Ok… this is extremely difficult.
There are albums that might “technically” be better than these… but these are my personal favorites. The ones I listened to the most, and still do to this day.
1. Nas “Illmatic”
By FAR my favorite album of all time. Most cohesive, incredible, and monumental album. No other album has ever painted a better picture of grimey NYC life during that era. This album was like the bible to me. It influenced me beyond anything else in hip-hop. I still listen to it, almost daily, and have “illmatic” tattooed on my left shoulder.
The production was flawless… Large Pro and Preem dominated this album, but Q-Tip and Pete killed it as well. The remixes from this album were just as classic. My favorite track: “Halftime”.
2. Organized Konfusion “Stress: The Extinction Agenda”
Illmatic was the most influential on me, as far as how I make songs, and what I aspired to make an album like… but there’s NO QUESTION, as an emcee, I was most influenced by Pharoahe Monch. If you can’t hear Monch’s influence in my rhymes, you gotta be half retarded.
This album was perfect. Every song. From complex flow patterns that no emcee has ever been able to duplicate… to classic joints about every day life and heart ache. “Stress” and “Bring It On” were insane lyrically. And songs like “Stray Bullet” laid the ground work, and set the bar for future story telling and concepts I would do on my own albums.
You see… these albums weren’t just “dope albums” to me. I STUDIED THEM! To the molecular level. Practiced over and over again. Tried to figure out how and why they did certain shit. It’s like training and learning Kung Fu. These albums are my absolute foundation, for myself as an artist.
My favorite track : “Why”
3. Wu Tang Clan “Enter The 36 Chambers”
Wu Tang came out of fuckin’ NOWHERE, with the illest marketing/imagery to ever hit hip-hop. When you’re 14-15 years old… and you see pictures and videos of these guys with masks on, hoods up, and all kinds of swords in dilapidated Shaolin looking temple things… YOU BELIEVED IT! It COMPLETELY suspended disbelief. I still have no clue how RZA did it… but the sound matched too. Every beat, even though it was sampled from ancient soul records and obscure jazz… SOUNDED like some mystical Kung Fu shit. They flawlessly fused the mystery of old Kung Fu flicks, with science of the Gods & The Earths. Wu Tang were like jazz… cuz even when they fucked up, it sounded good. Shit… it almost made it BETTER!
My favorite track: C.R.E.A.M. (even though it’s played out… it’s still one of the most perfect hip-hop songs of all time)
4. Ice Cube “Death Certificate”
All these artists nowadays try to say “It’s a movie!” … Bullshit. There’s only ONE album in hip-hop that is ACTUALLY LIKE A FUCKIN MOVIE. And that’s this album right here. This is like audio form of Boyz N The Hood… but even more in depth.
The production on this album is unbelievably complex. Definitely influenced by the Bomb Squad’s production style. Still have no idea how they did shit back then, with a fraction of the technology that we have today. *shot out to Sherron Shabazz on the correction*
This album is amazing. Ice Cube was one of the greatest rappers of all time. I hate his music now, but I can’t take away from what he gave us in the past. This album was a huge inspiration to me.
My favorite track: “A Bird In The Hand”
5. A Tribe Called Quest “Midnight Marauders”
Immediately, from the jump… before you even get to the music… this cover has some of the most legendary hip-hop icons of all time. I remember hearing “Award Tour” as the first single from this album, and I fell in love right off the bat. When the album was finally released… I almost took for granted how good hip-hop was… and expected it to be like that, forever.
Q-Tip wasn’t the most technically skilled lyricst, but his voice, flow, and ability to make GOOD SONGS… put him at the top. The thing that propelled this album to the level of “unfuckwithability”, was the beats. The music on this was unreal. Perfect samples, perfect drums, perfect mixes, perfect sequencing… perfect everything. The weird robot voice Midnight Marauders Tour Guide, sounds like a modern day GPC voice… but it was the glue of this album. This album is attached to some of the best memories of my life.
My favorite track : “Lyrics to Go”
6. Gang Starr “Hard To Earn”
I remember how long it took “DWYCK” to finally see it’s way on to an LP. That one record was soooo big, and should have come out on “Daily Operation”. So when that dropped, with no “DWYCK” I was confused and bummed out.
Finally, 2 years later… “Hard To Earn” dropped and “DWYCK” was added to the track list. The song still didn’t feel old to me, and the rest of that album blew me away.
This is hardcore east coast shit. Preem’s beats were so different than everyone else’s. Just look at “Speak Ya Clout”, “Tonz O’ Gunz” and “ALONGWAYTOGO”. A fucked up mish mash of chaotic soundin’ samples over hard ass drums. INCREDIBLE. Then you had “Mass Appeal”, “Code Of The Streets”, and “Suckas Need Body Guards” for the fly slick shit. Another perfect album.
