Everyone’s had this experience at parties attended by Hip-Hop Heads who always claim upon hearing the soundtrack for the evening “Oh man Hip-Hop ain’t the same no more” , “These new cats ruined it” and the odd “You ain’t got no Will Smith back there?”
This article isn’t necessarily against any new music. Personally I love some Travi$ Scott at my parties and I could cause several fatal accidents when I’m driving to that Lil Herb,Durk,Bibby and all the Drill gods out there.
This is basically an appreciation and educational opportunity for all the people out there who think Rakim Allah and Nasir are Egyptian mythology heroes (Don’t come at me guys. No death threats for my sister please. We cool,right?)
So let’s get started on the list.
HONORABLE MENTION: PAID IN FULL-ERIC B & RAKIM(1987/4TH& B’WAY, ISLAND)
Before Nas, 50 Cent and Jay Z there was Rakim Allah.
This is where it all began. The legend’s debut album,the critically acclaimed landmark album to be specific, contains groundbreaking masterworks such as “I Ain’t No Joke”, “I Know You Got Soul”, “Pain In Full” and the classic “Eric B is President”.This duo blazed a trail that has been trudged and forsaken by many and decades later it still holds true as the generational impact it truly deserves to be.
15: Things Fall Apart – The Roots(1999/MCA)
Closing out the decade, conscious rap super group The Roots released their breakthrough album. The world finally took notice of the group which comprises acts such as QuestLove and Black Thought. This album is the group most fully realized piece of work and comes across as a cohesive body of work from start to finish. Not a line is wasted as Questlove stated in an interview, 145 songs were recorded and then whittled down to 14.This is a that earned the group a Grammy Win as well as cultural significance. Going Gold was just the icing on a very deserving cake.
14: The Infamous – Mobb Deep(1995/ Loud & RCA)
“To all the killers and the 100$ billers….”
This chilling intro to a standout track on an already impressive album just says it all. Havoc and Prodigy weaved street tails over menacing production involving eerie piano loops and sparse bass lines provided by Havoc himself as well as Q-Tip.(one of the best hip hop producers ever!!! ) The duo’s vivid imagery brought to life and reinvigorated the Gangsta Rap scene in Hip Hop . They were unapologetic and it showed in their music in the likes of “Your Beef Is Mines” to the gritty “Shook Ones Part II”
Havoc and Prodigy release a dark body of work that only agrees to be met on its own terms and the result is a solid, underground Hip Hop masterpiece.
13: Black On Both Sides – MosDef(1999/Rawkus& Priority)
Yasiin Bey or The Artist formerly known as Mos Def coming of an impressive collaborative LP with Talib Kweli delivered an album that lived up to all of the hype and high expectations preceding it. With impressive cuts such as “Hip Hop” and “Ms Fat Booty” as well as an entertaining back and forth between him and a young Busta Rhymes on “Do It Now”, Black On Both Sides stood out in a year packed with star releases and closed out the decade on a high note.
12: All Eyez On Me – TuPac(1999/Death Row & Interscope)
Tupac Amaru Shakur delivered his magnum opus amidst a tumultuous relationship with Suge Knight as well as being fresh off a jail stint. Tupac poured himself into his work recording many songs at once and mostly doing them in one take. He became his art and his art is a true reflection of where he was as a person as well as being the most polarizing figure in Hip Hop culture. This is a double disc release and though it suffers from the main drawback of such albums such as lengthiness this is actually a bonus for this album as it’s just more Pac to love.
The album is a true representation of Tupac’s “Thug Life” declarations and this pushed it forward as a legitimate movement. Tupac’s emotional depth, intelligence and technical abilities as a wordsmith shine on this LP. He also tones down the social and political consciousness which was common in his earlier works such as 2Pacalypse Now and the result is still an overall impressive work of art and masterpiece from songs “Ambitionz As a Ridah” all the way to “Heaven Ain’t Hard To Find”
11: Life After Death – The Notorious B.I.G(1997/Bad Boy)
Volleta’s Baby Boy tragic posthumous sophomore album mirrors the feelings felt after his death as the victim of a drive-by shooting. This album is tragic as it shows his artistic brilliance as well as the oceans of potential lost and some would say stolen.
Christopher Wallace or Notorious B.I.G is hailed as one of the greats and for a good reason as he rapped with the grace and ease equaled by none. The follow up to his landmark debut album, Ready To Die is an exercise in maximalism. This is a lengthy double disc album which takes shots at all his detractors(“Kick In The Door”, “You’re Nobody/Till somebody Kills You”, ”My Downfall” , “Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Going Back To Cali”)
This album excels due to its dark nature as well as B.I.G’s multi-faceted personality which is perfectly displayed on the album adding on to its cinematic feel and the sequencing between the tracks shows his meticulous nature in preparing it and his execution was nothing short of brilliant.
10: The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill (1998/Ruffhouse& Columbia)
Being the first Hip Hop album to ever win a Grammy for Album of the year doesn’t even begin to describe the impact this album had, has and continues to have over generations. Already part of acclaimed group, The Fugees, Lauryn Hill perfected her craft for years and her artistic maturity and development was accentuated on this album. She incorporates sounds from Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul and Reggae. Her social awareness is still present as she brings to life tales of love and life from a woman’s perspective. If all these words don’t fully portray this then listening to tracks such as “Doo Wop” just might.
9: The Slim Shady LP – Eminem(1999/Aftermath &Interscope)
Marshall Mathers is a legend in his own right. One doesn’t come across such acclaim easy and this is where it all started. Eminem was literally rapping for his life on his life and it truly depended on this. His impressive multi-syllabic rhyme patterns are on full display here as well as his humorous Slim Shady persona. Tracks such as “Role Model” and “Brain Damage”which went on to earn him one of many lawsuits in his storied career just go to show his influence on pop culture. Breakthrough hit “My Name Is” as well as emotional cuts such as “If I Had” and “Just Don’t Give A Fuck” show the many sides of the rapper/artist/father that is Marshall Bruce Mathers III and these are pieced perfectly together to form an entertaining and sometime macabre piece of work which holds true as a masterpiece to this day.
