I think this all started for me back in ’91. When De La Soul is Dead and The Low End Theory were released, I hailed them as great sonic achievements for their ‘back to basics- eff the world-stripped down-harder edge’ approach. It didn’t occur to me at the time that maybe other groups would catch on and try to make themselves slightly less commercialized but then Outkast and The Roots both did it in ’96, too. This led to my “Low End Theory” theory, which is basically when a group eschews the glamour, glitz, and hype that may have been caused by their first album, goes back to basics with the second album, becomes highly successful with their third album, and then isn’t quite sure what to do on the fourth album.
To sum this up:
1st album = happy to be signed to a label, experimenting, having fun, not sure what to do in the studio, searching for their voice/niche
2nd album = focused, angrier, upset with the label/industry, darker approach and feel
3rd album = more accepting of their plight with the label, appeals to a broader group of listeners, having fun and experimenting but still angry, commercially and critically acclaimed
4th album = still riding high off the last album but not as focused, experimenting further, group may be having internal problems
It’s not perfect but it’s weird how I’ve always compared these groups in this way. The only group that didn’t fit the mold, so to speak, is the group that has never fit the mold: De La Soul. Their third album, Buhloone Mindstate, didn’t fit the whole “combining your first two albums and updating your formulas for the more commercial third album” approach. Their fourth album didn’t fit my theory either. They hated their label from day one and basically said “eff you” to Tommy Boy on every album. Anyway, with the exception of De La Soul, it appears that I consider the sophomore albums from these groups to be their absolute best. What do you think?
1. People’s Instinctive Travel’s… = 3 Feet High and Rising = Do You Want More* = Southernplayalisticadillacmuzic
2. The Low End Theory = De La Soul is Dead = Illadelph Halflife = Atliens
3. Midnight Marauders = Buhloone Mindstate = Things Fall Apart = Aquemini
4. Beats, Rhymes, and Life = Stakes is High = Phrenology = Stankonia
* – Even though The Roots released Organix in ’93 as their first ‘album’, it was nothing but a demo.