Ladies and gentlemen…here we are. The Top Ten! There have been quite a few controversial picks so far, and the remainder of this list shouldn’t prove any different. Make sure you post your thoughts in the comments section!
10. Snoop Doggy Dogg Doggystyle
(Death Row/Interscope, 1993)
Toby Keith may have his “Red Solo Cup” but to me, and those that were in our teens or early 20s during the G-Funk era, our red Solo cup tune will always be Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Gin and Juice”. No song cries “House Party!” like “Gin and Juice”. If I’m at a house party, which doesn’t happen very often – that whole wife and three kids thing – then I’ll make sure we bump “Gin and Juice” at least once.
The best part of this album, and why I put it as my No. 1 rap album of all-time, is that it still has at least five more hits. Snoop’s theme song, “Who Am I (What’s My Name?”, the dark “Murder was the Case”, the chill “Lodi Dodi” and after “Gin and Juice”, my other two favorites the laid back “Doggy Dogg World” featuring The Dramatics and the not-so-clean “Ain’t No Fun” featuring Warren G, Kurupt and the late, great Nate Dogg.
The album is littered with lyrics about smoking weed, getting drunk, casual sex and mistreating “bitches” but … the beats, laid down and produced by Dr. Dre, leave you bobbing your head and really isn’t that all you want with a rap album? As a teenager (and now 35-year old man) that couldn’t relate to the lyrics … yes, yes it was (and still is).-KJ
9. Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique
If the Golden Age of Hip-Hop had an equivalent to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band it would undoubtedly be Paul’s Boutique. Sure, it was a far cry from the snotty bombast of Licensed to Ill; and, yeah, no one “got it” when it first was released, but as a complete work it is nothing short of genius. From the instant party starter of “Shake Your Rump” to the twelve minute epic mash up called simply the “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” the record delivered a mountain of sample-driven funk that only let up long enough to hit you that much harder when it came back in. Built around a big bite of Alphonse Mouzon’s “Funky Snakefoot,” “Shake Your Rump” is a classic to those in the know. Hell, had it been the lead off single rather than the disco-fried funk of “Hey Ladies” the record might have been a hit straight out of the gate. No disrespect to “Hey Ladies,” which is no slouch itself. The record furthered the crew-centric rhymes of Ad Rock, Mike D, and the late, great, MCA. While each member was equally talented, the sum was definitely greater than its parts, and this was displayed no better than the final single from the record, “Shadrach” –a middle finger to the label that didn’t believe in the groups new direction. Boys will be boys, right? –Michael Parr
8. Wu-Tang Clan Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
The summer of ’93 was dominated by the enigmatic entity know as the Wu-Tang Clan. Their self-produced single, “Protect Ya Neck,” was the hottest track in the land, and seemingly out of nowhere this new Hip-Hop crew from Staten Island moved up to take the crown. Rolling nine–let me repeat this, if only for effect, that’s nine–members deep, the Wu was on a mission to bring their grimy, street-wise vision to the masses. Steeped in a mix of Eastern Philosophy, and Nation of Islam –the “36th Chamber” refers to a Five Percent philosophy–with a dash of Sunday morning Kung Fu cheekiness, the crew features many of the acts that have already graced the Top 100: The RZA, the GZA, ‘Ol Dirty Bastard, Inspecktah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U God, Ghostface Killah, and Method Man were a force to be reckoned with. Cuts like “Can It Be All So Simple,” and “C.R.E.A.M.,” were smoothed out enough to hook the casual Hip-Hop fan, and headbangers like “Bring da Ruckus” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit” were enough to satisfy even the hardest motherf*kers in the room. Bringing nine cats to the mic was no small feat, and all credit is due to RZA for both his visionary production skills, and his ability to keep the project from falling apart under its own weight. Like the track said, on the 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to f**k wit. — Michael Parr
7. Run-DMC Raising Hell
RUN DMC is RUN, DMC, and Jam Master Jay. “Raising Hell” was RUN DMC’s third and commercial breakthrough studio album. The lead single, “Walk This Way”, is a cover of the Aerosmith song and is assisted by the vocals of lead singer Steven Tyler. The song would eventually place the group on top of the Billboard charts defying the potential of what the average Hip Hop artist was believed to be able to achieve. “My Adidas” would help the group even further by establishing an endorsement relationship with the sneaker company. Needless to say, millions of sneakers were sold with the assistance of the super Hip Hop group. “Raising Hell” is arguably the King of Rock’s best compilation of songs. A recent conversation with a member of the trio, DMC, would eventually support that statement.-June.
6. Dr. Dre The Chronic
(Death Row/Interscope, 1992)
The Chronic welcomed us to the G-Funk era, which I’m still not sure what it means, and at the age of 15 it introduced me to West Coast hip-hop or gangsta rap. Which, living on the West Coast all my life, I later realized I actually preferred.
The Chronic introduced the world to Snoop Doggy Dogg and introduced me to lyrics and content I had never heard in a Boyz II Men song, or at least not explained that way.
I had LL Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer and Public Enemy’s Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black, but Dre, Snoop and The Chronic were different. The CD relied more on its beats, that G-funk, with lyrics that were mostly fun, and videos showing everyone dancing and waving their hands in the air.
