DAR Hip Hop: The 15 Greatest Sophomore Albums In Hip Hop

By @TrueGodImmortal

In music, one of the biggest things to try and avoid is the dreaded sophomore jinx. When an artist releases their debut project, in this genre, everything is measured against it. Ask Jay-Z. Ask Nas. Ask Biggie even (despite his short catalog, his most memorable to many is his debut). Ask Wu-Tang even. The fact is, following up a classic debut or a notable debut is very tough in this genre. Many artists have tried and fell victim to the sophomore jinx, but there have been plenty who haven't and those are the artists we are here to discuss. Today, we take a look at the 15 Greatest Sophomore Albums In Hip Hop. Let's get into the discussion.

*Outkast- ATLiens (1996)

-I wanted to start off the list with all time pick for the greatest sophomore album of all time. There have been many albums over the years that stood the test of time, but there is no album quite like the second release from Outkast. Released in 1996, in one of the most stacked years in hip hop, Andre and Big Boi released one of the most infamous albums in the history of the genre. It was different than their classic debut, more mature, more lyrical, and overall just one of the most well rounded projects ever. Whether listening to Big Boi spit some of his best on the title track, "Jazzy Belle", and "Decatur Psalm", or listening to Andre show his new focused state of mind on tracks like "Babylon", "Wailin", and "13th Floor (Growing Old)", this album is flawless from start to finish. ATLiens is easily one of the best sophomore albums and it stands as my favorite Outkast album ever.

*Ghostface Killah- Supreme Clientele (2000)

-When we talk the albums in the Wu, there are very few on the level of this album. Ghost is the best rapper in the Wu and the best artist IMO, and this album solidified that as well for me. The project flows so smooth, with perfect soulful production and boom bap drums throughout, and Ghost does what he does best all throughout this album. Tracks like the mind blowing classic "Nutmeg", "Apollo Kids", "Buck 50", and the most infamous song on the album "Cherchez La Ghost" helped to really elevate this project to level that not many in the Wu have reached. This is right in the running to be Ghost's best album, and in my opinion, it is his greatest work and easily one of the best sophomore albums ever in the genre.

*A Tribe Called Quest- The Low End Theory (1991)

-While at the time, Tribe was seen as just an upstart hip hop group looking to make a name for themselves, they were focused on becoming the next legends in the genre. After their debut opened doors for them and their Native Tongues crew, their 2nd album changed the game. Tribe revolutionized the genre by showing jazz rap at the highest form on this album. From production to the lyrics to the cohesion in the overall sound, this album is special. Songs like "Buggin Out", "Scenario", "Jazz (We've Got)", and "Check The Rhime" all help to make this album an amazing listen from beginning to end and there's no denying the importance of it to the hip hop world.

*Public Enemy- It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

-When we speak of albums that have a huge impact, there aren't many albums with more impact than this one. Public Enemy became a face of hip hop revolution with this important and vital project. This was the album that solidified the group as revolutionaries and legends in the genre. With tracks like "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos", "Don't Believe The Hype", "Bring The Noise", and "Rebel Without A Pause", PE made their impact felt and their mission known all throughout an album that can only be summed up as groundbreaking in hip hop.

*Common- Resurrection (1994)

-After his first project Can I Borrow A Dollar, Common Sense returned with an album that would end up changing his life and career. Backed by more soulful and boom bap productions from No I.D., this album was one of a kind. It allowed Common to show his growth as an artist and MC, and helped to solidify No I.D. as one of the premier producers in the game. Tracks like "Book Of Life", "Watermelon", "Nuthin To Do", and of course, the infamous classic single "I Used To Love H.E.R." helps to round out an album that not only put Common on the map for real, but set the tone for a legendary career in the making.

*The Notorious B.I.G.- Life After Death (1997)

-If anyone mentions Biggie, of course they mention Ready To Die, his debut. However, his most important album commercially will always be his 2nd project and a double album, Life After Death. Released right around the time of his untimely death, Life After Death has a small amount of filler on it, but it shows a much more polished Biggie with more versatility in his rhymes and themes. The first disc is amazing, and my favorite of the two discs, with tracks like "Niggas Bleed", "Kick In The Door", "I Love The Dough", and "What's Beef" helping to make it flow smoothly. The 2nd disc is great as well, though it has a bit of filler, it still possesses some amazing tracks like the Bone Thugs featured "Notorious Thugs", "Ten Crack Commandments", "Sky's The Limit", and "Long Kiss Goodnight". Regardless of the circumstances and controversy that surrounded this album, Life After Death is one of the most important and greatest sophomore albums ever in hip hop.

*Kanye West- Late Registration (2005)

-How do you follow up a classic debut album? With your best album ever. That's exactly what Kanye did on Late Registration. With his production work on full display throughout this album (Just Blaze contributed to one track), Kanye held it down for Chicago and continued the series started with his debut. He would end up creating something special, backed by a stacked guest list that included Brandy, The Game, Common, Cam'ron, Nas, Jay-Z, and more. From top to bottom, Kanye worked to create an album that would stand the test of the time, and with songs like "Heard 'Em Say", "Touch The Sky", "We Major", and so many more, Late Registration defeats the sophomore jinx and is still Kanye's best album.

