After seeing some other lists of favorite albums, favorite hip-hop albums, and favorite albums of 2005, I decided to make a list of my favorite hip hop albums of all time. One thing I should note before writing my picks. I am a product of the new school. I started to listen to rap in the early ’90s, so that is when my picks will start. While I recognize the fact that many hip hop classic dropped and paved the way for future classics, I can’t really judge those as if I listened when they first came out. Eric B and Rakim’s Paid in Full is a great album. Definitely a classic. The problem arises when I compare it to the music I grew up on. The beats were old and the content of the lyrics derives from the ’80s. Remember, I was born in 1983, so I can’t even begin to relate to many 80’s classics. I recognize the impact of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five or Slick Rick, I just experienced them much later than I should have. To put this in context, let’s look at the movies Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. People who were wise to Reservoir Dogs usually think that is the better Tarantino movie. Those who saw Pulp Fiction before Reservoir Dogs don’t quite grasp the genius of Reservoir Dogs that made Pulp Fiction so great. That is my dilemma here. My hip-hop experience is like watching Pulp Fiction first and then Reservoir Dogs, not realizing that everything that Pulp Fiction is credits back to Reservoir Dogs and thinking that RD is the inferior movie. (I do realize this, but it makes my explanation simpler). So now, on with the list. (these aren’t in order)
- Binary Star- Masters of the Universe– This album is considered a classic by many underground fans. The group, comprised of Senim Silla and OneBeLo (or onemanarmy, or any of the other names he goes by). This album brings socially-concious rap with great beats. They talk about the state of hip hop in New Hip Hop and the act of defiance to stereotypes in Binary Shuffle. The classic song, Honest Expression discusses that is what hip hop is, and not the pop music and thug glorifying you hear on the radio. The group is no longer together, and many hip hop know-it-alls would even say this wasn’t supposed to be an album and is not really Binary Star, but a collection of tracks put out by their indie label that was trying to capitalize on the group’s underground popularity. If this is the case, they put these tracks together to make a classic.
- CunninLynguists- A Piece of Strange– Many of you have heard me talk about this album and how genius it is. Kno, famous for his other CL works, as well as his Jay-Z remix album The White Albulum, delivers beats that are near perfection on this album. I wouldn’t even consider these beats, but more like compositions. While he does sample all throughout the album, the sampling that he creates is more than just a beat. They really are pieces of art. Deacon the Villain shines as a soulful singer, while still maintaining his excellent rapping skills, and new-comer Natti brings that southern flavor in his raps that the world has come to love from other Southern artists. The only difference is that his lyrics actually mean something. The whole album, a concept album, is a story from the first track to the last. CL tell this story with such grace that if you want to listen to just a track or two, you won’t feel left out of the story. This is the group to watch for in the future. Check out the unofficial-official companion site: What is A Piece of Strange?
- Tech N9ne- Anghellic– This is another concept album, this time from Kansas City’s Tech N9ne. The album, similar to CL’s A Piece of Strange, deals with Heaven and Hell. The album is Tech N9ne’s most personal album. He starts off in hell, rapping about how he is tormented, sinister, and living a life he shouldn’t be. He talks about how he a “real killa” meaning not that he is a thug, but that the choices he has made (abortions) have made him a killer. He also raps about committing suicide in the song Suicide Letters. Telling his wife, kids, and fans what he has done wrong. He later struggles with fame and married life in the song This Ring. The songs are deep and hearfelt. Tech is another artist that you should look out for. Rumor has it, Everready:The New Religion, his upcoming album, is going to take us deeper into the Tech N9ne psyche.
- Bone Thugs ~n~ Harmony- E. 1999, Eternal– This is a midwest classic. This Grammy-winning album propelled the careers of Bone and led them to sell 30 million albums world-wide. This album takes us to the streets of Cleveland, Ohio. The rapid-fire delivery of the members, all while maintaining the harmony, was often imitated but never duplicated with such style that Bone expressed. The group has had their ups and downs over the past few years, experiencing lackluster sales, the loss of a group member, and record label fall-out, but no matter what they put out, nothing can tarnish E.1999, Eternal.
- Dogg Pound- Dogg Food– While this album does not feature socially-conscious lyrics and uplifting messages, it is music that you can enjoy just for the sake of it being music. Released in 1994, at the height of the “G-Funk Era,” Dogg Food introduces us to the amazing beat skills of Daz Dillinger, along with the great flow of an early Kurupt. This Death Row Records release helped propel the label and group to super-star status. Unfortunately, the success didn’t last long for the label or the group. Death Row lost it’s 3 most popular artists in Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Tupac, and the group never did release another album before breaking up. Daz and Kurupt recently reunited, but I don’t think they will ever be able to top this classic.
- 2pac- Me Against the World– This album featured a slew of hits that made Tupac Shakur, the rising musical and screen star, a force to be reckoned with. The album, which debuted at number 1 on the charts while he was in prison, showed us a more sensitive side of Tupac, one that we would soon forget with the release of his first Death Row release, All Eyez on Me. The album shows a more contemplative Tupac, with songs like Me Against the World and So Many Tears. One of his most famous tracks, Dear Mama, shows that self-proclaimed thugs can even express feelings and admiration towards one’s mother. Tupac is an artist that will never die, be it because the mystery surrounding his death, the impact of his music and movies while he was alive, or the never-ending music releases after his death.
- The Roots- Things Fall Apart– This Grammy-nominated album by hip-hop’s most famous band is definitely one of my favorite albums. Many Okayplayers will disagree when I say this is their best album, and instead tell me that Illadelph Halflife is their better album, but I disagree. I don’t think their cohesion as a group and band seen in this album has been matched before or since. The songs are classic, as well as the music composed by the group. The only Roots album that can come close to this one, is the live album The Roots Come Alive.
Well, that’s it for now. I know I can add more, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Make sure you check out the following albums, as they are also some of my favorites:
- Jurassic 5-Quality Control
- Dr. Dre- The Chronic
- Beastie Boys- Licensed to Ill
- Kanye West-College Dropout and Late Registration
- Masta Ace- Disposable Arts and A Long Hot Summer