1. Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Both Mos Def and Talib Kweli planned to release their solo albums around the same time, but they postponed their individual projects and decided instead to collaborate on a full-length LP – and what a collaboration it is. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is an all-time classic.
Top tracks: Definition | Thieves In The Night | Brown Skin Lady | Respiration
2. OutKast - Aquemini
Always creative and innovative, it’s hard to agree on which album is OutKast’s best. They are all classics in their own right, with this one arguably being their magnum opus, where everything that makes OutKast part of Hip Hop’s elite comes together. The beats, the lyrics – both are truly excellent, but it is the overall vibe of the album that makes Aquemini so special. A stylistic and musical experience that transcends Hip Hop – Aquemini is a creative masterpiece that belongs in every music lover’s collection.
Top tracks: Rosa Parks | Da Art Of Storytellin 1 & 2 | Slump | Aquemini
3. Gang Starr - Moment Of Truth
Few artists can boast a catalog as consistent as Gang Starr‘s. Ask six fans about their favorite Gang Starr album and they may all pick a different one. That says enough about the overall excellence of their work. Moment Of Truth is Gang Starr’s fifth and arguably most cohesive of all their albums. Lyrical genius from Guru and musical genius from DJ Premier – Hip Hop doesn’t get much better than this.
Top tracks: Moment Of Truth | Above The Clouds | Robbin Hood Theory | JFK 2 LAX
4. Big Pun - Capital Punishment
Big Pun’s only album released during his lifetime, Capital Punishment is regarded as a classic if only because of Pun’s technical proficiency and incredible wordplay. Great production and plain awesome lyricism by one of the best emcees ever.
Top tracks: Beware | Super Lyrical | Glamour Life | Twinz (Deep Cover 98)
5. All Natural - No Additives, No Preservatives
Chicago underground Hip Hop heavies All Natural dropped one of the most slept-on albums of 1998. If you for some reason missed out on this hidden treasure, you will not regret checking it out now – never too late to catch up!
Top tracks: Fresh Air | Phantoms Of The Opera | This Is How It Should Be Done | Thinkin Cap
6. Styles Of Beyond - 2000 Fold
This album from Los Angeles underground crew Styles Of Beyond is supremely underrated. Originally released in 1998, it suffered from lack of promotion and several re-releases, which ensured it never really got any spotlight. The album stands heads and shoulders above most other albums released in the late nineties, however. Great synergy between emcees Ryu and Tak, who sound like seasoned veterans (even though this is their debut). Excellent production, dope sampling, clever rhymes, and wordplay – this album is an underground classic.
Top tracks: Spies Like Us | Easy Back It Up | Winnetka Exit | 2000 Fold
7. Aceyalone - A Book Of Human Language
A Book of Human Language is the second solo album by Los Angeles emcee Aceyalone, a member of underground Hip Hop favorites Freestyle Fellowship. Aceyalone is an incredibly talented and unique MC, always pushing lyrical boundaries and succeeding effortlessly in all styles he employs. He released a string of excellent creative and innovative albums throughout his career, and this one is his very best.
One of the most slept on and underappreciated albums in Hip Hop history, A Book of Human Language combines intelligence, creativity, and superior lyrical skill – resulting in a brilliant concept album that should be a part of any real Hip Hop fan’s collection. This album is a left-field masterpiece.
Top tracks: The Guidelines | The Balance | The Faces | The Thief In The Night | A Book Of Human Language
8. People Under The Stairs – The Next Step
The Next Step is the independently released full-length debut by Los Angeles duo People Under the Stairs, the first in a string of excellent albums. PUTS always comes with that authentic, real boom-bap Hip Hop and this first effort is a slept-on gem.
Top tracks: San Francisco Knights | Los Angeles Daze | Time To Rock Our Shit | The Next Step II
9. DMX – It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot
It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot is DMX‘s debut studio album and an immediate mega-success – going quadruple platinum eventually. With DMX’s grimy rap style and the album’s gritty production, the massive mainstream success it garnered wasn’t a given – DMX’s charisma and star power surely had a lot to with that, as well as excellent marketing by the Ruff Ryders label.
This is DMX at the top of his game: introspective, hardcore, and emotional at the same time. He would never top or even equal this album, even though the follow-up Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood, which came out later in this same year, was a pretty good album as well.
