Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, and the long legacy of album sequels

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Image Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage

This week saw the early streaming release of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience — 2 of 2 – you can listen to the whole thing in its entirety over at iTunes right now (and then read the official EW review). 

2 of 2 is the sequel to March’s The 20/20 Experience, Timberlake’s long-awaited return to pop music. It’s also the latest in a relatively recent phenomenon: The album sequel. (Add Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 coming in November, to the list.) If movies can do it, why can’t the music world?

With these releases in mind, it’s time to look back at the best examples of album sequels. They don’t all work (in fact, a lot of them do not—be wary of rappers returning to old titles that weren’t that good in the first place), but these are the 10 best, in no particular order.

Jay Z, Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life
Jigga has had two different sets of sequels, but his In My Lifetime series is consistently stronger than those albums that contain the title The Blueprint (the original Blueprint is a stone-cold classic, but its two follow-ups are bloated and inconsistent). Vol. 2 was the album that found Jay crossing over into pop territory, as the Annie-sampling single “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” gave Jay his first jolt of mainstream popularity—which he has ridden into his status as one of our premiere music stars.

Dr. Dre, 2001
The long-awaited, unofficial sequel to Dre’s landmark solo debut The Chronic (in some circles, it’s still called Chronic 2001, it’s long-rumored working title) hits just as hard as its predecessor and features a handful of tracks (including “What’s the Difference?” and especially “The Next Episode”) that sounded instantly timeless—and have remained so. 

Meat Loaf, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell
After spending most of the ’80s trying to figure out where his ’70s pomp-rock swagger went, Meat Loaf re-teamed with songwriter Jim Steinman, the mastermind behind Loaf’s 1977 debut Bat Out of Hell. The collaboration was a huge success: Meat Loaf shot back to the top of the charts on the back of the epic single “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and saw fans rediscovering his deep back catalog.

R. Kelly, TP.3 Reloaded
The Pied Piper of R&B called his first album 12 Play, and all of the follow-ups to that album tend to err on the freakier side of Kelly’s personality. (Though make no mistake: It’s all pretty freaky.) TP.3 Reloaded, the third in the 12 Play series, not only has the delightfully funky “Reggae Bump Bump” and a song about laying you down next to the buttered rolls on the kitchen counter, but it also features the first taste of Kelly’s cultishly-beloved Trapped in the Closet series.

Lil Wayne, Tha Carter II
Prior to Tha Carter II, Lil Wayne’s gimmick was that he was way younger than a lot of his Cash Money cohorts (he made his solo debut when he was only 16), but the second entry in Tha Carter series was the first piece of evidence in the argument that Weezy might be the best rapper alive. Beware of his other sequels, though: His Drought and Dedication mixtapes are largely excellent, but avoid I Am Not a Human Being II.

Radiohead, Amnesiac
Some would argue that Radiohead’s follow-up to Kid A isn’t a genuine sequel, but it’s a true stylistic continuation from its predecessor and was also recorded during the same sessions. Though people sometimes derisively refer to it as Kid BAmnesiac is A‘s slightly less socially awkward cousin, willing to venture out into the world just a little bit and not be so insular.

Guns N’ Roses, Use Your Illusion II
In 1991, after spending years without a proper LP, Guns N’ Roses dropped two full-length albums on the same day. While there are still arguments about which is better or if they should even be separated, UYI II is certainly the better album if you think everything that fell out of Axl Rose’s head is amazing. It’s the most Axl thing there’s ever been, with some super crazy narratives, extra long jams, the better version of “Don’t Cry,” and a song called “My World” that Rose tacked on at the end without the rest of the band’s knowledge.

Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon’s solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is one of the great wave of solo albums that came from the original members of the Wu (see also Method Man’s Tical, Ghostface Killah’s Iron Man, and GZA’s Liquid Swords). A lot of times, rap albums get sequels in order to cash in on the greatness of the original, but in this case, it’s easy to see that Raekwon had recorded his best material in years and wanted to give it a name that equaled greatness. “House of Flying Daggers,” “Catalina,” and “Kiss the Ring” are all among the best Wu-bangers of the 21st century.

Coheed and Cambria, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow
Coheed and Cambria’s series of albums (and comic books) recapping the intergalactic saga of The Armory Wars often put the narrative ahead of the actual song quality, but No World For Tomorrow finds them marrying the mythos with genuinely huge rock hooks. “The Running Free” is by far the best pop song Coheed have ever put out, and the raw power of “The Reaping” stands tall as well.

Rob Zombie, Hellbilly Deluxe 2
Zombie has made movie sequels, so why wouldn’t he sequelize an album? His solo debut Hellbilly Deluxe remains his best album, but the sequel is just behind it, with a set of awesome curb-stompers like “Jesus Frankenstein” and “Mars Needs Women.”

What’s your favorite album sequel? Let us know in the comments.

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