Thursday, April 13, 2006

The 10 Greatest Rap Albums Of All Time

Lamont’s Lists
#25 Written: February 12, 2004
The Albums

The 10 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time

1. Public EnemyIt Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988) – There’s no such thing as a unanimous pick when it comes to something like selecting the best album of all time, but with Nation of Millions, P.E. nearly pull it off. A riot on wax, it was a once in a lifetime piece of art that instantly converted hip hop into a major political and cultural force.

The Bomb Squad’s production, a flurry of intricate samples, disturbing background noises and hell-raising sound effects, proved to be the perfect complement to Chuck D’s fiery, hyper-intelligent lyrics. And Flava Flav’s timely doses of humor perfectly rounded out the sound, adding just enough humility to tone down the rhetoric and keep the party going. This album pulses with a sense of purpose and it still sounds every bit as urgent today. You don’t have to be a rap fan or a revolutionary to love it, just someone who appreciates brilliant, flawlessly executed music. (Standout Tracks: Rebel Without A Pause, Bring the Noise, Night of the Living Baseheads)

2. NasIllmatic (1994) – Imagine hip hop’s finest musical minds all delivering their best production work at once while a fantastically gifted emcee gives the performance of a lifetime. That’s what you get with Illmatic. Nine glorious rap songs; magnetic and spiritual and perfect. Nas practically sinks into the tracks, providing listeners with a remarkably rich description of the joys and pains of life in his Queens Bridge housing projects while he “….walks the block with a bop, checking dames plus the games people play…”. The rhymes are dense and Nas’s voice is haunting and melodic. At 20 years old he seems wise beyond his years, so it’s easy to see why he was immediately anointed as the savior of NY hip hop. Illmatic is inspiring and a testimony to how beats and rhymes can occasionally come together to make magic. (Standout Tracks: N.Y. State Of Mind, One Love, Memory Lane)

3. A Tribe Called QuestThe Low End Theory (1991) – ATCQ followed up their 1st classic album (People’s Instinctive Travels…) with this gem that was even better. A lovely jazz/bebop soundtrack flows throughout all 16 tracks on the album, reaching its peak on We Got the Jazz and Excursions. It’s smart, artfully put together and packed with both clever, engaging samples, and trunk-rattling bass. Plus they got mic skills too. Front-man Q-Tip shines as the “abstract poet” while Phife emerges as one of the best emcees of his day. Who can forget his witty solo turn on Butta or his scene-stealing showmanship on Check The Rhyme?

The whole Low End Theory effect is breezy, sophisticated and just plain cool (in a 1940’s Jazz club meets Fort Greene Brooklyn sort of way). Whoever said that rap ain’t highbrow, clearly never listened to this record. (Standout Tracks: Check The Rhyme, We Got the Jazz, Excursions)

4. Dr. DreThe Chronic (1992) – Let me say this about Andre Young (AKA Dr. Dre)…he’s a frickin’ genius. Seriously, the production value on this record is so spectacular that it defies description. Sure, the G-Funk sound that Dre patents here is a direct rip off of Parliament Funkadelic. But I would argue that in his meticulous efforts to re-create, and then re-interpret the music (rather than merely sample it), he actually improves upon the formula. Throw in the breakout performances by Snoop Dogg on songs like the blissful G-Thang and powerful Little Ghetto Boy and you get to a place that is pretty special. Indeed, Dre is a mastermind and his golden touch was never more precise than on The Chronic. (Standout Tracks: Nuthin' But A G Thang, Let Me Ride, Rat A Tat Tat)

5. De La SoulDe La Soul Is Dead (1991) – So much for the sophomore jinx. What De La accomplish on album #2 is nothing short of amazing. A real life concept record. Strung together astutely by skits (remember, De La invented the skit) where the group makes fun of itself and its silly, played out daisy age image. Its fun, oh so clever and just dripping with nuggets of goodness. From the nostalgia of “Saturdays” to the humor of “Bitties in the BK Lounge” to the biting sarcasm of “Ring Ring Ring”, De La excel. What I love most about this record is that it’s so completely care free. Sure, the inside jokes, obscure off-key samples and suburban know-it-all routine can be a bit maddening at times. But this album proves that when you’ve got talent, are willing to take risks and you make music purely to please, well, yourself… the sky’s the limit. (Standout Tracks: Ring Ring Ring, Afro Connections At the High Five, My Brother’s A Basehead)

6. Ice CubeAmerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990) – This is the Clockwork Orange of hip hop records. Violent, mean-spirited, gleeful and yet somehow…brilliant, visionary and managing to make a statement about American culture. Wow, what a ride! Cube rants his way through 23 tracks, spewing anger and spitting fire. And it’s just sooo good. He’s a skilled rapper on a warpath. No target is spared and nothing is left unsaid (no wonder Eminem calls himself the new Icecube). Once again the Bombsquad’s production is spot-on, keeping pace every step of the way. Note the impeccably timed sound effects throughout (like the beer bottle crashing to the ground on You can’t Fade Me, or the static in the TV on Once upon A Time In The Projects)

