My 25 Favorite Hip-Hop Albums
As you may have noticed, Passion of the Weiss, East Coast President, Joey "Straight Bangin' and I have put out a call to arms for bloggers to name their 25 Favorite Hip-Hop albums of all-time. Of course, its a sorta' pointless proposition, but so is blogging, so we figured why not combine the two and see what sort of consensus we can get.
Anyhow, ballots are already trickling in, if you're interested in submitting one, send an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Expect a full list to simultaneously be broadcast on the closed circuit Passion Weiss/Straight Bangin' cable channels sometime towards the end of this week.
In the meantime, I'm posting my list early, in just enough time for people to lambaste me for excluding Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, BDP and Public Enemy. But before you do, just remember my list is 25 Favorite, Not the 25 Best, or the 25 Most Important. Being 25 years old, I was 7 years old during the peak of the Golden Age in '88. Have I heard It Takes a Nation, Long the Kane/It's a Bid Daddy Thing, Criminal Minded, Paid in Full? Of course. I like them all and they'd certainly make my next 25. But they didn't soundtrack my junior high and high school years like the music of the second golden Age of NYC hip-hop (93-97) and the independent hip hop of the late 90s and early 00s. I'm biased. Deal with it.
25. El-P Fantastic Damage
The best album from arguably the most important figure in independent hip-hop history. On Fantastic Damage, El perfected his Phillip Dick by way of Joe Pesci persona, captured the spirit of apocalyptic 2001 NYC and updated the Bomb Squad for a new generation. Play it loud, smoke a blunt, it'll rattle your skull.
MP3: El-P -"Tuned Mass Dumper"
This choice could very well go to Doom's similarly brilliant solo debut, Operation Doomsday, or maybe even his Viktor Vaughn record, Vaudeville Villain. But here, Madlib, the best underground West Coast producer of the last decade, plays Doom's crazed weeded-out sidekick, nodding along to Doom's twisted prophecies. Bringing the best of the west and east together, Madvillainy was the rare big name collabo that lived up to the hype.
23. Pharoahe Monch-Internal Affairs
Organized Konfusion are first-ballot H.O.F.'ers, but no disrespect to Prince Po, Pharoahe was the star. So his debut solo turn is my personal favorite. On Internal Affairs, Pharoahe creates the darkest record in the Rawkus discography, eschewing Bo-ho Golden Age Rawkus revivalism to craft an vivid portrait of his possessed preacher persona. With gutter dirty beats from Diamond D, Alchemist and Pharoahe himself, the sonics perfectly matches Pharoahe's poisoned vision.
MP3: Pharoahe Monch-"Hell"
22. Cannibal Ox-The Cold Vein
“ My goal [...] was to produce something that had elements of beauty and, at the same time, elements of sorrow"- El-P
Pairing the intricate slang, poetic detail and pop culture imagery of Wu-Tang to El-P's Tomorrowland sonics, Vast Aire and Vordul Mega produced the finest LP by any rap duo this decade. With the odds of a Cannibal Ox reunion growing dimmer and dimmer, this LP seems to grow better with each passing day.
MP3: Cannibal Ox-"Ox out the Cage"
21. The Roots-Illadelph HalflifeThis when the Roots stopped fucking around with the hippie jam stuff and decided to make a rap album. The result is nothing short of spectacular. Black Thought and Malik never sounded rawer and ?uestlove hadn't yet decided to start making music for the critics, setting gritty pounding drums to increasingly complex instrumentation. Bonus: "What They Do" remains one of the funniest music videos ever made.
MP3: The Roots-"Universe at War"
20. DJ Shadow-Endtroducing
Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words must've had this album in mind. Using only samples, Shadow creates an almost entirely wordless masterpiece, one that evokes more depth and feeling than 99.9% of rappers can create armed with a thesaurus. The album that practically invented a genre, one that all subsequent hip-hop instrumentalist efforts will forever be compared to.
