We’re halfway through! Well, we will be after this installment. Feel free to catch up by checking out the albums we’ve discussed so far.





60. Brand Nubian One For All
(Elektra, 1990)

Brand Nubian’s 1990 debut, One For All, is widely hailed as a seminal album by both folks who were around to witness hip-hop’s late Eighties/early Nineties golden era and by the younger blogger-types who tend to blindly follow their contemporaries’ opinions while not actually listening to the music. Personally, I damn near burned a hole in this tape back in the day from playing it so damn much. Despite a few moments of misguided lyricism , One For All contains a great mix of political rants and party anthems. The production (most of which was handled by the group themselves) is strong throughout. Almost every track is a head-nodder.-Big Money

One For All is an underrated and overlooked ‘golden age’ classics. Although to be fair, most people who have heard One For All quickly pick up the fresh and uptempo nature of its bouncing, sample-heavy production ( party-starting cuts like “Brand Nubian”, “Feels So Good”, & “Slow Down”) as well as the infectious, uptempo synergy that Grand Puba, Derek X (more commonly known as Sadat X) and Lord Jamar generate. Each rapper has charisma and a personality of their own – although Puba is the group’s MVP (he’s a truly exceptional emcee, just listen to “Step to the Rear”). The trio’s chemistry and ability to bounce tongue-twisting rhymes off one another is best heard on “Concerto in X Minor”, “To The Right” and “Drop The Bomb”.  But you may get so caught up in nodding your head to the emcees’ intoxicating deliveries, that you may miss One For All’s controversial moments. Brand Nubian were devoted members of the Five Percent Nation of Islam, and while One For All is admirably Afrocentric in many positive ways, cuts like “Dance To My Ministry” run very close to being easily construed as racist. In my view this only helps One For All – music rarely sounds better than when it is uncomfortable, a fact especially born out in this great genre.-Paul

59. Black Sheep A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
(A&M, 1991)

Certainly not the last great album released by a Native Tongues affiliate, but the last great album released while the Tongues were still an active unit, A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing mixes consciousness with goofiness in a way that only this group of rappers can. While best known for “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited),” a song that still brings parties to fever pitch after two decades, there is plenty of eclectic and excellent material to be found on Wolf. “U Mean I’m Not” and “Similak Child” address social issues in a way that doesn’t hit you over the head the way that, say, a Public Enemy record would, but the message comes across just the same. The jazzy “Flavor of the Month” (featuring a sample of a song by label boss Herb Alpert) addresses fraudulent rappers, while “La Menage” is…well, exactly what you think it is. In addition, “L.A.S.M.” is one of the most hilarious skits ever to appear on a rap album, and “For Doz That Slept” introduced me to the glory and wonder of Millie Jackson’s “Phuck U Symphony.” They don’t make albums like this anymore.-Big Money

58. Gang Starr Hard To Earn
(Chrysalis, 1994)

“Lyrically and musically, this album shies away from all of the proven formulas and ups the ante on creativity-the way it should be done. With the rest of the Gang Starr foundation riding shotgun and with Nice & Smooth guesting on (1993’s) slammer “DWYCK,” this joint has more than its share of high points. Hard To Earn is definitely a welcome breath of fresh air during this otherwise stale period of rap.”-The Source

I have said it before and I stand by it now: Gang Starr have the best back catalogue in all of Hiphop. Trust me on this; all six albums are mandatory. If you are a Hiphop head, you need them all. There was just something about that Guru/Premo pairing that worked right from day one. Both men were at their best working together, and their peak creatively was during that incredible 90-93 stretch that produced theStep In the ArenaDaily Operation and Hard To Earn records. Each one a classic in it’s own right.

While It’s not easy to pick a favourite from those list, Hard To Earn is definitely the one that stands out from the crowd. It’s different from what came before and after it, and it’s probably the most divisive amongst Gang Starr fans. All battle raps and braggadocio, it shows a rougher, more aggressive edge to the group. There’s more conviction in Guru’s delivery and more sting to his words. Premier’s production is at his most experimental and creative. But both emcee and producer are on point throughout though. The album is every bit as consistent as the group that made it. Singles ‘DWYCK’ and ‘Mass Appeal’ rank amongst the  best moments of Gang Starr. Find me another rap crew that hits this hard four albums deep!-Duan

57. 2Pac All Eyez On Me
(Death Row, 1996)

