25 for Life: My Next 25 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums
Rest assured, Joey "Straight Bangin" and I are putting in work, trying to import the many ballots we received into spreadsheet form. Sadly, it takes a whole lot of time, so don't expect a full list until at least late next week. All apologies. In the meantime, here's a look at the next 25 that didn't make my ballot.
Before concluding that 2Pac was right when he told Biggie, "you gotta' rap for the bitches," Slug was a pretty phenomenal rapper. Having not yet waded into the emo deep-end, Atmophere's debut was a perfect balance between good-old hard-nosed MC'ing ("Cuando Limpia el Humo") and intelligent introspection ("Scapegoat.)" He said it best on the stand-out "1597:" even if your DJ was Jesus/you could never fuck with these kids.
49. Beastie Boys-Paul's Boutique
Seriously, people need to give these guys a break. No Jews should be able to sound this good rapping. Don't believe me, go to Hebrew School and see for yourself. L'chaim.
MP3: The Beastie Boys-"Car Thief"
48. Big L-Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous
When Papoose eventually drops the Nectarine Dream or whatever the hell he's calling his debut, he should start paying Big L royalties. Seriously, the guy jacked L's flow and voice wholesale. And by merely doing an L imitation, he's good enough to be considered one of the premiere young New York MC's. It's tragic that L got shot in yet another Harlem unsolved murder case. After all, he was a pretty great rapper and just 24 years old. Perhaps his ghost can rise from the grave and smack the shit out of his former Children of the Corn partner, Cam'ron, for that retarded 60 minutes appearance.
MP3: Big L-"Put it On"
Please stop singing and make an album like Deadringer. It doesn't have to be an exact copy, just close. Not to be a dick or anything, but everyone's been talking and we just really like those samples you used to put into your songs and that Vincent Price horror-hop stuff was pretty awesome. And yeah, a few good guest-rappers wouldn't hurt. C'mon. I dare you. Please.
P.S. I will even buy you a beer if you do.
MP3: RJD2-"The Horror"
46. Xzibit-At the Speed of LifeEasily one of the most underrated rap records of all time, At the Speed of Life, is raw, swaggering and surprisingly introspective. If you think Xzibit was always a ride-pimping happy-go-lucky dude, you need to hear him at 22, full of anger and rage at the world, the last and best member of the Likwit crew to emerge. His follow-up, 1998's 40 Dayz and 40 Nights was nearly as good, but Xzibit would never again write a song as good as "Carry the Weight," his chilling chronicle of growing up poor and motherless in an abusive home.
MP3: Xzibit-"Carry the Weight"
45. Fugees-The ScoreIf you wanna' know how much hip-hop has fallen off in the last decade, if this CD were re-made today, it would be called Elephunk, and Lauryn Hill would be replaced by a former Disney kid star/meth head/pants pisser named "Fergie." Just saying.
MP3: The Fugees-"The Score"
44. Mos Def-Black on Both Sides
It seems rather clear now that Mos Def had a two-year window of brilliance, which immediately shut closed sometime around the Millennium. But what a run it was, featuring a string of outstanding solo singles and collaborations with Talib Kweli, capped by the brilliant, Black on Both Sides. You know an album's hot when the rapper can turn a song about water conservation ("New World Water") into the jam.
MP3: Mos Def-"Hip-hop"
43. Goodie Mobb-Soul Food
Let's pretend you like more than three songs on that terminally mediocre Gnarls Barkley record. I have the solution for you. Play "Goodie Bag" from Dungeon Family collective , Goodie Mobb's seminal debut, Soul Food. If that doesn't change your mind, play "Cell Therapy." Hell, play the whole debut. If that doesn't work, play "They Don't Dance No Mo" and "Black Ice" from Goodie Mobb's nearly-as-good follow-up, Still Standing. If you still think Cee-Lo is doing better things now, may I politely suggest that you stop listening to hip-hop.
MP3: Goodie Mobb-"Goodie Bag"
42. Common-Like Water for Chocolate
A great album from a great rapper who decided mid-career that he wanted be the hip-hop Derek Zoolander (really, check those GAP ads again) and hang out with Jeremy Piven. Still with the team of ?uestlove, Dilla, Premier and Common working on this record, it was damn near impossible that it couldn't be rock-solid.
MP3: Common-"Doin It"
41. EPMD-Strictly Business
Puffy owes his entire production career to this album. It was Sermon who first pioneered the practice of lifting samples wholesale and rapping over them. "Strictly Business" features Erick and Parish spitting over "I Shot the Sheriff." "You Gots to Chill" re-appropriates "Jungle Boogie." "It's My Thing" utilizes Tyrone Thomas' "7 Minutes of Funk" nearly a decade before "Ain't No N---a." While "You're a Customer" jacks Steve Miller's "Fly like an Eagle" (and "Jungle Boogie" again). Sure, it's a tad derivative. But Strictly Business is funky as hell.