MP3: DJ Shadow-"Midnight in a Perfect World"
19. The Pharcyde-Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde
Covered more at-length here. But in short, Bizarre Ride is an amalgam of bright colors, screams, thrills, fun-house lyrical contortions and straight-up hilarity. A 56-minute-long bizarre ride., featuring the Los Angeles-based quartet of Tre, Fatlip, Booty Brown and Imani Wilcox are a funnier and even more fun West Coast, De La Soul, focused less on ethereal abstractions than playful observations filtered under the analysis of strong drink and powerful narcotics. And "Passing Me By" might be the best song ever.
MP3: Pharcyde-"Passin' Me By"
18. 2Pac-All Eyez on Me
2Pac is the most overrated rapper of all-time. Getting murdered at 25 will do that to you. With 2Pac's lionization, rap fans, especially those based in the east, automatically backlash against him. And granted, his bloated discography doesn't stand up to any other MC's hailed as the greatest of all-time. But this album does. No rapper has ever sounded hungrier or more ferocious than 2Pac on All Eyez on Me, fresh out of the pen and out for blood.
MP3: 2Pac-"Picture Me Rollin"
17. Big Pun-Capital Punishment
If you don't believe this record belongs on the list go and listen to "Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy") again. Listen how Pun manhandles the beat and upstages both Inspectah Deck and Prodigy, an almost impossible task in 1998. Listen to his Source '98 Verse of the Year on "Dream Shatterer." Or better yet, listen to Pun's "Dead in the Middle of Little Italy..." verse on Twinz (Deep Cover '98) and then compare it to Snoop and Dre on the original. It's not even close.
MP3: Big Pun ft. Prodigy, Inspectah Deck-"Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)
16. Aesop Rock-Labor Days Heads won't grasp how good Labor Days is for another two decades. They simply won't be able to give it enough spins until then. Perhaps the greatest re-play value of any hip-hop record ever created, Labor Days is lyrically dense to the point of impenetrability. Aesop's cryptic slang is rivaled only by Ghostface in contemporary hip-hop. Don't dismiss it as shallow back-pack babble. Once unraveled, the brilliant method to Aesop's madness is revealed.
MP3: Aesop Rock-"The Yes, Yes, Y'All"
15. Redman-Muddy WatersCovered at length here This could be any of Red's first three records, but I find Muddy Waters the purest distillation of Redman's sound: funk-sampling trunk-rattling Erick Sermon beats supplemented by clever lyrics that stick to the three B's: Bricks, blunts and (crackin' cold) Becks. And it's the best stoner hip-hop album of all-time. Bar none.
MP3: Redman-"Do What Ya Feel"
14. Jay-Z -Reasonable Doubt
The first time I ever heard Biggie and Jay-Z scatter bullets across the Ohio Players-sampling, "Brooklyn's Finest," I thought it was the best song I'd ever heard. 11 years later, I can't argue with that logic. The rest of the album is nearly as good, a uniformly flawless work. Easily, the most consistently brilliant of all of Jay's records (RD has nothing even close to as bad as "Jigga That N----a)" Reasonable Doubt saw the rise of a young Jay, brash but not yet unsufferably cocky, out-of-harm's way, but barely. Jay would eventually evolve beyond his Reasonable Doubt mafiosa fantasies, growing more introspective and emotionally resonant with nearly every album. But he never topped the debut.
MP3: Jay-Z-"Friend or Foe"
13. Mobb Deep-The Infamous
The Infamous is nihilism at its most bleak. Two homicidal man-children barely out of their teens, crafting haunting, harrowing sketches of the Queensbridge projects. The nearly-as-good follow-up was called Hell on Earth, but that label really belonged to their Loud Records debut. Perhaps more than any record, The Infamous captured the feel of the mid-90s New York rap world, with brilliant guest appearances from Nas, Ghostface, Raekwon and Q-Tip. Havoc's lo-fi productions created an eerie, paranoid mood with restless snares and horror-score synths. Havoc and Prodigy's graveyard poetry finished the job.
