The sophomore jinx is a feared slump both for artists and fans alike. When an album has a certain degree of success, in terms of quality, expectations are raised exponentially for the second go-round. For some artists, this is welcomed pressure in that it forces them to craft an even tighter and more polished sound. For others, it is a recipe for disaster that ultimately results in them falling flat on their faces.
Several factors contribute to the sophomore jinx, from internal to external sources. An artist may become complacent from the positive reception of the debut, the label may rush out a second effort in order to strike while the iron’s hot (word to X), and others may just be unable to handle the pressure to perform. With J. Cole’s sophomore effort just around the corner, and fans all over the world hoping he lives up to the buzz surrounding Born Sinner, we think it might be useful to look at five other albums that were able to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Each album differs in context and most of them were not as commercially successful as their predecessors, but they are still triumphs because they show artists rising above the pressure and maintaining their integrity.
Nas – It Was Written (1996)
Nas had released what would go on to be widely-considered one of the greatest albums in hip-hop history with Illmatic two years prior. It Was Written moved away from the raw sound of Nas’ debut in favor of a slightly more mainstream reach. Because of this, the album was initially panned by critics as a departure from what made Nas great. In hindsight, most of those criticisms fell by the wayside and It Was Written went on to be considered one of Nasir’s best efforts.
Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Marshall Mathers had taken the rap game by storm in 1999 with the success of the Slim Shady LP. For his sophomore effort, Em decided to forgo much of the cartoonish imagery from his debut in favor of darker, more introspective lyrical content. Despite the fact that the album’s misogynistic content garnered massive scrutiny by activists, the Marshall Mathers LP proved to be a hit with fans and critics alike and is considered by many to be Eminem’s best.
Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth (2007)
Following a poorly-circulated album three years earlier with Rites of Passage, Ali delivered his proper Rhymesayers debut in Shadows on the Sun in 2003. Shadows was widely-praised and four years later Ali would follow-up with the Undisputed Truth. Produced entirely by Ant of Atmosphere, the album shifted its focus from the battle raps and introspection found on Ali’s debut to a more global, political view. “Uncle Sam Goddamn” was extremely critical of the US government and ultimately got Ali kicked off a 2007 tour sponsored by Verizon. Ali addressed the situation on “Second Time Around,” saying, “Verizon dissed me too, ‘cause I was too political.”
Outkast – ATLiens (1996)
In 1993, Big Boi and Andre 3000 took a $15,000 advance from LaFace Records and recorded Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The album encompassed the southern youth lifestyle at the time and was largely praised by critics. For their sophomore effort, Outkast expanded on their sound, creating much broader, spacier sounds. ATLiens also branched out lyrically, with more introspection from both men. While it didn’t propel them into mainstream fame (that would happen next with Stankonia), the album was more polished and mature and stands out as a pillar in the group’s catalog.
Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
It took four years of label hell for Malice and Pusha to capitalize on their platinum-selling Lord Willin album. After a trio of mixtapes under their belt, they returned to the rap game with an angry, laser-focused product. With production handled entirely by the Neptunes, the Thorton brothers unleashed tales of coke, industry frustrations and some occasional stunting just for good measure. While Hell Hath No Fury failed to live up to the commercial success of their debut, it more than made up for with lyricism and consistency. The album is regarded by most — including Pusha T himself — as the Clipse’s masterpiece.
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