Top tracks: How’s It Goin’ Down | Damien | Ruff Ryders Anthem | I Can Feel It
10. Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty
Even though we love all Beastie Boys albums, for HHGA this one comes closest to the brilliance of their Paul’s Boutique masterpiece. Eclectic and creative as always, and more in tune with a pure Hip Hop feel that was less in evidence on their previous two albums, Hello Nasty shows us the Beastie Boys at a new peak of their artistic powers.
11. Hieroglyphics – 3rd Eye Vision
This supergroup – consisting of Del (The Funkee Homosapien), Pep Love, A-Plus, Tajai, Opio & Phesto (from Souls Of Mischief), Casual, Domino, Jay-Biz, Toure & Extra Prolific – brings together so much talent that the product of their cooperation has to be epic, right? Right! This album is straight-up Hip Hop, from one of the best collectives in the game.
Top tracks: You Never Knew | Miles To The Sun | Mics Of The Roundtable | Oakland Blackouts
12. Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5
Jurassic 5 is the debut album by Jurassic 5, the well-respected Los Angeles underground crew. The material from the 1997 Jurassic 5 EP plus a few additional tracks was repackaged as an album and released as Jurassic 5 in 1998. Tight tag-team rhymes incorporated by dope beats, with an air of positivity and fun – this is Hip Hop as it’s supposed to be.
Top tracks: Concrete Schoolyard | Jayou | Action Satisfaction | Lesson 6: The Lecture
13. Goodie Mob – Still Standing
Always a little bit in the shadow of their fellow Atlantians OutKast, Goodie Mob released one of 1995’s best albums with their debut Soul Food, and this sophomore effort is almost as strong. Very much comparable to this year’s top album Aquemini, Still Standing shines with intelligence, originality, creativity, and musicality.
Top tracks: Still Standing | Beautiful Skin | Black Ice | Fly Away
14. Xzibit – 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz
Xzibit‘s At The Speed Of Life was a great debut and on this sophomore effort X-to-the-Z displays even further growth, both lyrically and in his raw flow. A great album from a West Coast giant.
Top tracks: What U See Is What U Get | 3 Card Molly | Focus | Los Angeles Times
15. The Coup – Steal This Album
The Coup has to be one of the most underrated groups in Hip Hop, ever. As conscious and clever as Public Enemy, The Coup never really got the wider recognition they deserved. Steal This album is The Coup’s third consecutive near-flawless effort, filled with intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics and funky-ass beats. Don’t sleep on The Coup.
Top tracks: Me And Jesus The Pimp In A ’79 Granada Last Night | Repo Man Sings for You | Underdogs | Fixation
16. The Dynospectrum - The Dynospectrum
The Dynospectrum is a collaboration from Rhymesayers Entertainment artists Slug, I Self Devine, Sab the Artist, and Swift. As The Dynospectrum they performed under the pseudonyms Sept Sev Sev Two, Pat Juba, General Woundwart, and Mr. Gene Poole, respectively. The production was handled by Atmosphere’s Ant, who assumed the name Solomon Grundy for the project.
This is an underground treasure, an excellent album for all those who are into real lyricism, fat beats, and just plain old Hip Hop.
Top tracks: Southside Myth | Anything Is Everything | Headphone Static | The Winter Moon
17. Pete Rock – Soul Survivor
Beatcrafter extraordinaire enlists a long list of A-class guest emcees (Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, & Cappadonna; O.C., Black Thought, Kurupt, Rob-O, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, Large Professor, Kool G Rap, MC Eiht, Heavy D, Common, Big Punisher, Noreaga, former partner C.L. Smooth and more) to rhyme over his superior work on the boards. Excellent from start to finish.
Top tracks: Tru Master | Tha Game | It’s About That Time | Verbal Murder 2
18. Killah Priest – Heavy Mental
Intellectual and entertaining, this album has thought-provoking lyrics by Wu affiliate Killah Priest and banging beats by 4th Disciple and True Master. Killah Priest’s delivery is dope too, so there’s a lot to enjoy here. Deep, complex, and unusual – Heavy Mental indeed.
Top tracks: Fake MCs | Atoms To Adams | Information | B.I.B.L.E.
