40. Dr. Dre 2001
(Aftermath/Interscope, 1999)

It had been seven years since Dre made his own album, but it wasn’t like the mega-producer was sitting around counting his money. Since the release of 1992’s The Chronic, Dre introduced us to Snoop Doggy Dogg, and produced Snoop’sDoggystyle, which made it’s debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. He founded Aftermath Entertainment. He teamed up with 2Pac and Blackstreet for the No. 1 hits “California Love” and “No Diggity,” respectively. And in ’98 he introduced us to a rapper named Eminem.

Then in 1999 Dre debuted his second solo album, 2001, his sequel to The Chronic. Because of the success of The Chronic we often forget about how good 2001 is. The album is underrated, but proves once again why Dre is the go-to producer for rap music.

“Still D.R.E.” features Snoop Dogg and tells us all that Dre’s still the dude that produced The Chronic and Doggystyle. In “Forgot About Dre” he and Eminem remind us that Dre is the producer to go to if you want to make hit rap records. Then there’s “The Next Episode” another duet with Snoop Dogg that leaves you doing what you did with Dre’s past record, bobbing your head and waving your hands up and down.-KJ

39. Black Star Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
(Rawkus, 1997 )

Black Star came seemingly out of nowhere. Neither Mos Def nor Talib Kweli had any discography to speak of, jointly or separately. And yet, this pair of Brooklynites dropped one of the best hip hop albums of the decade, and as its inclusion on this list would indicate, of all time. Black Star brought a unique combination of irresistable upbeat grooves with incisive, critical lyrics that somehow manage to be biting without being overly aggressive. The albums themes run the gamut from violence in hip hop culture, America’s obsessively materialistic consumer culture, black pride, and social justice just to name a few. The album is also a rarity in that despite a diverse collection of producers working on various tracks, the production is clean, smart, and consistent, whereas often this approach can splinter the flow of an album. Also noteworthy are guest appearances by jazz pianist Weldon Irvine, Native Tongues vocalist Vinia Mojica, eMC’s Wordsworth and Punchline, as well as the one and only Common. Both Mos Def and Talib Kweli quickly went on to acclaimed solo careers, and continue to collaborate on each other’s albums. But nothing quite matches the impact of their first collaboration together. New music and plans for a new full length album surfaced in 2011, although that project has yet to see the light of day. “Best alliance in hip hop?” They make a strong case.-Dr. Gonzo

38. Kanye West The College Dropout
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2004)

Not many albums come out and hit you like a ton of bricks upon first listen. Before the gold teeth, before Kim Kardashian, before he was bumrushing people at award shows, before “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” Kanye created a classic. Much like (and here’s a highfalutin comparison) Thriller will outlast all of Michael’s crazy, the genius that Kanye displays on his debut will outlast all of his public foibles. The self-proclaimed “first nigga with a Benz and a backpack” placed himself as the comfortably middle-class rapper next door on Dropout, with one foot in the ghetto and the other in the suburbs. The guest list alone is schizophrenic-Freeway sits alongside The Harlem Boys Choir. Hell, they’re on the same song! The Louis Vuitton don reps for Jesus, workout plans, self-empowerment and even delivers a 10-minute end-credits type song by album’s close. Bubbling over with enthusiasm, creativity and a certain innocence that he’ll never get back, Dropout is Ye’s master stroke.-Big Money

In retrospect, College Dropout is likely to go down in Hip-Hop history as one of the most important records released in the post-Golden Age of Hip-Hop. The old adage that an artist has a lifetime to make their first record certainly applies here, as ‘Ye stashed his finest beats over the years, refined them to shine like diamonds and spit his unique point of view over top. On paper, it shouldn’t have worked; the climate in hip-hop at the time was relatively gangsta-centric, and here’s this cat talking about his feelings, his relationship with religion, and his struggle in a manner that certainly made others in the community uncomfortable. Key in this is the lead off single, “Through the Wire,” which famously was tracked while West had his jaw wired shut after a car accident nearly ended his career before it really began. Who knew that this was only the beginning? —Michael Parr

37. Common Be
(G.O.O.D. Music/MCA, 2005)

Speaking of Kanye and The College Dropout, one of the dopest verses came from Common, on the track “Get ’em High.” The Chicago emcee had taken a left turn on his at-the-time last effort, Electric Circus. It didn’t build on the commercial momentum of Like Water For Chocolate (even though I thought it was dope.) Common went back to the lab with his Windy City brethren and came up with an album so good no one could sleep on it. Warm and soulful, and with enough boom-bap to satisfy the hardheads, Be remains Common’s best selling album and arguably his best album PERIOD. Taking you on an emotional journey, this is a mature effort that covers life and love, and still leaves room for amazing storytelling, as evidenced by the track “Testify.”-Big Money

36. Jay-Z The Black Album
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2003)

Aiming to be the only MC to vacate his throne by choice (as opposed to falling off or getting murdered) Jay treated us to his 10th album (counting the “Unplugged” joint and the R. Kelly collabo), entitled “The Black Album”. On this album, Jay treats us to the same mind-jarring inconsistency that has greeted many of his previous albums. The highs on this album are irresistible, and truth be told, Jay holds it down lyrically on just about every track.

