The Puzzling History of Rap Album Sequels
It looks like Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is on track to becoming the year's biggest rap release. While we're just now hitting the fifth year mark of Eminem's "comeback," this new album's success and praise has largely been attributed to Em's efforts to rekindle the fire that made the original Marshall Mathers LP a classic 13 years ago. But beyond his performance, MMLP2 features several nods and even something of a sequel to tracks from its namesake, leaving even the fans jaded by his choices on Relapse and Recovery to find themselves pleasantly surprised. It's basically a rap sequel done right, perhaps the rarest of unicorns in the hip-hop canon. Comparing it to other such albums, it's baffling how so many full-length rap sequels exist and how they've gotten the idea so very, very wrong.
See also: Does the World Still Want Eminem?
In the most traditional sense, rap as an album based medium is a very recent phenomenon. Having its roots in the live rocking of a party and then the singles meant to capture that same energy, you would be hard pressed to find someone trying to throw a "sequel" to a party, as opposed to just another party. As rap "albums" began to become more commonplace, they were largely collections of singles or still single-based enough to tailor the rest of the album around the single. While there have been dual rap releases on the same day (Esham's Judgement Day Volumes 1 and 2 in April, 1992, Nelly's Sweat and Suit in 2004), rappers who've punctuated their albums as "Volumes" of their work (Jay-Z, Immortal Technique), and as mixtapes and DJs' "mixtape albums" that have been marketed as a series, the rap album direct sequel has become a beast all unto itself.
While many cite Method Man's Tical 2000: Judgment Day's titular pun as the beginning of the rap album sequel, the concept such sequels probably owe its first implementation into the collective rap conscience as a chapter in the ongoing beef between Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. While the good Doctor announced he would be making a proper follow-up to his The Chronic album called Chronic 2000, his former label plotted to make sure a sequel to their signature release didn't happen outside of their camp. As a result, Death Row rushed out the double-disc compilation Chronic 2000, with a cover art resembling its namesake to an absolute tee. Not to be deterred, Dre announced his sophomore album was now to be called Chronic 2001: No Seeds, ultimately settling on just 2001, with a cover that just had a picture of a weed leaf on it. Both were released in 1999, making that one line from alleged super-fan The Game laughably wrong.
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Prior to this, however, Cash Money Records had already used the sequel-model as a means of perpetual relevance for their back catalog. Franchise player B.G. did this a few times with two volumes of It's All On U, as well as following-up his Chopper City album with Chopper City in the Ghetto. The mythology of Cash Money's catalog continued to grow in such a way that, following Juvenile's defection from their roster, Lil Wayne released 500 Degreez, a sequel of sorts to Juvy's 400 Degreez, then Cash Money's most successful album, as a sign of the label's continued promise in his wake. Soon Wayne would have two successful album franchises in his Tha Carter and I Am Not a Human Being series, not to mention several branches of seemingly infinite mixtape spinoffs.
Other artists used the rap album sequel as a way of almost signaling they've found a formula that they plan to keep using. Prior to partner Pimp C's death, his UGK partner Bun B released the well received collaborative heavy Trill in 2005. He continued his Trill saga with the similar and cleverly titled II Trill in 2008 and Trill O.G. (Trilogy, get it?) In 2010. Curren$y had similar success that same year with Pilot Talk and Pilot Talk II. The most obvious example of promoting the following of such a format is Jay-Z's Blueprint 2 album. After the original elevated him to that next echelon with critics, he tried to do it again, only bigger and better by making it a full double disc release. After being received as a bit bloated, he recut the album into the single disc Blueprint 2.1.
But the artists in question aren't necessarily always to blame for these shoddy sequels. Sometimes a greedy independent label (yes, they exist--hope you weren't drinking something when you read that) will acquire the license for a batch of an artist's tracks and release them as a false sequel in order to hoodwink the public. That's what allegedly happened to State Property member Freeway who, amidst his blistering series of output in 2009, had a dubious sequel to his biggest release, 2003 debut Philadelphia Freeway on store shelves.
Arguably, no artist has been a bigger victim of this than Kool Keith. Following the success of his landmark Dr. Octagon in 1996, he was heavily pressured by fans and the press to make a proper sequel. Being that Keith has always had his eyes on the future, he rejected these suggestions to the point where he killed the Dr. Octagon character on his 1999 Dr. Dooom album First Come, First Served. That's why it was especially puzzling when a bargain-bin looking Dr. Octagon Part II album, whose cover looked like it had been designed on Clarisworks, appeared on store shelves. Things only got more puzzling when two more of these sequels, The Return of Dr. Octagon and Nogatco Rd. hit store shelves in 2006, with the former featuring Princess Superstar and the latter boasting Sage Francis. While both were comparatively well received, supposedly only the latter had Keith's involvement as a sequel. The former was Keith acapellas remixed and distributed by a label that hadn't so much as carried a proper rap album before.
Near the end of the aughts when of rap records were struggling more than they had in years, the rap album sequel trend found a potential renewed interest. While some of these, such as Twista's Adreneline Rush 2007 and Method Man and Redman's Blackout 2, were made to coincide with the 10th anniversary of their namesakes, in many cases (Capone-N-Noriega's The War Report 2: Report the War, Lloyd Banks' H.F.M. 2 (The Hunger For More 2) --both 2010), they seemed like a promise to listeners that these artists were returning to the style that first brought them such acclaim. The most puzzlingly titled of these was Fat Joe's 2009 release Jealous Ones Still Envy 2. While it was the sequel to his most successful album, 2001's Jealous Ones Still Envy, that record itself was a sequel to 1995's Jealous One's Envy, making calling this new album Jealous Ones Still Envy 2 the equivalent of changing the name of, say, the fourth Shrek film, Shrek Ever After, to Shrek 2 Part 3. It's on par with Pitbull ruining the acronym of his M.I.A.M.I. (Money Is A Major Issue) project by calling its remix album Money Is Still A Major Issue.
Of course, all this sequel fever lead to the announcement of several albums that are delayed to this day. Of the countless MF Doom projects that are on the way (the new KMD album Mental Illness, the Swift and Changeable album with Ghostface) fans are probably most interested/infuriated by Madvillainy 2. Buzzed about for years, fans felt their heartstrings plucked as Stones Throw put out a release under the Madvillainy 2 name in 2008 that was merely a Madlib remix of the original album. Still, the label promises a proper follow-up is in the works, going as far as registering the domain names and fellow indie label Nature Sounds releasing a limited edition MF Doom/Ghostface cassette single with a "Madvillainz Remix" in the summer of 2011.
Also notable among these rap game Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League releases is Busta Rhymes' E.L.E. 2. The follow-up to his armageddon paranoia-riddled 1998 Extinction Level Event release, he's been saying its in the works for about four years now, going as far as describing tracks in interviews, including one where he and Eminem exchange battle verses. It's questionable how this is going to tie into the original though, unless, of course, it begins with someone screaming "WE'VE ONLY GOT NEGATIVE FOURTEEN YEARS LEFT!"
But if there's an argument that these sequels might be worth the wait, look no further than Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt II. Originally announced in 2005 as an Aftermath release, Rae spent four years worth of delays perfecting the album and recapturing the sound of the original classic in a way even the most devoted of Wu-Soliders wouldn't have thought possible. Released the same week as Jay-Z's Blueprint 3, it was a critical smash that remains the pinnacle of the rap album sequel. Just as Nas' return to form was signaled by his own masterpiece's sequel, 2001's Stillmatic, it's a strong case for proving sometimes an artist needs to look back to go forward.
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