19. Jay-Z Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life
Not Jay-Z‘s best album (Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, The Black Album are all better), but also far from his worst (Kingdome Come, The Blueprint 3, Magna Carta come to mind).
Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life is the album that propelled Jay into mainstream pop stardom (selling close to six million units) and is much hated for it. That’s not fair though, as it is a perfectly fine album from – whether you hate him or love him – one of Hip Hop’s greats.
Top tracks: N**** What, N**** Who | Hard Knock Life | Can I Get A… | Money, Cash, Hos
20. Rasco – Time Waits For No Man
Time Waits For No Man is a forgotten gem from San Francisco underground emcee Rasco, executive produced by Peanut Butter Wolf and released on Stones Throw Records. Dope beats, dope rhymes, dope flow – real Hip Hop.
Top tracks: Hip Hop Essentials | Time Waits For No Man | Me & My Crew | View To A Kill
21. A Tribe Called Quest - The Love Movement
Like A Tribe Called Quest‘s fourth effort Beats, Rhymes & Life, this fifth Tribe album is kind of underappreciated. Sure, it’s nowhere near the epicness of their absolute classics The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, there are a few tracks that do not quite work, and the chemistry between Tip & Phife seems absent at times – but despite all that The Love Movement is a smooth and fine listen from one of Hip Hop’s greatest groups ever.
Top tracks: Find A Way | Common Ground | Steppin’ It Up | The Love
22. Kool G Rap - Roots Of Evil
A Kool G Rap album always is a special event, if only because of the man’s superior mic skills and unparalleled storytelling abilities. Roots Of Evil is an underrated album. Sure, by 1998 the whole gangsta thing was a tired subject matter for a long time already, but few do it as well as G Rap. This album (just like Live And Let Die) should be experienced like watching a straight hardcore gangsta film – G Rap storytelling prowess make it a cinematic experience.
Top tracks: A Thug’s Love Story (Chapter I, II, III) | Hitman’s Diary | Cannon Fire | Let The Games Begin
23. Daz Dillinger – Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back
Daz Dillinger was one of the first signees of Dr. Dre’s Death Row Records, and one of the most underrated producers of gangsta rap and g-funk beats in the 1990s. (He was responsible for the majority of the production on Death Row classics like Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food, and 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me.) His best solo album Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back doesn’t get talked about nearly enough – this is another flawlessly produced album with Daz Dillinger’s stamp on it. Like Dogg Food and All Eyez On Me, Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back is too long (which almost inevitably means there are a few filler tracks), but the bass, synths, keys, and percussion on this album are as good as it gets – in fact, Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back is one of the last great albums in the West Coast g-funk gangsta rap niche.
24. Sunz Of Man - The Last Shall Be First
Sunz Of Man arguably is the best group ever to come from the Wu family. Consisting of Brooklyn MCs Prodigal Sunn, Hell Razah, 60 Second Assassin, and Killah Priest (who just months before dropped his excellent debut Heavy Mental) Sunz Of Man’s debut album was a more than worthy addition to the extended Wu catalog.
Because Sunz Of Man’s lyrics deal with scripture, religion, history, and 5% Nation teachings combined with the Wu street mentality, The Last Shall Be First may be too heavy and inaccessible for many. Long but consistent throughout: this is an excellent album and a must-have for Wu fans at least.
Top tracks: Flaming Sword | Cold | Illusions | Collaboration ’98
25. RZA – Bobby Digital
This is a hate-it-or-love-it kind of album by Wu-producer extraordinaire, RZA. Left-field, futuristic production and interesting, sometimes somewhat abstract lyrical performances make for an at times quite inaccessible – but nonetheless intriguing – listen.
Top tracks: Domestic Violence | Holocaust (Silkworm) | Mantis | Unspoken Word
26. AZ – Pieces Of A Man
AZ’s anticipated follow-up to his classic debut Doe Or Die is another solid album that lacks just that little extra to make it really great. AZ is keeping the rugged beats and street mentality in his flows that made his debut an underrated classic, there are just a few too many mediocre tracks to elevate this album to the same level as Doe or Die.