MP3: EPMD-"Strictly Business"
40. Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek are Reflection Eternal-Train of Thought
When this record was released, it seemed to herald the emergence of Talib Kweli as one of the greatest rappers in recent memory, one certain to go down as one of the greats. The reason was Train of Thought's incredible consistency, despite its whopping 20 tracks and an hour-plus length. Kweli never again delivered on the astounding promise he flashed here. In particular, "Expansion Outro," stands alone as one of the greatest civil rights songs in hip-hop history.
MP3: Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek-"Expansion Outro"
39. Gang Starr-Moment of Truth Daily Operation and Hard to Earn are stone-cold classics, but the four-year hiatus between the latter album proved essential to the creation of its follow-up, the group's masterpiece, 1998's Hard to Earn. Premier's always head-nodding beats took a cosmic leap as he broadened his array of samples, tossing in everything from The Supremes, to Fleetwood Mac, to Jeff Beck to Liquid Swords. While still maintaining his trademark monotone flow, Guru stepped up his story-telling game, chronicling a guns arrest on "JFK to LAX," the cautionary street-life tale "The Rep Grows Bigga" and his eulogy to the fallen on "In Memory Of."
MP3: Gangstarr-"JFK 2 LAX"
38. Aesop Rock-Float
Judging from the vibe I've gotten from blogging for a year and a half, I'm guessing the majority of people reading this don't care much for Aesop Rock. But honestly it's time he shed the "nerd rapper" misnomer that music writers have unfairly pegged him with. It's not a creative label and honestly, the irony of any blogger/music journalist calling a rapper a "nerd" is a little too much for even me to bear (Paul Barman excluded).
Certainly you can chide Aesop for his lyrical density, unorthodox flow and generally esoteric vibe. But out of any record in his discography, Float is the most accessible, with string-heavy orchestration from Blockhead nicely contrasting Aesop's gutteral two packs-a-day voice. If Labor Days is the novel about the horrors of the 9-5 world, Float is a breezy collection of short stories. Certainly, the tone can get dark at times (it is Aesop Rock), but Float remains cautiously optimistic, yet no less lyrically poignant.
MP3: Aesop Rock ft. Vast Aire-"Attention Span"
37. Black Sheep-A Wolf In Sheep's ClothingFuck ODB. Black Sheep was for the children. How else to explain the video "Strobelite Honey" a cautionary tale that advised the youth of America how to properly behave at a disco (a hint: hope that you have good sight).
Between "Strobelite," "The Choice is Yours" (with its endlessly memorable "you can get with this or you can get with that"...hook) and the Jefferson Airplane sampling "Similak Child" this album stands shoulder-to-shoulder with 3 Feet High and Low End Theory as the high-water marks of the Native Tongues Movement.
36. Big Daddy Kane-Long Live the Kane They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But you damn well can judge an album by its cover. The verdict: awesome.
MP3: Big Daddy Kane-"Ain't No Half Steppin'"
35. Boogie Down Productions-Criminal Minded
When I was in college, I belatedly heard BDP's Criminal Minded for the first time. To my surprise, I'd already heard the damn thing before, as every BDP vocal had already been spliced or interpolated by one of my favorite rappers , every one of Scott La Rock's break-beats already sampled. But Criminal Minded is more than just influential, it's a great record, one that feels less lyrically dated than nearly anything from hip-hop's first Golden Age.
MP3: Boogie Down Productions-"The Bridge is Over"
34. Eric B & Rakim-Paid in FullThe album in which Rakim invented the modern definition of an MC. Smooth, powerful rhymes, funky dusty beats supplied by the ever-innovative, JB's-obsessed Eric B. Listening to this album makes think of a line Rza dropped on the song "Biochemical Equation: "there's no accounting/ how many MC's have sprung from my fountain." No disrespect to Rza, but that line should belong to Rakim.
MP3: Eric B & Rakim-"I Know You Got Soul"
33. De La Soul-3 Feet High and Rising
Among the albums that should've been included in the top 25, 3 Feet High and Rising stands out as one of the most glaring omissions. Prince Paul's production is ground-breaking, the rhymes are soothing and life-affirming, the skits are hilarious. In truth, De La released three other albums that could arguably have a place on this list in De La Soul is Dead, Buhloone Mind State and Stakes is High. 3 Feet High and Rising just happens to be my personal favorite. If De La Soul aren't the best hip-hop group of all-time, they're damn close, and if nothing else, they're certainly the most original. Watch the video for "Me Myself and I." Get upset that no one in the rap world, circa 2007, is even 1/10th this creative.
MP3: De La Soul-"Eye Know"
32. Camp Lo-Uptown Saturday Night Floating somewhere in between the braggadocio of the "Big Willies" and the Company Flows of the NYC of 1997, were the two MCs that constituted Camp Lo: Sonny Chiba and Geechie Suede, flowing on their unique slang-heavy psychedelics meets blaxploitation trip. Too mainstream for the underground and too underground for the mainstream, they flew under the radar and few people bought their outstanding debut, "Uptown Saturday Night." In recent years, heads have finally come around on Chiba and Suede's dazzling tongue-twisting flows and technicolor imagery. It's about time. With "Black Nostaljack" to "Luchini" to "Coolie High" this album had arguably the best singles of any record from the period.
