There are plenty of examples throughout the genres’ history to make an argument for such a phenomenon, arguably ranging from Nas with the follow up to his classic Illmatic with It Was Written in 1996, to Wu-Tang Clan releasing a double album to follow Enter the Wu Tang with Wu-Tang Forever in 1997. In both cases both artists/groups came back with album that, although contained very good Hip Hop music, didn’t quite live up to the lofty standards set by their predecessors, and by some accounts are considered disappointments. Flash forward to 2013 and we may just get a few more examples of whether the sophomore slump talk is valid or void.
This year, we’ll all witness the second efforts by some of Hip Hop’s most notable. J. Cole’s much anticipated follow up album, Born Sinner, missed its original release date of January 28 but is still expected to see the light of day this year. Until then, Cole is holding his fans over with the solidly strong five-song EP Truly Yours. Tyler the Creator is also set to release the follow-up to his first album Goblin with Wolf on April 2. And Detroit’s own Big Sean, after two career-boosting years as part of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music camp, is also eyeing a June 2013 release of his second opus, Hall of Fame.
While it’s probably debatable at best as to whether Cole, Tyler and Sean released “classic” first albums, there’s no question that each of their freshman efforts made an impact. Each album had it’s own degree of critical acclaim and commercial success, each album solidified and grew the fan bases of each artist, and each album made these three emcees household names in popular music.
But today’s Hip Hop environment moves at warp speed. And with each passing year comes a new crop of artists looking to not only make their place in the industry, but also potentially steal a spot from somebody that the public has deemed as having fallen off, which doesn’t take much in today’s all-access, instant information world.
Enter the idea of the sophomore slump. If you think about it, the potential for the pendulum to swing in either direction for an artist is as uncertain as it has ever been. Time was, an artist would have the chance to release multiple albums before they had that one that really got them over the hump. Nowadays, however, if you’re a mainstream artist, your first release had good and damn well better be one that makes the dollars roll in AND be respected by major music critics, or you could find yourself without a musical home, and fast.
And the irony of this is that even if an artist does somehow manage to pull of a first album that’s successfully commercially and artistically, the real question is can you do it again? And beyond that, can you do it multiple times?
On top of that, the Hip Hop artist of the new millennium has so much more to think about when creating a solid, respectable body of work that will move hearts and minds to the iTunes store or wherever else to make that purchase: material being leaked to the public early, the increasingly fickle buying habits of music fans, saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and having it spread like wildfire throughout the social media sphere, and so on. Yes, the majority of Hip Hop artists will tell you that they don’t even concern themselves with these thoughts, but how much are you willing to bet that at least half of them are sweating bullets at the growing possibility of flopping?
In the end, we’ll pretty much just have to wait and see if artists like J. Cole, Tyler the Creator, Big Sean and others actually do release worthwhile and successful sophomore albums. As a fan of Hip Hop, I truly hope that each of them does succeed and proves the sophomore slump to be a stone cold myth. One thing is for certain, though: the streets and the numbers will certainly do a lot of talking.