the first for anything, it may have been for suggesting some solutions, rather than merely documenting the problems. Remind yourself by listening to “Necessary” or “Stop The Violence” again.
Masta Ace Incorporated – Slaughtahouse
As Master Ace, Duval Clear, had already dropped “Take a Look Around” as part of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew. This 2nd release of his, on LA label Delicious Vinyl, saw him re-invent himself as part of the Masta Ace Incorporated crew. I think this is one of the most underrated Hip Hop albums of all time. It pre-dates acts like the Wu-Tang clan, Mobb Deep & Onyx, and plays out like a concept album. Ace, weaves tales together, inhabiting a gothic world of serial killers & shadows talking about having chainsaws in his holster and claiming to be the black Charles Manson.
Probably best known for breakout hit “Jeep Ass Niguh”, do yourself a favor and listen to all three tunes on Side 2 – “The Big Cast” produced by the Beatheads, “Jack B Nimble” produced by Uneek and “Boom Bashin” produced by Ase.
Del The Funky Homosapien – No Need for Alarm
Oakland-born cousin of Ice Cube, Del was something of a child genius, who as an 18-year-old, had played well on radio with his quirky “Mistadobalina” 12, from his debut I Wish My Brother George Was Here – titled after musical maverick George Clinton. As part of a west coast clique called The Hieroglyphics, that included Souls of Mischief, Casual and Domino, they were as far away in style and technique as the “Gangster” norm of the day as it was possible to be and were, for my money, producing some of the finest music of the Golden Age. A true collective effort with producing and scratches credited from seemingly every member of their cooperative, savor Del’s skills on tracks “Whack MCs” and “No Need for Alarm”.
King Tee – At Your Own Risk
Compton resident and west coast legend King Tee/T is another MC/producer who does not get nearly enough dues. His music is unlike other Compton artists from the time, and sounds like the west coast equivalent of DJ Scratch produced EPMD tunes – sampling artists and music that you’d normally associate with NY Hip Hop. A long-term collaborator of DJ Pooh and E Swift, King T would go on to mentor The Alkaholics crew. Classic cut is “At Your Own risk” but check out the beat and uplifting message on “Time to Get Out” – if his voice doesn’t remind you a little of Rakim I’d be amazed.
Jungle Brothers – Done By The Forces of Nature
Instrumental in laying the foundations of the so-called daisy age of rap alongside other flavor unit/natives tongues pioneers De La Soul, Tribe, Queen Latifa & the massively underrated Monie Love; Jungle Brothers always had a slightly different sound to the others.
Relentlessly upbeat, optimistic & technically gifted they should be admired for doing their own creative thing, even if they did dabble in hip-house occasionally. I think maybe they didn’t blow up completely because their sound is so dense, this is lean forward music for those that want to listen – not pop licks with clichéd lyrical content for teenage sheep? “Doin Our Own Thang” posse cut should be an alternative rap anthem and “J-Beez Comin Through” is one for B-Boys in Jeeps.