MP3: Camp Lo-"Black Nostaljack"
31. Digital Underground-Sex Packets
Covered at length here. Listening to the gleeful idiosyncrasy of this record that dropped 17 years ago last month, it's striking how far removed it feels from the world of 2007 hip-hop. It's almost inconceivable that a major label will ever again take a chance on an eight-man hip-hop collective that proudly celebrates their weirdness, never trying on hard-core poses, just writing catchy, off-beat songs about sex and psychedelics, (not to mention pertinent advice about the best way to hook-up with your friends in the next room). And of course, "Humpty Dance" is my pick for the best party record of all-time.
MP3: Digital Underground-"Humpty Dance" (left-click)
30. The Notorious B.I.G-Life After Death
Condense these tracks onto one album and it's my pick for best of all-time by a wide margin. As it is, it belongs in the top 25. Life After Death is the most infuential hip-hop record of the last 15 years. For better or worse. Ever wonder why great rappers think they can kick club jams without sacrificing any of their street cred? See "Hypnotize" or "Mo Money Mo Problems." Ever wonder why every rapper thinks they can be the next Mario Puzo. See "Somebody's Got to Die" or "N---s Bleed."
Story-telling had been an essential component of hip-hop since "The Message" but no rapper other than maybe Nas and Ghost have possessed the ability to craft tales as nuanced and subtle as Biggie. Like Whitman, he contained multitudes, as seen in "I Got a Story to Tell," which in just under five minutes captures the myriad sides of Biggie: the sly wit, the violent bent and the Big Poppa player persona, all set to intricate rhyme schemes and delivered in Biggie's husky, world-weary baritone.
MP3: The Notorious B.I.G-"I Got a Story to Tell"
29. Jay-Z Blueprint
The Chronic for the 00s, The Blueprint is one of those rare records that kids will remember in 20 years as being the first album they ever purchased. Instantly 5-mic'd. Snapped Jay-Z out of his Roc La Familia slumber and assured his place as one of the all-time greats. Released on Sept. 11, an entire generation had the eerie experience of bumping this record at obscene volumes through the midst of the one of the most tragic weeks the nation had collectively experienced. The most iconic hip-hop record of the decade thus far? I'd say so.
MP3: Jay-Z -"Takeover"
28. A Tribe Called Quest-Midnight Marauders The first time I ever heard this record was at Lollapalooza 94. It was my first concert and Tribe absolutely destroyed the main stage, turning the alternative nation out with grooves like "Electric Relaxation," "Award Tour" and "Stir it Up" (is there a more iconic album-opener in hip-hop than Phife's "Linden Blvd represent represent"). Smack dab in the middle of "Clap Your Hands," I found a joint lying miraculously in front of me on the grass lawn at Cal-State Dominguez Hills, the site of the festival. It was all over from that point on.
MP3: A Tribe Called Quest-"Award Tour"
27. Ghostface Killah-Ironman
The last of the first burst of classic Wu solo records, Ironman is perhaps most soulful of the bunch, as Rza filled Ghost's debut with Al Green, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Delphonics loops, a sharp turn from the nuclear winter mood he'd conjured on Liquid Swords. Using the 60s and 70s greats as his guide, Ironman finds Ghostface reaching a balance of emotional resonance and vicious boasts that set the template for his entire solo career. Tracks like "All That I Got is You," "Motherless Child" and the blistering rawness of "Wildflower" sit side-by-side with crime sagas like "260" and "Box in Hand." "Blood-thirsty and coke-addled, few rhymers have ever sounded this hard and yet this vulnerable.
MP3: Ghostface Killah-"Winter Warz"
26. Public Enemy-It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back
In the comments section for my original Top 25 post, the esteemed, Dallas Penn wrote this: "Passion, I trust the shit you say on a serious level, but by not including any Public Enemy on your list I think you are just being difficult and hell'a contrary. I will change my list for you and add whatever bullshit album from Black Eyed Peas you want to see one album from P.E. in your top 25."
Of course, Dallas is right. Any "Best of" list that doesn't include A Nation of Millions is an incomplete one. And in truth, having coming of age in a period when Public Enemy's star was already on the wane, I never got a proper introduction to the group, coming to them only after the anti-Semitism allegations, the Air America radio show, and Surreal Life (don't even get me started on Flavor of Fucking Love).
But no matter how much Chuck D and Flav sullied their reputation post-PE, there's no denying that half the groups on my Top 25 wouldn't even be rapping if not for PE's medley of furious shrapnel beats and political-minded raps that captured the zeigeist of late 80s NYC better than anyone else.
MP3: Public Enemy-"Rebel Without a Pause"