1. Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
“Me and the RZA connect / Blow a fuse, you lose / Half-ass crews get demolished and bruised” (Incarcerated Scarfaces)
The best Wu-Tang solo album? Everyone will agree it’s up there with of the best of them. It’s not even a ‘real’ solo album – every Wu-Tang Clan member appears on one or more tracks and production is in the more than capable hands of RZA. That makes this album even more of a group effort than most other Wu-Tang solo releases.
After Kool G Rap, Raekwon can be seen as one of the pioneers of the mafioso sub-genre and this album is one of the best, if not the best of its sort. Only Built For Cuban Linx… was loosely composed to play like a film with Raekwon as the “star,” fellow Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah as the “guest-star,” and producer RZA as the “director.” The cinematic feel of the album, along with the top notch production and emceeing, make this one an all-time classic.
And… don’t forget about Nas’ epic guest appearance on one of the album’s centerpieces: Verbal Intercourse. Greatness!
Top tracks: Incarcerated Scarfaces | Verbal Intercourse | Ice Cream | Wu Gambinos
2. 2Pac - Me Against The World
“Inside my mind couldn’t find a place to rest / Until I got that Thug Life tatted on my chest” (So Many Tears)
Me Against The World is 2Pac’s third album and the one on which he reaches real maturity. He is not the all-out thug persona yet and the album is better for it. On this album, he is able to show us all aspects of his tormented being, better than on any of his other albums. An impressive album, and an all-time classic.
Top tracks: Dear Mama | So Many Tears | Me Against The World | Old School
3. GZA - Liquid Swords
“Protect Ya Neck, my sword still remain imperial / Before I blast the mic, RZA scratch off the serial” (Shadowboxin’)
Liquid Swords is another highlight in the Wu-Tang (solo) catalogue. The album would have been even higher on this list if they hadn’t overdone it a bit on the skits / intro’s, but the actual songs on this one are true bangers. Elite production by the RZA as usual in that era, and the trademark dope Wu-Tang lyricism. Classic Wu-Tang.
Top tracks: Liquid Swords | Shadowboxin’ | 4th Chamber | Cold World
4. Goodie Mob - Soul Food (1995)
“What you n***** know about the Dirty South” (Dirty South)
This is Southern Hip Hop at its finest. Real and raw, Soul Food has that genre-bending musicality reminiscent of OutKast with true lyrical depth. One of those albums that age like fine wine and only get better as times goes by. Cee-Lo, T-Mo, Big Gipp, and Khujo dropped a real gem with this album.
Top tracks: Soul Food | Cell Therapy | Dirty South | Thought Process
5. Mobb Deep - The Infamous
“I got you stuck off the realness / We be the infamous / You heard of us, official Queensbridge murderers” (Shook Ones)
An album that will always polarize opinions. Considered an absolute classic and an all-time top 10 album by many, there are also those who find it inaccessible because of the ‘too’ gritty and dark nature of the album and don’t rate it at all.
Wherever you stand, there can be no denying this is a landmark album, both production-wise and lyrically. Mobb Deep brought their A-game on their second album and The Infamous will always be seen as one of the most important mid-90s East Coast albums.
Top tracks: Shook Ones | Survival Of The Fittest | Drink Away The Pain | Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)
6. Big L - Lifestyles Ov Da Poor & Dangerous
“I got the wild style, always been a foul child / My guns go BOOM BOOM, and yo’ guns go pow pow” (Put It On)
The classic debut of one of the most naturally gifted and best punch-line emcees ever. Big L, rest in peace.
Top tracks: Let Em Have It L | Put It On | I Don’t Understand It | Street Struck
7. Smif N Wessun - Dah Shinin
“I live the life of an entertainer / Stress bringer, grams of get right hides pounds of anger / And worries of success down the line / Living life to the fullest in that space and time” (Wrekonize)
Top tracks: Wrekonize | Stand Strong | Cession At Da Doghillee | Bucktown
8. The Pharcyde - Lacabincalifornia
“Look through my will, my flow still will spill / Toxic slick to shock sick like electrocute / When I execute acutely over the rhythm / On those that pollute, extra dosages is what I gotta give em” (Drop)
With their 1992 debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde this 4-men crew dropped a left-field West Coast classic. This follow-up is more mature and possibly even better (J Dilla was involved on the production-side, so there you go).