As a white teenager in small town America “Fuck Wit Dre Day” and “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” still became theme songs for the summer of ’93 and the album will forever be known as my real, first introduction into the world of hip-hop.-KJ
5. De La Soul De La Soul Is Dead
(Tommy Boy, 1991)
In 1989, De La Soul dropped what many considered a classic album, 3 Feet High and Rising. So what did they do for encore? They crafted another classic that actually maybe better than their debut. With De La Soul Is Dead, the Plugs 1,2, and 3 along master scientist of sound Prince Paul brought back the same winning formula: intelligence, humor, fun, good times, pop culture references, and dope beats. Oh yeah and the skits. Gotta love those skits with Mista Lawnge from Black Sheep and Chi Ali as well as a mock radio station, WRMS. The lyrics are on point (as usual) and the topics range from demo tape hawkers (Ring Ring Ring), poking fun at gangsta rap (Afro Connections at a Hi 5) to roller skating jams (A Roller Skating Jam Named Saturdays) and sexual abuse (Millie Pulled a Pistol On Santa.) Prince Paul dusted off many a vinyl to get the perfect blend of samples to make it all complete. Funk, soul, jazz, rock, R&B. Whatever he had, he threw it against the wall and it was on the album. LPs like these are what you call end-to-end burners. Just pop the tape in (yes I said tape) and press play. The D.A.I.S.Y. age maybe dead, but De La is still going strong. This album quieted many critics, including Eddie Murphy’s hypeman, Arsenio Hall (listen to Pass The Plugs for the reference). The question now is what will they do the third time around? They might have blown up but will they go pop?-Peter
4. De La Soul 3 Feet High And Rising
(Tommy Boy, 1989)
The creativity of this album is astounding. Listening to hip-hop today, it’s impossible to think that anyone would even consider making an album this strange, and even more impossible to imagine that an album like 3 Feet High & Rising could be a hit (and on an indie label, at that!). Hell, it’s doubtful that R&B and hip-hop radio would even embrace this album-they’d probably stick it on alternative radio alongside hip-hop identified but ghetto-rejected artists like Gnarls Barkley and M.I.A. However, the album’s Platinum success and status as a hip-hop classic (winning the #1 spot on the Village Voice’s critically respected Pazz & Jop Poll as the best album of 1989) speaks for itself. Easily one of the 10 best hip-hop albums of all time (and not even the ridiculously underrated De La Soul’s BEST ALBUM!!), 3 Feet High & Rising deserves a spot near the front of any self-respecting hip-hop fan’s record collection.-Big Money
3. Nas Illmatic
“Verbal assassin my architect pleases/ When I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffin Jesus/ Nasty Nas is a rebel to America/ Police murderer, I’m causin hysteria” – The poetic pugilist Nasir Jones from Queensbridge spittin on Live At The BBQ. More of the same could be heard blaring from Nas’ classic debut, Illmatic. Beats and rhymes personified east coast renaissance from the golden days of hip hop. It clocked in at 40 minutes long with only 9 songs and an intro. The content, flow, and rhyme scheme set this album apart from anything you probably ever heard. The sheer lyricism can be showcased in tracks like Halftime, The World Is Yours, One Time 4 Your Mind, and It Ain’t Hard To Tell. Just think of a Donald Goines novel over a rhythmic soundscape. And speaking of the sonic backdrop, Illmatic employed a who’s who of producers to complete the album. DJ premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor and Q-Tip are some of the names that helped craft this masterpiece. And in an era of artists making a guest appearance on their own album, fellow Queens lyricist AZ stepped in to go line for line in Life’s A Bitch; the ONLY other voice on the album. Illmatic will probably go down as one of the greatest albums ever made. If someone asked how do you define jazz, you hand them Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. If they asked how would you define hip hop, hand them a copy of Illmatic. After one listen, they’ll understand.
2. A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory
I always felt cooler knowing that I was listening to this album and many people weren’t. This was the first rap album I owned that made me feel like I was part of the secret hip hop culture. Before, my rap purchases were artists like MC Hammer and LL Cool J who were more commercial. But Tribe? I felt like I was part of something listening to them.
Though Big Money will disagree with me (editor’s note: I do agree with him,) I still think The Low End Theory is their greatest album. Tribe takes their hip hop sound and blends it in with what I always considered the coolest sub-culture out there in jazz.
Even though it features 14 tracks, many of them are short and the album feels like a connected story of music and lyrics. The three best songs are spread out. The second track is Buggin’ Out, which is Phife Dawg at his best. Check The Rhime is the ninth track and was my favorite song for all of high school. And closer, Scenario is my favorite posse cut ever.-GG
And now…without further ado, the #1 album.
1. The Notorious B.I.G. Ready To Die
(Bad Boy/Arista, 1994)
The Notorious B.I.G. had every single facet of a top quality rapper you could ask for: a bombastic voice; cocksure bravado; commanding mic presence; street-smart, witty lyrics; and a boomingly fluid flow. “Ready to Die” shows it all. Biggie just keeps ripping each and every single verse to pieces, especially on standout cuts “Machine Gun Funk”, “Respect”, “Unbelievable”. Better yet, the much-missed Brooklynite delivers several trakcs on this LP that explore the dark streets of New York better than anyone since Kool G Rap’s prime – dissecting the drug game on the outstanding “Everyday Struggle”, analysing increasing strife on the streets with “Things Done Changed”, breaking down a robbery gone bad on “Gimme the Loot”. A high-calibre list of producers keep “Ready to Die” ticking over in cinematic fashion as it moves from the “we made it” triumphalism of smash hit single “Juicy”, to the concluding nihilism of the tortured “Suicidal Thoughts”.
The classic Ready To Die marked the arrival of a star… which only shone for a tragically short period.-Paul