8: Enter The Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers – Wu-Tang Clan(1993/Loud)
During the East Coast Renaissance, this group of rappers from Shaolin came together and delivered an album full off gritty street tales and overflowing talent. These rappers bonded together by their love of Kung Fu movies and Hip Hop, created a blueprint for hardcore Hip Hop and helped bring New York back to prominence. RZA along with his rapping comrades such as GZA,Raekwon and Ghostface Killah rap about crime and violence letting the work and interests surface subtly and indirectly. Hardcore Hip Hop suddenly found itself commercially viable in a market that didn’t know it needed it and years later we’re all better for it.
7: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx – Raekwon(Guest Starring GhostfaceKillah)(1995/Loud & RCA)
It’s only fitting that the album succeeding Enter The Wu-Tang is an offering from one of its own group members. The Chef- Raekwon delivers arguably the greatest Wu-Tang Solo effort with contributions from his Shaolin comrades mainly Ghostface Killah and Nas Escobar himself. Manned by RZA on the boards, he provides classic production for Raekwon’s equally magnificent lyrics. Raekwon plays the role of street scribe and this provides the album with a cinematic feel and its well written complex lyrics truly set it apart. Standout cuts such as “Incarcerated Scarfaces”, “Guillotine Swordz” and “Verbal Intercourse” are the reasons why.
6: Reasonable Doubt – Jay-Z(1996/Roc-A-Fella & Priority)
Before the business, man ! ..and the TIDAL claims, Shawn Carter was an ex-drug dealer with ties to Notorious B.I.G and a point to prove. He does that and then some on his explosive debut. The young Jay paints his Picasso before he had the means to own any of the late painter’s works. Marcy’s Own doesn’t falter or miss a step as he bounces rhymes off his close friend, Christopher Wallace on “Brooklyn’s Finest” and manoeuvres himself around darkness on “Dévils” as well as braggadocio battle raps on “22 Twos”. The then young MC shows wisdom way beyond his years on cuts such as “Regrets” and “Can I Live”.
He was a legend in the making here and knew this but the pressure only caused the inevitable Marcy project cut diamond to grow even larger.
5: Aquemini – Outkast(1999/LaFace& RCA)
Before the legend of Andre 3000 and the much underappreciated Big Boi began there was Aquemini. The third studio album of the duo titled after their two zodiac signs.The South did have something to say and it did so the only way it knew how in these two Atlanta heavyweights. Aquemini far surpassed all their previous studio releases and was a commercial anomaly much like Nirvana.
This is a Hip Hop Classic which pushed the boundaries of Hip Hop but very much staying true to their roots. Tales of the desolation of the human condition,drug addiction and relationships are delivered with impressive lyrical ability and personality as well as what can be described as true genius on the parts of Andre and Big Boi.
4: The Chronic – Dr Dre(1992/Death Row /Interscope & Priority)
The man who holds the claim to the most anticipated Hip Hop album of all time, Detox used to release incredible albums when he actually decided to. This well produced West Coast G-Funk album is a sonic masterpiece from start to finish. As well as putting over a young Snoop Dogg, this album was a giant “Fuck You to all” of Dre’s enemies namely Eazy-E whom he had fallen out with.This feud is fully addressed on “Fuck With Dre Day” ,a true representation of a diss song. Dre also achieved chart success with “Nothin’ But A G’Thang” which topped the Billboard charts at one point.
This album had all the block parties popping off and for good reason. Dr Dre played architect here and here crafted an album that could very well stand the test of time as well as inspire and influence the future.
3: Ready To Die – The Notorious B.I.G(1994/Bad Boy)
Before the excesses of Life after Death there was the gritty and hungry MC formerly known as Biggie Smalls. This album is quality from start to finish with the glorious robbery tale “Gimme The Loot” to the braggadocio battle raps on “The What”.
B.I.G’s autobiographical tales take centre stage with his menacing lyrics weaving in and out to provide a true unapologetic soundtrack the streets truly deserved. The eventual suicide at the end just goes to show how much value Biggie holds as a true artist.
2: The Chronic 2001 – Dr Dre
The man who only drops albums every 10 years according to The Game came correct again on his follow up and most recent effort. He again breaks ground again with his sounds and his sonic experiments pay off. With artists such as Eminem ripping verses on this album. Its hard to argue against it. Dre pushed himself to craft and impressive album and it shows with incorporated piano loops as well as multi-instrumentation. All this earned him rave reviews and wide acclaim and there’s little anyone can say to argue against that.
1: Illmatic – Nas(1994/Columbia)
If all Hip Hop was lost and destroyed and only one representation was needed to represent it, Illmatic is that representation. Nasir Jones released his magnum opus at the age of 18. No Hip Hop album has received such widespread acclaim and for good reason. Not many MC’s are cut from the same cloth as Nas. Not even the same fabric. Nas’ vivid imagery and wordplay tell street tales clearer than anyone before or after. He isn’t for it or against it. He’s in the middle casually observing. Nas exercises artistic discipline releasing an album with 10 songs and that’s all he needed. This album brought life to the East Coast and Hip Hop in general. “NY State Of Mind” contains one of the most curated verses of all time and this is followed up with all-time greats such as “The World Is Yours”, “Memory Lane/Sitting In Da Park”, ”Represent” and “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”
He makes us feel as if we’re with on “40 side of Vernon” and the “cocaine spots” plus the “candy factories” with broken locks.This is Hip Hop in itself.