*Mobb Deep- The Infamous (1995)

-After a disappointing debut from the Queens duo, they would strike back with a true vengeance. Not only is The Infamous one of the best albums in the history of hip hop, it is without a doubt, one of the greatest sophomore albums without question. Prodigy was in rare form on this album, spitting some of his greatest verses ever, while production contributions from Q-Tip and of course, Havoc helped the gritty sound of the album flow perfectly. With classics such as "Temperature's Rising", "Give Up The Goods", "Eye For A Eye", "Survival Of The Fittest", and of course, "Shook Ones Pt. II", Mobb Deep delivered on an album that they never managed to surpass. RIP Prodigy. This album solidified you as one of the greats.

*Little Brother- The Minstrel Show (2005)

-While I'm sure this one could possibly end up as a debatable choice on this list, I think this album is essentially a classic and one of the most important underground hip hop albums ever. Backed by the amazing soulful production of group member 9th Wonder, Little Brother returned with Phonte and Big Pooh delivering some of the most poignant lyrics of their careers on this brilliant album. With heavy topics centered around an interesting conceptual theme, Little Brother addressed things such as absentee fathers and fatherhood on "All For You", the reality of relationships on "Slow It Down", and various other tracks, Little Brother seemed as focused as they had ever been, and as a result, we got one of the greatest sophomore albums ever in The Minstrel Show.

*The Fugees- The Score (1996)

-After the lackluster debut of this New Jersey trio, it seems they went back to the drawing board, took the edge off their style some, and focused on creating one of the best albums we'd heard in the genre along with a truly diverse sound. Wyclef, Pras, and Lauryn Hill worked so well together and this album was the pinnacle of their partnership. With tracks like "Ready Or Not", "Killing Me Softly", "Zealots", "How Many Mics", and some other classics, The Fugees delivered on an album that has stood the test of the time over 21 years now and is certainly one of the best sophomore albums in music.

*Ice Cube- Death Certificate (1991)

-When Cube broke away from NWA, no one knew what to expect from his solo career. After his conversion to Islam, many were taken aback by this new style of Cube. He was still a top tier gangsta rapper, but it was different this go round. With more emphasis on the government being enemies and a bigger awareness throughout his tracks, Cube was in his element and crafted one of the greatest hip hop albums ever. The production, the lyrics, the themes, and the sequencing are all perfect here, and tracks like "Steady Mobbin", "A Bird In The Hand", "I Wanna Kill Uncle Sam", "Givin Up The Nappy Dugout", and other classics help to round out this album that nearly 26 years later is still as relevant as it was then in the genre.

*De La Soul- De La Soul Is Dead (1991)

-I struggled with this choice because there are so many choices to place on this list, but after revisiting their album, this became an easier pick. Honestly, De La might be the most underrated group ever in hip hop, and this album might be their best work ever. After being labeled hippies on their first project, De La responded with this album, and showcased more of an edge, but steered far away from the gangsta image that was coming in the game at the time. Still, the group created something undeniable, and with tracks like "Oodles Of Os", "A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays", and "Bitties In The BK Lounge", De La delivered to the highest power.

*Eric B. And Rakim- Follow The Leader (1988)

-Though many in hip hop love Paid In Full, the debut from this amazing duo, I think the second album is on par, if not better. The beats hit just a little bit harder on this album, and though Rakim was amazing on the debut album, he seemingly stepped up his crazy lyrical composite even more on this album. The songs on this album are pure classics, with the title track, "Microphone Fiend", "Lyrics Of Fury", and "No Competition" being the biggest highlights on an album that virtually has no skips. Eric B and Rakim compiled some amazing albums over the years, and this might be their very best.

*Lupe Fiasco- The Cool (2007)

-It was between this album and like 5 other choices. Still, I couldn't help but place this album here for the simple fact it blew me away when I first heard it. It was creative. Conceptual. Lyrical. It blended the storytelling with songs that had a catchy element to it, and this is my personal favorite Lupe album. With great tracks like the big single "Superstar", the sly "Dumb It Down", the amazing storytelling on "Hip Hop Saved My Life", the smooth and Tribe Called Quest influenced "Paris, Tokyo", and my personal favorite "Fighters", Lupe doesn't disappoint one bit on this almost flawless piece of work.

*Nas- It Was Written (1996)

-Of course, I had to end off this list with one of my favorite albums of all time and what I feel is the best Nas album. While Illmatic was a simple lesson in hip hop at its best, Nas decided to display more lyrical creativity and differing themes on his second album. The result would end up as a classic. With the Trackmasters handling majority of the production alongside Havoc and Dr. Dre, Nas would craft a pretty flawless album from start to finish. Who could deny tracks like "Watch Dem Niggas", "Take It In Blood", "I Gave You Power", "Black Girl Lost", and so many others. At the end of the day, Nas created an album that still sounds amazing 21 years later, and as far as I'm concerned, It Was Written just might be the greatest sophomore album ever in hip hop.



  1. Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique & Gang Starr's Step In The Arena


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