MP3: Mobb Deep-"Shook Ones Pt. II"
The poet and the pimp personas of Andre and Big Boi were never this conjoined again. It's not my favorite Outkast record, but its tough to argue that its not their best, with the Atlanta duo melding their Southernplayalistic Cadillac strut to experimental, space-age funk grooves and Andre's Erykah Badu-influenced New-Age vibes. On album three, Outkast spit back the sum of their influences: Curtis Mayfield, Sly and The Family Stone-style funk, Parliament and Southern-brewed blues. With guests like Badu, George Clinton and Raekwon. Simultaneously experimental and populist, this is the rare hip-hop record that can please everyone and anyone.
MP3: Outkast ft. Raekwon-"Skew it on the Bar-B"
11. Eminem-The Slim Shady LP
With Eminem veering further and further into punchline-territory, its tempting to forget that there was a day, not long ago that he was widely considered the best rapper alive. The Slim Shady LP was the best example why, one of the most wildly original debuts any artist, ever. Hip-hop had seen funny great rappers before (The Biz, Dres of Black Sheep, The Pharcyde), but no one had possessed Eminem's knack for savage satire. Like a hip-hop Lenny Bruce, Slim Shady was manic and unpredictable, packing multiple punch-lines in each phrase, of spitting nasally compelling rhymes honed by listening to Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane records. It's enough to make me forget The Re-Up ever occurred. Almost.
MP3: Eminem-"As the World Turns"
10. A Tribe Called Quest-Low End Theory
Low End Theory is hip-hop as comfort food. Turn to track one, the jazzy "Excursions" and you forget all your worries and disappear into the warm, affable vibes of Phife and Q-Tip, trading flows with more ease and fluidity than any group outside of Outkast. Low End Theory is the high-water mark of the Golden Age and the Native Tongues movement, with Tribe's jazz fusion, experimental leanings and smart punchline rhymes perfectly epitomizing the try-anything feel-good spirit of the period. Just a year later, The Chronic dropped, steal the East's thunder and shifting attention back to the West. When the East returned in late '93/94, with Illmatic, Enter the Wu-Tang and Ready to Die, the mood had already shifted to a more violent hard-edged sound, one that 12 years later has barely evolved.
MP3: A Tribe Called Quest-"Scenario"
9. Dr . Dre-The Chronic
Rumor has it that this one has a few okay-sounding tracks.
MP3: Dr. Dre-"Deez Nuuts"
8. Wu-Tang Clan-Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
There was great hip-hop made before this record. There was great hip-hop made after it. Yet more than any rap album ever made, it's almost inconceivable to me that it could could exist without this record. Wu-Tang are the closest thing hip-hop will ever have to the Beatles. Except somehow they made Sgt. Pepper's right out the gate.
MP3: The Wu-Tang Clan-"Da Mystery of Chessboxin'
7. Snoop Doggy Dogg-Doggystyle
Have you ever gone to a party and watched the way people react when the DJ throws on "Gin and Juice," or "Who Am I (What's My Name)" or "Ain't No Fun" or "Doggy Dogg World?" On second thought, have you ever been to a party where a DJ didn't thrown on one of those records? Somehow Snoop managed to make one of the greatest party records ever made and one of the greatest gangsta' rap albums of all-time.
MP3: Snoop Dogg-"Gin & Juice"
I mean, would you trust anyone who didn't include this on their list?
MP3: Nas-"New York State of Mind"
5. Ghostface Killah-Supreme ClienteleThe brilliance of Supreme Clientele lies in the fact that you if you memorized every line on this
record, you probably could use them in any situation ever, till the day that you died. Say you're you and your girlfriend are fighting over your lack of commitment and say she asks you, "Goddamn [insert your name here], what do you want?" Just say, "I want 8 ravioli bags, two thirsty villains yelling bellyaches." She won't know what hit her.
Say you two break up and you meet a nice young lady at the disco. If she expresses interest in you, just answer: "No girl can freak me, I'm just too nasty." If she's confused, tell her to, "pass the honey-dipped spliff." If she actually does pass you a honey-dipped spliff, it's meant to be.
