Firsts are overrated. The first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has a much more boring name than the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. The first commenter is always some idiot who says “First!” I make a better second impression than a first impression. Really, it’s no surprise some of the best hip-hop albums of all time are actually sequels.
People will often complain about blockbuster movie sequels—even if The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day have proven improvement is possible—but rap music is just as saturated with follow-ups. Just last week, Future released BEASTMODE 2, the long-awaited sequel to his 2015 mixtape with producer Zaytoven. Redman has been working on the Erick Sermon-produced Muddy Waters Too for what seems like a decade. And later this year, Lil Wayne, freed from the shackles of his record contract with Cash Money, will finally release the fifth installment in his Carter album series.
Rarely is there a prize for second place, but today, there is. Below you will find the 10 best rap album sequels, ranked. No, we didn't forget about your favorite sequel. No, we don't hate your favorite artist. And yes, we're completely and utterly biased.
10. Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager — Kid Cudi
As the second in the Man on the Moon series, Cudi’s Man on the Moon II is the Buzz Aldrin of quasi-rap albums. MOTMII was the moment Cudi went from a whiz kid Kanye prodigy to a fully-fledged artist. Sparse productions like “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” sit alongside lush, guitar-laden tracks in an artistic patchwork of five acts.
Kanye appears on “Erase Me,” a soft-rock power ballad that doesn’t foreshadow the recently released KIDS SEE GHOSTS, even if it does feature a class of wordplay we haven’t heard much of from Kanye in years.
The only downside is not being able to listen to “Don’t Play This Song” if you like to follow instructions.
9. Pilot Talk II — Curren$y
Curren$y’s Pilot Talk series boasts some of the smoothest music to grace our ears since the heyday of yacht rock. Ski Beatz’s smooth beats are matched by Spitta’s laid-back rhymes, with the New Orleans-born rapper taking cues from mixtape sequel master Lil Wayne, most notably on David Hasselhoff tribute “Michael Knight.”
From the hypnotic fluidity of "Airborne Aquarium" to the lush grandeur of "Montreux" and beyond, Pilot Talk II matches its predecessor in jet life excellence and, as part of the wider trilogy, marks the high point in Curren$y's prolific career.
8. Stillmatic — Nas
Stillmatic, the 2001 follow-up to Nas’ 1994 debut Illmatic, is a contender for the corniest sequel title based on a debut. Just imagine if JAY-Z had called the second Blueprint album The Twoprint. And then there’s the artwork. On the surface, it doesn't look terrible, but upon deeper inspection, it's actually much worse.
Luckily, the music does more than enough to redeem the pigeon-poor photoshopping. Saying Stillmatic isn’t as good as Illmatic is redundant. Nothing is as good. But that isn't an indictment of the sequel by any means. AZ, DJ Premier, and Large Professor make up the recurring cast from Illmatic; “Rewind” is conceptually brilliant; “Ether” invented a verb, even if it didn’t actually end JAY-Z’s career; and the album reinvigorated Nas' own career after a duo of disappointing LPs.
Nas may have recently let us down, but Stillmatic remains a classic.
7. Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life — JAY-Z
In a stroke of genius, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life has a subtitle for a title. It’s not clear what the album is actually the second volume of unless it’s installment number two of a series called Volume.
JAY-Z's third studio effort kicks off with the iconic “Hard Knock Life,” which sees Hov murder Little Orphan Annie on her own shit. “Coming of Age (Da Sequel)” is a great sequel-within-a-sequel. Jay anticipated the backlash against “Money, Cash, Hoes” in the song’s lyrics but he put it on the album anyway. And while the list of features might read like a who's who of… who? today, he plays brilliantly with every former star.
Vol. 2 marked JAY-Z's ascension to mainstream stardom, and it remains one of the best albums from one of hip-hop's best artists.
6. Run The Jewels 2 — Run The Jewels
Killer Mike and El-P teamed up for Run The Jewels when rap duos were thin on the ground. In short order, they proved themselves more than capable of joining the lineage that gave us OutKast, Eric B & Rakim, Mobb Deep, Black Star, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, among countless others. To top it off, they've released all their music for free.
