11 Rappers’ Sophomore Albums That Were Bigger Than Their First

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  • marshall mathers LP
    The sophomore slump is not just a cliche, it's an indicator of longevity in the music industry, and many rappers have come and gone without getting over that hump. But while so many fall off, and a smaller group of others maintain their consistency, there's a rare group of artists whose second album surpassed their debut—even if the first may have been dope on its own. It's not always about sales—though all the albums on this list outsold their predecessors, as well—but it's the influence of an album that matters, too; Nas' <em>It Was Written</em>, for instance, has outsold <i>Illmatic</i> by nearly a million copies to date, but no one would place it ahead of Esco's debut in the pantheon of great albums.<br /><br />With Kendrick Lamar looking to follow up his classic debut <i>good kid, m.A.A.d city</i> in the near future, <em>XXL</em> takes a look at 11 rappers and rap groups whose sophomore albums were bigger than their first. It's the progress that feels the best. —<a title="xxl" href="https://twitter.com/xxl" target="_blank"><em>XXL Staff</em></a>
  • cypress hill
    <h2>Cypress Hill</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>Black Sunday</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>Cypress Hill </em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>Their self-titled debut may have set the tone, but it was <em>Black Sunday</em>, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, that solidified Cypress Hill as a legitimate cultural monster that extended beyond hip-hop into the rock world as well. "Legalize It," "Hits From The Bong" and "Insane In The Brain" became legitimate staples, and the Cali collective became an established institution.
  • drake
    <h2>Drake</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>Take Care</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>Thank Me Later</em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>Drake has been on an unassailable upward trajectory since 2009's <em>So Far Gone</em> mixtape, and his first two albums were stepping stones forward as well. While <em>Thank Me Later</em> debuted at No. 1 on the charts, <em>Take Care</em> did the same thing, but it wasn't until his sophomore effort that he began impacting the lexicon of the culture, with lines like "YOLO" and "Hell Yeah Fuckin' Right" becoming popular phrases in every day life. It helps that <em>Take Care</em> won Drake his first and only Grammy of his career so far, too.
  • eminem
    <h2>Eminem</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>The Marshall Mathers LP</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>The Slim Shady LP </em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger:</strong> <em>The Slim Shady LP</em> was a fantastic introduction to the world for Eminem, particularly with songs like "My Name Is" and "Guilty Conscience," which won Shady his first two Grammys. So how did he follow it up? By unleashing <em>The Marshall Mathers LP</em> just over a year later, which rode the strength tracks like "The Real Slim Shady," "The Way I Am" and "Stan" to another two Grammys, an Album Of The Year nomination, a No. 1 spot on the charts and, eventually, Diamond certification by the RIAA, moving more than 10 million copies in the United States alone. Personal preference is up to the listener, but <em>MMLP</em> solidified Eminem as one of the biggest superstars in the game.
  • mobb deep
    <h2>Mobb Deep</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>The Infamous</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>Juvenile Hell </em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong><em>Juvenile Hell</em> showcased Queensbridge duo Havoc and Prodigy as they were at the time—hungry, ambitious, but with a little bit more learning to do before they got things right. <em>The Infamous</em> was the product of that learning curve, and when it dropped it introduced a new stark and ominous sound to the New York City hip-hop landscape. With production handled almost entirely by Havoc with some help from Q-Tip, <em>The Infamous</em> was received as a classic album out of the gate, and sent the two on their way to their roller coaster career. An iconic East Coast album if there ever was one.
  • pharrell
    <h2>Pharrell</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>G I R L</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>In My Mind </em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>Pharrell himself is on record as saying <em>In My Mind</em> was a product of his own arrogance, and that he didn't truly put as much effort into it as he needed to. He fixed things up by the time <em>G I R L</em> came around nearly a decade later, and rode the "Happy" train all the way to a top five debut on the charts and eternal ubiquity on pop radio.
  • Public Enemy
    <h2>Public Enemy</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>Yo! Bum Rush The Show</em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>It's not that <em>Yo! Bum Rush The Show</em> was a bad album—far from it. It's just that <em>It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back</em> is hands down one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever created. The raw energy and aggression directed towards the political and social ills of the communities around them were so palpable that they could have started a revolution, and Public Enemy stood strong in the middle of it all, conducting the madness. Brilliant.
  • t i
    <h2>T.I.</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>Trap Muzik</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>I'm Serious </em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>Since <em>I'm Serious </em> got T.I. dropped from Arista, his followup almost had to be better-received. But there are few second chances in the hip-hop game, and Tip took his by force, with the single "Rubber Band Man" particularly making waves in the mainstream. <em>Trap Muzik</em> finally gave credence to Tip's claim to the throne as King Of The South, and he hasn't looked back since.
  • the fugees
    <h2>The Fugees</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>The Score</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>Blunted On Reality </em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>The Fugees' debut may have come and gone without much fanfare, but <em>The Score</em> was the complete opposite. "Ready Or Not," "Killing Me Softly," "Fu-Gee-La," "How Many Mics"—the list of songs full of firepower goes on and on, and after this album came out Wyclef, Pras and Lauryn Hill were certified superstars. Two years later, Lauryn would deliver <em>The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill</em>, and her reign over hip-hop would reach its highest point after the Grammy Awards the following year. But it was <em>The Score</em> that gave them the platform.
  • tribe called quest
    <h2>A Tribe Called Quest</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>The Low End Theory</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm</em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>It's incredibly hard to argue with a debut album that included all-time classics like "Can I Kick It?," "Bonita Applebaum" and "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo." But when the followup is <em>The Low End Theory</em>, all of a sudden it's an argument. Easily one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, <em>The Low End Theory</em> ushered in the jazz-rap sub-genre of alternative hip-hop and established the group as one of the most influential collectives that hip-hop had ever seen. And that's even before we start talking about "Scenario," a landmark collaboration of alternative New York hip-hop.
  • Tyga
    <h2>Tyga</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>Careless World: Rise Of The Last King</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>No Introduction </em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong><em>No Introduction</em>-era Tyga is a completely different animal from the Cash Money Tyga that emerged three years later, and didn't manage to crack the top half of the charts after its release. So when "Rack City" caught fire at the end of 2011, the momentum carried <em>Careless World: Rise Of The Last King</em> all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and legitimized Tyga as, if not a lyrical beast, then one who could captivate an audience with a hook. <em>Careless World</em> wound up being T-Rawww's true introduction into the game.
  • Wale
    <h2>Wale</h2><strong>Sophomore Album:</strong> <em>Ambition</em><br /><strong>Debut Album:</strong> <em>Attention Deficit</em><br /><strong>WhyIt Was Bigger: </strong>After a string of solid mixtapes, <em>Attention Deficit</em> was Wale's major label debut with Interscope, and became an indicator that he was one to watch out for in the future. But by the time he got to his second album, he had left Interscope and signed on with Rick Ross and MMG, and with the Bawse's backing and his biggest single to date, "Lotus Flower Bomb," pumping the gas, <em>Ambition</em> debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and moved 164,000 copies its first week, establishing Wale as a legitimate second fiddle to Ross on the Maybach roster.

Previously: 23 Rappers And Producers On The Music That Changed Their Lives
12 Rappers And Producers On The Best Advice They Ever Received
17 Rappers Unveil Their Childhood Playlists