It’s often said that Hollywood loves a sequel, and with good reason — 29 of the top 30 highest-grossing movies of all time are either part of a film series or have sequels on the way in the next few years. (The only holdout? Titanic — not much material left once the ship was gone.) But the movie biz isn’t the only industry that benefits from double- or triple-dipping (or more!) with the same theme or title; hip-hop has long been a receptive genre for the practice, with some of the greatest rap albums of all time coming as part of a series of releases.
There are several different types of album series: the early career branding (Rae Sremmurd‘s SremmLife and SremmLife 2, 2 Chainz‘s Based on a T.R.U. Story and B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time); the non-sequential recurring theme (Fat Joe‘s Jealous Ones albums, Jeezy‘s TM101 to TM103); the mid-career run (Jay Z‘s Vol. 1 to Vol. 3, Gucci Mane‘s State vs. Radric Davis I and II); the solo album trademark (Prodigy of Mobb Deep‘s H.N.I.C parts 1-3, Bun B from UGK‘s Trill quartet); the early career callback release (Eminem‘s Marshall Mathers LP 2, The Game‘s Documentary 2); and, of course, the relatively rare career-defining series (Jay Z’s Blueprint trilogy, Lil Wayne‘s Carter series).
And the trend of these releases isn’t slowing down any time soon. Already in 2016, rappers such as Cam’ron (Purple Haze), Wiz Khalifa (Rolling Papers), Diddy (Puff Daddy and the Family’s No Way Out) and, most recently, Jeezy (Trap or Die 3, the first album to be released as part of his prior mixtape series) have announced upcoming sequels due at some point in the future, with Jeezy’s set to arrive Oct. 28 via Def Jam/CTE.
First, however, though the below is a ranking of the highest-selling album series, a note about the criteria for inclusion on this list. There is no official measurement that tracks album series making a definitive ranking impossible, so qualifying sequels and related releases were determined by editorial decision; albums such as Nas‘ Stillmatic and Dr. Dre‘s 2001, sometimes colloquially referred to as sequels to Illmatic and The Chronic, respectively, are not included, for instance. And because this list is determined by sales, mixtape collections like Lil Wayne’s Dedication run and mixtape series that were continued as official albums (such as Big Sean‘s Finally Famous series or Future‘s Dirty Sprite and DS2) are also not on the list. A series was included as a whole regardless of the number of entries; Wayne’s four-volume Carter collection holds the same weight as his two-part I Am Not a Human Being releases, for example.
Whether cementing a brand or calling on nostalgia to build a buzz, there are several ways to spin a hip-hop album series, to varying degrees of success. With all that said, Billboard looks at the top 10 highest-selling hip-hop album series of all time.
10. Jadakiss, Kiss series
Albums: 3 (Kiss the Game Goodbye, Kiss of Death, The Last Kiss)
Total Combined Sales: 2.434 million
9. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday
Albums: 2 (Pink Friday, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded)
Total Combined Sales: 2.884 million
8. The Game, The Documentary
Albums: 3 (The Documentary, The Documentary 2, The Documentary 2.5)
Total Combined Sales: 2.89 million
7. Ja Rule, Pain Is Love
Albums: 2 (Pain Is Love 1-2)
Total Combined Sales: 3.69 million
Note: Ja Rule’s Pain Is Love series qualifies almost entirely based on the 3.672 million copies that the original sold; Pain Is Love 2, released independently 11 years later in 2012, has sold just 18,000 copies since its release.
6. Method Man, Tical
Albums: 3 (Tical, Tical 2000: Judgement Day, Tical 0: The Prequel)
Total Combined Sales: 3.813 million
5. Jeezy, Thug Motivation
Albums: 3 (Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, TM:103 Hustlerz Ambition)
Total Combined Sales: 4.365 million
4. Jay Z, Blueprint trilogy
Albums: 3 (The Blueprint, Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse, The Blueprint 3)
Total Combined Sales: 7.01 million
3. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter
Albums: 4 (Tha Carter 1-4)
Total Combined Sales: 9.547 million
2. Jay Z, Volumes
Albums: 3 (In My Lifetime Vol. 1, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter)
Total Combined Sales: 10.062 million
1. Eminem, Marshall Mathers LPs
Albums: 2 (The Marshall Mathers LP 1-2)
Total Combined Sales: 13.427 million
Note: At more than 11 million sales, the original Marshall Mathers LP alone has outsold every other collection on this list. On its own, MMLP 2‘s 2.4 million sales would have just missed the top 10 mark.