The world of Hip Hop is a harsh arena for old heads as we mentioned in our previous piece on those who managed to pull of the three-peat. It’s like the Hip Hop clock ticks faster than the standard 12 hour cycle. Emcees seem to have a smaller and smaller window where they can release successful projects. Take one false step and all of a sudden you’re as broke and irrelevant as when you started. We’re only interested in success stories here though. We don’t want just any old Hip Hop superstar, we need one that killed three albums in a row. Is it the money, fame, what? What is it that makes it so hard for successful Hip Hop emcees to repeat their success? Based on the response from our last piece, a lot of folks thought we missed a few. Here, we give you another nine that managed to figure it out.
Albums: You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Pain That Shit Gold, The Family Sign
Atmosphere is Twin Cities Hip Hop. Listen to Slug finesse an Ant record and you’ll know why. Slug’s strength lies in storytelling, something he’s been successfully doing from the Upper Midwest for a long time. He tends to stick to the older, more syllabically standardized flow, at times chopping a bit to ensure that it holds, but the message is king. While Atmosphere rose with a loose association to the other Midwest choppers of the time (Bone thugs-n-harmony, Eminem, Tech N9ne, Twista, etc.), the content is noticeably more socially conscious and hopeful than theirs.
Also, their label Rhymesayers Entertainment, has been enlisting the coldest conscious Minnesotan emcees since 1989. In fact, outside of the newer trap oriented Rocky Diamonds and Allan Kingdom, they run Hip Hop in that area. The indie label has released over 20 mixtapes, 20 EPs and 50 albums, 20 of which have charted on the Billboard 200. The likes of Aesop Rock, Brother Ali, Dilated Peoples, Eyedea, Murs, Grieves, Jake One, MF Doom, Prof and many others have all flocked Uptown Minneapolis to achieve greatness. Ant and Slug birthed it, they fed it, and now they run one of the longest running, most successful independent record labels in the country. They’ve been a defining part of Hip Hop culture for the past 25 years. A study came out last year that ranked emcees based on their first 35,000 lyrics. Aesop Rock, Atmosphere, Brother Ali and Murs are all on there, and it looks like they’ve said a lot.
Albums: Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar went 3 for 3 as a freshman. Well, more like a redshirt freshman. Back when Eazy E was knocking out albums in Compton he didn’t have the option to warm up his fans with album-tapes full of original content, they were slinging live performance mixtapes. Now, artists like Kendrick Lamar can kind of choose when they think they’re ready — buzz and budget wise — to officially release a studio album. Kendrick released four mixtapes and an EP before Section.80. That being said, Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d. city and To Pimp A Butterfly are all cold, either way.
On his first project, K Dot spoke to many problems that 80s babies faced (He was born in ’87), from the perspective of different characters. This topic has been gaining more traction, especially now that Gen Y’s are in their 20s. Section.80 spoke to his peers. After that, Kendrick leveled up his production up with assists from Hip Hop’s best in modern sound. Good kid, m.A.A.d. city is an album featuring a day in the life narrative. It’s full of excitement and challenged the other commercial artists of the time to work on their lyricism and versatility. Then there’s To Pimp A Butterfly, the album that knows no bounds. Kendrick just took things one step further with his nuanced, divergent flows, spoken word tracks and jazzy production. The records on To Pimp A Butterfly contrast a lot with what his peers expect, or rather, the song structure that Millennials were raised on. It doesn’t have the cinematic appeal that Good kid, m.A.A.d city had, but it demands the respect of those that appreciate the finer things in music. Three albums, three memorable sounds.
Albums: Illmatic, It Was Written, I Am…
Three in a row? That ain’t shit to Nas, he’s definitely done that four times over. Nas connects because his words have body. He’s been through the grit, he has stories, and he remains relevant because he’s continued to learn and progress with the times. This is in contrast to many other Hip Hop artists, who often spout pseudo-sociological or psychological advice that’s either spontaneous and/or baseless. We believe Nas’ pure talent and ability to recreate his life and ideals through music is what makes him a top candidate to go 3 for 3.
