I’m very passionate when it comes to hip hop. At times I’m its biggest advocate, and others the biggest apologist. Most of the hip hop that is played on the radio embarrasses me. That isn’t true hip hop in my opinion, it is no different than Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus. It’s pop music. Lost in the shuffle of throw-away singles and one-hit wonders are some of the most creative artists, songs, and albums of any genre. I want to discuss some of the most creative hip hop albums of all time. On top of having great production and lyrics, all of them tell a story from beginning to end.
Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030
Deltron 3030 was a hip hop supergroup composed of Del the Funkee Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and DJ Kid Koala. The album takes place in a dystopian future, the year 3030 to be exact. The story follows Deltron Zero, the hero, fighting against an oppressive government and gigantic corporations that control everything. The production by Dan the Automator is operatic, while still maintaining the rhythm that makes hip hop great. Del’s rhyming over the eerie, futuristic beats flows like water. Rumors have long circulated of a sequel to this album with updates coming every so often, but it has yet to surface. [Buy Now]
CunninLynguists – A Piece of Strange
A Piece of Strange is the third release from one of my favorite hip hop groups, CunninLynguists. They get a lot of flack for having a juvenile sounding name but make no mistake, these are talented individuals whose lyrics go deeper than their name would imply. This album follows the story of a man and those closest to him in their struggles with right and wrong, love and hate, faith and sin. The album features a lot of symbolism, from the album cover to the lyrics of each song. Biblical references abound throughout the 16 tracks. The album’s producer, Kno, sets the tone of the album early on with soulful beats that quicken as the main character falls from grace and finds himself facing eternal damnation before finally returning to the light. The many theories that surrounded this album and its meaning were cataloged on a companion site I made asking what is A Piece of Strange? [Buy Now]
Tech N9ne – Anghellic
Tech N9ne’s Anghellic is similar to A Piece of Strange in the fact that it has a character traveling through hell, to purgatory, and winding up in heaven. Instead diving into deep symbolism with a cast of characters, Anghellic focuses on Tech N9ne and his own personal struggles. Obviously he doesn’t actually travel through hell and back, but the stories he tells are about his own personal hell, purgatory, and heaven. On his way through purgatory he confesses to murder, but not the normal gangster rapper murder. No, his tale is of abortions. The track Suicide Letters is exactly what the name implies: suicide letters to his friends, family, and fans. While much more dark than A Piece of Strange, it was Tech’s most personal album to date. If you want an even darker look into Tech’s life, his album K.O.D (King of Darkness) takes you on a darker journey. [Buy Now]
Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer
Masta Ace actually has a couple concept albums. The first one was his 2001 album Disposable Arts. At the beginning of that album we find Masta Ace’s character leaving prison, his return home, and his life at “The Institute of Disposable Arts”, a school in which Ace enrolls after realizing how bad the situation in Brooklyn is. Listening to that album, you might wonder why Masta Ace’s character was in prison to begin with. His 2004 album tells that story. The album opens with Masta Ace sitting on his Brooklyn stoop writing. That’s when neighborhood gangster Fats Belvedere comes along and convinces Ace to let him go on tour with him as his unofficial manager. Ace agrees and the album takes you through various interactions with people on tour and with skits involving the Joe Pesci sounding Belvedere ending with them both getting arrested because of Belvedere’s illegal activities,unbeknownst to Ace, the real reason he wanted to go on tour. [Buy Now]
These albums, by far, are the most creative in hip hop. The artists were not afraid to take risks in order to tell great stories. Not everything in hip hop is bling, violence, and women. These albums show how true that is. If you’re looking for more great hip hop, I suggest you look to the entire QN5 roster. These guys are the most talented artists in hip hop today. Some more artists you should definitely check out: Binary Star, Chali 2na, Jurassic 5, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, JR&PH7 and K-OS.