Despite sprawling across two discs, All Eyez on Me outshines contemporaries like Doggystyle and The Chronic. As great as those albums are, they at times teeter on the fence of caricature. All Eyez on Me shies away from the skits and the hokey jokes to present a snapshot of life through 2Pac’s “eyez.” The accuracy of that vision is of course debateable. Less so is the quality of writing and production on the album. Dre may have been the progenitor of g-funk, but on Eyez, 2Pac perfected it. From the slick grooves of “How Do You Want It” and “Thug Passion” to the grit of “Tradin’ War Stories” and “Can’t C Me,” or the party anthem “California Love” — All Eyez on Me is a consistent album showcasing 2Pac’s inimitable writing and delivery styles on top of Suge Knight’s characteristic production sound. As the first major double disc hip hop release (followed shortly by Life After Death andWu-Tang Forever the following year), 2Pac set a standard in hip hop that arguably remains unmatched. –Dr. Gonzo

56. OutKast Aquemini
(LaFace/Arista, 1998)

OutKast’s Aquemini: the one and only time I bought an album solely based on the fact that The Source gave it the coveted 5 mic rating. Of course, at that point, the classic album designation had only been given to 2 or 3 albums, so it held some weight (meaning: 5 mic ratings had not yet been doled out to the likes of Lil Kim.) Needless to say, the Mind Squad was not bullshittin’ when they labeled Aquemini as an essential item. My New York-biased self was quick to toss geographical stereotypes as soon as “Return of the ‘G'” came on. Seamlessly intertwining funk, rock and soul influences into their hip-hop stew, Andre and Big Boi dropped science, expanded minds and still had time to party. Stankonia and Speakerboxx got more mainstream acclaim, but Aquemini is where OutKast truly cemented their legend.-Big Money

55. Nas It Was Written
(Columbia, 1996)

Although “Illmatic” was deemed one of the most anticipated classic albums in Hip Hop history, Nas’ sophomore release “It Was Written” was this street disciple’s first real glimpse of commercial success. With production primarily done by Trackmasters, “It Was Written” was able to garner its way onto the mainstream charts. The lead single, which featured a guest appearance from Lauryn Hill, sampled Kurtis Blow’s “If I Ruled the World” for its title and chorus and became one of the artist’s biggest records. Though the instrumentals behind his voice got a bit mainstream, Nas’ attempt to stick to his poetic roots of his first album was coupled with a Mafioso accent in his delivery. Nonetheless the formula for this album made Nas a household name in his genre.-June

54. Eric B. & Rakim Follow The Leader
(UNI, 1988)

“Follow The Leader” was infuential on several levels. This was the album that crystallized Rakim’s standing as an MC. The soundalikes started pouring in after this, and upon listening, it’s very easy to see where many rappers that followed him were taking notes. Additionally, this was one of the first albums to move hip-hop out of it’s age of minimalist production. Although several tracks are pretty much just typical boom-bap, others utilize creative sampling and classy instrumentation for a more dramatic feel. Of course, it also is worth mentioning that this album came out during what in my estimation is the period of time during which hip-hop (and hip-hop derived R&B) produced some of it’s most classic albums (summer’88-summer ’89). “Follow The Leader” is a triumph that certainly holds it’s own with “It Takes a Nation of Millions…”, “Long Live the Kane” in the hip-hop history books.-Big Money

“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re about to see
a pastime hobby about to be taken, to the maximum”

Follow The Leader finds Rakim and DJ partner Eric B following up the most influential album in rap history – 1987 debut Paid inFull – with both barrels loaded. Eric B’s production (glossing over how much he actually did contribute to Paid in Full) takes on increasingly cavernous basslines (“Follow The Leader” and “Rated R”) as well as introducing more jazz-laden samples (“Musical Massacre”). But the improved-production is still a sideshow, for the main attraction is Rakim. Follow The Leader finds the art of rapping taken to its utter pinnacle, as Ra plays with every beat, delivering with effortless affront a groundbreakingly complex style that demonstrates why he is considered by many (including yours truly) as the greatest rapper in the history of the artform. WhileRakim delivers rhymes with newfound demonic intensity during Follow The Leader (“Follow The Leader” and “Lyrics of Fury”) the basics always remain: that ridiculously smooth, rhythmic, monotone flow and a deep baritone voice exuding utter authority. And Ra’s already formidable command of the English language goes through the roof, with imaginative advanced wordplay as well as a legion of internal rhymes. Just listen to probably my all-time favourite Rakim Allah performance – “Microphone Fiend” – which uses drug addiction as an extended metaphor for the microphone maestro’s skills:

I get a craving like I fiend for nicotine
But I don’t need a cigarette, know what I mean?

