It started when staff member Dennis sent an email expressing his desire for there to be something like a “Hip-Hop For Dummies” article on the site. After giving that undertaking some thought, it seemed as though the best thing to do would be to gather the troops, and put their hip-hop appreciation to the test. What we ended up with is the list you’re reading right now.
The 100 albums featured here were chosen by a cross section of the site’s writers, of various backgrounds, from various parts of the country…hell, from various parts of the world! What we all have in common-a deep and abiding love for hip-hop. While many of the albums you’ll find on this list are admittedly from the widely-acknowledged “golden era” roughly spanning 1987-1994 or so, you’ll find a few recent classics, some way under-the-radar titles, and you’ll definitely locate a surprise or two.
Without further ado, let’s get the party started…right?
100) Pete Rock & CL Smooth The Main Ingredient
“The Main Ingredient is full of rich, resonant, hypnotic songs — the production being among some of the most seductive in hip-hop — that subtly, but absolutely, swing with their lock-step precision.” -All Music Guide
99) Tone Loc Loc-ed After Dark
(Delicious Vinyl, 1989)
I have to be honest when I first hear Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing” my first thought is this scene from John Hughes’ 1989 comedy “Uncle Buck”.
But it’s not my love for John Hughes films that forced me to put Loc-ed After Dark at No. 12 on my list of my 100 favorite rap albums, though it played a small part. It played a part because as a 12-year-old, Tone-Loc (along with LL Cool J and Public Enemy) was my first real taste of rap music. Listening to Loc’s raspy voice on “Wild Thing” and the album’s other signature tune, “Funky Cold Medina,” brings back memories. But the duo have also stood the test of time. Play any one of these songs at a nightclub or during a house party and you’ll have a packed dance floor all trying to do the wild thing. (KJ)
98) Ice Cube The Predator
(Lench Mob/Priority, 1992)
What’s most striking here are songs — Ice Cube’s strongest, most cohesive work yet — about the perils of everyday South Central life. These segue from one horror to another, culminating in ”Who Got the Camera?,” in which cops beat Ice Cube up for no reason at all, and nobody nails them on videotape. In communities like South Central — and this is Ice Cube’s most crucial message — there just isn’t any peace.-Entertainment Weekly
It’s difficult to imagine an angrier rapper than Ice Cube on his first two (utterly classic) solo albums. Yet incredibly, he managed it on The Predator, which arrived in the wake of LA’s 1992 riots. Cube simply rages through the album, a prophet of apoplectic anti-establishment fury, directing particular venom on multiple songs at those officers let off for the beatdown of King on a LA freeway. This record also has a more vintage ‘West Coast’ sound than his first two records, epitomized in iconic fashion with ‘It Was A Good Day’ – still one of Cube’s biggest hits to this day.-Paul
97) Organized Konfusion Stress…The Extinction Agenda
(Hollywood Basic/Elektra, 1994)
While Stress may have never had true commercial success, it has had a shelf life and influence that albums which outsold it tenfold never achieved. It’s dark, it’s unconventional, and it really wasn’t made with mainstream consumption in mind. What is is however; is Organized Konfusion at their absolute best – strong concepts, creative lyricism, sophisticated schemes, and brutal delivery – 45 minutes of alternative hiphop perfection.
