We’re closing in on the #1 album. Think you know what it is? Shoot an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you guess it correctly, you get to enter to win an album of your choosing on this very list (provided it’s in print.)
Meantime, check out our last 10 entries here, and let’s keep movin’!
30. The Pharcyde Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde
(Delicious Vinyl, 1993)
When you think of early 90’s left coast hip hop, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Death Row and G-funk. Dr. Dre crafted some of the most memorable music in hip hop history. But underneath the Death Row dominance were crews that had an alternative sound. Groups such as Jurassic 5, Hieroglyphics with Del, Freestyle Fellowship, and the oddballs of the bunch, The Pharcyde. Slimkid3, Imani, Bootie Brown, and Fatlip made their public debut appearing on “Soul Flower” on the Heavy Rhyme Experience by the Brand New Heavies in 1991. In 92, they dropped Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde on Delicious Vinyl. Music critics and rap fans around loved it. Too bad Sound Scan didn’t. From the first few tracks you can tell this wasn’t your normal G-Funk infused, Bangin on Wax LP from the west. Their production, crafted by J-Swift and LA Jay, had a more of a laid back, jazzy theme to it. It was full of humorous witty rhymes from “class clowns” that didn’t take themselves too seriously. It was their second single, Passin Me By, that put them on the map. Tracks like Yo Mama, Officer, and Oh S**t said “let’s bug out and act the fool.” They were looked at as ATCQ of the west. I would say more of the UMC’s. Different. Quirky. Funny. The Pharcyde. Enjoy the ride.-Peter
29. Jay-Z The Blueprint
(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2001)
Jay-Z enjoyed a great deal of commercial success following his debut, 1996′s Reasonable Doubt, but 2001′s The Blueprint was the first album he released that measured up to Doubt from a qualitative standpoint. With a warm, soulful backdrop largely provided by a young Kanye West, Hov crossed the line from being a rapper into being an artist. Every element that people bring up when they mention Jay during “best-ever” conversations is here. Laser-sharp attention to detail, wicked sense of humor, clever turns of phrase, and with songs like “Takeover,” the ability to eviscerate multiple foes at once. Despite the fact that the album is often associated with its unfortunate release date (9/11/01,) The Blueprint still stands strong as the moment that Shawn Carter became an icon. Plus, MICHAEL FUCKING JACKSON appears on the album.-Big Money
28. Beastie Boys Licensed To Ill
(Def Jam, 1986)
It took a minute for hip-hop to travel from The Bronx downtown, but by the early Eighties, the cultural assimilation of the genre was in full effect-at least in the genre’s birthplace of New York. Three punk rock kids named Mike, Adam and Adam quickly realized that there wasn’t a whole lot of difference (at least in attitude) between the music they liked and the sounds coming from Uptown. By merging the two styles and adding a healthy dose of classic-rock brattiness (courtesy of producer Rick Rubin) the Beasties spread the message of hip-hop to Middle America with Licensed To Ill. They extolled the virtues of Brass Monkey, White Castle, fighting for your right to party, and (of course) Old-E and Rice O’ Roni. They turned The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” into “Girls,” they got Slayer’s Kerry King to play guitar and got DJ Run to write for them, and, most importantly, they got the chance to evolve from some of the more regrettable elements of Licensed To Ill and create an artistic legacy that rightfully put them in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Despite the fact that Licensed To Ill spawned the likes of Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit and many more odious musical acts, it’s still a necessary part of anyone’s hip-hop education. Don’t kill the messengers, right?-Big Money
27. N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton
Welcome to West Coast hip-hop! N.W.A and their debut album Straight Outta Compton laid the foundation for gangsta rap, and introduced us to Eazy-E, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre (along with the lesser known DJ Yella and MC Ren) making N.W.A. a sort of rap super group. As a 12-year old living in San Diego I heard about Straight Outta Compton, and songs “Express Yourself” and “Straight Outta Compton,” but it wasn’t something even my hip-hop loving Mom wanted me to listen to.
In fact, it wasn’t until just recently, while watching ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary “Straight Outta L.A.” about the correlation between N.W.A. and the LA Raiders , and directed by Ice Cube, that I realized how huge this album was both in content and to the people of Los Angeles and the rest of the West Coast. Represent!-KJ
26. The Notorious B.I.G. Life After Death
(Bad Boy/Arista, 1997)
Slightly controversial statement: not only is Life After Death hip-hop’s best double album, it’s also hip-hop’s only good double album.
I mean, what are we measuring it against? Wu-Tang Forever? Too long and complicated to be consistently listenable. Blueprint 2? The definition of inconsistency. All Eyez On Me? Extremely overrated. Street’s Disciple? Don’t even get me started.
