I’ve made a list, in no particular order, of some of the greatest hip hop albums of all time, stop pop culture style. Most of these albums dropped before hip hop had even become “pop culture”. Please, feel free to lend more as these aren’t the be all, end all.
Nas – Illmatic
Some consider this to be the greatest hip hop album of all time although I tend to disagree, albeit due to personal reasons, not facts. However, this classic lesson in true hip hop can’t be disputed as one of the best since damn near every track hits hard and Nas’s lyrical flow is hard to stop listening to.
Del the Funkee Homosapien – I Wish My Brother George Was Here
This is one of those Pulp Fiction albums of greatness: it’s not great fundamentally but incredibly innovative and difference, hence, making it incredible. This was Del’s introduction to hip hop fans and there were no questions asked afterwards knowing now that Del was an incredibly gifted rapper as well as one of strangest son of a bitches hip hop will ever know.
Nia – Blackalicious
Any true hip hop head will tell you it’d be hard to find a better rapper than Gift of Gab from Blackalicious. There really isn’t anything he can’t do on the mic. If you really want proof of this, Nia is the album for you. And, if you have a chance, download or buy the single “Swan Lake” that Gift of Gab did with DJ Shadow around the same time, one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time. ‘Nuff said.
Freestyle Fellowship – Innercity Griots
Quite possibly the album that put underground hip hop on the map forever, Fellowship’s Innercity Griots is a classic to anyone who knows about hip hop on the west coast. You mentioned Fellowship (nobody bothers with the word Freestyle anymore) on the left coast and you’re bound to run into some smiles. Aceyalone and Mikah 9 lead the way of the lyrically gifted Los Angeles hip hop ensemble definitely worthy of a listen and a buy.
Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die
Here’s something interesting: I’m a west coast guy however, you will not see any Tupac albums on this list. Why? None were quite good enough. 2Pac had some classic, great songs, but not any true classic albums. At least not in my book. From first song to last song, Ready to Die is incredible. What’s funny is the big hits from Biggie’s first album (Juicy, Big Papa, One More Chance) aren’t even the best song. The title track, Ready to Die, is incredible. Listen to it. Then, listen to it again and again and again until you realize how damn good it is.
The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??!
Ah, the Roots, possibly the most gifted hip hop ensemble all around since they make all of their music with instruments and have a great rapper to boot. When this album dropped, it blew everybody in the world of hip hop away. The songs were jazzy but hit hard and still remained mellow and melodious. What’s great about the Roots is they have a unique sound that’s impossible to mimic and their first album is a very indicative of this.
Tribe Called Quest -Midnight Marauders
Yes, you may think I’m a whack job with this choice since so many hip hop fans would pick Tribe’s first or second album as their best however, their third installment was a complete sleeper and therefore makes this list on that little fact alone. Tribe fans tend to get caught up in their Bonita Apple Bum and Scenario days, both classic hip hop tracks. The final cut on this album, God Lives Through, is one for the ages, and an incredibly fun song to listen to if you’re a hip hop fan that goes way back. To hear Tribe name some of their hip hop brethren in this song always gives me the goose bumps.
New Jersey Drive Soundtrack Vol. 1 & 2
I don’t think any of our newer hip hop heads have ever heard of New Jersey Drive or its classic soundtrack, an album that was far better than the movie it was made for. There’s so many hidden gems on these two volumes that it’s hard to pick which ones stand out but “You Won’t Go Far” by O.C. and Organized Konfusion is one of the better tracks. But this purely east coast lineup is damn hard to beat just to name a few of them: Organized Konfusion, O.C., Black Moon, Outkast, Redman and Notrious B.I.G. Buy this album and show it off to all your homies that have never heard of it.
DJ Shadow – Entroducing
Quite possibly the greatest musical hip hop achievement of all time, DJ Shadow’s first album, Entroducing, is one of the most amazing gifts to your ear you will ever receive. Listen as he takes you on the most incredible journey through the sounds of hip hop that you will ever take in your life. This man is so damn gifted and this album so great that it doesn’t even need rapping in it. It should be every rapper’s dream to make a song with DJ Shadow at the helm because his beats are perfectly constructed without even a minor blemish. If you haven’t heard this album, GET IT!!! All you need to do is shut your pie hole and listen to hip hop music at its finest.