Pharoahe and Prince Po were leagues ahead of the majority of emcees in 94. Their verses are flawless and they’re backed by production that kills. The addition of beats from Buckwild and Rockwilder added an extra dimension to the signature OK sound, without sacrificing cohesiveness. Tracks like “Thirteen”, “Bring It On” and “Why” each have the feel of a classic single, but you can’t help but think of them within the context of the album. Stress is not a record you can dip in and out of – you press play, you sit and you listen. –Duan
96) OutKast ATLiens
“Can they do it again?” “Country bamas got lucky with one album.” “They’ll flop on their second album.” “All they talk about is partyin.” Outkast has probably heard that and more following their successful debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik in 1994. In comes ATLiens in 1998 to let the hip hop world know that they were here to stay. Right off the bat their first single “Elevators (Me & You)” showed Dre and Big Boi ain’t playin. It was a different take from their first album. It wasn’t “Player’s Ball” or “Crumblin Herb” or “Call Uv Da Wild”; tracks that let you know they came from the Dirty South. It was more laid back and spaced out. Lyrically, they’re still on point. That hasn’t changed. And in case you were wondering, the single was certified Gold. Up next was the title track, “ATLiens,” and then “Jazzy Belle.” Definitely a departure from their debut but still stayed true to their southern roots. You can feel George Clinton’s outer-space compositions all over this album. Sprinkle in some dub and reggae flavor and you had a sound that was second to none. Different but definitely dope. Our boys from the ATL showed and proved with a follow-up that quieted any of their critics, challenged what “Southern Hip Hop” means, and in the process went on sell over 2 million albums. Any questions? Peter
95) The Roots How I Got Over
(Def Jam, 2010)
They’re not afraid to show humility and frustration when confronted with struggle, operating on the same level of humanity as the people who listen to it. For all the Roots’ tight professionalism and clockwork consistency, for all their late-night TV exposure and their status as alt-rap icons, they’re not superhuman. But the fact that they know this, that they can make a whole album about coming to terms with it– that makes them powerful.-Pitchfork
How I Got Over continues The Roots’ ridiculously high level of consistency over the past 14 years, a track record which pitches them as one of rap’s greatest groups. It fits together as a progressive concept album, rising from tortured opening cuts”‘Walk Alone” and “Dear God,” to optimism anthems such as Now or Never and the title track. Questlove and his team’s production consistently sparkles, and what about lead emcee Black Thought I hear you ask? The Philly rhymeslinger shows here he’s one of the greatest in the game to ever hold a mic – check out “The Fire.”-Paul
94) Common Like Water for Chocolate
One Day It’ll All Make Sense put Common on my radar, Like Water for Chocolate made me a fan. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t pay any attention to his first couple of albums, but Chocolate fit right into my conscious hip-hop/neo-soul spot. Plus, this has one of the better “featuring” lists of any hip-hop album ever.-Big Money
I was hipped to Common because of the single with Lauryn Hill. However, he was fairly boring to me. But Like Water For Chocolate made me pay attention to him. Not only was it a really good album, but he was a hungry MC. Listening to “Dooinit” again will make you chuckle as to why “Sweet” was so juvenile. Compare those two records. One features a hungry MC and one features a guy trying to create hype.-GG
For me, one of Common’s key strengths down the years has always been his ability to pick beats and structure a record. The production on this album – Dilla for the most part – is immaculate, but there is also a depth to it lyrically and conceptually that you will find matched on few other mainstream rap releases.-Duan
93) Run-DMC Tougher Than Leather
Tougher Than Leather was Run-DMC’s last essential (or even vaguely necessary) album. The hip-hop nation moved with such speed in 1988 that Run, D and Jay were damn near irrelevent only two years after their commercial breakthrough. Even though they hedged their bets with goofs like “Mary Mary” (a remake of the Monkees track) and “Miss Elaine,” Tougher Than Leather fairly successfully bridged the gap between “old school” and “new school.” Neither emcee has anything to say on the level of a Chuck D or a Rakim, but the rhyming on tracks like “Run’s House” and “They Call Us Run-DMC” sounds more forceful, less basic. And then there’s “Beats To The Rhyme,” a song which, depending on which day you ask me, might be my all-time favorite Run-DMC song. Featuring a dope sample of Bob James’ classic “Nautilus,” Jay successfully blends Run and D’s vocals (which were actually recorded a capella and scratched into the record by Jay) and a snatch of an unhinged Sam Kinison screaming about “dick in your mouth all day.” God damn, that DJ made my day–again.-Big Money
92) Gang Starr Step In The Arena
That’s the reason why I started using Jazz samples, ‘cause none of them were doing that. Everybody was James Brown, or rare [Funk and Soul] samples. But no one was really messing with Jazz samples, so I was like, “Well shit, these don’t even have singing and stuff on ‘em, it’s just an instrumental. I could rip all kinda things off of that.” I was just using Jazz samples ‘cause nobody else was. I wasn’t trying to create a new thing called Jazz Rap or something like that. I was just staying ahead of the curve, which is what my father always told me to do: be a leader and be different from everybody else. And that’s exactly what my whole mentality is now, and was back then.-DJ Premier, as told to Hip Hop DX
91) Queen Latifah All Hail The Queen
(Tommy Boy, 1989)
So, the big conversation in the late Eighties/early Nineties was: Lyte or Latifah? I say Lyte was a better rapper, Latifah made better albums. Of course, she also had the benefit of being associated with the Native Tongues. All Hail… just might be the most essential female hip-hop record not called The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.-Big Money
Latifah used to annoy the hell out of me at first. Nonetheless I understood her movement and eventually became a fan.-June