Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Lil Yachty, Future and Wiz Khalifa have all dropped sequels to the projects that got their careers off the ground. But do fans get more of what they loved about the first instalments, or are disappointing comparisons inevitable?
Every successful rapper has the album. And by this I’m not referring to the rather self-explanatory point that in order to be a musician you have to have made music, and this usually manifests itself at some point in that artist’s career in a body of work, usually termed an album. Although, some would actually argue that there are well-known rappers who thrive on mixtapes, which aren’t specifically the same as albums…
ANYWAY, ignoring the nit-picky imperfections of my opening statement, it is undoubtedly the case that usually, in any genre, to be a hit recording artist, you need one special album to really propel you into the mainstream consciousness. You need a body of work that epitomises your sound, your style, and that is and probably never won’t be the best album of your career. You need a centrepiece, a ‘Tapestry’, a collection of songs where you can’t talk about the artist without saying ‘Oh yeah, they’re the one who made that album’.
You need the album.
Many would argue that once you achieve this point in your career, it is a curse to ever release a sequel to this heralded piece of work. It will always fall short of fans’ expectations, because with every year that passes the original album becomes even greater and more of a classic in their minds. It would be the ‘Jaws 2’ of the music world. By contrast, many record label strategists and industry gurus (first of all, how are these even jobs - and secondly, where do I sign up?) sit on the other side of the fence, arguing that you can capitalise on the success of the first album by bringing out a follow-up. Fans of the first will almost definitely devour the second, and even if it is a load of utter codswallop, the money-makers don’t care, because the streams will already be there. Equally, the artistic purists will claim that album sequels should more often than not exceed their predecessor, because if the creator is a true ‘artist’ they will have developed and honed their sound in the time between the releases.
In reality, bringing out sequels in Hip Hop is undoubtedly risky business. But it can work, and when it does, it is usually spectacular in its success. If it flops, however, the pedestal the original album had been placed on is very often snatched from beneath the artist’s feet.
So in 2018, where a surprisingly large number of artists released sequels - who dropped fire, and who flopped dire? (Ok, it wasn’t that funny, but it rhymed and I couldn’t resist, so lets just move on to our first sequential analysis)…
Migos, Culture II
For the Migos, it was Culture, the smash hit that spearheaded their charge into rap’s upper echelon and announced themselves as the leaders of this generation’s artistic movement. Is this a valid claim? No. But was Culture a decent album? Definitely. It was fun, it was hectic at points, but it was the Migos through and through. And of course, there was a period in 2017 where you couldn’t turn the radio on and not hear the group’s smash hit ‘Bad and Boujee’, which somehow went overwhelmingly viral.
On the surface of Culture II, not much has changed in the year since the first Culture instalment. The excessive amount of ad-libs - a large amount of which are self-promoting name drops - and their supposedly pioneering triplet flow is as pervasive as ever. The guest list is a lot more impressive on Culture II, with contributions from Drake, Post Malone, Big Sean and Kanye West. But as a body of work, it fails to really impress. It has better tracks individually, with ‘Motorsport’, ‘Supastars’, ‘Notice Me’ and ‘Gang Gang’ being personal highlights, but it definitely suffers from being way too long with 24 tracks, as opposed to Culture’s comparably concise 13. There were moments on Culture II that eclipsed the material on the first album, but these came too few and far between to really be called an improvement on the original, and ultimately made many ask whether the Migos are a one-trick pony, and whether they have started to take themselves too seriously. Culture II is overly similar in subject matter to the first Culture, and made many realise that perhaps the original wasn’t the masterpiece it was crowned as. Without ‘Bad and Boujee’s meme-fuelled success, the album probably would have dipped quite heavily under the radar.
If this was a film?
Taken 2. Not terrible, but too predictable to really be good. We know the guy has to save the girl, just like we know Quavo’s always going to rap about raindrops and droptops.
Rae Sremmurd, SR3MM
The previous two Rae Sremmurd albums had been met with a fair amount of critical acclaim, but escaped the playlists of many mainstream listeners until the breakout stardom they earned as a result of their own equivalent to ‘Bad and Boujee’ - ‘Black Beatles’. It spawned the viral freeze game, which helped propel the song to number one. However, the rest of the tracks on Sremmlife 1 and 2 remained largely untouched, except by the duo’s existing fanbase. After the failure of Culture II largely because of its length, the announcement that SR3MM would consist of Rae Sremmurd’s two members’ solo albums, alongside the group project, worried many an onlooker. Yet when the 27-track, triple-album behemoth dropped, the three parts complemented each other sublimely. The tropical, melodic croons of Swae Lee, unquestionably the more famous Rae Sremmurd brother, spawned numerous songs that have been mainstays on my summer playlists, while Slim Jxmmi’s hard-hitting raps provided the antithesis. The collaborative first section was the strongest, but as a whole this was, in my view, the best offering yet from the Hip Hop group.
If this was a film?
Godfather 2. Classy, thrilling, and full of references to criminal activity.