Top tracks: Runnin | Drop | Moment In Time | Hey You
9. Ol’ Dirty Bastard - Return To The 36 Chambers
“Shimmy shimmy ya, shimmy yam, shimmy yay / Gimme the mic so I can take it away / Off on a natural charge, bon-voyage / Yeah from the home of the Dodger Brooklyn squad” (Shimmy Shimmy Ya)
One of the 4 classic Wu-Tang solo-albums following the crew’s monumental 1993 debut Enter The Wu-Tang. Ol’ Dirty Bastard: there’s no father to his style.
Top tracks: Shimmy Shimmy Ya | Brooklyn Zoo | Raw Hide | Goin’ Down
10. The Roots - Do You Want More?!!!??!
“Lyrically versatile / My rap definition is wild…” (The Lesson, Pt 1.)
The Roots’ second album showed the true promise of what this crew would be able to do. Their independently released was still a little rough around the edges, this one was as smooth and assured as the rest of their catalog would be. The start of an incredibly consistent catalog.
Top tracks: Proceed | Disortion To Static | Mellow My Man | The Lesson, Pt. I
11. Bone Thugs N Harmony - E.1999 Eternal
“Cleveland is the city where a n**** come from / Slanging them dum dum dum dums…” (East 1999)
The debut full-length album from this Cleveland crew under the name Bone Thugs N Harmony. This group of talented Eazy E protegees pioneered their own style of harmonized sing-song rapping, and with this album they really delivered on the promise made by the BNTH’s EP of the year previous. Because of their unique style, their undeniable chemistry and the eery vibe of the album, E.1999 Eternal has been universally recognized as a Hip Hop classic.
Top tracks: East 1999 | Tha Crossroads | First of the Month | Mo Murda
12. Show & AG - Goodfellas
“We had to lounge now I’m furious / Fake hip-hoppers can they do it in ’95, I’m curious / Cause my squad has sickness, crazy sickness / Hit the herb, let the words start flowing with the riches” (Check It Out)
After their critically acclaimed debut album Runaway Slave in 1992, DITC members Show & AG came back strong with this sophomore effort. Sorely slept on and underrated, Goodfellas offers boom bap Hip Hop of the highest quality. Markedly darker sounding than their almost perfect debut record, Goodfellas is an excellent album in its own right.
Top tracks: Next Level | Check It Out | Got The Flava | Medicine
13. AZ - Doe Or Die
“This is as pure as opium, purified for street players to open em / Space, like three els laced with coke in em…” (Uncut Raw)
Why AZ never made it bigger than he did will forever be one of Hip Hop’s biggest mysteries. Universally recognised as one of the best emcees (and somewhat paradoxically one of the most underrated emcees) in the game, AZ has released a series of good to excellent albums.
Doe Or Die, his debut, is one of his best. Short and tight, it pioneers the mafioso subgenre, together with releases from Raekwon and Kool G Rap in this year. Dopeness.
Top tracks: Uncut Raw | Gimme Your’s | Doe Or Die | Sugar Hill
14. KRS One - KRS One
“I flip a script a little bit, you ride the tip and sh** / Too sick to get with it, admit you bit, your style is counterfeit / Now tone it down a bit / My title you will never get, I’m too intelligent” (MCs Act Like They Don’t Know)
Yet another classic album from KRS-One, one of Hip Hop’s elder statesmen. His second solo effort, after 6 albums with / as Boogie Down Productions, and as always KRS drops knowledge and shows of his superior rhyme-writing and rhyme-spitting skills at the same time. KRS-One IS Hip Hop.
Top tracks: Rappaz R N Dainja | MCs Act Like They Don’t Know | Hold | Represent The Real Hip Hop
15. E-40 - In A Major Way
“I be more hipper than a hippopotamus / Get off in your head like a neurologist / Pushin more weight than Nautilus / Got a partner by the name of 2Pacalypse” (Sprinkle Me)
Bay Area pioneer and legend E-40 released A LOT of albums in his 30-year career, this one may just be his very best. Smooth and funky, and with a load a star guest rappers – like 2Pac and Spice 1 – guarantee a great listening experience. Not everybody diggs E-40 rapping style, but there’s no denying the classicness of this particular album.
