4. Wu Tang Clan- Enter The 36 Chambers
They sure like their Kung- Fu movies huh? Wu-Tang is like the Showtime era Lakers, with RZA as the coach and Hall of Famers at every position. In retrospect it’s amazing they could pull off this album with all the talent that needed to be showcased. To paraphrase the late great ODB, there is no father to their style. The album dropped in 1993 and many of the tracks sound like they could have been made last year. The free flowing style of the lyrics on this album made it safe to rap about anything under sun including Voltron.
Sample Song: C.R.E.A.M
3. Notorious B.I.G – Ready to Die
Is B.I.G the best rapper of all time? Maybe. He was certainly one of the fattest. I kid. Even though he didn’t cover any new ground content wise (selling drugs, stacking paper) lyrically, he was revelation. He was the rap equivalent of Jonathan Franzen, broad themes, easy to recognize characters, told in a simple easy to understand style. Music critics loved him and the street loved him. By the time Biggie was releasing records, Hip Hop was getting reviewed in the New York Times where he was being praised for things like his “emotional honesty”. And flowery language aside, it’s true, when Biggie raps about it, he doesn’t sound like he’s reading from a ‘how to be gangsta’ script. Of course a few years later he would be gunned down in the coastal feud that consumed this period of hip hop.
Sample Song: The What
2. Gza – Liquid Swords
This album came out and decimated every other Wu Tang solo project before it. The album was recorded in a basement, so it has a distinct low-fi feel that meshes perfectly with the music’s overall mood of cold overcast nights in the wrong part of town. It’s grimy, raw, but put together like a Swiss watch. This album is consistently rated in the top 5 of Hip Hop Albums all time and sometimes I say it’s the best.
“It has great songs, it’s not an ignorant album, it doesn’t sound dated. If you listen to it and compare it to what’s out now, it’s timeless. Lyrically, it’s not my best work. Not at all. But the chemistry? Production? Overall, I mean, c’mon! RZA’s atmospheric production? Yes. It’s my best album.”—GZA
Sample Song: Cold World
1. Nas- Illmatic.
In another few years Illmatic is going be the subject of thesis projects, a documentary film, and receive the kind of rarefied treatment accorded to albums like The White Album, The Wall, and The Rebirth of Cool. It’s that good. People are already writing books about it. In just 10 tracks this debut album has no fewer than 8 all time classics, and the other two songs are better than most. Rap is all about rhymes in relation to the rhythm, what they call flow. (Weirdly enough, the word rhythm is derived from Greek rheo meaning “flow”). On Illmatic there is never more than inch of room between his lyrics and the beat. I think it is the best album made in my lifetime. Interesting note: Pete Rock, DJ Premier (Gang Starr), Q-Tip and Mc Serch from 3rd Bass all had a hand in making the record, so the pedigree was definitely there.
Sample Song: I really want say the whole album but I’ll just say: NY State of Mind