MP3: Ghostface Killah-"One"
4. The Notorious B.I.G.-Ready to Die
Every writing teacher you ever have will always tell you the same thing: show don't tell. If that's the case, Biggie was a born artist, scribing minimalist ghetto narratives with the blood-reds and tabloid grays of a ghetto Dashiell Hammett (a fellow high-school dropout).
On Ready to Die, Biggie's unmistakable gift becomes apparent within seconds, on its first track, "Intro." Whereas, most rappers burn an "Intro" track on stupid babbling and boasting, Biggie captured the first 21 years of his life in just three and a half minutes and practically as few words. Christopher Wallace starts at his birth, in the hospital, Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" roars in the background, signifying the year of birth, '72. A father yells "push," the baby wails, the mother shrieks and then to the sound of the cries, the father and Mayfield shout with joy. "Rapper's Delight" bleeds onto the track, the father and mother fight, breaking up as the birth of Biggie's consciousness dovetails with the birth of hip-hop.
"Top Billin'" comes on. It's '87, Biggie and a friend are arguing over whether or not to rob the train, Biggie's voice is hungry and violent, overpowering his friend. They hop the turnstiles, cock their guns and rob the joint blind. He goes to jail, Snoop's "Tha Shiznit" is playing. The west had taken over, mirroring Biggie's real-life nine-month incarceration that took place at the dawn of NWA just two years earlier. Finally, a correction officer rattles his keys, the bars shake. He's out. The first funk-rattle of "Things Done Changed," comes on the stereo. We're four minutes in. We first hear Biggie's husky, blunt-scorched baritone and instantly, things changed.
MP3: Notorious BIG-"Things Done Changed"
3. Chef Raekwon-Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
The Godfather had it been written by a black man instead of an Italian.
MP3: Chef Raekwon-"Verbal Intercourse"
2. Genius/GZA-Liquid Swords
In the Wu-Tang manual, the RZA describes Liquid Swords, as being a “winter-up-in-your face joint….songs like “Cold World,” with the wind blowing, I want people to be in their cars…just shivering.”
He created the best winter album ever made. Liquid Swords, a frigid, bone-chillingly brilliant masterpiece. Laced with blood-curdling skits from the martial arts flick, Shogun Assination, the Genius' second solo record is filled with talk of massacres and executions, alternating between the grotesque violence of a blood-thirsty emperor in ancient China and Gza's tales of Shaolin, Staten Island, during the post-Reagan Years. Rza's production rains down like an avalanche. The punchlines are razor-sharp and precise. The guest appearances are among the greatest of all-time. Ironman sips rum out of Stanley Cups. Johnny Blaze brings nightmares like Wes Craven. Liquid Swords isn't the most important Wu album ever recorded, it's not the most original. It's the best.
MP3: Genius/GZA-"4th Chamber"
Atliens is one of the greatest works of outsider art ever created. The proverbial Outkast's, Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton had blown up regionally with their brilliant debut, '94's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, an unabashedly party-sounding record, one whose title was one of the most apt descriptions ever given to an album.
While recording Atliens, Outkast remained largely unknown outside of the rap world. But in their hometown, they were celebrities. People were coming out of the woodwork looking for handouts left and right, as Andre describes on "Elevators (Me & You)." Meanwhile, Andre was lost and searching for himself, quitting weed and liquor and growing out a pair of dreads and covering it up with a turban.
As for Big Boi, he was going through a similarly profound crisis, losing his Aunt Rene, who had to been like a mother to him. With both members of Outkast in the midst of a massive spiritual transformation, they fused their pain and isolation into AtLiens, their most heart-felt, most moving and most brilliant record. With Dre and Big Boi painting in apocalyptic and Biblical language, recognizing their own immortality at just 21 years old, they craft a definitive portrait of life from the outside margins looking in. Atliens is hip-hop at its most existential. It's hip-hop at its best.