Top tracks: The Bumble | Dusted ‘n’ Disgusted | Sprinkle Me | Spittin’
16. Aceyalone - All Balls Don’t Bounce
“See the mic check brings all the chaos to order / I conquer the perimeter sealing the borders / To catch the feeble child weeble wobble style evil subject / Too deadly ready to wreck, anyone in my way…”
Aceyalone had already made a name for himself as the lead emcee of the Freestyle Fellowship crew. Even though they are from Los Angeles, like the rest of Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone is all about lyricism and not about gangster posturing. Like all of his albums, All Balls Don’t Bounce is supremely underrated, except by the real Hip Hop connaisseur.
Aceyalone is a master of different styles, but consistent are his dope flow, intelligent lyrics, and supreme creativity. If you slept on Aceyalone, now’s the time to catch up.
Top tracks: All Balls Don’t Bounce | Mic Check | Mr. Outsider | Arhythmaticulas
17. Eightball & MJG - On Top Of The World
“MJG and 8Ball sitting on top of the world” (Top Of The World)
Another early Dirty South classic – with a distinct West Coast / Bay Area feel – from Memphis duo Eightball & MJG. Pimp and crime stories over smooth bass-heavy beats, that’s what you expect and that’s what you get. One of their best albums, if not their very best.
Top tracks: Top Of The World | Friend Or Foe | Pimp in My Own Rhyme | All In My Mind
18. WC & The MAAD Circle - Curb Servin
“And visitors from outta town best to stay in Hollywood / You get that tourist a*s ganked strollin through my hood / West coast till the casket drop / throwin it up, so motherf***** West Up!” (West Up!)
Everything WC did up to this point in his career was consistently dope. As part of Low Profile and now with his second album with The MAAD Circle, it’s all good.
Curb Servin’ is not often mentioned when West Coast classics are lauded, but it should be. The production by Crazy Toons – who uses a lot of old school funk samples – is excellent, and WC is a powerful emcee who can easily carry the album. One of the best of the west.
Top tracks: West Up! | The Creator | Put On Tha Set | Curb Servin
19. DJ Quik - Safe + Sound
“If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense” (Dollarz + Sense)
West Coast legend DJ Quik drops another G-funk / P-funk gem with Safe + Sound, arguably his best album.
Top tracks: Safe + Sound | Dollarz + Sense | Keep Tha P in It | Somethin 4 the Mood
20. Kool G Rap - 4,5,6
“Champagne wishes and caviar dreams a team that’s gettin’ cream / With sales of fish scales from triple beams I gleam…”
Kool G Rap‘s lyrical abilities are second to none. Some might say it’s a shame G Rap’s subject matter is too often violence and crime related, because his skills are so suited for battle rhymes. Whatever the subject matter though, Kool G Rap always displays his superior lyrical skills. The beats could have been better here and there, but nevertheless, 4,5,6 is a solid album by a legendary emcee.
Top tracks: Fast Life | Blowin’ Up In The World | 4,5,6 | Executioner Style
21. Tha Dogg Pound - Dogg Food
“Now I’m a bona fide microphone technician with styles / I came to storm on these emcees like electrical clouds” (Smooth)
The duo of Kurupt and Daz Dillinger dropped a G-funk gem with this dope album. Kurupt is a great rapper, who’s smooth style, combined with Daz’s excellent production, make this album a timeless classic.
If there’s a problem with this album it’s its length. Like a lot of albums of this era it would have been better if they had made it a little shorter and tighter. Nevertheless, Dogg Food is a West Coast classic and a fan favorite till this day.
Top tracks: Dogg Pound Gangstaz | Respect | New York New York | Smooth
22. LL Cool J - Mr Smith
“I’m goin to the top leavin smoke in my trail / Bitch ass gangstas put that a*s on sale / And even if I’m twice as expensive as the rest / When I go for dolo you ain’t checkin for nuttin less…” (Mr. Smith)
It is often said LL Cool J hasn’t made a decent album after his first four classics. That’s wrong. Although not perfect, Mr Smith – LL’s 6th album – is a more than solid effort. At times hardcore and at times crossover, LL always had something from everybody. It can make an album like this feel a little inconsistent, but this is a quality album nonetheless, period.
