What is The First Rap Album You Ever Heard?
The first rap album I ever heard is The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die. And that was the only album I listened to. Literally. In fact, for the longest time I only listened to “Juicy,” on repeat. I drove people crazy. I believe most people have started out as rap fans in the same way. They heard one thing, (probably Eminem) and they stuck with that until something else captured their attention.
Many rap fans start with something whimsical or shocking when they first get into rap, then they branch out. That is why there are so many juggalos out there. I went through a serious Insane Clown Posse phase. Then I branched out to the Horrorcore rap genre. Then I discovered The Geto Boys. Which introduced me to old school rap records. BDP. Public Enemy. A very unusual music progression. I don’t suggest discovering rap albums in such a haphazard way.
The following is a list of albums that every fan should have in their collection. The staple records that have given me the most enjoyment, that you can put on at anytime and not have people go, “what the fuck is this? Change it.”
Criteria for First Albums
- The best albums have great production – the beats don’t sound dated (At least when you first start listening to rap. Later, production values will matter much less than lyrical content. You’ll see).
- They are less avant-garde. They aren’t crazy hard to understand. The best records are accessible for the average listener.
- Most classic albums have multiple hits. There needs to be something for the listener to latch on to. There are so many great albums that have failed because they don’t have a standout song. On the other hand, there are plenty of mediocre albums that are successful because they have a solid crossover hit.
- The best albums have little filler. Skits and interludes notwithstanding. A steady stream of dope songs is hard to come by.
- Lastly, the best records follow a theme or genre, and have a unity that allows you to listen to the entire album as a cohesive unit. They are meticulously sequenced to have good songs throughout the whole album. They unfold in a very cinematic fashion and provide a unique experience. So, without further adieu, let’s get into the list…
50 Best Albums For First Time Rap Listeners
1. The Infamous Mobb Deep
The best set of beats on a rap album. “Survival of The Fittest”, “Give Up The Goods (Just Step)” and “Temperature’s Rising” are some of the rawest examples of hardcore street rap. The drum breaks used on this album, like the one found on “Right Back At You”, are definitive boom bap. Hard drums juxtapose smooth piano loops and strings, creating a symphonic epic gangster movie feeling. The album culminates in the greatest crime rap song of all time, “Shook Ones Pt. 2”. Mobb Deep set the trajectory of modern rap music with The Infamous.
2. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… by Raekwon
The cassette tape for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was Purple translucent plastic. That is why Cuban Linx is called the purple tape. It is now a mythical artifact in hip hop. Cuban Links were the chains that Rae and Ghost were rocking at the time. A cuban link is a strong chain. It is a metaphor for being hard to break. RZA laced the beats for this album intending them for GZA’s album Liquid Swords. But Raekwon wrote faster. RZA interspersed snippets of crime films like Scarface and John Woo’s The Killer. And like it’s inspiration, the album unfolds like the best gangster flick.
3. All Eyez On Me by 2 Pac
Few double albums are justified. I think rappers do double albums to live up to the ideal set by Pac and Big. But, this album is solid front to back. Even B-Side cuts like “Ambitionz Az A Ridah,” and “Only God Can Judge Me” became bonafide Classics. In fact, the quality of an album cannot be measured not by the success of it’s singles, (like “California Love” or “How Do You Want It”) but by the quality of it’s B-sides and deep cuts. This album only gets better in that respect, because of songs like “Heartz of Men” and “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch”
4. The Score by The Fugees
Two Grammys, 15 million albums sold worldwide and a number 1 hit in “Killing Me Softly,” The Score was a mainstream success. But, it is also considered a classic on the streets, and a work-of-art by tastemakers. A rare triple threat few rap albums can match. Wyclef’s production is on point and Pras is clutch on songs like “The Mask.” But, Lauryn Hill is the true star of The Fugees. She shines on hits like “Fu-Gee-La” and “Ready or Not,” but she is at her best when she is not restricted by expectations of radio play and mainstream relatability. On songs like “Family Business” and the suicidal verse at the end of “Manifest”.
5. Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z
Using a mafioso style like Kool G Rap, Hov drops gems over beats laced by legends like DJ Premier, Clark Kent & Ski. Jay handles simple subjects with finesse on hits like “Can’t Knock The Hustle” and “Ain’t No Nigga.” But, Jay shows the most promise on more complex songs like “Regrets” and “D’evils”, where he expounds on the complex emotions of the drug game. There is a documentary called RD20 about Reasonable Doubt streaming on Tidal that you can check out after hearing the album, to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary.
6. It Was Written by Nas
Nas looked for a wider audience after the low sales of his debut album, Illmatic. He enlisted high-powered producers like Trackmasters, Havoc of Mobb Deep and Dr. Dre. This resulted in his most successful album to date, which went double platinum. Even though he tried to go mainstream, he still had songs on the same level as his deeper early work. Enter “I Gave You Power.” With a beat by DJ Premier, Nas raps from the point-of-view of a handgun, to show the horrors of gun violence. A brilliant exercise in imaginative conceptual storytelling.
7. Life After Death by The Notorious B.I.G.
The best double-album in the hip hop canon. Released just days after his death. Life After Death became one of the most-successful rap albums of all time. Packed with hits like “Sky’s The Limit”, “Mo Money, Mo Problems” and the inescapable “Hypnotize”. Biggie displays several styles. Masterful storytelling (“Somebody’s Gotta Die”, “I Got A Story To Tell”), thematic explorations (“What’s Beef?”), Sex-raps (“Fuck You Tonight”, “Nasty Boy”) and even a double-time fast rap with Bone Thugs (“Notorious Thugs”).
8. It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot by DMX
DMX was one of many rappers that first got their shine on The Source’s Unsigned Hype column. His debut is a classic that vacillates between being aggressive and introspective. Songs like “Get At Me Dog” and “Stop Being Greedy” are hardcore crime anthems with gritty production and X’s trademark vocal changes and accents, like barking. On the other hand, songs like “Let Me Fly” and “How’s It Goin’ Down” use almost poetic phrasing and emotional subject matter to great effect. These contradictory traits show the deep character of DMX. And I haven’t even mentioned “Ruff Ryders Anthem” yet.
9. Capital Punishment by Big Pun
Pun had one of the best flows in hip hop. His rhymes almost tumble out of his mouth like he had too much wit to hold it all in. This album features one the best sets of instrumentals in Rap. From the beautiful strings on “Glamour Life” (produced by L.E.S.) to the playful horns on “You Came Up” (prod. by Rockwilder). Even the skits were awesome. “Uncensored” with Funk Flex is the funniest skit ever, in my opinion. And hits like “I’m Not A Player” and “Still Not A Player” will make sure Big Pun’s name lives on forever.
10. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”
I wasn’t sure if I should put this album on the list or not. It’s not because this album isn’t great. Rather, it’s because I wasn’t sure if this album could rightfully be called a rap album. The most popular songs on the album are showcases of Lauryn’s amazing singing voice. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” was a number 1 hit. And “Ex-Factor,” with it’s playful evocations of Wu Tang’s “Can It Be So Simple,” was also a moderate hit. But I think this album is required listening for any serious rap fan. If for no reason other than the charming evisceration of sell out MC’s on “Lost Ones.”
11. “Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star”
This album is the thinking man’s hip hop. I read a textbook about poetry that analyzed Mos Def’s verse on “Respiration,” as a shining example of accentual poetry. It was placed alongside poems by Yeats and Wordsworth. Literary references abound on the album, whether it’s Kweli referencing Cyrano de Bergerac, or Mos shouting out Ahab from Moby Dick, or both rappers paying homage to Toni Morrison on “Thieves In The Night.” The exact quote: “And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good but well-behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life.” from The Bluest Eye.
12. Aquemini by Outkast
Advice for any rappers who team up to form a duo: putting together two opposite personas is the formula for excellence. Big Boi is the relatable, down-to-earth, observational pimp. Andre 3000 is the unorthodox, space-travelling, introspective poet. The contrasting dynamic is what made groups like EPMD and A Tribe Called Quest so compelling. This album succeeds because of the explosive chemistry between Antwon and Andre on songs like “Rosa Parks” and “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1).”
