Everyone loves a rookie’s story. Some pan out to become superstars. Others find themselves as permanent punchlines. In Hip-Hop, it’s the same pressure on a different platform. Music relies directly on the consumer’s feedback to determine how much success, if any, the artist will see. If the fans aren’t appreciative, neither are record labels. The music industry’s gift and curse, some would say. In today’s climate, J. Cole, Freddie Gibbs, Pill, Wiz Khalifa, Drake and others are all making strides in the positive direction at the current moment.
But when it comes to hitting the ground running, there haven’t been many artists who have had better first years than this trio.
2003 introduced the world to LeBron James and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. Strapped with one of the most infectious singles of the 2000’s (and a powerful mixtape history), 50 and Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ smoothly etched themselves in the history books and had the numbers to prove it. Eleven million copies later, a monster was created and movement was formed. The rookie even disrespected one of the game’s premiere acts at the time with apparent ease.
If that wasn’t enough, Fif put his team on center stage with unparalleled success. G-Unit’s group album, Beg For Mercy, and solo albums from Lloyd Banks, Young Buck and Game all went on to achieve multi-platinum honors. Even the group’s assumed weak link, Tony Yayo, cashed in on two hit records.
In 1998, Hip-Hop was still reeling from the murders of Tupac and Biggie. The “shiny suit” era was in full force and Jay-Z was beginning to turn the corner from hood legend to a crossover superstar. Still, rap needed a renaissance. Enter Earl Simmons. X’s incredibly grimey debut, It’s Dark & Hell Is Hot, gave the genre a proverbial punch in the gut and solidified itself as one of the greatest rookie efforts ever. Not to mention, the album spawned two classic singles and dog cages worth of others. Riding off this momentum, X followed up with Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood. His second straight number one album all in the span of 12 months.
Jay, Ma$e and Nas all sport valid arguments. But in 1998, the King of New York’s bite was even more vicious than his bark.
With the release of Ready To Die, Christopher Wallace had the world donning him the “King Of New York.” He catered to every segment of the Hip-Hop community with a barrage of anthems. A friendship-turned-deadly-rivarly with Tupac Shakur had some crowning him as the “Greatest Of All Time.” What was undeniable, however, was that Brooklyn’s Chris had become a mainstream megastar. This buzz would carry him nearly three years until his next, and last, studio album, Life After Death.
The key to maintaining perspective after the incredible success of one’s first album? Biggie seemed to have that answer as well.
“The key to staying on top of things is treat everything like it’s your first project. Nahmsayin? Like it’s your first day like back when you were an intern. Like, that’s how you treat things. Just be hungry.” — B.I.G.