Top tracks: I Shot Ya | Mr. Smith | Doin’ It | Hip Hop
23. Cypress Hill - III
“Some people tell me that I need help / Some people can f*** off and go to hell / God damn, why they criticize me / Now sh** is on the rise so my family despise me…” (Illusions)
Cypress Hill’s best album? Maybe not as surprising and groundbreaking as their first, but Muggs’ production work has never been better – dark and psychedelic, but funky throughout. Cypress Hill has always been an act with one leg firmly in the crossover / alternative music camp and one for Hip Hop fans with an acquired taste, but there’s no denying their iconic status.
Top tracks: Spark Another Owl | Illusions | Boom Biddy Bye Bye | Killafornia
24. Tha Alkoholiks - Coast II Coast
“E-Swift test the rocket launcher, let’s blow up the spot / Show em what we got for the ninety-flow shot” (Daaam!)
Classic West Coast underground Hip Hop. No gangsta rap or G-funk, but fun, boom bap, party rap. Much like their equally excellent debut 21 & Over, Coast II Coast is an album to be remembered. Also notable for the early production work of Madlib (together with E-Swift and Diamond D).
Top tracks: Daaam! | All the Way Live | Flashback | The Next Level
25. Masta Ace - Sittin' On Chrome
“Brainiac, dumb-dumb, bust the scientifical / Approach to the course and the force is centrifugal / Can you find ya way through the lyrics that be catching em / Throw another rhyme across the room they be fetching em…” (Born To Roll)
On his third album, Masta Ace reinvents his style, as he always does. On this one, he merges elements from the east and west coast sounds. Top production and excellent lyrics – the album is just a bit too long for a higher position on this list. Overall dopeness nonetheless.
Top tracks: Sittin’ On Chrome | Born To Role | What’s Going On | Turn It Up
26. King Tee - IV Life
“Smash, here comes the one that talks trash / To garbage MC’s, who try to diss me / And my crew – the ill ville animal cannibal…” (Check The Flow)
Underrated L.A. veteran King Tee once again comes correct with another dope album. Just gotta love King Tee.
Top tracks: Dippin’ | Check The Flow | Way Out There | Free Style Ghetto
27. K-Rino - Danger Zone
As I fall into a deep sleep, knowledge is the drug I’m doping up / Eyes closed, I wait for mental doors to open up / I drift into the universal future events / I witness rhymes memorized without rehearsal…” (Illusions)
The second in a long string of albums from Houston legend K-Rino may not be as good as his debut, but features the same lyrical prowess. K-Rino always was a way above average emcee, with extravagant wordplay and an extensive vocabulary. Punchlines and thought-provoking, intelligent lyrics as always, K-Rino deserves his props as a top emcee. He could have benefitted from better cover art for his albums though…
Top tracks: Danger Zone | Illusions | Raise Up | Verbal Execution
28. Group Home - Livin' Proof
Son, I stamped this name Living Proof cause I mean what I say? / Bring the fake to reality and make them pay…” (Livin’ Proof)
If only this album had dope emcees and tight lyrics – then it probably would have landed in this year’s Top 10. As it is, DJ Premier’s superb work on the boards is somewhat undone by the subpar lyricism of the Group Home rappers. Still: an enjoyable album, but it could have been so much better…
Top tracks: Livin’ Proof | Suspended in Time | Supa Star | The Realness
29. Mic Geronimo - The Natural
“Notoriously enterprising, vocals for analyzing / I move, defiant speech more deeper than Poseidon / Give me, the highest esteem like hundreds of cream / Lick a shot off like Spock with them laser beams” (The Natural)
A perfect example of a mid-90s New York Hip Hop album. Mic Geronimo is a great emcee from Queens, who dropped this excellent album before Puff Daddy got his hands on him and turned him into a shiny suit rapper. Mic Geronimo got he skills on the mic to carry an album and this brilliantly produced album is consistently dope, it just misses that special spark to rank it higher still.
