First impressions are everything and few have greater impact than a hip-hop artist’s debut album. Part of the reason why rap debuts are so revered is because they present the first opportunity to judge an artist’s singular body of work. But there’s also an unspoken pressure here. Historically, so many rap debuts are so damn good, and anyone looking to make their first foray into a career within the genre has a lot to live up to.
Whether it’s Dr. Dre changing the sound of hip-hop production with The Chronic or Clipse ushering in a new era of urgent lyricism on Lord Willin’ two decades later, time has shown that many do, in fact, live up to these pressures. A rapper’s initial offering can often have a massive influence on subsequent releases, and culture in general. Sometimes that first album is the most significant of an artist’s career.
If it seems like the scales of appreciation are tipped in favor of debuts, it’s because they are. There’s a reason why Jay-Z calls Reasonable Doubt his “baby.” There’s a reason why Raekwon still can’t escape the shadow of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Rappers essentially have their entire lives to make their first album, and it shows—in some releases more than others.