On Life After Death, Christopher Wallace pulls out his dick and pisses on the entire rap game. It’s like a 2 hour long game of “anything you can do, I can do better.” Pop-rap? Check. “Mo Money, Mo Problems” got hip-hop fans on dance floors shaking their asses to a sample of a gay empowerment anthem. ‘Hood love songs? “Fuckin’ You Tonight” finds Biggie and R. Kelly at their sleazy best (and those of you who are Kellz fans know how quickly he can jump from inappropriate but sexy to plain old gross.) Sap? “Miss U” and “Sky’s The Limit” aim for the waterworks and, as cloying as they are, remain listenable. Slick Rick-style storytelling? “I Got A Story To Tell” could be someone’s (vulgar) English composition assignment. And let’s not forget that B.I.G. could rap his ass off. “Hypnotize” and “Kick In The Door” are exercises in pure spitting. PLUS the dude out-Boned Bone (“Notorious Thugs”) and came close to out Wu-ing the Wu (“Long Kiss Goodnight.”) It sucks that B.I.G. didn’t live to see this album blow up, and yes, the album does have some filler. But let’s stop for a second and give some props to Life After Death-a study in hip-hop excess that actually turns out to be good.-Big Money
25. 2Pac Me Against The World
Tupac may be the single most overrated and underrated rapper of all-time at the same time. Pac heads overrate him as a lyricist as if he’s the only guy to ever write poetry. And those who don’t like him don’t give him enough credit for his ability to touch his audience in so many ways. He may not have been multi-syllabic like Rakim, but man, his words had spirit and substance.
He was at his best during Me Against The World. He was at his most reflective, fearful, and thankful. Pac could be arrogant and contradictory at times, but on Me Against The World, he seemed to be hyper-aware of his new celebrity and the downfall that could be coming because of it.
First single Dear Mama might be Pac at his finest. He weaves a tale about how his mother shaped him as a person, even if things weren’t perfect and he appreciates her. Temptations is playful and is memorable for the video in which Ice-T, Coolio and others made cameos since Pac was in jail.
I wonder what would’ve happened to his career if he kept on this same path after he got out of jail rather than linking up with Suge Knight. While All Eyez On Me is his most famous album, it doesn’t really touch this one. It’s far too aggressive, irresponsible, and out of control. Pac may have wanted to present himself as someone who was out of control, but I think who he really was is encapsulated within the lyrics and songs on this album.-GG
24. Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt
It is very rare that when a Hip Hop artist is asked which are the top 5 Hip Hop albums of all time, this album is not mentioned. “Reasonable Doubt” is Jay-Z’s debut album on Roc-a-fella Records. The album details the life of a hustler through some of the wittiest metaphoric verses of its era. Four singles were released off this album beginning with “Dead Presidents”, “Ain’t No Nigga” which featured a young Foxy Brown, “Can’t Knock the Hustle” featuring Queen of Hip Hop Soul Mary J Blige, and “Feelin’ It”. In comparison to his other successes, Reasonable Doubt” may be one of Jay-Z’s worst selling albums; although deemed his classic jewel. -June
23. Slick Rick The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
(Def Jam, 1988)
In the summer of 1985, MC Ricky D and his homeboy Doug E. Fresh scored one of the year’s best selling singles with the Double-A sided classic “The Show”/”La Di Da Di.” Ricky and Doug split under mysterious circumstances, and while Mr. Fresh continued to put out records, a lot of folks wondered where his British-accented cohort disappeared to. Three years later, hip-hop fans’ questions were answered with The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.
Rick’s voice already made him unique, and his supreme storytelling skills elevated him to an even higher plateau. Let’s not forget that songwriting-in general-is about telling a story. No one in hip-hop history past or present spins a yarn like Ricky Walters. You may not like the subject matter of “Indian Girl” (it’s subtitled “An Adult Story” for a reason) but you can’t deny that it puts the tales of most published erotica writers to shame. As if to prove that a filthy mouth and a conscience aren’t mutually exclusive, “Hey Young World” offers inspirational messages to the youth of America. Whether creating rap’s all-time best slow jam, dismissing other MCs, or explaining the consequences of criminal activity (“The Moment I Feared” is the most hilarious cautionary tale ever put on wax,) Rick seemed to kick start a legendary career with Great Adventures. Unfortunately, a stretch in jail derailed his career, but this one album was good enough to establish Slick Rick as one of hip-hop’s all time greats.-Big Money
22. Big Daddy Kane Long Live the Kane
(Cold Chillin’/Warner Bros., 1988)
Big Daddy Kane is recognized as one of the greatest emcees of all time. His debut album “Long Live the Kane” is not only a Hip Hop classic but also a blueprint for fellow artists that followed after. Kane’s lyrical ability on songs like “Raw” would “slice and dice” most, if not all, of his competition. If “Raw” was too rugged for listeners, Kane would follow up with “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” to do his assaulting in a smooth way. Marley Marl’s production was a perfect collaboration for Kane’s sharp lyrics. “Long Live the Kane” was ahead of its time and comparatively still holds its own against most present day albums.-June
21. Main Source Breaking Atoms
(Wild Pitch, 1991)
A sizable chunk of hip-hop fans only know Main Source’s Breaking Atoms as the album that featured the first recorded appearance of Nas, on the track “Live At The BBQ.” Despite the fact that Esco’s verse is incredible, it’s only one memorable moment on one of hip-hop’s most underrated albums. Well, considering where it ended up on this list, maybe we can at least temporarily scratch the “underrated” label off?
At any rate: Large Professor, Sir Scratch and K-Cut’s debut effort didn’t break the bank (well, maybe if bootleggers had Soundscan back then…) but those that owned a copy of Breaking Atoms played the living hell out of that shit. Extra P’s authoritative voice boomed on songs that decried police brutality and racism, amongst other hot button topics. There’s also “Lookin’ At The Front Door,” a Billboard #1 rap hit that speaks more truthfully to relationships than most songs released before or since.-Big Money