Since the music talk seems to be one of the more popular things around here, my pal Alex Belth drops a note on what he considers the best Hip Hop albums:
I’ve never been much good at making top ten lists, but I love reading them. I prefer to cop out and change it to "my favorite" ten movies, or actors or baseball players instead of "the greatest" or "the best." It's a cop-out, I know, but so be it. I’ve really enjoyed the top ten music lists here so I thought I’d add my own. The jazz critic Gary Giddens recently noted in The New Yorker that Rap music has been around longer than Swing music ever was. That's a long time, man. I’ve been kicking around a top ten list of the best Hip Hop records and to be honest, I just can’t boil it down to ten. It’s too difficult. It’s hard enough to reduce the best rap records to twenty.
Some of the most important Hip Hop records aren’t on it. Great, landmark joints like "Would You Like More Scratchin" (1984) by Malcom McLaren, “Critical Beatdown” (1988) by Ultramagnetic, “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” (1988) by Public Enemy, “Straight Outta Compton” (1988) by NWA, and “Paid In Full” (1987) by Eric B and Rakim. Not to mention, “AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted” (1990) by Ice Cube, “The Chronic” (1992), by Dr. Dre, “Ready to Die” (1994) by Biggie Smalls, “Reasonable Doubt” (1996) by Jaz Z, or “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” (1994) by Outkast. I don’t have any records on the list by greats like Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Ice-T, Ghetto Boys, Too $hort, or 2Pac. Even records that have meant a great deal to me like “Paul’s Boutique” (1989) by the Beastie Boys, “Raising Hell” (1986) by Run DMC, “By All Means Necessary” (1988) by BDP, “Bigger and Deffer” (1987) by L.L. Cool J, and “People’s Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm” (1990) by a Tribe Called Quest just missed the cut.
Hell, that’s a ill list right there. So what is on my favorite list? Here it is:
20 Favorites (No Particular Order)
“De La Soul is Dead” (1991) De La Soul.
This is a close call. It could easily be their first record, “Three Feet High and Rising” (1989) or their third, “Buloone Mindstate” (1993). I flip-flop back-and-forth myself, depending on my mood. Essentially, you can’t go wrong with any of ‘em.
“The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” (1988) Slick Rick
One of the great lyricists of them all. I never get tired of this record.
"Strictly Business" (1988) EPMD
Just about as good as it gets. Their second album, "Unfinished Business" is equally as good.
“Illmatic” (1994) Nas
Ridiculous debut record. With production from some of hip hop’s finest, like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip and the Large Professor. There aren’t many tracks, which helps elevate its status as a classic album. Nas spit tons of new slang on this album.
“Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)” (1993) Wu Tang Clan
A complete original, both lyrically and sonically. Fearsome and hilarious.
“Daily Operation” (1992) Gangstarr
I could easily pick their second record “Step Into The Arena” too. This was the third collaboration between DJ Premier and Guru.
“Bizzare Ride II the Pharcyde” (1993) The Pharcyde
Great party record. Perfect for college. Funny and hyper.
“Stress: The Exinction Agenda” (1994) Organized Konfusion.
“Mecca and the Soul Brother” (1992) Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth
The epitome of the smooth sound of hip hop’s “Golden Era.”
“Straight Out the Jungle” (1988) The Jungle Brothers.
Can’t mess with a classic. Stripped-down beats, it has a real New York sound, while the lyrics kicked off the left-of-center Native Tongues vibe that De La and Tribe made so popular.
“Low End Theory” (1991) A Tribe Called Quest. As with De La, you can’t really go wrong with any of Tribe’s first three records. ("Midnight Marauders" (1993) has the slickest production.) This was the second, and it brought a distinct street/jazz sound to Tribe, whose first album was really a “head” record. Everyone loved this record. White kids who listened to Grunge, and black kids who listened to the Ghetto Boys.
“Return of the Boom Bap” (1993) KRS-ONE
I was a big BDP fan so I tend to like all of KRS’ early stuff. But this album holds up because of the great production, much of it by Premier (there’s that name again).
“One For All” (1990) Brand Nubian
This album might come off as dated today, but it was just huge when it dropped. It had a major buzz on the streets of New York and was widely bootlegged. Grand Puba was one of the hottest emcee’s of the early ninties—he had formerly been in a group called Masters of Ceremonies—but Sadat X stands out as one of the true originals on the mic. Their styles and flows complement each other beautifully.
“Coast II Coast” (1995) Tha Alkaholiks
True blue, party record. No bullshit. Funny rhymes about getting drunk, smoking weed, getting laid, playing sports and being cool. Not an ounce of pretension to be found here. Plus, the beats are the illest. Their first record, “21 and Over” is dope too.
“Breaking Atoms” (1991) Main Source.
The Large Professor has always been a personal favorite. He produced the tracks and did the rhymes on this record which is best known for classics like “Looking out the Front Door,” and “Live at the Barbeque,” which was the first record Nas ever rapped on.
“Resurrection” (1994) Common Sense.
The second lp from Common is his best. Lyrically, he’s still immature, but the beats are second-to-none.
"Whut? Thee Album" (1992)
Redman's debut lp. Produced by Eric Sermon (EPMD). This is a funkadelic record and Redman is the Red Foxx of Rap. General rule: Don't play this around women.
"The Beatnuts" (1994) Beatnuts.
Same comment. Ignorant rhymes galore--not girlfriend friendly--but that's not why you want to have this one. The beats are killing: a real head-nodding classic.
"Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop" (1992) Diamond D
"The best producer on the mic," may be a reach, but I always liked Diamond's simple-ass rhyme style. ("Sing a simple song like Slyvester Stone/Catch you out there like Rick Cerrone." Again, this album is all about the beats, the beats, the beats.
"I Need a Haircut" (1991?) Come on, you know I had to have a Biz joint on the list. This may not be as famous as his first record, "Going Off, The Biz Never Sleeps," which was produced by Marley Marl, but I think this record is slammin. Biz knows his records and has some great beats on this one.
The Next Ten
"Illadelph Halflife" (1996) The Roots
"Wrath of the Math" (1996) Jeru tha Damaja
"The Unseen" (2000) Quasimoto (aka Madlib)
"Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" (1995) Raekwon
"Kill at Will" (1990) Ice Cube
"Soul Clap EP" (1991) Showbiz and AG
"The Cactus Album" (1989) 3rd Base
"The Best Part" (2000)/ "All of the Above" (2002) J-Live
"A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing" (1991) Black Sheep
"Funky Technition" (1990) Lord Finesse
Five You May Have Slept On
"A Future Without a Past" (1991) Leaders of the New School
"Mr Hood" (1991) KMD
"Word/Life" (1994) OC
"A Constipated Monkey" (1994) Kurious Jorge
"Soundpieces: Da Antidote" (1998) Lootpack
Alex will have a singles and remix line soon. Be sure to read his stuff - like you don't already - over at Bronx Banter.
P.S. - I wish there was a way to link up some of Alex's own music. It's on the "most played" list on my iPod.