Before the haters chime in, let me get one thought off here: Jay-Z is a talented dude. Call him a sellout, call him responsible for commercializing rap, call him a big-lipped, commercial pop rapper-but don’t sleep on his skills. Besides, none of the other stuff is totally true-well, except the big lips thing.-Big Money, from a review of The Black Album, 4/04 (before Jay un-retired, obvs.)

35. Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP
(Aftermath/Interscope, 2000)

The Slim Shady LP threw Eminem on the map, making him a celebrity everywhere. It also gave the rapper so much more content to write about. If you thought The Slim Shady LP was dark, well The Marshall Mathers LP made it look like fluffy white clouds. The lyrical content was darker (and better) as was the album, and you could feel the tension in the rapper’s voice, especially on tracks like “Stan”, “The Way I Am”, and “Kill You.” He took shots at celebrities in “The Real Slim Shady” and parents – many from the suburbs – who were upset because their kids couldn’t stop listening to him.-KJ

34. Mobb Deep The Infamous
(Loud/RCA, 1995)

Prodigy and Havoc make up the Rap duo Mobb Deep who hails from the Queensbridge Housing Projects in Queens, NY. “The Infamous” is Mobb Deep’s critically acclaimed Hip Hop classic album. Packed with lyrics that paint pictures for listeners of how the streets are in their part of town, the Mobb manages to put together a well groomed compilation of street hits. Beginning with the album’s intro, we are led to a dark place in Queens called the 41st side. From that point on it is nothing but more lyrical experiences that make you visualize Mobb Deep’s world. The lead single, “Shook Ones Part II”, immediately gets you “stuck off the realness”. The second single, “Survival of the Fittest”, shares how they survive on these mean streets.-June


33. A Tribe Called Quest People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths Of Rhythm
(Jive, 1990)

Often left out when A Tribe Called Quest’s stellar discography is mentioned-their stellar debut. Even with a too-long title, Paths of Rhythm is a highlight of early ’90s rap. Taking the slightly quirky formula their buddies De La Soul developed on 3 Feet High And Rising and giving it a warmer, more mature vibe, Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi took listeners on a rewarding journey with their maiden musical voyage.

It’s one of the few hip-hop albums to garner a volume in the 33 1/3 book series, which speaks strongly to its value, although the book itself isn’t worth your while. I think the key word when enjoying Paths of Rhythm is “vibey.” Even when Tip or Phife isn’t really saying anything (which is rare) or…wait, let me put it a different way. Even if you’re not paying attention to what’s being said, Tribe’s debut is gonna suck you in simply by virtue of Tip’s voice and the quality of the production. It sets a definite mood, one that was rare for a hip-hop album at the time and is still rare today.-Big Money

32. LL Cool J Radio
(Def Jam, 1985)

Coming on the heels of Run-DMC’s first two albums, LL was obviously cut from the same cloth. He rhymed his ass off, he was boastful, and he liked his rock guitars. The one thing LL had that Run and co. didn’t? Sex appeal? Even though he was still a minor when Radio was released at the end of ’85, the Ladies Love portion of his name was indisputable fact and not hyperbole. No one else was gonna get away with a song like “I Want You” and retain his street cred.

“Rock The Bells” and “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” alerted mainstream America to an incredible new talent, songs like “Dear Yvette” were gems that the hip-hop faithful held close to their hearts (or ears,) and thus…a legend in leather was born.-Big Money

31. EPMD Strictly Business
(Fresh/Sleeping Bag, 1988)

Between Biz Markie and Erick Sermon, 1988 was a helluva good year to get into hip-hop if you had a speech impediment. Not that a mushmouth prevented E Double the Green Eyed Bandit and his partner Parrish Smith from blowing up speakers everywhere with their classic debut as EPMD, Strictly Business. Although Pee MD and E Double were adequate emcees, the focus on this album (as it would be on every subsequent album) was the beats, man. Trunk-rattling, woofer-destroying beats. Sampling everyone from Steve Miller to Zapp. Strictly Business is designed to give you whiplash from nodding your head so damn much.

The last word is best left to the group themselves. Taking a second to revel in their success on their sophomore album’s lead single, Parrish said: “People ’round town talkin’ this and that/’Bout how we sound like the R, and our music is wack/Dropped the album Strictly Business and they thought we was bold/30 days later, the LP went Gold.” So what you sayin’?

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