Top tracks: The Natural | Time To Build | Men Vs. Many | It’s Real
30. Count Bass-D - Pre-Life Crisis
“And nobody had ever heard of Count Bass-D / Or TLC, but my despair turned into glee / When T-Boz pushed up and introduced herself to me / My heart went mushy, I know you don’t believe me / But T-Boz, of TLC, tried to talk to me…” (T-Boz Tried To Talk To Me!)
Different from the work Count Bass-D would do later on in his career, this is a straight up feel good, fun Hip Hop album, where Count uses real instruments and holds his own – rapping and singing – on the mic too. Slept on and forgotten, this experimental album definitely is worth checking out.
Top tracks: The Dozens | Carmex | T-Boz Tried To Talk To Me! | Broke Thursday
31. Too $hort - Cocktails
“Nine albums out, ain’t changed my talk” (Top Down)
“If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” Never this was more true than in the case of Oakland legend Too Short. Another album, another banger. Smooth and funky beats and Short Dog’s pimp stories – with guest spots by 2Pac and Mc Breed among others – you know you get consistent quality with a Too Short joint.
Top tracks: Cocktales | Ain’t Nothin Like Pimping | Paystyle | Top Down
32. Fat Joe - Jealous One's Envy
“Hey yo it’s total devastation, for any MC that poses / I paint the town red with clips and dum-dums and bloodshed / The Fat MC, from the B-X / Vicious like a T-Rex, who slips into a three-X / Rappers f*** up, and end up, in the obituary / Don’t know the meaning of real, check the dictionary…” (Respect Mine)
One of Fat Joe‘s better albums, before he went ‘pop’. A dope album, and with guest spots from emcees like KRS One, Big Pun and Raekwon, Fat Joe enlisted the best help out there. A few filler tracks do not undermine the fact that this album definitely holds its own.
Top tracks: Bronx Tale | Respect Mine | Watch Out | Bronx Keeps Creatin It
33. Miilkbone - Da Miilkrate
“I ain’t about to sit back and talk about gats and Glocks / And busting caps on blocks, cracking on practice cops / You couldn’t handle when I’m deep like a diver / The kooky corner conniver keeps my streets liver…” (Keep It Real)
After groups like Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass gave white rappers Hip Hop credibility, along came Vanilla Ice who pretty much destroyed it. Long before Eminem would restore it by becoming one the best emcees ever, there was Miilkbone. The time just wasn’t right for him, because there is not much wrong with this album.
Top tracks: Keep It Real | Kids On The Ave | How Ya Like It | Check Me Out
34. Erick Sermon - Double Or Nothing
“Y’alll guess what the f*** is going on now / Me and Reggie Noble, making funk tunes around the global / Cause times keeps on slippin’, and I get the funk from the kitchen…” (Freak Out)
Erick Sermon may not be the very best emcee out there, but he sure is one of the best producers. Competent enough on the mic though to carry an album, and smart enough to recruit class A help from friends like Redman and Keith Murray. A must have for EPMD and Def Squad fans.
Top tracks: Open Fire | Welcome | Bomdigi | Freak Out
35. The Nonce - World Ultimate
“This here be a track / Straight out of the blue / Untapped source of a funkdafied force / This course from the source and of course / Muse bound bop heavy meditator and something to see / Grab a pound getting down cause my end is so free” (Keep It On)
This West Coast group (with a very unfortunate name – look up what ‘Nonce’ means in the U.K.) dropped an atypical album for West Coast standards with World Ultimate. Sounding like a kind of West Coast Native Tongues act, they dropped a criminally slept on album with World Ultimate. Consistently dope.
Top tracks: World Ultimate | Mix Tapes | Keep It On | Eighty-Five
36. Onyx - All We Got Iz Us
“Ya got your rhymes n*****? Bring em, we stomp that / Its concrete combat where I’m at…” (All We Got Iz Us)
An essential album for those who dig the grimy, screaming style of rap that Onyx pioneered. On their second album they come just as hard as they did on their classic debut Bacdafucup. Consistent from beginning to end, just maybe missing that spark which made their debut their most recognizable album to date.