13. Slim Shady LP by Eminem
This album took Eminem from being a underground battle rapper to a high-profile celebrity. Em’s battle roots show, where your objective in a battle is to say something as offensive as possible to throw off your opponent and make him show weakness. But when you make offensive material, like murdering your wife and disposing of the body in the ocean (“97 Bonnie and Clyde”), it will naturally gain a lot of controversy. The middle and upper classes of the first world like to bury their heads in the suburbs, far away from the harsh realities of the world. And that is the value of artists like Eminem, it forces everyone to face these realities and have to do something other than remain ignorant. Or it just pisses them off, which is just as good.
14. Black On Both Sides by Mos Def
I remember the first time the video for “Ms. Fat Booty” came on TV. The grainy orange filter, and the graffiti typography. The song itself in all of it’s majestic beauty. It was a pure hip hop moment that will stand out for me, forever. Black On Both Sides is filled with these moments. “Hip Hop” with the beautiful Diamond D beat. “Mathematics” (prod. by DJ Premier) with it’s number schemes and critique of Hip Hop. “Know That,” another track on the Black Star line. And, in my opinion, the masterpiece of the album, “New World Water” about the world’s diminishing water supply.
15. Internal Affairs by Pharoahe Monch
Internal Affairs originally was rated 4 and a half mics in The Source. But at that time The Source had such high standards for ratings that I think anything that got 4 mics or higher was a classic. I wish there was still a rap publication with the taste and clout to open our eyes to amazing albums like Pharoahe’s debut. Even The Source is only a shell of it’s former glory. Internal Affairs is much more than a container for it’s hit “Simon Says.” It is such a consistant listen from front to back. Songs like “Queens” and “No Mercy” hit just as hard. And save your energy for the grand finale, “The Truth,” a secret weapon many fans keep to themselves and pull out only when it’s time to prove they know what’s up.
16. 2001 by Dr. Dre
Another contender for the greatest set of beats on an album. 2001 (which seems like a reference to the Stanley Kubrick film of the same name) starts with the THX soundbite found at the beginning of many films, showing Dre’s aspirations to make the album like a film. The Chronic 2001 (the name Dr. Dre intended to use before Suge Knight got to it first) was a tremendous success, going 7× platinum, and achieving 2 top 40 hits with “Forgot About Dre” and “The Next Episode”.
17. Supreme Clientele by Ghostface Killah
Ghost took a trip to Africa to write many of the tracks from Supreme Clientele. The result was an album with very little criminal content. Producers like Mathematics, JuJu of The Beatnuts and Hassan of the U.M.C.’s all contributed beats. But Tony and RZA remixed and reworked every beat so the album flowed as a cohesive unit. It gave us classics like “Mighty Healthy”, “Nutmeg”, “Apollo Kids” & “Cherchez Le Ghost.”
18. Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
The appeal of Eminem at the time of MMLP was the same as South Park, which first aired around the same time as Shady’s debut. They were both highly entertaining commentaries of suburban America, targeted towards kids, that kids weren’t allowed to watch. Both whimsical. Both tongue-in-cheek. The difference being that Eminem could get frighteningly real sometimes. The subject matter of “Kim” and “Stan” mirrored stories that could be found in grisly Network News headlines. The real subject of this album is America’s relationship with celebrities. For example, how he and Marilyn Manson were blamed for the Columbine shooting (“Who Knew?”).
19. The Big Picture by Big L
This album was released after Big L’s death, which is why it seemed unfinished to me. Even though there is more than enough material to make The Big Picture a classic album, I can’t help but wonder how great it would have been had Big L lived. Still, songs like “Size ‘Em Up” and “Flamboyant” would have likely remained the same. It’s the fact that “Ebonics” and “The Enemy” were remastered versions of previously released songs. And “Deadly Combination” and “98 Freestyle” were pulled together from old material.
