Of course, these are not necessarily the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, and not even written in stone as my favorites, they're the 25 I thought up as my favorites right now. Ask me on a Tuesday and we'll see what I say. Also I have plenty of high-ranked favorites that I left off, so don't go getting mad that such-and-such isn't there. Lastly, this is my personal list, it does not represent the opinions of anyone else here at Better Than Butt Sex.
I wish I could post a song from each record, but I don't have the energy, so here goes:
25) Cali Agents - How the West Was One
Yeah, I'm probably the only one with this on here, but I'm really trying to go for records that I appreciate and enjoy the most. As you'll probably see throughout this list, I love shit that sits between two extremes. Rasco and Planet Asia are vicious battle rappers here, but despite coming out independently in 2000 they are not on backpacker shit at all on this record. Just good boasts, good rhymes, and the ability to be without weapons and still sound hard as fuck.
24) Slum Village - Fantastic, Vol. 2
Not the best rappers, of course, but as Barrington Levy would say, the vibes is right. More importantly, this is musically one of the most immaculately put together and outright beautiful records of all time. Not to disrespect his later work, but in my opinion this is Dilla's masterpiece.
23) Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth - Funky Technician
A friend and I (what up, Simon) once discussed transplanting the brains of Oscar Wilde, Groucho Marx, and Lord Finesse into a robot body, thereby creating a cyborg that would be the wittiest being to ever walk this Earth. The slick brotha with a fade and a half moon took punchline rap to a whole new level of art, and it is not hyperbole when I say that this record sounded ahead of its time.
22) Saafir - Boxcar Sessions
I swear this isn't a concession to the part of me that wants to be different, nor the part of me that wants as much Bay shit on here as possible. Saafir is a lyrical genius in an entirely different vein than the aforementioned Lord Finesse--not necessarily better, but entirely different. The epitome of using one's voice as an instrument, the vocals here twist themselves in and out of the sample-driven tracks in ways that I couldn't imagine before I heard it. Yet with all of the jazzy beats and iconoclastic lyrical dexterity, Saafir manages to keep shit sounding very Left Coast somehow.
21) Gang Starr - Moment of Truth
As I was making my list I slowly realized that there wasn't any Gang Starr on it. Part of me is mad that I put them so far back on the list, but I almost forgot about them entirely, so that should automatically keep them from being too high up. Don't get it twisted though, I love Guru and Primo with a passion. I've always felt that, until The Ownerz, they just kept improving on themselves, so by that logic Moment of Truth is my pick. It didn't have that jazzy feel anymore, but just about every other song is certified classic, and you can get lost in the production.
20) E-40 - Tha Hall of Game
I consider E-40 to be one of the greatest and most inventive lyricists of all time, but picking a "best" album of his was incredibly difficult for me. Nothing on this album is quite fucking with "Captain Save a Hoe" or "Sprinkle Me", but all in all I'd put this as his most consistent. He starts off the album by dissing Rasheed Wallace, what more could you want?
19) Slick Rick - The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
Yes, yes, this should be higher. I was about five when this came out, so it's not like I felt its impact at the time. I love all classic 80's rap, but this and the other pick from the era are the only ones that had enough of an impact on me personally to make it here (no disrespect to Kane, G Rap, Lyte, Rakim, etc.). Much has already been said about this record, so I'll just add that when you can have "Hey Young World" and "Treat Her Like a Prostitute" on the same album and not seem like a hypocrite, you are a genius.
18) Souls of Mischief - '93 Til Infinity
Maybe not the best or most influential Hiero record, and maybe my backpacker is showing right now, but Souls were fucking ill back in the day. Alot of people think lyrical=East Coast, so I always love anyone who can be intricate and complex with their words and still come across very west. Plus, this album could just be the title track being played over and over again twenty times and it'd get on here.
17) Jungle Brothers - Done By the Forces of Nature
Already been covered.
