If you’re just joining us, we’re counting down the 100 best rap albums of all time! (said in Kanye voice.)
If you’d like to catch up, check out part one right here. Caught up? Good. Now, let’s keep moving.
90) LL Cool J Bigger And Deffer
(Def Jam, 1987)
LL Cool J’s sophomore follow-up to Radio is my second favorite LL album in his discography. Yes, I like this album more than Radio. I just think the album is more fun. LL’s more confident and cocksure. His rhymes are wittier and even more braggadocious. The double entendres on “Kanday” get me all the time. “I’m Bad” hits hard, his rhymes hit hard, but he also does it with a wink. This is LL at his silliest, yet his most entertaining as well. Who name drops 500 pound wrestler Haystacks Calhoun? Ladies Love does.
I love that he big ups his DJ on “Go Cut Creator Go.” And I haven’t even mentioned his biggest single yet. It’s maybe the most iconic hip hop love song ever and is the main reason why Drake has a career. LL raps in hushed tones and expresses how much he needs love, which wasn’t necessarily the thing to do in rap music at the time, but the timing was great and while the song may be a little corny, you can understand why it’s a hit. LL’s charm and charisma ooze throughout “I Need Love.”
This story is over, but my rhyme ain’t done!-GG
89) DAS EFX Dead Serious
How do popular cartoonish phrases get converted into captivating street slang? Das EFX was discovered by legendary group, EPMD, and became the second Rap duo members of the Hit Squad. Their 1992 debut album, Dead Serious, is a witty worded compilation of lyrics backed by funky samples and hardcore drums. The album opens with Skoob and Krazy Drayzy’s second single, “Mic Checka”, which immediately grabs the listener’s attention with the sparring of their signature ‘iggety’ catch phrases. However, their introductory song to the world, “They Want EFX” backed with a James Brown sample, became an instant smash hit on the Billboard charts. Though “Dead Serious” only contains ten tracks, it helped catapult the group who hails from Brooklyn, New York and Teaneck, New Jersey to platinum status. Das EFX went on to influence a number of other popular artists who adopted the coined ‘iggety’ phrases in their bodies of work.-June
88) Lauryn Hill The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Writing about Lauryn Hill’s only solo album (I don’t count the MTV Unplugged album) intrigued me for two reasons.
For one, I was on the fence on whether it was truly a rap album or not. I think trying to categorize The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill as solely rap or solely R&B does it an injustice because it’s definitely both. And to me, it leans harder to the R&B side of things.
And the second is because it’s hard to listen to this album without thinking about what’s become of Lauryn. Hip hop rooted for Lauryn. We knew she had the talent to break out, no matter whether anyone liked Wyclef and Pras or not. But success seemed to break her.
Listening to Miseducation again brings me back to college. It brings me back to 21 years old. It brings me back to when Lauryn’s fresh sound ruled 1998. She was able to have a voice while showing off her voice. She was able to speak about being a young, unwed mother in a positive and inspiring way. She was able to communicate a love lost that seemed so painful that you ached for her. And in the end, you had this complete album of feeling, heartache, success and ultimately what would become the beginning of the end. I’m not sure if we’re better off as music fans with Lauryn’s only album being a near masterpiece (as opposed to her putting out more albums that weren’t as good), but in successive years, we lost Pac, Biggie, and ultimately Lauryn’s voice.-GG
87) Camp Lo Uptown Saturday Night
“The rappers of Camp Lo have a deft, graceful rhythmic touch and their producers (including Ski and Trugoy the Dove) are skilled musicians, capable of weaving funky sonic layers that never sound too spare or overloaded. In short, Uptown Saturday Night, even with its occasional dull patches, is a worthwhile debut.”- All Music Guide
86) Jeru The Damaja The Sun Rises in the East
Journey down to the depths of the darkest streets of mid 1990s New York City underground hip hop with The Sun Rises in the East. Your narrator for the trip is Jeru the Damaja, one of those now forgotten about emcees, who never really received the credit or shine he deserves, and your conductor is the great DJ Premier, one of the undisputed legends of rap production. They make a flawless team on The Sun Rises in the East. Premier’s production has genuinely never been better – tough, catchy boom bap drums imaginatively complimented with shrill strings and ice cold keys (a must listen is “Come Clean”) – and Jeru’s rhymes twinkle consistently with dictionary-smart cockiness and street-smart socio-political commentary. They genuinely do not make albums like The Sun Rises In The East any longer.-Paul