I do, Ra. Follow the Leader: the title says it all-Paul

53. Digital Underground Sex Packets
(Tommy Boy, 1990)

Digital Underground will forever be remembered as the group that brought us “The Humpty Dance,” which remains a party favorite. But they were so much more than what many might consider to be a one-off novelty act. Digital Underground burst out of Oakland at the dawn of the 1990s and quickly established themselves as the heirs of the P-Funk throne. It’s not just that DU pulled heavily from the P-Funk catalog for sampling purposes. It was also the infectious party grooves, the personae, the album art, the mythos, the entire universe that Digital Underground created as a backdrop for their music. Sex Packets is a concept album of sorts, centering around G.S.R.A. (Genetic Suppression Relief Antidotes), pills that immerse their user in an incredibly realistic sexual encounter, despite being purely a psychological experience. The liner notes briefly explain the history and development of packets, which some suburban adolescent males took to be fact rather than fiction (ahem). The concept of sex packets is threaded throughout the album, from the seductive title track to the hilarious street scene of “Packet Man,” to the unfortunate souls who leave “Gutfest ’89” without a live partner. Across their discography, Digital Underground would build upon the concepts, characters, mythos, and and environs first developed on Sex Packets, a hip hop example of what Frank Zappa referred to as “conceptual continuity.” And DU did it with plenty of humor, funk, and wit. The group went on to produce a solid string of releases in the first part of the decade (1991’s This is an EP Release and Sons of the P, 1993’s Body Hat Syndrome), a core of albums that their later work was unable to match. And frankly, they never topped Sex Packets, one of the most underrated hip hop albums of all time.-Dr. Gonzo

52. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth Mecca & The Soul Brother
(Elektra, 1992)

When I think of the tail end of hip hop’s ‘Golden Era’, I think of this album.  Pete Rock is one of New York City’s greats, a production legend who on his debut album demonstrated that he had already mastered the crate-diggin’ art, crafting track after track of warm, melodic, head-nodding hip-hop fused with R&B and soul. It’s the perfect backdrop for his partner CL Smooth to drop non-stop, flowing, melodious, rhymes, focussing on good-natured braggadocio – “Straighten It Out” bangs with so much infectious golden age synergy. But perhaps there is no more outstanding demonstration of this album’s infectious feel than on lead single, ‘T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)’, which is unquestionably one of the finest hip hop songs in history, a beautifully poignant, yet strangely celebratory, rest in peace ode to the duo’s passed friend Trouble T Roy, placed down over gorgeous echoing horns and a jazzy sax.-Paul

92 was another great year in hip hop.  Classic albums like The Chronic, Daily Operation, Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop, and Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde hit the scene.  You can also add Mecca and The Soul Brother by “money earnin” Mount Vernon duo Pete Rock and CL Smooth.  Classic material.  From the opening tracks, you can tell Pete Rock was on his game.  His signature blend of obscure Jazz, R&B, and funk samples puts him at the top of the class of producers.  Only if you are a true crate digger will know half the cuts he uses.  He uses a picture perfect blend of piano riffs, horn stabs, and chopped up bass lines that CL Smooth can rock to.  And does he ever.  CL drops intelligent, conscious, and sometimes braggadocios lyrics.  He’ll go from lust (Skinz featuring Grand Puba) and love (lots of Lovin) to Islamic teachings (Anger in the Nation) and urban life (Ghettos of the Mind.) But the most memorable track was “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”, a tribute to close friend and Heavy D dancer, Trouble T Roy.  It got major airplay and landed on several best-of lists.  From beginning to end, Mecca is a standout album in the era of standout albums.  Commercially it didn’t do as well as others but who said all great albums go gold. Mecca and The Soul Brother. Beats, Rhymes, and Life. –Peter

51. Redman Whut? Thee Album
(Def Jam, 1991)

Newark, NJ native Reggie Noble a.k.a Redman personified the “I don’t give a f**k” attitude.  After first listening to his cameos on EPMD’s “Hardcore” and “Brothers On My Jock”, you knew the Funk Doctor Spock was ready to break out.  Enter Whut? The Album in 1992.  Produced by Redman and Erick Sermon, Whut? birthed 21 tracks of pure, unadulterated, in your face rough-rugged-and-raw funk.  Don’t try to think too hard with this album.  Because he wasn’t .  Throw the beat on and watch Redman get busy.  ” How To Roll A Blunt “, ” A Day of Sooperman Lover “, “Tonight’s Da Night”, and “Time 4 Sum Aksion” are some of the stand out cuts that showcase his criminally slept on humor, wit, and style.   Production wise the album won’t blow you away.  It’s the P-funk, 70s/80s soul dominated backdrop that you heard the E-Double use with EPMD.  But it works.  And Reggie runs roughshod over them with humorous lyrics of sex, drugs, guns, and other off the wall stuff.  Just think of a class clown who is actually talented.  Def Jam struck gold with Redman and Whut? went certified Gold in 1993.   When they talk of some of the greatest mc’s of all time, make sure the funk doc is on that list.  He’s way too talented to be missed and Whut? will make sure of that.-Peter

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