All-Time Top 10(?) Hip-Hop Albums
Let me preface this with the following: I'm not about pop records. I'm from the era when it was okay if a record sold, but that wasn't the point. There weren't a whole lot of slick videos with half-naked girls to seduce the consumer into buying a wack record. An album had to be cohesive. It couldn't have one strong radio track, a couple sleeper hits with the rest hot garbage. First of all, radio was irrelevant, since rap got almost no airplay in the early days; the same thing went for videos and MTV. Even BET confined rap videos to one hour a day on Rap City. (Remember the Mayor, Chris Thomas?) Having said that, I should probably say that I'm not trying to do this objectively, although I will probably follow Kool Moe Dee's lead and try to come up with a mathematical model that can at least explain why I think the top albums are at the top. 10. Ready To Die - Biggie I liked Life After Death, and it actually has my favorite song by Biggie, Niggas Bleed, but it's just too long. I have always maintained that if Life After Death were condensed into a single CD, it would be one of the top 5 of all time. As it is, I just think Ready To Die is better. The production is not as slick (note the transformation for Biggie with the remix of One More Chance- the whole player element of his persona came out of that song and that video; from the slickness of the look to the slickness of the production.) but Biggie seemed hungrier. Notable Songs: Warning Ready To Die Unbelievable 9. Only Built For Cuban Links - Raekwon By the summer of '95, I was beginning to transition out of the stage where I could listen to drug dealer records and just deal with it. Every so often in life you reach stages where you analyze where you are and where you're going, and when I took a look around, the thoughts expressed via the theme of this album did not relate to me. That said, it was a killer. Even though it seemed more like a Rae & Ghost album than a solo album by Raekwon, them fools killed it. Even the songs I didn't like so much, either for content or production, when I actually sat there and listened to them, I had to admit that the lyrics and the flow were ridiculous. Plus, even though I wasn't crazy about the concept, the album did have one. Notable Songs: Guillotine (Swordz) Glaciers of Ice Verbal Intercourse 8. The Chronic - Dr. Dre This was that album. I remember going to Armand's Records when it was behind the Gallery underneath the parking garage on 11th street and thinking about whether I was going to buy it back in December of 92. I didn't get it. Literally. I know better now. The production on this album was absolutely incredible. Even though every producer and his uncle bit the style in the following years, at the time, nobody was doing that high-pitched synth. Even more, he gave credit to the originators of that style, naming it G-Funk, after P-Funk, from whom he got most of his samples. (Remember the beginning of the Dre Day video when he pointed at his Funkadelic t-shirt?) Notable Songs Dre Day Rat-A-Tat-Tat Stranded on Death Row 7. Nobody Can Do It Better - The D.O.C. It seems that nobody remembers this record now, but when this album came out, it was the fury. Dr. Dre's production here was probably even better than it was on The Chronic, just because the styles were so diverse. Plus, and this is one of the reasons I think Dre is the best rap producer, all the tracks seemed tailor made for the D.O.C. For me, D.O.C. is like the Bernard King or Gayle Sayers of hip hop. From this one album, we know how dope he was as a solo performer, and we know from his ghostwriting on Efil4gizzan and The Chronic how good his writing skills were, but we can only imagine what would have happened had he not gotten into that accident. By the way, on this album, you get the chance to see what NWA could have been; the full starting lineup at regular strength. The Wu-Tang Clan took up the mantle and ran with it, but NWA was the first group to have a bunch of dope solo artists (with Eazy-E being the notable exception) banded together as a group. Notable Songs The Formula Let The Bass Go The Grand Finale 6. '93 Til Infinity - Souls of Mischief For people who thought West Coast stopped at the Chronic, this was the antidote. If you have this (and you should if you don't) listen to this right now. It's fresh. Rhymes, rhymes, rhymes. When I first bought it, I wasn't necessarily crazy about the tracks, although I like them more now, but them dudes had crazy rhymes. They turned out to be a one-album wonder, but that one album was tremendous. Notable Songs: A Name I Call