RTJ2 is the finest, most memorable entry in what is—at the time of this writing—a trilogy of great albums. "The difference between RTJ and RTJ2 is its next level of depth," Nathan Slavik, former DJBooth managing editor, wrote in his 2014 review of the album. The duo’s frantic energy is punctuated variously by anger, humor, and intensity. It’s a non-stop whirlwind from end to end. And unlike some of the longer albums on this list, it’s a tight 40 minutes that begs you to press play again, close your eyes, and count to fuck.
5. DS2 — Future
BEASTMODE 2 may have inspired this article, but it’s DS2 that makes the cut. The sequel to Future’s debut mixtape Dirty Sprite was crucial in proving he could transition back to album acclaim and success after a punishing trio of dark, drugged, and celebrated mixtapes.
Opening with the ridiculous “Thought It Was a Drought,” Future launches into a body of work that is equal parts aggressive and vulnerable. The frenzy of "I Serve the Base" and "Groupies"; the bubbling energy of "Where Ya At"; the introspective "Kno the Meaning"—DS2 secured Future's place as pained trap superstar.
4. Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 2 — Slum Village
Slum Village’s magnum opus is one of my favorite albums of all time. If this list was based on personal preference alone, it would be a list of 10 reasons why Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 2 should be number one.
Featuring J Dilla’s best production, and stellar rapping from Dilla himself with sparring partners T3 and Baatin, Vol. 2 is a cornerstone of the Soulquarian movement, which for my money produced some of the greatest music of all time. Q-Tip's feature on “Hold Tight” is a standout, as is the hypnotic “Get Dis Money” and the joyous “I Don’t Know.”
Dilla would go on to make more magic before his time on Earth came to a tragic end, but this album remains his shining star.
3. Tha Carter II — Lil Wayne
Lil Wayne is the king of sequels. And sequels to those sequels. And sequels to those sequels. His discography is like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Which makes Tha Carter II his Black Panther. This was the moment Wayne went from “interesting rapper” to “rapper every rapper tried to imitate,” long before he began to border on self-parody.
The range of sounds on display on Tha Carter II is astonishing, from heavy rock numbers to chopped reggae beats. “Fly In” and companion piece “Fly Out” feature intricate rhyming patterns and explosive delivery most rappers could only dream of.
While the third installment of Tha Carter was the bigger hit, II remains the series' peak and along with Dedication 2, stamps Weezy as the all-time sequel king.
2. 2001 — Dr. Dre
How could we put together a list of the best hip-hop sequels and forget about Dre? After the blockbuster success of '92’s The Chronic, Dre spent nearly a decade mostly producing for other artists, notably Snoop Dogg and Eminem, both of whom join him on 2001 (which might have been titled Chronic 2000 had his former label not just released a compilation album under that name). Needless to say, Dre's solo return matched the hype, delivering results that were far more fruitful than 2015’s not-Detox album, Compton.
2001 is so packed with classics there’s almost no point in naming them, but I will: “Still D.R.E.,” “Forgot About Dre” and “The Next Episode” rank among the most iconic songs of the 1990s and early 2000s in any genre. The production is as good as it gets, and though many of the misogynistic lyrics haven’t aged well, the music certainly has. And the album’s towering stature and inescapable influence earn it a near-top place on this list.
1. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II — Raekwon
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II’s brilliance begins with its cover art, an unironic recreation of the original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...’s art from 14 years earlier. Purple art aside, it’s really the music that solidified OB4CL… Pt. II in our number-one position.
While Wu-Tang sage RZA produced the entirety of the original, on OB4CL… PII he stepped back into an executive producer role, while the Chef and a team of 16 producers, including countless GOAT contenders—Dilla, Dre, Marley Marl, The Alchemist, Pete Rock—create a masterpiece that almost-but-not-quite scales the heights of its nearly untouchable predecessor. With a heavy dose of Ghostface, flawless sequencing, tremendous cohesion despite the range of producers, and age-defying lyrical performances from Raekwon himself, Pt. II matches the magic of its originator without trying to recreate it.
You can tell Rae knew he’d pulled it off the moment “Black Mozart” kicks in with an interpolation of the soundtrack from The Godfather, whose sequel is widely known as the best of all time. It’s only appropriate, then, that this album takes our top spot too.