Saturday, June 14, 2014

Top 90 Albums of the 90's: 90-81

Despite the mid to late 80's commonly receiving the title of hip-hop's "Golden Age", I've found that the vast majority of people who consider themselves to be hip-hop heads consider the 90's to be the strongest time period in hip-hop's history. The 90's is sacred territory in hip-hop, so making a list of the "best" albums is going to inevitably lead to at least some controversy. Someone's favorite album undoubtedly won't make the cut; I'm sure there are a few albums on here that I like way more than most. By the time this whole thing is over, I'm sure no one will be satisfied. On that note, let's get to ranking shall we?

#90 It's Dark and Hell is Hot - DMX (1998)

He's mostly of a punch-line now, but early DMX had an energy about him that I don't think anybody has ever managed to successfully replicate. He was intimidating and imposing on a level that nobody else in the rap industry ever really has been. It's Dark and Hell is Hot is all about anger and violent impulses. It's an album that I rarely find myself sitting down and listening to cover-to-cover, but individual tracks turn up on my playlists pretty regularly.

#89 Dogg Food - The Dogg Pound (1995)

This is one that most probably would have expected to see a bit higher on the list. It's considered one of the essential G-Funk albums, right alongside the likes of Doggystyle, and The Chronic. So what lands it in the late 80's rather than further up, alongside its compatriots (spoiler alert)? Basically, that it came later. The Chronic was revolutionary, Doggystyle epitomized the genre, by the time Dogg Food comes out in 1995, it just starts to feel like the west coast is recycling old material. It's still a good album, it's just hard to give it much credit when all Kurupt and Daz needed to do was follow a format already laid out for them.

#88 Business As Usual - EPMD (1990)

Business as Usual is an album that gets kind of a bad rap sometimes for not being good as their debut, Strictly Business. I can't argue with that sentiment. Strictly Business could make a strong argument for being the best album of the 80's, though. The defining characteristic of Business as Usual is the number of samples it uses. I don't think there's a track on this album that doesn't feature at least one, several feature five or more. Also, Redman makes his debut on the album's second track, so there's that.

#87 Ridin' Dirty - UGK (1996)

Any album that came out the South in the mid 90's deserves to be recognized. Other than Geto Boys, there really hadn't been any artists from the region that had scene much success, at the time. Ridin' Dirty is one of a handful of albums that came out the South all around the same time, that managed to catapult a relatively unknown scene onto the national stage at a time when East Coast - Wast Coast rivalries were dominating the headlines. While other prominent southern acts at the time were making names for themselves by being weird, UGK took a more traditional approach; some minimalist, groovy beats, with two MCs trading verses about money, clothes. and hoes.

#86 Haiku D'Etat - Haiku D'Etat (1999)

Aceyalone is an MC who will never get enough credit. He's a stronger rapper than almost all of his west coast underground compatriots, but has never seen the same level of success or acclaim as guys like Del the Funky Homosapien or Gift of Gab. Haiku D'Etat is a super group consisting of Acey, and fellow MCs Mikah 9 and Abstract Rude. It features some of the most technically adept rapping to be found on this list but, much like pretty much everything else Aceyalone has ever been a part of, it kind of falls on it's face from a production standpoint. It tries to carry a relaxed, floaty vibe throughout the whole album, by the end it just winds up being more boring than anything.

#85 Do You Want More?!!!?! - The Roots (1995)

Black Thought, ?uestlove, and co. have been putting out great albums for so long at this point that it's kind of bizarre to imagine them as young upstarts needing to prove their worth to their label. The pressure didn't seem to get to them, though. In fact, my biggest criticism would be that they spend too much time just nonchalantly grooving with no real rhyme or reason.

#84 In God We Trust - Brand Nubian (1993)

Grand Puba leaving Brand Nubian signaled a major gear shift for them. In God We Trust carries a decidedly more militant tone than their first release, and laced throughout are references to Five Percenter rhetoric that will be seen as extreme by most listeners. Even if the inflammatory lyrical content doesn't suit your fancy, In God We Trust is worth a spin just for the fun, jazzy beats.

#83 Let the Rhythm Hit Em - Eric B. & Rakim (1990)

It doesn't get quite the acclaim that Eric B. & Rakim's 80's releases did, but Let the Rhythm Hit Em is still commonly regarded as an all-time classic. Honestly, the biggest thing holding this album back is that there aren't any tracks that really stand out from the crowd. It's a good cover-to-cover listen, but no one track is going to be stuck in your head after.

#82 Return to 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version - Ol' Dirty Bastard (1995)

It often gets overshadowed by the other great 90's Wu-Tang releases, but Return to 36 Chambers is a personal favorite of mine. RZA really outdoes himself with the production, but ODB is the unquestioned star of the album. His distinctive half-sung, half-rapped delivery is what ODB is most known for, unfortunately is lyrical prowess often gets overlooked.

#81 Steal This Album - The Coup (1998)

If you've never heard the track "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Grenada Last Night", go do that as soon as possible, you can thank me later.

While "'79 Grenada" is the clear standout track from Steal This Album, the rest of the album is fantastic, as well. Boots Riley will probably rub some the wrong way with his Communist political beliefs, but even the coldest of Cold Warriors will find themselves bobbing their heads for most of this album". The Coup has always has a penchant for riding the line between humor & entertainment value, and scathing social commentary, or even openly militant rhetoric. It takes a master of his craft to make violent political upheavel sound this fun.

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