20. The Blueprint by Jay-Z
The Blueprint was released on September 11, 2001, the same day two planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The majority of the production was handled by Kanye West and Just Blaze, with contributions from Timbaland, Bink, Trackmasters and Eminem. The beats on this album started a trend of soul sampling in the early 2000’s. Memphis Bleek sparked the beef between Jay-Z and Nas. He reinterpreted “Nas Is Like” and Nas fired shots. Jay went in on Prodigy at Summer Jam and issued a warning to Nas. So Nas released a freestyle called “Stillmatic (aka H to the Omo).” Jigga retaliated on “Takeover,” and the beef was in full effect.
21. Stillmatic by Nas
There is much debate about which diss track is the greatest. Some say “Hit ‘Em Up.” Some say “No Vaseline.” Obviously, you know which way I lean in this debate, considering the placement of these sentences. Nas wrote “Ether” fully knowing that Jay would retaliate to his freestyle. He was planning for the moment and built an arsenal while he waited. This shows Nas’ personality, he is a patient mastermind who can see several moves ahead. Stillmatic revived Nas’ career. He let the critics down with Nastradamus. What followed was an album of classics like “One Mic”, “2nd Childhood”, and “Rewind” where he raps a story backwards.
22. The Fix by Scarface
“My Block” announced the coming of The Fix. An impending classic for the new president of Def Jam South. Production on the album is handled by Mike Dean, Kanye West, T-Mix, The Neptunes and Nottz. The most flavorful beats are by Kanye, in my opinion. Beats like “In Cold Blood”, the second, better half of “Heaven”, and the street hit “Guess Who’s Back” with Jay-Z and Beanie Sigel. “In Between Us” is a triumph, where ‘Face and Nas trade verses on the nature of friendship and betrayal.
23. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ by 50 Cent
50 Cent started the wave of mixtape rappers that emerged in the early 2000’s. “Wanksta” was the first 50 Cent song I had heard as a kid. After his first hit single 50 Cent and G-Unit dominated the game for at least the next couple of years. “In Da Club” was 50’s first number 1 hit. “21 Questions” also hit number 1. Up to this point Eminem had only just scored his first number one with “Lose Yourself.” This should give you an idea of how popular 50 was. A number one hit is a big thing in rap. The number one song out of every song in pop music. Few artists actually have them. Jay-Z only has one (“Empire State of Mind”). That is for anyone who is wondering why this album is on the list. They are gonna just sit and front like they weren’t bumpin’ 50 in his prime. Stop playin’ yourself.
24. The Black Album by Jay-Z
Jay-Z is the self-proclaimed “Mike Jordan of recordin’.” His retirement after this album reminds me of MJ’s brief retirement to play baseball. Jay-Z stopped touring and was named the President of Def Jam Recordings. This album was supposed to be his victory lap, but everyone in hip hop knew he would be back, like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part 3. We are all glad he came back, and he left us with some classics, like “99 Problems”, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, and “Public Service Announcement”, until his return.
25. Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below by Outkast
I never believed Big Boi when he said that he and Andre were not clashing, on the Number 1 hit “The Way You Move.” 3 Stacks never said anything like that on his half of the split album. I have to admit that putting two solo albums on a double disc was a stroke of genius. It deaded a lot of the debates about Outkast. Who is better: neither side is better. Who is more responsible for the sound of Outkast: Outkast really is just and blend of both rappers sounds, like Yin and Yang. Andre is more experimental. Big Boi is more accessible.
26. College Dropout by Kanye West
College Dropout explores the central theme of ignoring the expectations of others and living the way you want to. It also tracks Kanye’s origin story: ‘Ye was discovered by No I.D. and put into the rotation of producers in hip hop at the time, when he convinced Damon Dash to release a rap album under Roc-A-Fella. The rest is history. “Through The Wire” is based around a Chaka Khan sample that originated Kanye’s sped-up “chipmunk soul” production style. Kanye enlisted a choir for “Jesus Walks” just like the Rolling Stones did. And “Slow Jamz” was a number 1 hit.
