By Jeremy Kaplan
In the modern music landscape, it's extremely difficult to make an impact with a whole album. With the rise of digital downloads and customizable playlists on iPods, an artist's music is far more likely to be absorbed via a series of singles or on a compilation than as an entire album. In hip-hop, it's even more difficult, as the emphasis is so often put on the killer single or the tracks grouped together on a mixtape. Creating a truly classic hip-hop album is hard, and crafting a sequel to an album like that should be impossible. However, there are a handful of artists — namely Dr. Dre, Raekwon and Capone-n-Noreaga — who have managed to pull off such an incredible feat.
Dr. Dre's 1992 solo debut The Chronic introduced the world to G-Funk. Seven years later, Dre expanded on the same sound with 2001 (also known as The Chronic 2001), a spiritual continuation of The Chronic's exploration of modern gangsta life. In a great link, Snoop Dogg rapped "Just chill 'til the next episode" on The Chronic's classic single "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang," and the song "The Next Episode" was one of the cornerstone tunes of 2001.
Raekwon had an even bigger uphill battle, as the Wu-Tang Clan member's 1995 solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is not only roundly accepted as the best Wu-Tang solo album but also one of the finest rap records ever made. The depth of his storytelling (which saw him cast himself as a number of different fictional gangster figures) combined with RZA's eerie, bass-heavy beats highlighted the darkness that is so often missing from mainstream hip-hop. Rae kept releasing high quality albums, but in 2009 he dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part II. The sequel revisits the same Mafia-styled lyricism and storytelling, and it's everything that Rae's fans wanted it to be. Even though RZA wasn't as involved with the production, beat giants like the Alchemist, Pete Rock and Erick Sermon stepped up to the plate and filled in gamely.
Finally, we can look at Queens duo Capone-N-Noreaga, whose fourth album The War Report 2: Report the War just hit store shelves this week. The album's first chapter, 1997's The War Report, is a landmark in hardcore rap and showcased each MC's considerable skills. The duo's follow-up albums (2000's The Reunion and 2009's Channel 10) were considered disappointments, and their output has been derailed by Capone's legal troubles. However, the pair manage to tap into the hardcore poetry they had perfected 13 years ago, especially on killer tracks like "Bodega Stories" and "The Reserves."
Of course, for every Only Built for Cuban Linx Part II there are a dozen sequels that don't work quite as well as their predecessors (like Method Man's follow-ups to Tical or Fat Joe's J.O.S.E. 2). The moral of the story? A classic album is hard, and a classic sequel — especially in the hip-hop game — is an even greater rarity.
What's your favorite hip-hop sequel? Let us know in the comments!