16) 2Pac - All Eyez On Me
Yeah, I grew up right next to Oakland, so 'Pac has to be on here. It's just a rule. Me Against the World is great, but his intensity on this record is unrivaled, and most of the production is pretty fucking spotless. If it had been edited down to one disc it would be much higher on the list, but nonetheless "Ambitionz As a Ridah" might be the greatest opening track ever.
15) Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
People pretty uniformly hate on these two nowadays--with Kweli I kinda understand it, and with Mos I entirely do--but this is them at their best. At the forefront of that late 90's indie boom, and much more in my vein than any Company Flow or Juggaknots type shit, they combined the best of that Rawkus MCing ideal (back when that was a good thing) with a kind of soul and consciousness that really spoke to me at the time. This may be one of those records that only means so much to me because of where my life was at the time, but if so, so be it. Also they showed the right way to pay homage to the classics with their "Children's Story" cover, and the use of "P Is Free".
14) Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
I know, I know, this is way to far back on the list, but I'm really trying to go by my favorites and not by how influential something is. What can I say about this that hasn't already been said? Nothing really.
13) Too $hort - Greatest Hits, Vol. 1: The Player Years (1983-1988)
Yes, I'm cheating. I couldn't chose a favorite $hort record, but at least I didn't pick something all-encompassing either. This may be before "Freaky Tales", "Don't Fight the Feeling", and a gang of other greats, but all that early shit on 75 Girls was so classic and influential. Not only did he popularize cussing and the word "bitch" back in the early 80's, but alot of these old tracks showed their non-rap influences by essentially being seven minute 80's synth funk jams with a few minutes of rapping--and I mean that in a good way. "Blowjob Betty", "Invasion of the Flat Booty Bitches", "Girl (Cocaine) That's Your Life" the list of Oakland classics that I've been hearing as long as I've been alive goes on and on. When he said "I don't stop rappin'" he meant it.
12) Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth - Mecca and the Soul Brother
Alot of people making these lists have been picking Main Ingredient instead, and I can understand that. It was a hard choice, but "Straighten It Out" decided for me. Again, is there really much new that I can say here?
11) OutKast - Aquemini
I definitely feel that 'Kast not cracking the top ten is purely a matter of how I feel at the moment. This record has the perfect balance of OutKast's different phases--from the early trap rap of "Slump" to the slow funk of "SpottieOttieDopaLiscious"... not to mention every other single track here. Damn, this is making me want to listen to that shit again right now.
10) Common - One Day It'll All Make Sense
My personal favorite Common record, but it only beats out Resurrection by a slight margin. Like Aquemini, what I love about this record is how perfectly it sits between the different extremes that the artist went to. Common started going conscious here, with some incredibly heartfelt songs, but he doesn't sacrifice bangers like "1, 2 Many" or stories like "Stolen Moments". The last of his albums with his in-house producers, and man did they pull out all the stops here. Also, this was the only CD in my discman on one of the most long, important, stressfull, and ultimately giddy and life-changing days of my life, so it will always be impossible to separate it from personal experience.
9) UGK - Ridin' Dirty
I admit that for the longest time I was one of those people sleeping on UGK. When I finally got around to hearing the opening notes of "One Day" and faux-Ron Isley "well, well, welllll" voice I almost wanted to cry once I realized what I'd missed. For everyone still talkin' shit about Bun and Pimp; if you can honestly listen to "Murder", "Diamonds and Wood", "Fuck My Car", and the title track and still not recognize a giant in the game, and a classic album, you obviously know nothing about rap music.
8) Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die
Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is here.
7) Nas - Illmatic
Duh. And yes, I did just put these two next to each other because it was easier than really picking spots for them. We all know they're classic, and I love them just like everyone else.
6) Dr. Dre - The Chronic
Again, nothing needs to be said here. It's a classic and I'm putting it with the classics. I will note, however, that it's in front of the last two records for a reason. Growing up on the West Coast this was far more ubiquitous than the other two, and pretty much shaped our day-to-day life throughout all of the 90's more than anything else.