27. Madvilliany by Madvillian (MF DOOM and Madlib)
This album almost breaches one of my criteria listed at the top of the page: this album might be difficult for the new listener. This album will be your introduction to the more avant-garde, underground sounds of rap music. Stones Throw is an independant label at the forefront of underground rap and has been for years (there is a documentary called “My Vinyl Weighs A Ton” about Stones Throw that documents the creation of Madvilliany, check it out after listening to the album). The President of Stones Throw, Peanut Butter Wolf, got together Madlib and MF DOOM for the album, and what resulted is one of the great concept albums of any genre. Listen to Madvilliany with an open mind, and the lyrics on your screen.
28. The Documentary by The Game
I bought The Documentary without having heard anything by The Game when it first came out. That is the power of a co-sign. Having Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and Eminem in your corner is a force to be reckoned with. Something The Game takes every opportunity to name drop. But in this case it was a recipe for success. The front half of the album is so packed with classics I thought the album would be flawless front-to-back. “Hate It Or Love It’ really captured my soul. Still to this day, everytime I pass by it on my playlist I can’t skip it.
29. Be by Common
Be makes me nostalgic for the old Kanye beats, rap groups who sample The Last Poets, and Chappelle’s Show. The beats Kanye made for this album were so smooth, it made me feel like what Chicago must have been like back then. This is Common’s second best album (after Resurrection), in my opinion. He came with concepts, like a song (“Faithful”) that theorizes if God was a woman. He came with stories, like the courtroom drama “Testify”. And the posthumous J.Dilla beat used in “Love Is…” may be one of the most beautiful instrumentals Jay Dee ever made.
30. Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 by Young Jeezy
The production by trap music architects Shawty Redd, Don Cannon, Drumma Boy, The Runners, Nitti, Cool & Dre and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League (not to mention Lex Luger & DJ Toomp) set the tone for the second half of the 2000’s. The effects can still be felt today in modern trap rap, and even a sub-genre of electronic music that spawned called “Trap.” It all comes from production provided for artists like T.I., Rick Ross and Young Jeezy. The name came from the Atlanta projects and effected hip hop because the music was allegedly bankrolled by Black Mafia Family leader Big Meech. The Real Big Meech.
31. Late Registration by Kanye West
A key touchstone of the work of Kanye West is his willingness to do unusual collaborations that work well, and all of hip hop has adopted this idea. He has songs with Adam Levine of Maroon 5 (“Heard ’em Say”), and Chris Martin of Coldplay, before that became a cool thing to do. The key collaborator on Late Registration is Jon Brion. Brion has done indie music with The Bats, The Grays, released his own solo work, and he has scored films like Magnolia and Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. I think it was Brion’s influence that lead to the baroque, orchestral sound of Late Registration that cause many to champion it as Kanye’s best work.
32. Tha Carter III by Lil Wayne
Weezy may not be the greatest rapper alive, but he did rule hip hop for a time. You couldn’t escape songs like “Lollipop” and “A Milli,” they got so much club and radio play, even to this day almost ten years later. I liked the previous two installments of Tha Carter series, but Wayne really knocked it out of the park on part 3. Besides the hits Weezy had classics in “Mr. Carter” with Jay-Z, “Comfortable” with Babyface, and my personal favorite, “Dr. Carter” produced by Kanye West.
33. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was voted album of the year by publications like Rolling Stone & Pitchfork, despite being only a month old at the time of publishing. It is the most acclaimed album of any genre in recent memory, except for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. I truly believe that Twisted Fantasy deserves the acclaim, because on a song for song basis, not many albums have as many great tracks without filler. “Runaway” was voted song of the year by many lists. “All of The Lights” and “Power” were modest hits and can still be heard in clubs. And “Gorgeous” has the best rap Kanye ever put to wax.
34. Take Care by Drake
I really felt Drake’s music around the time Take Care was released. Me and Drake are the same age and I felt like his music reflected the experiences I was having at the time. The Weeknd claims to have ghostwritten many of the songs from Take Care, though it hasn’t affected Drake’s sales or popularity much. But you can hear The Weeknd’s sound on songs like “Shot For Me” and “The Ride” (which I don’t think are really that great anyway), not to mention “Crew Love” (which truly is great). Regardless of the loss of street cred for having a writer (not that Drake was drowning in street cred anyway), you can’t take away the fact that Take Care is a classic.