You can’t help but feel a little guilty for loving this record, but I suppose that’s the beauty of it. Its cathartic and a great release…we should all thank Cube for yelling and screaming so we don’t have to. (Standout Tracks: The N**** Ya Love To Hate, You Can’t Fade Me, Amerikka’s Most Wanted)

7. Mobb DeepThe Infamous (1995) – I was mesmerized by this record from moment I heard the 1st verse on Shook Ones Pt 2…”I got you stuck off the realness, we be the infamous, you heard of us, official Queens Bridge Murderers”. The monotone delivery of Prodigy and Havoc combined with the, haunting piano-looped production was simply intoxicating. What’s great about this album is how vivid the imagery is and how well the music matches the mood. The whole thing plays like a horror movie. Mobb articulate their tales of murder and trife life so convincingly that they up the ante on even their most menacing predecessors. And unlike the gleeful joyride of previous gangsta classics (see Icecube’s Amerikka’s Most…), there’s an undercurrent of sadness that runs throughout this record, making the experience more human and believable. You really feel them when they say its “survival of the fittest”. We didn’t know it at the time but The Infamous was as good as reality rap would ever get. (Standout Tracks: Survival of the Fittest, Shook Ones Part 2, Give Up the Goods)

8. Boogie Down ProductionsCriminal Minded (1986) – Now this is a record that is about the art of rapping. Let’s face it, the beat-making skills of Scott La Rock left a lot to be desired. But KRS One, now this guy had game. Here was an emcee who grabbed the mic and said I can do it better…watch me. Yes, KRS is an extraordinary mic controller and on Criminal Minded he’s at the top of his game. His rhymes flow like the Mississippi, from the battle anthems of South Bronx and The Bridge is Over to the charismatic wordplay of Poetry. When old schoolers long for the days when rap was pure, and skills were more important than Neptunes beats and big budget videos, it’s a safe bet that they are reminiscing about Criminal Minded. (Standout Tracks: Poetry, The Bridge Is Over, Criminal Minded)

9. The Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique (1989) – After the mega-success of Licensed To Ill it would have been easy for the Beastie Boys to drift off into oblivion or to serve up another Fight For Your Right To Party. Instead, they deliver Paul’s Boutique, and completely catch everyone off guard. It’s sampling as high art, and a flat out masterpiece. Has any rap record ever been more fun to listen to? Or more challenging to keep up with? It’s kinda like one long Simpsons episode, constantly testing your intellect to figure out the jokes and requiring repeated spins to catch all of the pop cultural references. The best thing I can say about Paul’s Boutique is that it still sounds every bit as fresh in 2004 as it did 15 years ago. And it’s largely because of this record that the Beasties have become the cult heroes and “purveyors of cool” that they are today. (Standout Tracks: Hey Ladies, High Plains Drifter, Shake Your Rump)

10. Wu Tang ClanEnter The Wu Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) – If there is one word to capture the magic of this album it’s that it’s “pure”. 36 Chambers truly represents hip hop at its most raw and most honest. A posse of hungry, desperate emcees going balls out on the mic, fighting to outshine each other while one visionary producer (RZA) pulls it all together into a coherent, metaphysical story. For all of RZA’s talents, his gift for subtlety is most on display here, as he laces this album with sparse, high-concept tracks that manage to be intricate and interesting while largely staying out of the way. Never again would the Clan achieve such harmony (pulling it off once with 8 emcees of this caliber was a miracle), but for one moment in time, Wu Tang reigned supreme and brought respect back to New York hip hop. (Standout Tracks: Can It Be All So Simple, C.R.E.A.M., Protect Ya Neck)

10 More That Were Pretty Darn Good
De La Soul – Three Feet High And Rising – The blueprint for indie/alt rap
NWA – Straight Outta Compton – Still the definitive case study for gangsta rap
A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels… - Bohemian b-boys
Outkast – Aquemeni – Southern fried and stanky
Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt – A playa is born
Brand Nubian – One For All – knowledge is power
LL Cool J – Walking With A Panther – Uncle L finds his groove
Ultramagnetic MC’s – Critical Beatdown – Kool Keith, incoherent and brilliant
The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die - Unbelievable
Digable Planets – Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time And Space) – Oozing cool

Ok And 10 More But That’s It
Das EFX – Dead Serious – Diggedy dope
Tupac – Me Against The World – The thinking man’s thug
The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death – Biggie Smalls is the illest
Main Source – Breaking Atoms – The large professor in the lab
The Jungle Brothers – Done By The Forces Of Nature – Soul soothing
Run-DMC – Raising Hell – The Tipping Point moment for hip hop
Jay-Z – The Blueprint – The Michael Jordan of mic recordin’
Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet – The revolution continues
Raekwon - Only Built For Cuban Linx – The best of the Wu Solo projects
The Roots – Things Fall Apart – A real live band, a badass rapper

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