Top tracks: What’s The Deal | How Ya Livin’ | Love Is Love | Sosa
27. M.O.P. - First Family 4 Life
Not as good or consistent as their 1996 sophomore album Firing Squad, but enjoyable nonetheless and a must-have for fans of the hyped-up angry/screaming style of rap that is M.O.P.’s trademark.
Top tracks: Blood Sweat And Tears | My Kinda N****, Pt. II | Downtown Swinga | I Luv
28. DJ Quik - Rhythm-al-ism
West Coast legend DJ Quik is one of the best producers in the game. With his fourth album, he pretty much sheds his gangsta persona to go on and create a genre-bending album that effectively shows off the man’s musicality.
Top tracks: Thinkin’ Bout U | You’ze A Gangxta | We Still Party | Speed
29. Fat Joe - Don Cartagena
The follow-up to his 1995 sophomore album Jealous One’s Envy does not disappoint. Banging beats, Fat Joe in top form, and guest features that hit the spot, with – of course – Big Pun taking center stage here and there.
Top tracks: John Blaze | My World | Triplets | Terror Squadians
30. Z-Ro - Look What You Did To Me
Houston rapper Z-Ro has released an endless string of projects since this 1998 debut, but Look What You Did To Me still stands as his best album, with Let the Truth Be Told (2005) coming very close. Like many of his Houston brethren, Z-Ro raps about poverty, crime, and struggle – but Z-Ro stands out because you can feel his emotion here, he is able to touch the listener in a way 2Pac was able to. Also, he is an incredibly talented vocalist, effortlessly switching from rapping the verses to singing the hooks. Z-Ro can go from thoughtful passionate 2Pac-like slow-flows to furious Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony type of triple-time rhymes – showing great versatility constantly. Generic production is what often lets Z-Ro albums down, and the beats on Look What You Did To Me are not as strong as the lyricism is either, but the beats serve – it’s all melodic and easy-listening enough. Don’t sleep on Z-Ro, this album is an essential listen.
31. Canibus - Can-I-Bus
This a hard album to review and to rate. Canibus is such an intriguing emcee with an exceptional skill set but… The biggest problem with this album has nothing to do with Canibus’ skills or his rhyming, but with the production. Mostly handled by Wyclef Jean, the production is kinda weak and definitely not compatible with Canibus’ punishing battle rap style. In this Canibus is like a modern-day Kool Moe Dee – exceptional emcee skills, but on his albums usually let down by subpar production. But even though this album is not as good as it should have been and could have been, there are still enough moments of glory.
Top tracks: 2nd Round Knock Out | Get Retarded | Buckingham Palace | Channel Zero
32. Ice Cube War & Peace, Vol. 1 (The War Disc)
Sure, this album may be missing the anger and the hunger Ice Cube had on his first two or three albums, but War & Peace, Vol. 1 (The War Disc) is a perfectly enjoyable listen nonetheless. It loses steam toward the end, but there are plenty of dope tracks with banging beats and tight lyrics – just don’t expect the substance and intensity of Cube’s earlier albums.
Top tracks: Ghetto Vet | Pushin’ Weight | Dr Frankenstein | Greed
33. DMX - Flesh of My Flesh Blood Of My Blood
Banking on the runaway success of It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX’s sophomore album Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood was released just a little more than seven months after his debut album. Even darker than his debut, with tracks that are rumored to be cutting room floor leftovers from It’s Dark…, this album is not quite as strong as its predecessor but it can hold its own nevertheless.
Flesh of My Flesh Blood Of My Blood was DMX’s second album that debuted at the #1 spot on the Billboard album list in 1998, and another (triple platinum) mega-seller.
Top tracks: Slippin’ | We Don’t Give A F*** | No Love For Me | The Omen
34. Cappadonna - The Pillage
This debut album from (un)official Wu-Tang Clan member Cappadonna is one of the better albums to emerge from the Wu camp in the late nineties. The production is tight throughout and if Cappadonna’s lyrical performance hadn’t been a bit hit or miss (imagine Inspectah Deck having these beats to work with), The Pillage would have been even higher on this list.
