I was going to drop a ridiculously awful rap verse announcing the previous entries in this countdown. Thankfully, the gods of HTML thwarted my mission. You’re better off for it.
On to the meat of the matter…
You could say that LL Cool J is a pretty confident dude. Full of himself? Absolutely. That confidence has taken him to the highest heights. But it also nearly derailed his career early in the game. Walking With A Panther is memorable for “Big Ole Butt” and “Going Back To Cali”, and pretty much nothing else. Maybe “Jingling Baby”? But after how good Radio and Bigger And Deffer were, it was a disappointment. So early in the game, LL had fallen off, and in the ever changing hip hop game, he might’ve been close to being written off. There’s the famous story he tells about his grandmother telling him to knock out all the critics who were cold on Cool James. I only wish he’d listen to that same advice today. Mama Said Knock You Out is probably one of my 3 favorite rap albums ever. The title track gets a lot of credit today for the success of the album, but it was only the third single. “The Boomin’ System” was his real comeback single. It wasn’t necessarily the song that blasted off the album, but it was a smart single to get him back on the side of the male rap fans who thought he went soft. But it was “Around The Way Girl” that picked up real radio play. I would even argue that “Around The Way Girl” was most important to the success of LL’s third album because of the radio play and the goofy video with him dancing that was on MTV all the time. Of course, it all led into the title track which to me, is still his greatest song ever. And as long as there is boxing, the song will live forever as entrance music.-GG
69. Sade | Love Deluxe (released 10/30/92 on Epic Records | 3.9M)
The last album that Sade gave us before they started taking ten year vacations was the sumptuous Love Deluxe. What still impresses almost two decades later is the band’s unwillingness to deviate from their own patented formula. Even though there is always a new wrinkle or two in their work, a Sade album always feels as warm and familiar as an old blanket. Speaking of blankets, Love Deluxe contains more than it’s share of songs appropriate for evening rendezvous (or morning, or afternoon–if that’s your thang), including the singles “Kiss of Life”, “Cherish the Day” and “No Ordinary Love”. Sade Adu’s voice has never been more expressive than on these three songs, and with Love Deluxe, the band also presaged the downtempo/chill era of British pop, influencing Tricky, Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Portishead, Thievery Corporation and Zero 7, among many others.-Blerd
68. Ministry | Psalm 69 (released 7/14/92 on Sire/Warner Brothers Records | 972K)
The holy bible of industrial metal albums in the ’90’s. Al Jourgensen and Paul Barker took the amazing The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste to a whole other level. Some times forgotten because of that “other” industrial band in 1992, Ministry was and is still the real deal. If you are not ready to murder someone after finishing opener “N.W.O.” then you are not alive. It’s brutal, fast, and unrelenting and the perfect soundtrack for the apocalypse. Just listen to “Psalm 69”, it’s a war cry for the end of days. And riff-wise, you want find a better album in the ’90’s. “Jesus Built My Hot Rod” featuring the uber-genius Gibby Haynes on vox is loaded with ’em, “Hero” reeks of shred-itis and “Just One Fix” is an anthem for “Headbanging 101”. If you are a metal fan and don’t own this, shame on you.-Jesse
67. Eminem | The Slim Shady LP (released 2/16/99 on Shady/Interscope Records | 5.3M)
Ahhh, teen angst. Whenever I think about Eminem, I am instantly transported to being 13 and angrily rapping along to his songs in my bedroom…you know, because junior high school was so hard and I could relate so well. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been over 10 years since The Slim Shady LP was released in 1999; I know you still remember all the words to “My Name Is” (in fact, my co-workers and I just had a sing-a-long to this song a few days ago). The album was Eminem’s major label debut and included other hit songs like his duet with Dr. Dre, “Guilty Conscience”, “Role Model”, and of course, the controversial “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” which was about him murdering his wife at the time, Kim. The disc was the one that really introduced Eminem to the world and showed us all that he truly “just [didn’t] give a f**k.”-Brittany
66. Pearl Jam | Vitalogy (released 11/8/94 on Epic Records | 4.7M)
Pearl Jam’s darker follow-up to Vs. didn’t find them straying too far from their mold – at least, not compared to the wild stylistic leaps they’d take on the subsequent No Code – but there’s a healthy vein of experimentation running through Vitalogy‘s core. Raging rockers like “Not For You” and “Corduroy”, despite their churning guitars and big-rock choruses, belie a palpable frustration with the industry (instead of the more inward-focused turmoil of their celebrated first two records), and there’s a layer of angry punk-rock grit coating the whole thing. Conceptually, it’s fascinating, functioning as a critique of the perils of fame and, taken as a whole, outlining a pretty harrowing descent into madness as a result – loopy interludes like “Pry, To” and “Bugs” make a lot more sense in the bigger picture – and running through some pretty compelling songwriting in the process. The record, in fact, may the most evidence Eddie Vedder has on one disc for his lyrical prowess – it’s an angry record, but often darkly hilarious, too, given life by the gallows-humor of “Spin the Black Circle” and “Satan’s Bed”. And, just to prove that the band is as vivid in their quieter moments, we have “Nothingman”, Pearl Jam’s most perfect ballad, functioning as the quiet eye of this maelstrom. Fully realized and perfectly constructed. – Drew
I’ll admit that I missed the boat on this when it was first released. It was just so damn surreal and difficult compared to the relatively more straightforward The Real Thing. But therein lies its brilliance. As the insane genius of Mike Patton took hold of Faith No More, they more than ever reflected his compulsion to take risks and not worry about the consequences. That makes Angel Dust as confusing as it is exciting.-The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
64. Massive Attack | Mezzanine (released 4/21/98 on Virgin Records | 585K)
The first album after the departure of Tricky to pursue a solo career, Massive Attack’s Mezzanine went on to become their biggest seller album, as well as cementing their reputation as a leading band and innovator in the electronic music scene. Regardless of how much they hated the label trip-hop, the dark atmosphere and beats on songs such as “Risingson” and “Inertia Creeps” mixed with 3D and Daddy G’s raps perfectly fit that description.