My favorite track: “Mass Appeal”
7. Souls of Mischief “93 til Infinity”
Hiero was one of THEE illest crews in ‘93. Del’s first album was cool… but when he dropped “No Need For Alarm”, you knew shit was on another level lyrically and production wise. Casual’s “Fear Itself” was jazzy, brooding, ruminating and all around ill as fuck. Shot out to the song “It Ain’t My Fault”!
Those albums were dope, but were still trumped by the eclectic four man squad, with uncanny flows. These muthafuckers brought a whole new MEANING to the word “flow”. It was unreal how they put words together. It was the definition of “fluid”. The beats on this album had some of the best samples I’ve ever heard, still to this day. I used to be homies with A-Plus back in the day (like 1994), til Del and I had a verbal altercation on the phone… but they were really cool dudes. I’m sure Del doesn’t even remember it now. Anyway.. this is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time, and still gets constant play.
My favorite track: “Make Ya Mind Up”
8. Jeru The Damaja “The Sun Rises In The East”
When I first heard Jeru, I was 14 years old (1993), learning the ropes at WHUS 91.7. His song “Come Clean” dropped… and I wasn’t even sure if I liked his flow. It was VERY choppy, and abrupt. A stark contrast from the previously mentioned Hieroglyphics camp.
But as time went on… not only did Jeru’s music grow on me… I ended up thinking the muthafucker was a genius. His rhyme schemes were incredible…. and the knowledge he was dropping was deep. The beats were some of Preemo’s best. Preem produced the entire album… and Jeru reaped the benefits, career wise. If you don’t have this album… GET IT! You will be impressed.
My favorite track: “My Mind Spray”
9. Fugees “The Score”
1996 was an extremely dark time for me. The year prior, I lost my mind experimenting with weed and developed a very bad panic/anxiety disorder, which I still carry to this day. One of my closest friends, Louie Montalvo, and I… were as inseparable as twin brothers. We chilled every single day… went everywhere with each other… and went through Hell together. What I mean by that is… Louie decided to try acid one time, and had a bad trip. I reference this on my “Eastern Philosophy” album, in a song called “I Remember…”. Well Louie’s bad trip made him develop a severe paranoia for just about everything. And being that we were so close at the time, I inherited this experience. We were constantly stressed out, and always thought we were “bugging”… the term we used to describe the anxiety and paranoia. At the height of our stress… two albums dropped, that felt like some type of cerebral or spiritual medication. GZA’s “Liquid Swords” (Liquid Swords dropped late ‘95, but went well in to 96) and Fugees “The Score”. These albums would be the soundtrack to our recovery, healing process, and the bridge back to sanity.
"The Score" in particular, resonated with us. The Fugees were reborn as well… with all new flows, a renewed sense of production selection, and a cohesive album that moved like a children’s read-a-long book. The album is a certified classic. Its hands down one of the best albums of all time, across all genres of music. "Ready Or Not" was dark and spooky, and still gives me goosebumps, if I play it while driving through Hartford (where Louie and I were roomates, and joined a b-boy crew who lived there). Still wish I had a version of this without Pras. He was fuckin GARBAGE.
My favorite track: “Zealots”
10. Notorious B.I.G. “Ready To Die”
Me and Open Mic almost killed this cassette. We played this shit SO much. The beats were unreal. Every track was harder than the previous… the whole album was solid. First time I heard Big on “Party And Bullshit” I was an immediate fan… but this album made me a fan for life.
This album is pretty much a standard for people to say is one of their favorite hip-hop albums. But when you were a teenager during this time period… it made it that much better. You experience music differently when you’re a teen. You appreciate it more. It’s so important to your life and TRULY does become your soundtrack. You begin to remember and recall events, by when an album dropped, or when something came out. Every time I hear “Everyday Struggle” or “Big Poppa”… I think of high school… and certain events. It’s a huge part of my life, that made my life better.
My favorite track: “Unbelievable”
IF I was doing a Top 11, instead of Top 10… #11 would have been Big Punisher “Capital Punishment”. The only reason it didn’t make the list, is because it came out much later than everything on the list… And I’ve had more time with the other albums, and listen to them much more. But "Capital Punishment" is fucking CLASSIC!
Other honorable mentions:
Raekwon “Only Built For Cuban Linx” Honestly, this should REALLY be on there.
Black Sheep “A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”
Jay-Z “Reasonable Doubt”
Boogiemonsters “Riders Of The Storm: The Underwater Album”
Pete Rock “Soul Survivor”
Mobb Deep “The Infamous”
GZA “Liquid Swords”
Method Man “Tical”
Group Home “Livin’ Proof”
Public Enemy “Fear Of A Black Planet”