35. good kid, m.A.A.d. city by Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d city works on so many levels. It’s a concept album, that tells a story throughout every song. It’s a hood classic, due to Kendrick’s Compton roots. And it’s got bangers, like “Backseat Freestyle” and “m.A.A.d city” which is seeing a revival of sorts, due to viral videos of Kendrick inviting audience members on stage at concerts to perform the song (it does have quite a degree of difficulty). The best moments on good kid come in the details most might miss. Like the endings of the verses on “Sing About Me” that end with a gun shot and a fade out to emphasize the fates of the characters.
36. To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp A Butterfly is the greatest album of our times. A dense, literary excursion that travels to the heart of blackness. It weaves a metaphor for black life that starts as a young caterpillar who becomes trapped in a cocoon, institutionalized, and turns to a butterfly damaged by the oppression of the system. It’s an album that requires a read along guide to fully understand. Songs like “u” and “How Much A Dollar Cost” are not approachable, but hold the most riches if you allow yourself to feel what the artist intends.
Next Level Shit…
Above are the albums that fit all of my criteria. But there are several albums that sound a little dated, or are a little more difficult to listen to, that are essential listening. These will take you from being a casual fan to an avid listener.
37. The Chronic by Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre’s solo debut. The definitive album for the sub-genre within rap called “G-Funk.” 70’s funk samples, trunk rattling bass and melodic chord progressions. This sound dominated the 90’s, and it was made popular by Dr. Dre. You’ll notice many of the best songs on 2001 are sequels to songs on The Chronic. “Still D.R.E.” is the sequel to “Fuck Wit’ Dre Day”. “The Next Episode” is the sequel to “Nuthin’ But A G-Thang.”
38. Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan
Innovative in slang, sampling, production, group-dynamics and aesthetics, as well as rhymes. Wu-Tang’s debut remains one of the most influential rap albums ever. The collective of The RZA, The GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon The Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and The Method Man (I wonder why he never mentioned Masta Killah…) formed like voltron to make classics like “C.R.E.A.M.”, “Protect Ya Neck” and “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'”.
39. Run D.M.C. by Run D.M.C.
Run D.M.C. is the first mainstream rap group ever. The hard-hitting drum machine of Rick Rubin and the back and forth vocal delivery of Run and Darryl Mac, were a sharp departure from the sound of most rap acts of the time. They paid homage to their DJ “Jam Master Jay” while laying waste to “Sucker MC’s”. Run D.M.C. blazed the trail for street kids to make their way from the corner to the arena stage.
40. Licensed To Ill by The Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys bought hip hop to the MTV generation. MCA, Mike D and Ad Rock made it cool for everyone to love rap music, not just kids in the slums. If it wasn’t for the Beasties it is likely that rap music wouldn’t have become a leading cultural force like it is today. Not bad for three jewish punks from Manhattan.
41. Doggystyle by Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg was the star of The Chronic. It was inevitable that his debut was going to be a smash. But, Doggystyle was allegedly unfinished. The demand for the album was so intense it forced Dr. Dre to mix the album and add the skits in 48 hours. I think that may be the problem with most albums of popular artists. They seem underdeveloped, which hurts their reputation as an artist. Luckily Death Row had plenty of talent at the time to produce an album with hits like “Gin & Juice”, “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)” and “Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None)”.
42. Me Against The World by 2 Pac
2 Pac’s darkest and most poetic album. Everyone loves songs like “Dear Mama,” that are sentimental and show the intimate life experiences of the artist that we can relate to. But, my favorite songs are “So Many Tears” and “Lord Knows,” where 2 Pac expresses emotions that are ironic, the joyfulness of being sad, if that makes any sense. The complex nature of his music is what lead Pac to be arguably the most influential artist in hip hop.