The Queensbridge native cemented his place in Hip Hop with Illmatic. Nas famously created some of New York’s best conscious music upon his first release with timeless records, “N.Y. State of Mind,” “The World Is Yours” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell.” It challenged the lyricism of gangster rap and the G-Funk of the West Coast at the time. And while the wild success of Illmatic pushed future expectations to a peak level, Nas’s It Was Written still received widespread attention and success. Records like “The Message” gave him notoriety and pensive tracks like “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” gave him respect. Nas was adaptable and stayed scheming. His supergroup The Firm debuted on that album as well, with whom he’d later release an entire album. Nas dropped the I Am… album next. It got through largely because of his vocal talent, and came with an asterisk. It was supposed to be a double album, was partially leaked, and then came out anyway. I Am… sounded like something in limbo of his own exceptional story and that of the listener, torn between two directions, but it was still great output. No matter how, what, where, when or why this emcee releases a project, it will be gold.
Albums: Back for the First Time, Word Of Mouf, Chicken-n-Beer
If Goodie Mob seeded the Dirty South, Ludacris turned it out. The idea was there but the personality was not. Luda took what Goodie Mob and OutKast gave him and put Atlanta Hip Hop on the map, permanently. He could chop like Twista, had punchlines like Eminem, and the life in his voice — his inflection, enunciation and rhythm — were fresh to the game. Ludacris also knew how to make records, HUGE records. So when Back For The First Time dropped with “What’s Your Fantasy,” “Ho,” “Southern Hospitality” and “Phat Rabbit,” the good people of the United States appreciated every bit of it. The following two albums were more of the same, titillating, high energy, wild party music with plenty of quotables. It’s as simple as this, Ludacris made at least three straight albums that were front to back stacked with hit records.
Albums: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, …And Then There Was X
DMX didn’t invent hardcore rap but he added a refreshing energy during the reign of energy gods like Busta Rhymes, M.O.P and Naughty By Nature. He took it beyond the concept of violence. Other rappers flowed harsh words, gave sus’ looks and displayed their firearms but DMX made them look soft in comparison to his intensity. X brought rap music to a darker place, to a place where he could express his anger, goth style. He’s also a man of God, more so recently, but he still had prayers on his first album. DMX’s in-your-face, violent style and canine alibs landed him many chart toppers throughout the late 90s and 2000s.
His debut was massive. “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” still gets heavy play among the young heads and don’t forget forget about hype classics “Get at me Dog” and “Stop Being Greedy.” The Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood album continued the onslaught with the motivational “Ain’t No Way” and the chilling “The Omen (Damien II).” The third link in this dog’s chain is the highly heralded …And Then There Was X. “Party Up (Up in Here)” is his most commercially successful song to date and has been spun at every single house party since it’s inception. Then of course there’s “What These Bitches Want,” the prototypical Sisqó-inspired beat for the 2000s rapper. Way before Petey Pablo was listing his ex’s in 2003’s “Freek-A-Leek,” DMX was calling out all of his ex “chickens” on “What These Bitches Want.” Of course “What’s My Name?” is another one of those bangers too. Really, the wildest thing about DMX is that he went a long time without changing up his style. If one likes DMX and one would like more DMX music, one can just go download one of his other projects. Each album will contain a gang of violent narratives delivered over a grimy set of beats, that’s a promise.
Albums: Lord Willin’, Hell Hath No Fury, Til the Casket Drops
Pharrell, another native Virginian, picked them right out of that mud in 2001. Actually, they all knew each other for 8 years prior to that but Clipse was never really signed until that point. Pharrell gave Clipse a shot at The Neptunes sound and the next three albums were smooth.