As great as those tracks were, it was Massive Attack opening up and embracing a more live sound that truly pushed Mezzanine above their earlier works. Hard charging guitar work electrified a number of the songs including “Dissolved Girl” and standout track “Angel”, a slow, simmering beast of a track that eventually explodes into a fierce guitar solo. It opened the album and signaled things were going to be different this time around.
As foreboding as the majority of the album may seem on the surface, there is still a surreal beauty inherent in much of it. “Teardrop”, featuring Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins on vocals, mixes the ethereal with insistent beats. Fraser also sings on “Black Milk”, a bass heavy song with an ambient atmosphere about it. Mezzanine stands as an electronic music masterpiece, still sounding fresh to this day.-Mike A.
63. (The Artist Formerly Known As) Prince | The Gold Experience (released 9/12/95 on Warner Brothers Records | 493K)
The mid-90’s were a tumultuous time for Prince. Now going by an unpronounceable symbol as a name and firmly entrenched in an all-out battle with Warner Bros. Records, you couldn’t really blame the general public for thinking the man who owned the music world in the mid-80’s had gone batshit crazy. The unfortunate part of all of this is musically, he was going through a renaissance. In his eyes, Prince as we knew him was “dead”, and freed of the restrictions and expectations placed on the name Prince, he was as hungry as he had been since the Sign O The Times era, and it resulted in his best album since that 1987 classic.
The Gold Experience became the bargaining chip in Prince’s fight with Warners. He knew he had his best work in ages and wanted it released by the record company at the same time as the ‘Prince’ album Come in 1994. Warner Bros. refused, again concerned about too much new Prince material being released at the same time, a major sticking point that started the whole battle royale between artist and label. So while Warners released Come, Prince went on an all-out protest, wearing ‘Slave’ on his cheek and telling any interviewer willing to listen how his record label refused to release his newest work. He went to great lengths to throw this back in their faces, even taking out ads stating “The Gold Experience. Release Date: NEVER!”
By the time this silliness subsided and an agreement was hashed out to release the album in September of 1995, Prince had typically lost interest in the project. And that is the real shame of The Gold Experience. Yes it reached Number 6 in the U.S. album charts and spawned a hit single in “Eye Hate U”, but Prince’s refusal to promote it upon release (after promoting it for almost two years beforehand) killed any chance it had to return him to super stardom.
Make no mistake, this should have been the album to do just that. Filled with potential hits and a dizzying variety of musical styles, The Gold Experience was proof that Prince still had the ability to dazzle on record. His 1994 smash hit “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” finally found a home on an album, albeit in a newly recorded version. There was the raunchy funk of “P Control” and “Billy Jack Bitch”, guitar heavy rock gems like “Dolphin”, “319” and “Endorphinmachine”, the blazing balladry of the aforementioned “Eye Hate U” and “Shhh”, and a new anthem considered his ‘Purple Rain for the 90’s’ in “Gold”.
The Gold Experience went on to sell over 500,000 copies in the States, far from a flop, but far from what it should have been. Accessible and sounding like a man with something to prove again, this was by far Prince’s best work of the 90’s, and sadly, his last truly great album.-Mike A.
62. The Notorious B.I.G. | Life After Death (released 3/25/97 on Bad Boy/Arista Records | 5M)
Hip-hop’s ONLY worthwhile double album. Fuck what you heard. Yes, Life After Death might be too long by 2-3 songs, but the good 85% of Christopher Wallace’s second and final album more than makes up for the occasional trifle like the lightweight-but-unnecessary “Nasty Boy”. A writer (might have been Robert Christgau) once described Prince’s Sign o’ the Times as (I’m paraphrasing) the most gifted musician of his generation showing everyone what a bad motherfucker he is for two discs straight. Not saying Life After Death is comparable to Sign o’ the Times, but Biggie was easily the most gifted emcee of his generation, and even when the production’s shitty, Biggie’s wordplay, sense of humor and eye for detail suggests a man at the very top of his game. “Kick in the Door” still sounds fearsome a decade and a half later, and Big’s mastery of Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony’s lightning-speed flow remains a wonder to behold. Hell, Big (assisted of course by producer/Svengali Puff Daddy) took the beat from a gay pride anthem and had thugs blasting it out of their car windows for the entire summer of 1997. It’s sad to know that Biggie wasn’t around to see this album become successful (it was released a few short weeks after his murder), but it’s also scary to think about the fact that he may have had an even BETTER album in him.-Blerd
It’s perhaps a testament to The Roots’ legacy that a writer can still tout the Roots album he listens to with the least frequency as one of the greatest albums of its decade. And, it’s true, the album is perhaps a transitional one for the band, straddling the line between their breezy, energetic jazz-rap past and their restlessly experimental, genre-hopping future; still, Things Fall Apart ranks as one of the purest hip-hop albums of the decade, grafting frontmen Black Thought and Malik B’s deft, pinwheeling rhyme schemes onto live tracks that bumped like hip-hop jams, but possessed the musical intricacies of the burgeoning neo-soul movement. Like a true Roots album, whether or not it’s their best is immaterial – they’ve still been masters of their domain since the jump, and outclass all comers with this lengthy exhibition of musical and rhyme skill. – Drew