I’ve been obsessed with hip hop ever since I heard the dissonant thud of Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show back in 1987. Before you question my cred, realize that I was rocking a fake dookie gold rope with a Nefertiti piece when I was 12. Since then hip hop has become a life long passion that led me to scratching records with a fork, making loops on tape decks and eventually producing beats on primitive samplers. I still chop beats and dig through crates every week at my local Value Village, proof of the power of the boom bap. Here is a list of some of the most influential, classic records of my life. Full disclosure: I lean more towards the sound of the East Coast so you won’t find much G-Funk, Trap, Drill or Chopped and Screwed stuff here, just not my thing.
It should be noted that many of these are NSFW and contain material that will like offend some.
Eric B And Rakim – Let The Rhythm Hit’ Em
This makes the list because Rakim is the greatest MC of all time. Feel free to disagree but know that you are wrong. This records finds the duo at their prime and features some ghost-production from legend Large Professor.
Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
PE changed my life. I had the albums, I had the jacket and at one point I even (embarrassingly) had the classic B-Boy logo shaved into my hair. This record is life- changing and it’s influence can be heard in modern hip hop acts like Run The Jewels.
A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
ATCQ released a string of great records in 90’s as did all of the Native Tongues groups (Jungle Brothers, De La Soul etc). This and Low End Theory are stone cold classics and are a must for any self respecting hip hop fan.
Nas – Illmatic
Flawless. There’s no other way to describe a record that is chock-full of perfect songs and imagery. Nas had only made one major appearance on record before dropping this classic, (“Live At The BBQ” by Main Source, a group with a Toronto connection). Featuring beats by DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip and Large Professor, this record may never be topped.
Gangstarr – Hard To Earn
DJ Premier will undoubtedly go down as the best producer in hip hop history, and when you listen to this record you’ll understand why. The group’s MC Guru was never a lyrical marvel but his signature voice and flow riding Premier’s beats was a thing of beauty. This is the sound of my youth and a production style that hasn’t aged a day.
Souls Of Mischief – 93 Til Infinity
The Hieroglyphics crew (Del The Funy Homosapien, Casual etc) completely changed what people thought West Coast hip hop was supposed to sound like. This crew blended technical rhyme schemes and breezy, sample-based beats to create this monster of an album.
The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die
Biggie had a larger than life persona and this is a perfect snapshot of one of the greatest rappers of our time. The album has party jams, gangster boasts and straight up lyrical brilliance from the late Christopher Wallace.
Wu Tang Clan – Enter the 36 Chambers
Wu Tang did to hip hop what Nirvana did to rock. They both kicked off the shackles of musical complacency within their genres to disorienting effect. The Wu seemingly came out of nowhere to drop this record which was a glimpse into their completely unique (and occasionally bizarre) vision of hip hop. The Wu would dominate the hip hop world with a string of amazing solo releases in the years following 36 Chambers. This record is why some rapper still rock gold fronts with fangs.
Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein
This album, produced entirely by El-P of Company Flow and now Run The Jewels, was a firm kick in the face to rap traditionalists. El-P owes much of his production style to the Bomb Squad who produced Public Enemy and can be heard in his apocalyptic, dissonant beats. This record changed hip hop in the post-jiggy era.
Classics in The Making:
Here are a few more current releases that I think are classics in the making:
Meyhem Lauren – Respect The Fly Shit
Retch – Finesse The World
Roc Marciano – Marcberg
The Alchemist – Russian Roulette
Westside Gunn & Conway – Hall and Nash EP, Griselda Ghost EP
Masta Ace – Slaughtahouse
NWA – Straight Outta Compton
Diplomats – Diplomatic Immunity
Geto Boys – The Geto Boys