Top tracks: Last Dayz | Purse Snatchaz | All We Got Iz Us | Punkmotherf*kaz
37. The Grouch - Don't Talk to Me
“In a time filled with rhymes we forced minds to climb / Way up above all that bullsh** you love / Keepin’ your soul in tact, with the rap / This otherworld underworld ninety six-fat” (Oh)
The debut album from Living Legends member The Grouch immediately sets the tone for a respected career in the L.A. underground. A true emcee and storyteller, on this album The Grouch gives us Hip Hop with substance. No gangsta cliches, but intelligence and emotion – that’s what’s on display here. Don’t sleep on The Grouch and the rest of the Living Legends.
Top tracks: Car Troubles | Invisible Man | Oh | Disappointments
38. Nine - Nine Livez
“I enter, the center of the cypha / Blunts and lighter, the ruff rhyme writer, Nine…” (Tha Cypha)
Dark and dirty beats, with Nine’s grimy delivery and dope flow make this an album not to be slept on. Not perfect, but a great and entertaining record for those who dig grimy-voiced emcees like DMX.
Top tracks: Whut’cha Want | Redrum | Any Emcee | Tha Cypha
39. Channel Live - Station Identification
“Wake up in the mornin got the yearnin for herb / Which loosens up the nouns, metaphors, and verbs / And adjectives, ain’t it magic kid what I’m kickin / Multi-flavored bags of sess, for the pickin” (Mad Izm)
Best known for the classic single Mad Izm featuring KRS-One, this is a straight boom bap album, no frills, no gimmicks. Hakim and Tuffy, considered proteges of KRS-One, come with dope rhymes over dark and heavy beats. You can’t go wrong with this album if you are a fan of that mid-nineties NYC roughneck Hip Hop.
Top tracks: Mad Izm | Who U Represent | Down Goes The Devil | Reprogram
40. Souls of Mischief - No Man's Land
“I wanna explain / You wack and sh**, you lack the gift / I wanna smack you kid, because the fact you did / An unforgivable crime, wanted to rhyme / Against the smooth master / I move faster, my crew’ll blast ya…” (No Man’s Land)
Not on the same level as their debut 93 Til Infinity, but not as bad as some critics wanted us to believe. It may feel a little less inspired and energetic than the classic predecessor and it may contain a few misses, but there are still plenty of dope tracks with SOM’s lyrical brilliance and creativity on full display to make for an enjoyable album. Don’t front on the Souls Of Mischief / Hieroglyphics crew.
Top tracks: No Man’s Land | Freshdopedope | Time’s Ain’t Fair | Come Anew
- Guru – Jazzmatazz Volume II: The New Reality
- Brotha Lynch Hung – Season Of Da Siccness
- Coolio – Gangsta’s Paradise
- Naughty by Nature – Poverty’s Paradise
- Grand Puba – 2000
- Das EFX – Hold It Down
- Special Ed – Revelations
- Doug E Fresh – Play
- Schoolly D – Reservoir Dog
- Mack 10 – Mack 10
- Luniz – Operation Stackola
- Junior M.A.F.I.A. – Conspiracy
- Kam – Made in America
- B.G. Knocc Out & Dresta – Real Brothas
- Spice 1 – 1990-Sick
- Tru – True
- Master P – 99 Ways to Die
- Bushwick Bill – Phantom of the Rapra
- Ray Luv – Forever Hustlin’
- Three-6 Mafia – Mystic Stylez
- Rappin’ Ron & Ant Diddley Dog – Bad N Fluenz
- 11/5 – Fiendin 4 Tha Funk
- Ant Banks – Do Or Die
- Young D Boyz – Straight Game
- Key-Kool & Rhettmatic – Kozmonautz
- Funkdoobiest – Brothas Doobie
- Main One – Birth Of The Ghetto Child
- Cold World Hustlers – Iceland
- Dre Dog – I Hate You With a Passion
- Double XX Posse – Ruff, Rugged & Raw
- Mystidious Misfitss – A Who Datt
- Questionmark – Asylum The Album
- Red Hot Lover Tone – #1 Player
- Sham & The Professor – Split Personalities
- Da Nayborhoodz – Afta Dark… Illa Than Expected
- The B.U.M.S (Brothas Unda Madness) – Lyfe ‘n’ Tym
- Various Artists – Return Of The DJ
- DJ Krush – Meiso
- Tales From The Hood – Soundtrack
- Friday – Soundtrack
- The Show – Soundtrack