“Kill the track, annihilate the sequel”
– Dilated Peoples
People, people, people.
Something needs to change.
This year, we have seen a dangerous trend overtake our genre and upend it into near oblivion. A trend that seems to grow with each passing month. A trend that may cause the very existence of the genre to be in peril.
Naw. That’ll hopefully continue its steady decline—thanks “D.O.A.”—until it goes the way of hip-house.
It’s the ever-growing album sequel phenomenon. It hasn’t reached fever pitch yet but you can feel the lava bubbles getting bigger and bigger. It’s time to cut this off now, though, before the volcano explodes.
You can argue the trend started a decade ago with Dre’s 2001, the follow-up to 1992’s classic The Chronic. Hell, you could argue that EPMD has made a career out of it with their Business series, but they at least always switched up the title a bit.
One look at this season’s releases confirms our worst fears: Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt II, Fat Joe’s Jealous One’s Still Envy 2, Canibus’ Rip The Jacker II, N.O.R.E.’s S.O.R.E. (which just looks weird) and, of course, the granddaddy: Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3. (Lil Wayne, no stranger to sequels is currently prepping Tha Carter IV for release next year.)
Why do rappers do it? The obvious reason, of course, is to try to capitalize on their biggest record by instantly tying their new project to an already established classic. But there’s a flipside: by equating your latest album with said classic, you’re immediately telling people, “Please, compare these two albums and hold my latest to a higher (usually unachievable) standard than you would just on a cold listen.” To be fair, most listeners use an artist’s classic as an established guidepost consciously or not (“It’s dope, but it’s nothing like so and so”), but to explicitly instill that point can only be detrimental for the artist and, worse, marginalize all of their other works. (Sometimes justifiably. Immobilarity, anyone?)
Don’t get it twisted: this has nothing to do with the quality of the albums themselves. Chef put out one of the best hip-hop albums of the year and Jay-Z? Well, at least the first half was solid. Interestingly, Raekwon’s new one at least sounds similar to the original, while Jay-Z’s latest is the polar opposite to 2001’s The Bluperint. Either way, though, it’s a bizarre trend that, when you think about it, makes absolutely zero sense. In movies, sequels are continuations to a character’s development or plot. Even if you’ve never seen Rocky II, you probably have a pretty good idea that it will be somehow, someway connected to a guy named Rocky. (See Eminem’s upcoming Relapse 2, which uses tracks from the same sessions as the original, for an appropriate use of the sequel.)
But music is not cinema. What the hell does The Blueprint 3—sonically, lyrically, thematically—have anything to do with The Blueprint or The Blueprint 2? Had Jay-Z released this album under a different name, there’s no doubt that its already tepid ratings would have at least marginally increased, as at least a certain amount of reviewers and listeners wouldn’t immediately conjure the success of the original and/or the failure of its successor.
Which leads us to the absolute nadir of the trend: the sequel of the sequel. Fat Joe dropped Jealous One’s Still Envy 2 (J.O.S.E. 2), the sequel to 2001’s Jealous One’s Still Envy (J.O.S.E.), which itself was a sequel to 1995’s classic Jealous One’s Envy. Emcees can spit all they want about how this or that album is a “continuation” or “progression” and how they’re “getting back to their roots and finding their hunger again,” but to me, this just signals laziness to me. You can’t just put the word “Still” in a title, pick up the check and call it a day if you want to be considered a true artist. Granted, hot music is hot music no matter what the album title is called, but where is the line? Still Jealous One’s Still Envy 3? Still Jealous Still One’s Still Envy 4? Joey Crack is certainly far from the only artist to employ this trick, but you get the idea.
What’s next? Tribe Called Quest’s Marauding After Midnight? KRS-One’s Return of Return of the Boom Bap? Common’s Re-resurrection? The Roots’ You Want More? LL Cool J’s Biggerer and Defferer?
Consider this a call to arms for the good of the genre. I know artists want to cling to their classics and try to revive them at any opportunity. That’s understandable. But it’s also the easy way out. And once the slippery slope begins, the creativity of all of us falls off the cliff.