Monday, June 16, 2014

Top 90 Albums of the 90's: 70-61

#70 The War Report - Capone-N-Noreaga (1997)

Even with Capone serving jail time for a decent percentage of the recording, The War Report still wound up as a surprisingly great album.  I'm not one who generally is a huge fan of "hardcore" hip-hop, but I can't help but bob my head to this album. Tragedy Khadafi turns up on probably half the tracks on the album, including the standout "Calm Down" alongside Nas. This album often gets credited with more or less killing mafioso rap and bringing hardcore back to hip-hop's forefront.

#69 One For All - Brand Nubian (1990)

One For All has all the strongest qualities of In God We Trust, without the Islamic extremest rhetoric weighing it down.  That's not to say there aren't definite Five Percenter themes here, quite the contrary, they're everywhere.  Grand Puba's Brand Nubian just aren't as overtly militant or inflammatory.  This album is actually pretty light and fun.

#68 Stakes is High - De La Soul (1996)

Stakes is High showing up this high will probably be a surprise to some, but I maintain that this album gets underrated.  Prince Paul leaving the group was definitely a major blow, but it by no means mortally injured De La.  Stakes is High is a great album because De La was one of the groups to recognize that the popular hip-hop at the time wasn't healthy for the listeners, the artists, or the genre, and that hip-hop would soon be faced with an identity crisis, and a choice would need to be made as to what direction the genre would go.  The model of just having not particularly skilled MCs throw violent threats at each other from across the country wasn't sustainable.  Stakes is High is an album that put the whole hip-hop and general music industry on blast, and they were completely right.  The context is what makes this album great more so than the actual technical aspects.

Oh, and this is also Mos Def's debut.

#67 The Carnival - Wyclef Jean (1997)

This release feels a little out of place on the list, since it incorporates so many of the non-traditional hip-hop influences.  It probably dedicates less time to rapping than any other album on the list.  The Carnival often times feels like... well, a carnival with all the different musical influences it's trying to incorporate.  I wouldn't be surprised if Wyclef had wanted this album to be significantly longer than it ended up being, there's almost too much variety here.

#66 Tical - Method Man (1994)

Method Man was dubbed the member of Wu-Tang who had the most popular appeal in the wake of Enter the Wu-Tang.  As such, he was tasked with being the first member to put out a solo release.  Even though it's not held in quite the esteem as some of the other Wu solo albums that followed it, it'd be hard to argue that Tical wasn't a smashing success.  This record features some of RZA's best beats, which Meth attacks with a level of ferocity that you wouldn't expect given his public persona.

#65 Word... Life - O.C. (1994)

As you read through this list you'll probably start to notice a theme.  A lot of the lesser known albums are from 1994.  A glut of extremely popular and acclaimed albums being released that year made it so there are a handful of great albums that tend to not get much recognition, simply because they were and still are overshadowed by the likes of Tical, Illmatic, Ready to Die, Resurrection, and The Diary.

D.I.T.C's O.C. is one of the artists who saw probably their best work fall through the cracks somewhat.  O.C. is a very solid MC, and the production is outstanding.  Unfortunately, the track "Time's Up" is really all Word... Life get's remembered for these days.

#64 I Wish My Brother George Was Here - Del the Funky Homosapien (1991)

First off, I'd just like to thank Ice Cube for making this album possible.  Del is Cube's cousin, and the knowledge that he'd be looking over Del's shoulder during the production is what got Del his first record deal, at the tender age of 18.

Now that that's out of the way... I feel like this would have been a better album if Ice Cube hadn't been involved.  While Brother George is still significantly wittier, funkier, and funnier than anything the West Coast was producing at the time, it still comes off as a fairly conservative release when compared to future releases by Del and his crew.

#63 Don't Sweat the Technique - Eric B. & Rakim (1992)

Out of the Rakim releases that actually get talked about, Don't Sweat the Technique seems to be considered the weakest.  I wholeheartedly agree, Rakim just isn't quite on the same level here as he was on Paid in Full or Follow the Leader, he's still great, just not quite legendary.  It's important to note that there were two members of Eric B and Rakim, though.  Despite getting top billing, Eric B's contributions are often overlooked.  I would argue that this is Eric B's best album.  That is enough to put it above 18th Letter and Let the Rhythm Hit Em.

#62 Live and Let Die - Kool G Rap & DJ Polo (1992)

Kool G Rap is a guy that shows up in most top 10 MC of all time lists, and I still think he's underrated.  His rhyme schemes were years ahead of their time and, as such, his music holds up way better to the modern ear than does that of his late 80's and early 90's peers.  His biggest weakness is that he wound up being too influential to future MCs.  Vivid depictions of committing felonies became a hip-hop cliche, and extensive use of internal rhymes became the norm by the mid 90's.  Live and Let Die falls a little bit on the list because of how long it runs, the shtick starts to wear a bit thin by the end.

#61 Stress: The Extinction Agenda - Organized Konfusion (1994)

Oh, look, another underrated 1994 release.  Stress is a noticeably darker album than Organized Konfusion's debut.  During my first couple listens of Stress, I really did miss the lighter, poppier tracks, but going back and listening to it now, I have no idea why.  Part of what makes Stress great is that little it of extra grit, it keeps OK from straying too far into weird just for the sake of weird territory.  This is really that earned Pharoahe Monch his reputation as one of  hip-hop's premier lyricists, he's downright jaw dropping at times.  In fact, my biggest complaint about Stress would probably be that next to Monch, Prince Po's verses feel very amateurish.  The disparity in their abilities is too apparent; it's distracting.

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