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A Rapper’s Freshman or Sophomore Album is Usually Their Best

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Criticism has always been a part of our musical world –  but as hip-hop has become a central component of popular music, critique has intensified.

Who’s your top 5, dead or alive?
Is 50-Cent a top 25 MC?
Who’s the best lyricist?
Does lyricism even matter?

Hip-hop has created a pastime out of criticism. A fun sphere where everyone can debate and discuss. It has built a sub-culture that I love. A place where art can be explored.

However, in all the discussion and examination of hip-hop, a theory glares out to me that has been relatively ignored: A rapper’s freshman or sophomore album is usually their best piece of work.

Here’s my case.

While art and music is a highly subjective field, we have created things that help objectify it. Music publications and blogs; we read Rolling Stone, Complex, The Source, etc., all of which help analyze and objectify music. We may also have certain media personalities, critics, or even artists/celebrities that we look to for opinion.

I remember as a high school freshman in 2007, sitting down in front of my TV and watching hip-hop media folks on MTV list the “Hottest MCs in the Game.” While I didn’t agree with every rank, I still saw their list as a sort of holy guide.

hip-hop has created a pastime out of criticism

Whether you agree with other’s opinions or not, you can’t deny that we are constantly looking for ways to objectify music. So why not use these attempts at objectifying music to help prove my objective theory that a rapper’s freshman or sophomore album is usually their best.

In 2012, Rolling Stone published their list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” I combed through that list for the hip-hop albums and pulled a top 10 hip-hop albums ranking from their larger list.

The list is as follows:

  1. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back (1988) – Public Enemy
  2. Late Registration (2005) – Kanye West
  3. Raising Hell (1986) – Run DMC
  4. Ready to Die (1994) – The Notorious B.I.G.
  5. The Chronic (1992) – Dr. Dre
  6. Straight Outta Compton (1988) – N.W.A.
  7. Low End Theory (1991) – A Tribe Called Quest
  8. Licensed to Ill (1986) – Beastie Boys
  9. Paid in Full (1987) – Eric B. & Rakim
  10. Run-D.M.C. (1984) – Run DMC

Of those top 10 albums, 9 out of 10 are the artist’s first or second album. The only album that breaks the mold is Run DMC’s Raising Hell.

Let’s take my own personal top 5 favorite rappers/rap groups list; which is as follows:

  1. Nas
  2. A Tribe Called Quest
  3. Kanye West
  4. Jay-Z
  5. Cam’ron

Now my favorite album from each artist:

  • Illmatic – Nas
  • Midnight Marauders – Tribe
  • Late Registration – Kanye West
  • Reasonable Doubt – Jay-Z
  • Purple Haze – Cam’ron

3 out of 5 of those albums are a freshmen or sophomore release. Purple Haze and Midnight Marauders break the mold.

we are constantly looking for ways to objectify music

Now, you may be saying, “Hey! He just wrote whatever albums he wanted to make sure the majority fell in his theories favor!” Well, I also asked two of my hip-hop head friends to list their top 5 rappers, along with their congruent favorite album from those artists.

Here are their results:

Friend #1’s Top 5
(He didn’t want to give me an all-time list. Instead he gave me a kind of new millennium top 5)

  1. Kendrick Lamar
  2. J Cole
  3. Drake
  4. Lil Wayne
  5. Big Sean

Favorite album from each artist:

  • Good Kid, M.A.A.D City – Kendrick
  • Born Sinner – J Cole
  • Take Care – Drake
  • Tha Carter II – Lil Wayne
  • Finally Famous – Big Sean

4 out of 5 of those albums are a freshmen or sophomore release. Tha Cater II was Wayne’s 5th studio album, but let’s be honest, Wayne is an enigma in many ways.

Friend #2’s Top 5

  1. Outkast
  2. The Notorious B.I.G.
  3. Nas
  4. Jeezy
  5. T.I.
    **Can you tell he’s from Atlanta?

Favorite album from each artist:

  • ATLiens – Outkast
  • Ready to Die – The Notorious B.I.G.
  • Illmatic – Nas
  • Thug Motivation 101 – Jeezy
  • T.I. vs T.I.P. – T.I.

4 out of 5 of those albums are a freshmen or sophomore release. T.I. vs T.I.P. was not a freshman or sophomore release, but my friend struggled picking between T.I. vs T.I.P. and T.I.’s second album, Trap Muzik.

By twisting a subjective, artistic practice into objective scales, we can see that a rapper’s first or second album is usually their best work. At this point, people reading this might start yelling at me, saying, “OMG! You just turned a beautiful art form into science, into… MATH!” **INSERT HORRIFIED GASP** But wait, hold on a second, can’t math and science be a form of art too?

OK, so why is a rapper’s first or second album usually their best? Why is this the case?

When I was getting off the phone with Friend #1, he said to me, “Bro, you’re right, rappers really shouldn’t make more than two albums.” That struck me. I’m not trying to say rappers shouldn’t make more the two albums. I want as much hip-hop out there as my ears can consume.

