Hip hop has many a peak and a valley in its young (yet long) existence. Hip hop has had many MCs/rappers who have assisted Hip Hop in its evolution. What are some albums that influenced and took hip hop to another level? I decided to start this anthology of influential albums after 1988 because almost every album that came out before that year was influential because hip hop was so much in its infancy. But, what about those people who were able to really influence the culture after that? Keep in mind this list isn’t listing the best albums of all time but the albums that had the most influence in hip hop after 1988.
Ice Cube- Amerikka’s Most Wanted (1990)
NWA’s Straight Outta Compton is arguably one of the most influential albums of all time and Ice Cube was the main author of those songs. So, when he left NWA over money and Jerry Heller’s influence over the group many people didn’t think Ice Cube would be able to fly solo. Ice Cube was one of the first prominent rappers who decided to go to the East Coast and work with the coveted Bomb Squad production team (from Public Enemy fame). With classic tracks such as “Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)”, “A Gangsta’s Fairytale”, and “Who’s The Mack?” took the definition of gangster and political rap to another plateau and level.
Nas- Illmatic (1994)
When Nas’ Illmatic dropped in 1994 the landscape had changed dramatically where much of hip hop was focused on the music coming out of the west coast and much of the East Coast was caught trying to rap like Das EFX/Fu Schnickens or staying in the same monotonous styles of the past. Illimatic was one the albums that came out that year that gave East Coast rap some credence and respect. He was able to weave talks of ghetto life in Queens, New York so vividly. The album was also special because it had no famous guest appearances (only a dope verse on Life’s a Bitch” from a then unknown AZ). With production from DJ Premier and Large Professor tracks such as “New York State of Mind”, “The World is Yours”, and “It Aint Hard to Tell” this album influenced many an MC to step their rap game up.
Wu-Tang Clan- Enter the 36 Chambers (1994)
What can you not say about the Wu-Tang Clan that hasn’t been said 1000s of times. Wu Tang Clan busted on the scene in 1994 with Enter the 36 Chambers with something no one had seen not just in hip hop but music period. You had a collective of 9 MCs who all had different vibes personas to come together as a collective. The album and group revolved around the Shaolin Kung-Fu series of films with the songs and vibe of the album even including snippets from the films. Enter 36 Chambers came along during a time when the East Coast wasn’t being respected much musically (see Nas’ Illmatic). Enter 36 Chambers began a worldwide movement behind the music of the Wu-Tang Clan and introduced us to Method Man, RZA, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah who all became heralded MCs in their own right. Being gritty and grimy production from RZA songs such as “C.R.E.A.M.”, “Protect Ya Neck”, and “Mystery of Chessboxin” gave a grittier and creative feel to hip hop.
Jay-Z- The Blueprint (2001)
Jay-Z had already made a name for himself with his previous four projects but this project would take hip hop into another plateau. When many heard Jay-Z’s album was to be titled The Blueprint many were cautious because KRS-One had previous dropped an album called Blueprint in 1989. But, the album was able to take hip hop to another plane. An album with slick and poignant lyrics that had a sound no artist had brought to an album until then. Jay-Z staked a claim as one of the best in hip hop at the time with the diss “The Takeover” that came at New York contemporaries Nas and Prodigy. With production from unknown producers at that time Kanye West, and Jus Blaze was able to build a complete album that had soul but also mainstream appeal. With tracks such as “ Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Never Change”, and “U Don’t Know” had a sound that made others step up the construction of their albums.
2 Pac- All Eyez on Me (1996)
The most enigmatic and influential artist in hip hop history 2Pac was influential in all of his work but the album All Eyez on Me was influential in so many ways. All Eyez One Me was the first album where a rap artist decided to drop a double CD with 27 tracks. This albums influence was not only for his musical content but the work ethic 2Pac displayed in making this quality album. Keep in my mind 2Pac had only been out of jail for 3 weeks was able to get an album done with 27 tracks done. He can in to doing this album with so much to prove and say from his rape conviction and being shot at Quad Studios in New York he came into this album with something to say. You can hear and feel 2Pac’s emotion on every song (be it wrong or right). He epitomized his own philosophy of making songs from the ladies and some for the streets. Even the marketing for the album was influential from the elaborate Mad Max themed music video for “California Love” to the introspective video for “I Ain’t Mad Atcha”. With production from Daz of Tha Dogg Pound, Devante Swing of Jodeci fame, an unknown and slept on Johnny J, and Dr. Dre this album tracks such as “Ambitionz Az a Ridah, “How Do You Want It”, and the Snoop Dogg assisted “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted”, and “Picture Me Rollin” were some of the shining moments of this double disc.