Top tracks: Slang Editorial | Run | The Pillage | Blood On Blood War
35. Busta Rhymes E.L.E. (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Front
Energetic, crazy, and loud as ever, this is another fine Busta Rhymes album, even though it suffers from the same ills a lot of albums in this era suffer from – it’s too long for its own good, it contains some weaker tracks and the album’s flow is broken by skits tacked on to a lot of songs. After E.L.E., Busta would start his downward slide into mainstream mediocrity, but this one still is more hit than miss and signature Busta Rhymes.
Top tracks: Everybody Rise | Tear Da Roof Off | Do It To Death | Gimme Some More
36. Eightball - Lost
This is a unique album in the sense that it mostly succeeds in staying consistent despite its playing time: 2 full-length CDs (plus one bonus CD). Inevitably there are some filler tracks, but on the whole, this is an excellent collection of Dirty South Hip Hop. A lot of bangers, with a lot of great guest spots (MJG is present of course, along with Busta Rhymes, Redman, Bun B, E-40, and many more).
The production is excellent, and even though he’s not the greatest rapper alive Eightball drops dope rhymes – admittedly a lot about that played-out ‘street’ lifestyle topic, but also with some spirituality and social commentary sprinkled in. You can’t go wrong with this album.
Top tracks: My Homeboy’s Girlfriend | Stompin’ And Pimpin’ | If I Die | Coffee Shoppe
37. Juvenile – 400 Degreez
This album is all about the dopeness of Mannie Fresh’s production (not about the kinda dumb lyrics). One of the few good albums out of the Cash Money rap factory.
Top tracks: Ha | Back That Azz Up | Flossin’ Season | Ghetto Children
38. Big Daddy Kane - Veteranz Day
This is not a bad album at all, even though critics and haters may want you to believe that. Aside from one or two not-so-good R&B-ish tracks, some annoying skits, and at times lackluster production, there’s enough to enjoy here – mainly Big Daddy Kane himself. It’s evident that Big Daddy Kane was, is, and always will be heads and shoulders above most other emcees.
Top tracks: Do You Really Know | Uncut Pure | Terra N Ya Era | Shame
39. Redman - Doc's Da Name 2000
After three different but exceptional albums, Redman‘s fourth effort did not quite reach the same level. Doc’s Da Name 2000 has its moments but is overlong and suffers from WAY too many unnecessary skits, which really take away from a pleasant listening experience. Not Redman’s worst album (that would be Reggie), but far from his best.
Top tracks: I’ll Bee Dat | Let Da Monkey’s Out | Da Goodness | Close Your Doors
40. Method Man - Tical 2000: Judgement Day
Method Man‘s album suffers from the same ills Redman’s album has: it is much too long, it has too many filler tracks and it contains too many skits (what is it with rap artists and skits? They may be funny to listen to once or twice, but pretty much kill the flow of an album and start to annoy real quick). That being said, there are some really good tracks on Tical 2000, it is just too inconsistent to be labeled a classic.
Top tracks: Dangerous Grounds | Retro Godfather | Party Crusher | Play IV Keeps
- Various Artists – Lyricist Lounge Volume One
- Ras Kass – Rasassination
- Dälek – Negro Necro Nekros
- Flipmode Squad – The Imperial
- Das EFX – Generation EFX
- Cocoa Brovaz – The Rude Awakening
- Heltah Skeltah – Magnum Force
- Brand Nubian – Foundation
- K-Rino – K-Rino
- Andre Nickatina – Raven in My Eyes
- Onyx – Shut ‘Em Down
- Public Enemy – He Got Game
- Show & AG – Full Scale LP
- Noreaga – N.O.R.E.
- Def Squad – El Niño
- LA the Darkman – Heist Of The Century
- Killarmy – Dirty Weaponry
- The LOX – Money, Power & Respect
- Snoop Dogg – Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told
- E-40 – The Element Of Surprise
- Cypress Hill – IV
- Devin The Dude – The Dude
- Delinquent Habits – Here Come The Horns
- Scarface – My Homies
- Black Eyed Peas – Behind The Front
- Kurupt – Kuruption!
- WC – The Shadiest One
- Mac Dre – Stupid Doo Doo Dumb
- Witchdoctor – …A S.W.A.T. Healin’ Ritual
- P.A. – Straight No Chase
- G-Ism – On A Mission
- The Colored Section – Bomb MC
- Kid Capri – Soundtracks To The Streets
- Mix Master Mike – Anti-Theft Device