85) The D.O.C. No One Can Do It Better
No One Can Do It Better is an album of highs, featuring consistently great production from the legendary Dr. Dre, as well being a towering beatdown to any mark who claims the West Coast doesn’t have great lyricists. Sadly, it also marks the high water mark of The D.O.C.’s career. This tight 13 track set features D.O.C. spinning a seemingly never-ending web of dynamic, tongue-twisting rhymes. He dances around every single beat with a confident swagger and verbal dexterity genuinely on a par with the great emcees of the time such as Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. Tragedy soon struck, however, as months after the release of the platinum-selling No One Can Do It Better, D.O.C.’s vocal chords were severely damaged in a car crash. It left him a raspy voiced wreck of his past self, unable to ever again rhyme anywhere near the standard of “No One Can Do It Better”. Life is a bitch.-Paul
84) Big L Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous
“(Big L) was smarter than what he would lead you to believe on that album. But, it’s like, [for] Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous, I’m portraying this character, and this character I’m portraying has to be believable. The stuff he has to do has to be so over-the-top. And that’s a lot of the characters he was portraying on that album. It was a mixture between what was going on in Harlem and fiction. Some of it was real, some of it was fiction. [So] when he wanted to go over-the-top with some shit he went over the top with it!”-Lord Finesse, as told to HipHopDX.com
I’m nervous even taking this one just knowing the type of admiration there is out there for Big L in hiphop circles. As far as raw rap goes, this is as good as it gets. You won’t find a skippable verse on this record because there simply isn’t one. L is one of the most intricate lyricists and vivid storytellers ever to grace the rap game. It’s his ability to take generic themes, put his own twist on them, and make it absolutely gripping that sets him apart from his peers. Lifestylez, with its mix of punchline raps and hardcore street stories, makes for essential listening.
If albums were sold purely on ability, this would have been a surefire smash. The truly tragic thing about it is that Lifestylez, as good as it is, it probably only scratched the surface of L’s capabilities as an emcee. It’s him being showcased by a record label who had no idea what to do with him. I think without those restrictions, he would have taken it to a different level. Material recorded for the posthumously released The Big Picture shows indication, not only of that, but also that his craft was still evolving. Over a decade later, he remains the most valuable poet on the M.I.C.-Duan
83) Cypress Hill Black Sunday
The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts and featured the single, “Insane in the Brain,” which became a hit not just with me but with my rock-loving friends. B-Real’s voice combined with DJ Muggs’ beats is what makes the group so unique, and is why years later we still remember Cypress Hill as making a difference in the hip-hop world.-KJ
82) Ice-T O.G.: Original Gangster
“He won’t desert the hards because a hard he remains; his violence is pervasive and graphic because he knows brutalization from the inside. But he’s nothing if not a moralist, and so the new jack drunk dies in his Benz, the cops break down the gangbanger’s door, his gays are left to live their own lives, and his prematurely ejaculated sex jam is a dis on the horny fool who slavers for it.”-Robert Christgau, who gave the album an “A.”
81) Nas Hip-Hop Is Dead
(Def Jam, 2006)
It’s no secret that Nasir Jones knows how to court controversy. Signing on the dotted line to work with Def Jam Records for his old nemesis Jay-Z was one thing, declaring the art form that made him a superstar was something else entirely. While performing last rites on rap music was certainly premature, Nas did his part to breathe life into it anyway with his best album since Illmatic. Actually, I’d go out on a limb and say that HHID is Illmatic‘s qualitative equal…and might even be better! Considering the fact that HHID appears here and Illmatic appears…much, much later on this list, I don’t know that many people agree, but I digress.
Being the hip-hop version of Clint Eastwood screaming at kids to “get off my lawn!” actually fit Nas quite well, and a team of collaborators and producers ranging from will.i.am to basketball star Chris Webber (who produced the spooky “Blunt Ashes”) brought out the best in QB’s finest.-Big Money