43. Ready To Die by The Notorious B.I.G.
Biggie had it all. The perfect flow. Concepts (like talking from the point of view of himself as a fetus, waiting to be born on “Respect”). He had the street cred that 2 Pac worked his whole career to achieve. He had game with the ladies, and stories that could captivate any audience. Ghostface and Raekwon gave Big some flack on “Shark Niggas (Biters)” (on Cuban Linx) for biting Nas’ album cover for Illmatic. Now you see everyone biting Big’s rhymes like it was a cool thing to do. And no one gave Lil Wayne any problems for biting Ready To Die’s album cover for Tha Carter III and IV.
44. 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul
De La Soul brought the concept album to rap with 3 Feet High and Rising. Plug 1 (Posdnuos), Plug 2 (Trugoy) and Plug 3 (Maseo) backed by Producer Prince Paul, filled an album with eclectic samples and whimsical subject matter. The album itself is named after the Johnny Cash sample they used from the song “Five Feet High and Rising”. As a rebellion against the hardcore sounds of the late 80’s, De La championed daisies and used comedy instead of violence. They also were the first rap group to use skits on an album.
45. Criminal Minded by Boogie Down Productions
B.D.P. (Rapper KRS One and DJ Scott La Rock) were the first act to do crime rhymes in New York. Criminal Minded and Paid in Full changed rap music, with a sharp advancement in rhyming technique that made the old styles obsolete. The arrival of Criminal Minded started the “golden age” of hip hop that lasted ten years from the beginning of 1987 to the end of 1996. KRS One also started the first beef in rap. KRS One responded to MC Shan’s lyrics in the song “The Bridge” where it sounds like Shan is saying hip hop started out in Queensbridge. I don’t think Shan was saying that if you listen to the song, because everyone knows hip hop started in the “South Bronx”.
46. The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
What is The Low End Theory? The theory is that if you use a live jazz bassist instead of the synthesized bass sounds to provide a bassline, it will produce a unique sound in rap music. The theory is proven correct, because if anybody tried to use to same idea they would just come off as a low rent version of A Tribe Called Quest. Often billed as one of the greatest rap albums of all time, The Low End Theory was released on the same day as Nirvana’s Nevermind and Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
47. It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy
Considered by many publications to be the greatest rap album of all time, which is ironic because Public Enemy hated the media. Public Enemy spoke out against the crack epidemic (“Night of The Living Baseheads”), false media (“Don’t Believe The Hype”), the racist government conscripting black men first (“Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”), sucker radio DJ’s who won’t play black music (“Bring The Noise” and “Rebel Without A Pause”), and they championed Louis Farrakan.
48. Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.
Chris Rock described Straight Outta Compton as the British invasion of hip hop. Gangsta rap took the world by storm after the mainstream success of N.W.A. The history of N.W.A. is well documented in the movie Straight Outta Compton (although I always feel like biopics of rap stars are always softened a little for general movie audiences). N.W.A. was like The Beatles of hip hop. Dre was Paul, Eazy was George, Ren was Ringo and Cube was John (especially with how his solo shit was so pivotal, and how he made diss records about the group after he left).
49. Paid In Full by Eric B. and Rakim
Rakim’s lyrics have to be analyzed at the micro-level to be truly appreciated. He’ll use phrases that may go over your head, like “triple stage darkness,” which means being deaf, dumb and blind. Or he’ll weave lyrical concepts and metaphors that reference things outside of rap like, “I draw a crowd just like an architect.” Instead of saying he has a need to rap, he’ll say the mic “magnetizes” him. Even Eminem bit multiple rhymes from Rakim, which is interesting because Em rarely bites. “I’m the R, the A to the K-I-M/ If I wasn’t then why would I say I am…”
50. ILLmatic by Nas
The greatest rap album ever made. Nas’ feature on the Main Source posse cut “Live At The Barbeque” attracted the attention of the best producers in the game: Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, L.E.S. and Q-Tip. MC Serch of 3rd Bass got Nas his record deal and signed on as executive producer of Illmatic. Nas wrote as if it was going to be the last thing he ever did. The story surrounding Illmatic is chronicled on the 2014 documentary Time Is Illmatic.