“The original was better.”
It’s one of the internet’s favorite aphorisms, a sentiment birthed perhaps ages ago by cranky critics long tired of endless sequels, remakes, reboots, and extended universes. It’s been borne out by decades of the same forever failing to meet the lofty expectations set by culture-shifting movies, books, and entertaining diversions like Alien, Ghostbusters, Predator, and Star Wars, all of which have seen at least one sequel or other extension within the last few years. It haunts the makers of any spin-off or homage or parody within minutes of its announcement on today’s media-obsessed content mills and social networks.
So, why, then, do artists continually return to the same creative wells of inspiration when they need to turn around their public perception in a hurry? Just look at today’s album release schedule; there are numbered return projects from Lil Wayne (Tha Carter V), Logic (YSIV) , and Kevin Gates (Luca Brasi 3), while Kanye West’s Yandhi is at least a spiritual successor to 2013’s Yeezus and was rumored to be titeld Yeezus 2 at one point. Kanye has spent the better part of the month teasing fans with the possibility of a sequel to 2011’s collaborative album with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, and even announced the conclusion of his early-career tetralogy of albums with the long-awaited Good Ass Job, now bequeathed to the musical catalog of his fellow Chicagoan and quasi-protege Chance The Rapper.
That’s to say nothing of the sheer number of “sequel” projects that have released within just the past few years alone. Since 2010, any number of rappers including Curren$y (Pilot Talk II), Eminem (Marshall Mathers LP 2, The Game (The Documentary 2), Jay-Z (2009’s The Blueprint 3), Jeezy (Thug Motivation 4), Lupe Fiasco (Food & Liquor II), Method Man & Redman (Blackout 2, Muddy Waters, Too), Prodigy (HNIC 2), Raekwon (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2), and Wiz Khalifa (Rolling Papers 2) have crafted or announced updates on prior, groundbreaking albums, even if many of them had little in common with those original works other than their titles.
For instance, Jay-Z’s insular and soulful The Blueprint was written and recorded in the space of a week in 2001, featuring input from few producers outside of Jay’s immediate camp (only “Renegade,” produced by Eminem, “Jigga That N—-a,” produced by Poke and Tone, and “Hola Hovito,” produced by Timbaland, featured beats from producers outside of Roc-A-Fella Records stable of producers) and only one guest verse (from Eminem on the aforementioned “Renegade”). Its post-millennial successor was an odd jumble of pop reaches and awkward collaborations built by a slew of external producers and featuring a who’s-who of “blog rap” up-and-comers in an effort to, I guess, make the elder rapper seem “hip” to “the kids.”
Technically, I already gave away the answer to the question in asking it. Many of the above listed albums were dropped (or announced) at a time when the rappers in question had fallen out of public favor (Eminem, Jay-Z, Lupe, Wiz) or had simply aged out of the limelight (The Game, Jeezy, Redman, Raekwon), feeling like they needed an unquestionable commercial and critical success to stave off the withered hand of Father Time and preserve their fifteen minutes — or double decades, in some cases — of fame. Where Eminem and Jay-Z were coming off critical “misses” — 2010’s Recovery and 2007’s American Gangster, respectively — others had reached the “end” of their public support after recent releases weren’t as well-received as the rappers had hoped. Lupe Fiasco had just received a disastrous backlash from Lasers when the much-delayed album released in 2011 after a fervent fan campaign that left his strongest supporters feeling burned, while Wiz had gone four years since his previous studio album, Blacc Hollywood, “only” managed a Gold RIAA certification after his prior efforts had all achieved platinum.