"He's got two records, man. You need four, really, to have a complete body of work."
- Chris Rock on The Notorious B.I.G. not being in Rock's "Top Five MCs."
One of the most common dismissals hurled at the Notorious B.I.G.'s unassailable legacy is that "he only released two albums." It's understandable why some folks may be preoccupied with the brevity of Biggie's discography (we're not counting posthumous jobs like Born Again and Duets), but a quick peruse of music history reveals that small discos don't derail legends. It's about impact and quality of work.
Jimi Hendrix only released three albums before his untimely death. Nirvana's career was similarly brief but no less noteworthy. And in Hip-Hop, there are some really significant artists who only gave us two (official) albums. A short career doesn't mean an inconsequential career, and there are some great artists who only gave us a couple of full-length albums. Why does that disqualify or negate greatness? It doesn't.
Let's take a look at some major Hip-Hop artists who have made a serious impact on the game despite not having a long run. It ain't always about longevity.
Monie Love became one of the first British-born rappers to become a major star after the success of her 1990 debut album Down To Earth. Monie combined catchy radio tunes with topical commentary on her debut, and when it came time to record the follow-up, 1993s In a Word Or 2, she collaborated with none other than the legendary Prince. In A Word Or 2 didn't have the success of Down To Earth, but still generated positive buzz with singles like "Full Term Love." Nonetheless, to date, it's Monie's last studio album.
Leaders Of The New School
They were late additions to the already-established Native Tongues crew, but LONS brought a teenage exuberance that made them unique even amongst one of the most distinct collectives in Hip-Hop. Dinco D, Charlie Brown, Cut Master Milo and some guy named Busta Rhymes dropped their Bomb Squad-produced debut Future Without A Past in 1991, carried by hit singles like "P.T.A." and "Sobb Story." By the time they delivered the follow-up, 1993s T.I.M.E., the group was splintering due to Busta's undeniable star power. He would split for a solo career soon after, and LONS disbanded.
When they debuted in 1992, the Pharcyde was hailed as the West Coast answer to the Native Tongues. That's an easy-but-oversimplified way of describing the classic quartet that included Fatlip, Imani, Bootie Brown, SlimKid3; their appeal was rooted in a stoned-out everymanism that was an amalgamation of alt-rap quirkiness and stoned-out humor. Their debut Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde is an all-time classic, and the follow-up, 1995s Labcabincalifornia, is an underrated masterwork unto itself, featuring production from Jay Dee (soon to be J. Dilla). But Labcabin... marks the last time the classic lineup recorded together as The Pharcyde.
Ol' Dirty Bastard
Dirt McGirt's career was as short as it was notorious. The legendary wild card of the Wu-Tang Clan spent a lot of time in and out of prison, and as a result, his recordings became more and more sporadic. He only dropped two official albums before his sad death in 2004. Return To the 36 Chambers and Nigga Please. But those two albums were more than enough to establish Big Baby Jesus as a persona and as an artist; the first was released at the height of Wu-Tang's rise in 1994, while the latter dropped as Dirty was incarcerated in 1999 and spawned the Kelis-featured hit "Got Your Money." Posthumous albums would surface in the years after his death, but ODB is a good example of a significant artist with a short discography.
Butterfly (aka Ish Butler), Ladybug Mecca and Doodlebug (aka Cee Knowledge) were the quirky jazz rap stars of the early 90s after they dropped their gold-selling debut Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time and Space) in 1993. Their single "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) was one of the biggest rap hits of the year, and they took home the Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1994. They dropped their critically-acclaimed second album Blowout Comb just months later, but personal turmoil and philosophical differences (plus the dissolution of their label) led the group to disband just one year after winning their Grammy.
The Notorious B.I.G.
Of course, this is the big one. Biggie's legacy is pretty well-established amongst Hip-Hop fans and music fans, in general. It goes like this: Brooklyn crack dealer-turned-emcee drops an uber-classic debut album in 1994 that re-establishes New York City Hip-Hop in the mainstream; gets hailed as one of the best lyricists in the game. Biggie's tragic 1997 murder cut his career distressingly short, but his sophomore album Life After Death, released just days after his shooting, affirmed him as one of rap's greatest storytellers and most ambitious and versatile emcees. You don't need a lot more than that to know the man is one of the best to ever do it.
She may be the most slept on artist on this list, but the Brooklyn rhymer delivered two solid albums that showcased a rapper that deserved a lot more props for her craft. Pen was one of the late 90s breakout women in Hip-Hop; scoring a major guest appearance on BlackStreet's "No Diggiity" before dropping her Teddy Riley-produced debut My Melody in 1997. That album was a gold-seller thanks to her monster hit "A Party Ain't A Party" with Mr. Cheeks. But the underrated follow-up Conversations With the Queen didn't make as big an impact in 2001. To date, she hasn't dropped another album.