5) The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II: The Pharcyde
How many rappers would admit to picking up a chick who turned out to be a guy? Also, "Ya Mama" is one of the greatest songs ever made.
4) Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded
My other 80's favorite, and no it's not this high up because I think that's what people want. I heard this album about ten years after it had come out, and it hit me almost as hard as it would have if I'd heard it '87. KRS is a beast here, and he became my idol even throughout a good portion of his current crazy period. Technically speaking there is filler on this album, but it's only filler in comparison to the real standout tracks--shit still stands head and shoulders above almost anything else. Could you imagine the current KRS-One doing "Super Ho"? Shit, and "9mm Goes Bang" might be one of the most gangsta songs of all time... he just sounds so happy on that chorus.
3) De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead
My favorite De La album is one of those things that fluctuates with my mood, the weather, if I've got a chick or not, what I've had to eat, the day of the week, and any number of other factors. But for the moment, I'll go with the sophomore outing. If they had made another record in the feel of 3 Feet High and Rising they would've become self-parody... so instead they quite consciously parodied themselves, and made a masterpiece. This record has much the same structure and energy as its predecessor, yet it's twisted and distorted, turned into something new and horrific. Yet even that horror is goofy and fun, until the record hits its tragic centerpiece of "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa"--a funny title to a haunting track. What's more, instead of just being little interludes between tracks, this album's skits did the incredible job of predicting all the criticisms that fans would have for the album as they themselves were even thinking them. Oh yeah, and there's a bunch of incredible production and genius rapping.
2) A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
For the longest time this would have been my number one. Midnight Marauders is surely enough fire from end to end, but this record is so incredible. If you told me to recite a certain song from Low End Theory chances are good that I wouldn't be able to... but if you told me to recite the whole album, I probably could. Despite no real theme, and no skits or anything, this record feels more like a whole than almost anything else I've ever heard. Every song is perfect, from the ridiculous stripped down and spare production to the massive talents shown by both MCs. If you aren't hooked by that first bassline you have no goddamn soul. And if you aren't nodding your head and singing along to "Scenario" you have no taste. I may actually prefer De La to Tribe overall, but this record is perfect.
1) The Coup - Genocide & Juice
That's right, I had to go back to The Town for this one. But while my being from the Bay certainly helps me in appreciating such an intrinsically Bay thing as g-funk-laced, extremely witty, afrocentric Communists, I like to think that I'd love The Coup no matter where I was from. How can you front on Boots? The man manages to make every song actually be about something, with no normal MC braggadocio, and every track is political and conscious without ever preaching or getting boring. Even Chuck D didn't manage to do that every time. The tracks on this record are all beautifully gritty and minimal Oakland funk, and the raps are just plain ridiculous. Boots weaves detailed stories and expresses unmatched anger, all in complex rhyme schemes spoken in a calm Bay drawl, and E-Roc plays the dependable and grounded Phife to his Q-Tip. The fact is, even if eleven of the album's tracks were wack (and in point of fact they're all classic) it would still be one of the greatest of all time due to the opening three part tale explored in "Fat Cats, Bigga Fish", "Pimps (Free Stylin' At the Fortune 500 Club)", and "Takin' These". We're drawn into what starts as an especially well-told hustler tale, and then it evolves into something entirely different. Right out the gate you realize that, even though Boots had proved his ability to be straight-up and convincing on the last record, here he's mastered an entirely new kind of subtlety that is so nuanced it's almost painful. How can anyone be that good?
Reasonable Doubt, Uptown Saturday Night, Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing, and Warriorz would probably been 26-30 on this list (not in that order). Also I basically fought myself into not having different entries by the same extended crews (with the exception of Native Tongues, obviously) which explains my lack of and Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop and Runaway Slave. Also, to justify myself I've come to the conclusion that my top 25 hip-hop tracks would look very different, both as far as the artists and regions represented (shit, "I Got 5 On It" would at least be number two).
But there we are... more East Coast than I expected, but good stuff. I hope someone enjoyed it.
Ain't a hustler on the street could do a whole community.