The most frequent barbershop conversation (only second to the idiot we have in the oval office currently) is and always will be hip hop. Within these conversations, people often debate who’s the best rapper and which ones don’t get enough credit in the game. The conversation I always spark to rattle things up is what are the top 5 hip hop albums of all time.
When you ask this question you quickly realize that NOBODY HAS THE SAME LIST. Every person's list stems from what they deem important in hip hop. I crafted this list of the top 5 albums of all time using my own criteria. The question I asked myself before creating this list is “if I met a person who had no prior knowledge of hip hop or its existence, which 5 albums would I give them to sum it all up?” Though this is a nearly impossible task, these are the 5 albums that I would hand over to represent the culture that raised me with complete confidence.
5. Outkast - Aquemini (1998)
Outkast is arguably the greatest the rap duo EVER (not arguable to me, but some might throw in respectable acts like Mobb Deep, Clipse, or Black Star). Outkast came on the scene and completely changed how southern hip hop was viewed and respected within the culture. Though they were nowhere near the first to blow up from the south, they were undeniably the best lyrically, and sonically. Aquemini embodied this with both bangers for your car like "Rosa Parks", socially conscious records, and dope story telling. The mix of Big Boi’s flow and wittiness, with Andre' 3000’s unique style and lyricism made this album phenomenal to say the least. Outkast made being different sound cool effortlessly with this project.
4. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
Not much to say besides THIS ALBUM IS PERFECT. The only reason that this album is not #1 on my list is due to it not being fully hip hop (songs such as Zion & I Used to Love Him contain solely beautiful melodies by Miss Lauryn). The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill broke down all genre barriers by meshing singing and rapping together better than any other project in existence (Drake should thank her every single day). This album not only kicked knowledge and uplifted black women as queens, but it did so in a way so dope that us guys feel 100% comfortable nodding our heads and riding around to it. Song’s like “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” are simply everything that hip hop needed, and still needs today. Then song's like "Lost One" are just HARD! This album deserved each and every grammy and accolade that it received. There is a lot of hostility in my heart towards Lauryn Hill for giving us this masterpiece and then bowing out, but I’ll save that for another article….
3. Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
The fact that Wu-Tang Clan even exists is unbelievable. They are literally the AVENGERS of hip hop. The fact that they managed to take 9 COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MC’S with their own unique styles and make them work as a collective still amazes me. On top of that, this album was so dope that most members were able to break off and have their own solo success, and then keep coming back as a group! Their debut album 36 Chambers embodies hip hop in its own right. This album sounds like it was created in a sacred basement by hood geniuses (which it most likely was). The gritty beats produced by RZA, and amazing verses delivered by the Gods, changed the culture forever. This album defined the “New York Hip Hop Sound” with it’s eerie production and in-your-face approach. The hardcore lyrics intertwined with the Kung-Fu samples and skits make listening to this album feel like you're in a movie. Releasing in 1993, this album was unlike anything ever created, and Wu-Tang’s brand managed to sustain longevity like no other. Wu-Tang Clan ain't nothing to f.......
2. Kanye West - College Dropout (2004)
Though Kanye is more often discussed today for his antics/marriage than his music (sadly), let us not forget that he had one of the greatest debuts in hip-hop history! College Dropout CHANGED MUSIC FOREVER. Kanye entered hip-hop in a time where it was at its “drug dealer peak”. In 2004 rappers such as 50 cent, Dipset, and T.I. were running hip hop with their ex-drug dealer turned millionaire tales (which were phenomenal, but often lacked consciousness). This album managed to touch on materialism, Jesus, struggling in college, his tragic car accident, working dead-end jobs, and issues that people face each and every day. Ye was able to come through with a completely new perspective that still was authentic and laced over unbelievable tracks that he produced himself. College Dropout is one of the few albums that does not have a skippable track.
1. Nas - Illmatic (1994)
Though it is taboo to call Illmatic the greatest hip hop album of all time, IT IS WHAT IT IS! Illmatic manages to define hip hop for several reasons. Songs like “It Ain't Hard to Tell” contain lyrics like "My mic check is life or death, breathin' a sniper's breath. I exhale the yellow smoke of buddha through righteous steps", that are so complex and poetic that it’s hard to believe that Nas was only 20 years old when this album was released. The hard hitting beats, amazing story-telling, and lyrical excellence that this album presented in 1994 has stood the test of time. Nas managed to describe poverty, gang rivalries, police harassment, and street life and culture without the fake glitz and glamor like no other artist has ever done, before or after. Nas narrated this album so vividly that a 42 year old white man from Connecticut could listen to it and finish the album thinking “I understand what they go through”.
Honorable Mentions: Notorious B.I.G - Ready to Die, Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor, 2pac - Me Against The World, and Bone Thugs & Harmony - E. 1999 Eternal