But why is artist integrity cut short for rappers? What happens?

You often hear people say that rappers lose authenticity as their careers progress. But is that because they are forced into “street” narratives that they can no longer be authentic to? Nas created Illmatic, an album that vividly painted a picture of life as a young black man in Queens, but how is a 45 year-old Nas supposed to stick to a story that he no longer lives? We don’t expect the Beatles to continue to talk about childhood crushes through their career. In fact, Rolling Stone ranks The Beatles, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band as their #1 album of all-time. Sgt. Peppers is the Beatle’s 8th studio album. Rolling Stone’s second ranked album is Pet Sounds, by The Beach Boys; their 12th album. This is really a hip-hop phenomenon, and it’s caused because these hip-hop artists are set up to fail.

how is a 45 year-old Nas supposed to stick to a story that he no longer lives?

While the pioneers of hip-hop have been pushing the boundaries for years, the genre has remained virtually the same in the American music vernacular. However, with albums like Kendrick Lamar’s, DAMN, which tackles issues of race, mental health, and identity, and Jay-Z’s 4:44, an album about marriage, infidelity, and being a father; Hip-hop artists are forcing the masses to respect topics that are authentic to the artists themselves, not authentic to the stereotypes of the genre.

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Self-Serving Interview with Electronic Device Does Little to Advance Musician’s Career

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Two men that look suspiciously alike meet outside a fictitious Brooklyn hot-spot – six feet apart.

MC Krispy E: Very nice to meet you. (squints) Have we met before?

Electronic Device: Maybe?

MC Krispy E: Is the rest of the band joining us?

Electronic Device: (pause) I am the rest of the band.

MC Krispy E: You are Electronic Device? What’s that about?

Electronic Device: Uhm, yeah, it’s like a pen name. You know what that is, right?

MC Krispy E: I have some idea.

Electronic Device: It was actually the name of one of my dad’s companies back in the day before…

MC Krispy E: (looking at his watch) Wonderful. So… it says here you have a new single called “All Things Come to an End” inspired by the death of your brother.

Electronic Device: Yeah, after my brother died I recorded songs as a form of therapy in his old bedroom in Staten Island.

MC Krispy E: And now I read that you have cancer. Am I supposed to feel extra sorry for you?

Electronic Device: Uhm…

MC Krispy E: It sounds like this album is going to be super depressing.

Electronic Device: It’s not, I swear. I was looking for some happiness while recording these songs, there’s not much of an agenda beyond that.

MC Krispy E: What kind of music is it?

Electronic Device: I wasn’t really thinking about influences while recording, but listening back I hear some Concrete Blonde, some Cracker.

MC Krispy: So bands no one is interested in?

Electronic Device: What the hell, man?

MC Krispy: Sorry, it’s almost like I can’t help it.  What’s the single about?

Electronic Device: I hate saying what a song is about because everything is up for interpretation.

MC Krispy E: Humor us.

Electronic Device: I can say that “All Things Come to an End” has multiple narrators, some of which are unreliable.

MC Krispy E: (stares)

Electronic Device: And that one day I was at my Dad’s house and when I turned the corner into the hallway my Dad thought I was my brother for a moment, which was super sad because of course I couldn’t be.

MC Krispy E: And then you wrote a whole song about that.

Electronic Device: I guess so. When you put it that way…

MC Krispy E: (yawning) Tell us when the single come out.

Electronic Device: The single is out now. The album comes out in 2021.

MC Krispy E: Well, good for you. And good luck with that cancer thing.

Electronic Device: Yeah, you too.

MC Krispy E: Thanks. What?

Recording as Electronic Device, Brooklyn artist and writer Eric Curran releases his debut record "Two Dull Boys" in 2021.

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Elvis Costello Hey Clockface

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Hey Clockface is the 31st studio album by singer-songwriter Elvis Costello. Costello recorded the record in Helsinki, Paris and New York, often allowing musicians to improvise around his vocal.

A sonic departure from his last album, the Grammy-winning Look Now, Clockface does shuffle in some Tin-Pan Alley style tracks, but also includes more  experimental moments like “No Flag” and the spoken word “Revolution #49.

With no tour on the horizon, Costello is back to work on more material and recently released a special vinyl edition of his classic 1979 album Armed Forces.

“I’ve got no religion. I’ve got no philosophy. I’ve got a head full of ideas and words that don’t seem to belong to me. – No Flag”

Recording as Electronic Device, Brooklyn artist and writer Eric Curran releases his debut record "Two Dull Boys" in 2021.

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Music

McCartney III is Coming Up!

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McCartney III is the 18th solo album by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, scheduled to be released on December 18th 2020 by Capitol Records. Like the first two self-named McCartney solo records in 1970 and 1980, McCartney III features Paul on all instruments.

McCartney III promises to be a return to form for Paul, who wrote, produced, and recorded the record in quarantine.

Recording as Electronic Device, Brooklyn artist and writer Eric Curran releases his debut record "Two Dull Boys" in 2021.

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