Bone Thugs N Harmony- E.1999 (1995)
Bone Thugs N Harmony came on the scene the previous year with a very much respected EP but it was E.1999 that would be a game changer. Bone Thugs hailing from the Midwest (Cleveland) was something hip hop hadn’t seen. Though Twista (known as Tung Twista at the time) was one the first fast rappers (aka known as choppers) Bone Thugs was able to meld the speedy rhymes with melodies and harmony. Besides MC Breed, Common, and Da Brat many people didn’t know much about the Midwest sound. E.1999 brought the Midwest sound to the forefront and an on a grand scheme. They were able to describe the streets of Cleveland that was in the chopper style with harmony behind it. Who cannot forget how big the song dedicated to their dead mentor Eazy-E “Crossroads Remix” was. They were able to take the idea of “thug” and bring it to the forefront of mainstream America. Mostly produced by DJ U-Neek highlights of the album such as “1st of Da Month,” “Mo’ Murda”, and “East 199” all shined.
2 Live Crew- As Nasty As They Want To Be (1989)
After a first glance you probably asking yourself what the hell is a 2 Live Crew album even doing on this list. But, this isn’t because this album was musically ground breaking. The only song that is even memorable on this album is “Me So Horny”. But, the album was influential because of how Luther “Luke” Campbell went to war with the US government and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). In 1990, United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that the album was legally obscene. Luke went to court over this album and his stage performances but was eventually acquitted by the Eleventh Circuit Court. This album brought upon two things the idea that you can’t censor an artist because of their 1st Amendment right and made the RIAA start attaching the Parental Advisory on albums in higher quantity.
DMX-It’s Dark and Hell is Hot (1998)
In 1998 Hip hop was somewhat at a lost place with the deaths of Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac ever looming over hip hop and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs institution of the shiny suits and “jiggyness” into hip hop. Many felt hip hop was losing much of its grittiness, soul, and hardcore feel. Enter DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell is Hot. DMX was able to show the dark, subversive, megalomaniacal part of life. Many of his songs are dark or very introspective but who isn’t or hasn’t been in a dark place? This album brought an invigorated a new energy into hip hop with his raspy voice and high energy. This album gave a push and beginning to the Ruff Ryders movement of the early 2000s. With production from Irv Gotti, Swizz Beatz, and Dame Grease tracks such as “Where My Dogs At?”, “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, and “How’s It Going Down” were some of the highlights of an album that gave hip hop a much-needed shot in the arm.
Outkast- SouthernPlayalisticCadillacmuzik (1994)
Outkast’s SouthernPlayalisticCadillacmuzik was something as anomaly at the time because before they dropped this project many people looked at southern hip hop as just Luke and booty shaking music. Even though Eightball and MJG and The Geto Boys were making much noise not much respected was given to the south. When this project dropped no one knew how to perceive Outkast. They were guys talking about experiences of being in Atlanta and the south but they could really really rhyme and make great songs. Big Boi and Andre 3000(known as Dre at the time) exuded much of the southern culture but were able to give it a southern angle so much so that many people attribute their moving or wanting to visit Atlanta to this album. You can tell through this album that they respected hip hop but wanted to do it from their angle of southern consciousness. SouthernPlayalisticCadillacmuzik was able to give southern music more credence and introduce the hip hop culture to the Dungeon family and Atlanta sound. Produced by Rico Wade and the boys of Organized Noize tracks such as “Playaz Ball”, “SouthernPlayalisticCadillacmuzik”, and the Cee-Lo and Big Gipp of Goodie Mob assisted “Get up, Get Out” were highlights of how this album kicked in the door for Southern Hip hop.
MC Hammer-Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em (1990)
Many hip hop purists hated on MC Hammer during the early 90s but the interesting part about this album is that MC Hammer was one of the first artists to show hip hop could be marketed on a mainstream level and be profitable. Now this album wasn’t a classic in terms of rhyme but its influence in the commercial realm of hip hop cannot be denied. Most rap artists were exuberant to reach gold album status at the time (interesting how the same could be said in 2013) but Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em not only went platinum but it went diamond (10 million albums sold) and was the highest selling rap album for a long time. MC Hammer was propelled to Taco Bell commercials, British Knights endorsement, a cartoon, movies, and had people doing the Hammer dance and “typewrittering” all over the world. Many people panned this album and felt Hammer had sold out hip hop but many rap albums wouldn’t have made the money they made in the future if it wasn’t for this project. Songs such as the Rick James sampled and No.1 hit “You Can’t Touch This”, “Pray”, and “Have You Seen Her” were highlights of this commercial success.
Make sure you check out this week’s episode of the “Straight Outta Lo Cash” Radio Show. This week’s show “Kanye Quest 3030″ with Magic 100.3′s Tony Scott. You can also subscribe to the show on I-Tunes or listen on your Android, I-Phone, or I-Pad with Stitcher Radio.