Lil Yachty, Lil Boat 2
This sequel is odd in that it sounds nothing like a sequel. Lil Boat showcased Yachty’s sense of humour and his uniquely summery disposition, and was entertaining from start to finish. He weaved between singing and rapping expertly, even more impressive considering his lack of years. Lil Boat 2, on the other hand, contains no such variation, nor humour, which is strange considering these are the artist’s two most distinguishing traits. Its bleariness was excused because Lil Yachty was supposedly aiming to make an album completely unlike his previous release, Teenage Emotions, which received an intensely negative critical response. But personally, I loved Teenage Emotions, as it continued Yachty’s breezy, and admittedly cheesy at times, stroll through youth. Lil Boat 2 is lifeless, and is a perfect example of an artist having his identity swallowed up by the abyss of people-pleasing.
If this was a film?
Jaws 2. Which is ironic considering this is an album about a Boat.
Wiz Khalifa, Rolling Papers 2
I think Wiz has the advantage here in that he left a much more significant amount of time in-between albums, as Rolling Papers was released all of 7 years ago. It was undoubtedly the album for Wiz, partially because after his ‘Black and Yellow’ success he spent a long time away from the charts. He might argue he was experimenting and ‘rediscovering’ his sound, what's more likely is that he simply didn’t produce any amazing material during this period. But then Fast and Furious 7 comes along in 2015 and Khalifa drops ‘See You Again’, which puts him back on the map and suddenly makes him the most streamed artist in the solar system and beyond.
Rolling Papers 2 is interesting, and is a testament to how the rapper has managed to sustain his career over so many years, despite most of the artists that were breaking onto the scene at the same time as him being long gone (anyone remember Chipmunk? ). If anything, Khalifa’s patchwork of lackadaisical rapping and even more lackadaisical singing is the most relevant it’s ever been, with the emergence of melodic trap over the past couple of years. In my opinion, though, what sets Wiz Khalifa apart from his fellow sequelists is not the quality of his music, nor his subject matter, which is 90% green with a strong, unmistakable odour. It is the fact that he hasn’t really changed his vibe nor sound for anyone. Even when his flow seemed to be losing favour, he didn’t panic like Lil Yachty and perform a stylistic about-turn. Wiz has always been Wiz, and while there are obvious artistic benefits of being mercurial, fans also like dependable consistency. Rolling Papers 2 has some great tracks, as well as some very forgettable ones, but it never really gets boring, despite still being overly long. It simply serves as a new pool of tracks to dip in and out of, rather than to be enjoyed as a full project. It is what it is - or maybe, it is what it Wiz…
If this was a film?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A lot of people talk down on the franchise for hanging around, but nonetheless it still commands one of the most loyal fanbases out there - and justifiably so.
Future, BEASTMODE II
Lets get this straight. Future is not a creative genius, pushing the boundaries of art as we know it. But he doesn’t pretend to be, either. What he is, is a business mastermind, and has pinpointed his niche and flooded his market with mixtapes left, right and centre. He is about quantity, rather than quality. The Beastmode mixtape was highly revered among Hip Hop fans when it was released in 2015, but didn’t really offer us much more than the other four mixtapes he dropped in the same year. Producer Zaytoven did a commendable job with his twinkling, trap-balled beats, and he steps up to the mark yet again on BEASTMODE II.
In terms of subject matter, Future is still rapping about the thug life, and his flow is still half blistering but static rap, and half crackling croons, so not much has changed on this front either. Some critics want to give the Atlanta phenom credit for ending the sequel on a vulnerable note with ‘HATE THE REAL ME’, on which he lays his troubled conscience out on the table for the world to see. But the aftertaste it leaves is familiar, as we’ve already had this guard-removing, mask-offing apologia from Future on his 2016 studio album, HNDRXX, which was supposed to be a project where he says sorry to those he’s hurt and pledges to make amends. At the time I thought this was a good move, as Future has always shut off a more mainstream, Drake-dominated market because of his intensely explicit and often vulgar subject matter. So HNDRXX was him apologising, but then barely a year later SUPER SLIMEY dropped, on which Future was back to his old misogynistic, drugged-up self. This undoubtedly takes away from the credence of BEASTMODE II’s climax, and it becomes just another one of Future’s throwaway mixtapes - enjoyable for a couple of days, but then grows overwhelmingly mundane because you’re having to block out the wearing lyrics.
If this was a film?
Fast and Furious 8. Never going to be critically or artistically championed, but nonetheless still makes a heck of a lot of money and has a huge following. Also, it’s possible BEASTMODE II has even more car references on it than any of the Fast and Furious films - and probably even more product placement.
So it seems Rae Sremmurd came out trumps in our quest to find the best Hip Hop sequel-makers of 2018.
But is it a reliable strategy? Considering the majority of these projects were quite underwhelming, I think the answer is no. It might be a way of gaining some quick streams and adding some extra hype to an album, but generally a sequel is going to fall victim to its predecessor’s success.
Or maybe the whole culture of making album sequels is based off a misunderstanding? Perhaps some artists have spent so long tirelessly slaving away in their luxurious studios and mansions that they have already run out of creative energy when it comes to the title, and that’s why when the Publicity Manager comes up to them for the twentieth time that week and asks, ‘Have you decided on the album title yet?’, their keyboard-battered fingers stagger up defensively in an angry two-finger salute. ‘OK, if you say so’, the manager replies, oblivious, ‘We’ll just add a 2 to the previous one…’
In all seriousness, what do you think? Are album sequels a good move? Would you rank any of this year’s sequels higher than Rae Sremmurd’s?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?