10 Artists Who Released Their Best Album First

Greatness doesn't always take time.

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We've all heard of the sophomore slump as well as the lofty reputation of the difficult third album. A debut record means nothing to lose and everything to gain, but the very task of creating, mastering and releasing a handful of tunes for mass consumption is never an easy feat, especially if it's your first time doing so.

Expectations are always tempered with an artists first album, and despite some finding astronomic success with the singles heard prior to said release, the consensus is that the songs that hit digital stores before the album release are never necessarily indicative of a great record.

Artists like Olivia Rodrigo and KSI have found success with their first foray into music composition, and in doing so have carved a niche that each subsequent album will look to improve upon.

Often the heights of album one are never reached again, as artists climb down from the meteoric critical or commercial success that they enjoyed with their debut.

That's not to say that the quality of their work plummeted, however, but these artists soon found out that recapturing the magic is a tough task to undertake.

10. Illmatic - Nas

A rare occasion where music critics knew better than audiences, Illmatic is now widely considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Nas got it right out of the gate as his seminal first album, Illmatic, released at the height of hip hop's heyday and still receives praise to this day.

Illmatic is as quintessentially 'New York' as Derek Jeter or cream cheese bagels, and though it often paints the city in a less than desired light, it's an honest indicator of the big apple itself, and indeed the man who grew up there. A young Nas is plastered on the cover with an urban city block providing the backdrop, perfectly capturing the essence of the 1994 release.

There's a simplicity in the production value that, with the vast majority of releases would have been seen as a rookie error and a learning curve to be navigated with future releases, yet the way the melodies unfold on Illmatic only places emphasis on Nas' immense vocal ability.

All subsequent Nas offerings were, predictably, compared to Illmatic. Though there are pockets of brilliance dotted along the rapper's decades-long career, none lived up to the bold, authentic and immensely honest first release.

A true classic.


Fan of ducks, ice tea and escapism. Spends much of his time persistently saying 'I have so much studying to do' before watching Zoey 101 for the millionth time. Thinks Uncharted 3 is the best one.