Myself Live and Let Live Make Your Mind Up 5. The Blueprint - Jay-Z Sorry y'all. I like The Blueprint more than Reasonable Doubt and there's not much anybody can say to convince me better. I think it's the tracks, mostly. The Takeover? That Doors sample? Are you kiddin' me? Ain't No Love? Are you kiddin' me? I might buy a good argument that Reasonable Doubt was a better album, but I will never like it more than The Blueprint. It's just not possible. Remember, this is my subjective list, not the objective one. Notable Songs: Takeover Ain't No Love Hola Hovito 4. Black Star - Mos Def and Talib Kweli This is the album that made me love hip-hop again. By the time this came out, I had pretty much given up. I wasn't feeling Jigga yet, and everything else was Puffy-affiliated. Then here came these two brothers lookin' like it was about 13 degrees when they took the pictures for their album cover. There are no weak tracks on this album. None. (Well, maybe Jane Doe's verse on 'Twice Inna Lifetime' drags it down towards average). I haven't done the mathematical components yet, but whatever they are, this album will average an 'A,' I know that much. Notable Songs: Brown Skin Lady Respiration Thieves in the Night 3. De La Soul Is Dead - De La Soul This is hard for me. How can I pick one De La record over another? Everybody talks about how revolutionary 3 Feet... was, but ...Is Dead was counterrevolutionary. They just took everything they were supposed to be about and flipped it on its head. Still highly conceptual, highly intellectual and lots of fun, but radically different, and to my mind better. Prince Paul does not get the credit he deserves as a producer. That Brother Bones tap dance music sample on Peas Porridge? Who else would have thought of that? And what other group could have freaked it like they did? Notable Songs: Peas Porridge Oodles of O's Afro Connections... 2. The Low End Theory - A Tribe Called Quest Another tough one. The difference between this and Midnight Marauders basically comes down to the following: A) Phife, for as much as a liability as he was, killed it on Butter. B)Scenario. C)Scenario. Midnight Marauders had some hot songs (God knows Electric Relaxation was one of my favorite songs from the first time I ever heard it) but there was nothing on there that matched the crazy energy that was on Scenario. Again, no filler material on this one. Not that there was any on MM, but I just hafta give The Low End Theory the nod by the slightest of margins. Notable Songs: Scenario Butter Verses From the Abstract 1. It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back This time, it's personal. There is probably no album that is more important to me than this one. Without getting into all that, suffice it to say that this album changed what a hip-hop record could be. First of all, there's the matter of Chuck D's voice, both in the figurative sense and the literal sense. Figuratively, Chuck's voice was that of the Black man. Not that there weren't other artists out at the same time speaking similar messages, but that was all Chuck was about. Chuck wasn't going to kick a rhyme about being the best MC, Chuck was all about being Black. Then there was the matter of his actual, physical voice. Nobody, and I mean, nobody in hip-hop has more control of his voice. And if you remember around that time, there were a lot of guys trying to use that post-Chuck style (think Charlie Brown from LONS and ED O-G and maybe even the D.O.C.), but nobody had it like Chuck D. He wrote as somebody with authority and he delivered his rhymes with authority. And then there's the matter of the tracks. Pick one and insert your own commentary about how you hadn't heard anything like it. It's all killer. MOST Notable Songs Rebel Without A Pause Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos Night of the Livig Baseheads Bring The Noise So that's my top 10. There are some records that I meant to put in there but didn't because I wasn't sure which ones to bump. I'll mention them now: Whut? Thee Album - Redman Enter the 36 Chambers - Wu-Tang Clan (what was I on to miss that one? Maybe I should bump off '93 Til...) Straight Outta Compton - NWA (I didn't include this one because it's like two different albums. We all know this is the album that basically made gangsta rap, but you can probably boil that down to 5 of the songs on here. The rest of it is not impressive at all.) Amerikkka's Most Wanted - Ice Cube. (I might hafta re-think this whole list after # 3.) Yeah...okay, so this just goes to show how much I need to come up with a mathematical system for ranking these albums.