Lord Willin’ was heavily buoyed by the hit single, “Grindin’,” the dancy record with sparse drums, cocky lyrics and nonchalant singing over the top. This came to be their niche. But despite their success from the jump, Clipse’s record company subsequently curved them after Lord Willin’. Accusations of racism ensued on the following album, “These are the days of our lives and I’m sorry to the fans, the crackers weren’t playing fair at Jive” (“Mr. Me Too”). They never got the marketing they wanted but Clipse still came back with full force on Hell Hath No Fury. Again the duo was applauded for their lyricism and production from The Neptunes, “Mr. Me Too” and “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)” making their way to the radio. Til the Casket Drops completed the Clipse collection. It had the big feature from Kanye — on “Kinda Like A Big Deal” — as well several other smooth Star Trak collabs. Clipse didn’t put out commercial blockbusters but their style would be remembered for its originality.
Albums: Creepin on ah Come Up, E. 1999 Eternal, The Art of War
Sing the chorus, flow the verse. Makes sense right? Bone thugs-n-harmony, another pillar in Midwest Hip Hop, could out-sing and out-flow virtually anyone in the game. Eazy-E was the one that signed Bone thugs to Ruthless Records and executive produced their first album, Creepin on ah Come Up. Bone-thugs-n-harmony were emcees that could croon and so Eazy-E put them over G-funk beats with an ominous tone. That West Coast influence in the production from DJ U-Neek became the marked sound of the group for many years. After they built up some hype on “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” and Foe tha Love of $,” E. 1999 Eternal came forth in all of its greatness. The 17 track album verified Bone thugs’ legitimacy, especially with more hits like “Crossroads” and “1st of tha Month.” Then, of course, they pressed the double album, The Art of War, which had everything on it from the tough Pac feature, “Thug Luv” to the hopeful “If I Could Teach the World” record. Bone thugs made sonic history with these.
Albums: The Coming, When Disaster Strikes…, E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front
Think of Busta Rhymes as the rapper that lives to party. And if we’re talking choppers, Busta’s name has to be brought into the mix. He took the Midwest flow and finessed it over New York boom-bap beats. Busta had everyone yelling out, “Woo Ha!! Got You All In Check” on The Coming. He loosely followed the armageddon theme, but let’s face it, Busta Rhymes has always been a master of the turn up. It was really noticeable on When Disaster Strikes…, when the production took a grimier turn and he started to develop his cornucopia of ad-libs. Like many other 90s acts, Busta put an assload of tracks on there too. Long albums are good and bad, there’s a lot more material to digest but there’s more room for error too. The good is better than the bad with Busta Rhymes, 11 Grammy nominations better. And while this length trend continued into E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front, the experimental nature of Busta Rhymes still gets him the cosign. He took elements from several areas of the genre and flipped it to create his own sound and kooky visuals.
Albums: AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Death Certificate, The Predator
What would West Coast Hip Hop be without Ice Cube? It all started with N.W.A. but Cube was the one who followed through on those same lines. He continued in that same space, offering his outspoken knowledge of South Central LA and perspective into race and class conflict. His incessant frown and distinctive baritone bark strapped every American nonconformist with extended clips of sociological ammunition to fire at the upper class. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was nice, there were a lot of great narratives on there, but Death Certificate took the noisy production and employed some funk, making it more playable for those unfamiliar with gangster rap. On “No Vaseline,” Ice Cube threw the darkest of shades at his former group and manager, “Get rid of that Devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple, ‘cause you can’t be Nigga 4 Life crew with a white Jew telling you what to do.” There was always drama with Cube. The third album was more of the same but a little more radio oriented. Both “It Was A Good Day” and “Check Yo Self” were two of his biggest records, making The Predator Ice Cube’s third of three.
Cliff Grefe is the Editorial Intern from Madison, WI. The Midwest plug has worked in and around Hip Hop music in many forms and has come to LA to take it another step further at HipHopDX. Cornfields to oceans. Follow him on Twitter @CliftonBeefy