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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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Better Oblivion Community Center

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Surprise release from Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers brings together two emotive indie artists.

Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center.png

 

 

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2018 in Music

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Music is alive and well. Here are some favorites from records I listened to this year.

Be the Cowboy – Mitski
Mitski has beautiful momentum since Puberty 2. Her latest, Be the Cowboy, ups the ante. (more)


The Tree of Forgiveness – John Prine

Septuagenarian John Prine has honed his craft for well over 50 years and never once had to twerk.

Kids See Ghosts – Kanye West & Kid Cudi
Cudi’s record is the best of Kanye’s multiple releases in 2018, tweets aside.

boygenius – boygenius
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus join forces as boygenius for an EP that’ll play you like a violin.

Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film) – Thom Yorke
Haven’t seen the movie yet, but this record paints a vivid picture on its own.

Things Have Changed – Bettye LaVette
The freshest take on Dylan since Dylan.

Look Now – Elvis Costello
Elvis is incapable of making a mediocre album. (more)

I’ll Be Your Girl – The Decemberists
A well-oiled music-making machine – it was fun to hear them play with synths this year.

Twentytwo in Blue – Sunflower Bean
Shoulda hit the big time with this decidedly Fleetwood Mac–flavored record.

Rock 2 – The Dean Ween Group
You can expect more of these beer–smelling solo records until Ween make new music.

This is America – Childish Gambino 
One of the best songs of the year, and definitely the best video.

Superoganism – Superoganism
These kids can play on my lawn any day. (more)

Sparkle Hard – Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
The voice of Pavement makes another solid record with The Jicks.

Ordinary Corrupt Human Love – Deafheaven
Alls I know is… this song helped me out this year.

Burning Daylight – Blake Morgan
Restored and remastered version of Blake’s sophomore album shines like a diamond. (more)

Pinkus Abortion Technician – Melvins
A good reminder from the drunk uncle of grunge.

Wide Awake! – Parquet Courts
Some solid tracks, but I wanted to like this collab with Danger Mouse more.

Thank You For Today – Death Cab for Cutie
Latest record has some fans burning their membership cards, and others fainting into their lattes.  (more)

Aquarelle – Jesse Harris
Caught Jesse twice in NYC this year and dug his shit.

Egypt Station – Paul McCartney
Inconsistent record from the most consistent artist of his generation. (more)

Kumi – Blak Emoji
Blew the ceiling of Arlene’s Grocery this year.

Down The Road Wherever – Mark Knopfler
Mark’s solo records continue to hit the sweet spot.

Lil Peep & XXXTENTACION – Falling Down
Posthumously released earworm.

Using a host of pen names, Eric Curran has been blogging in one form or another for well over 10 years. He's a partner at One Track Mine, and also runs the blog Jealous Foodies.

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20 OF THE MOST DISTINCT VOICES IN HIP HOP

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Hip Hop has been woven into the fabric of our lives with some very distinct voices. They are unique, unforgettable and not easily duplicated. Here are 20 reminders to refresh your memory just in case you forgot.

So LISTEN UP! Did it ring a bell? Did they make your list?

20. Cardi B 

19. Kodak Black

18. Andre 3000

17. Eminem

16. Foxy Brown

15. Ice Cube

14. Young Jeezy

13. Too Short

12. Rakim

11. Lil Wayne

10. Jadakiss

9. Nas

8. Notorious BIG

7. Uncle Luke

6. Tupac

5. Slick Rick

4. E-40

3. Q-Tip

2. Snoop Dogg

1. Busta Rhymes

HB aka The World Traveler is fully committed to exploring and sharing with you what the world has to offer in travel and music. Get on board and enjoy the ride!

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