1. MEMPHIS BLEEK – 534
Why: Bleek raps like we’ve never seen him before. Lyrically, he’s along the lines of what you’d expect but the urgency in his voice is as new as the umph he’s rapping with. It’s an almost indescribable quality. Think about 50 Cent on ‘Get Rich’, then listen to his previous works. It’s THAT! With Just Blaze, Bink, and 9th Wonder handling the bulk of the production, a full Jay Z song and Memphis Bleek in his prime, what’s not to love? There is no way to sell how great this album is, given that nobody has seen Bleek on this level. You just have to listen.
How: By 2005, Roc-A-Fella issues had hit full tilt. At the same time, Def Jam was switching staff and direction. “Like That” had SOME radio push. It’s not like the album didn’t have any support, just nothing like his previous efforts. The Roc was cooling down as Memph Man and Young Gunz attempted to keep the flag raised.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: “534” produced by Just Blaze
2. THE GAME – JESUS PIECE
Why: The most focused album The Game has ever put together. ‘Jesus Piece‘s theme is just that. Jesus and God oddly enough overlay all this gangsta shit he’s spitting. Titles like “Pray”, “Church”, “Heaven’s Arms”, “See No Evil” and “Hallelujah” drive the point home. Production-wise, this is probably still the most cohesive ‘Game’ album. Cool & Dre, Sap, Boi-1da, Black Metaphor and K. Roosevelt all handle business. Features from Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Big Sean, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and the entire music industry (though it doesn’t feel crowded). Narrated by Kevin Hart as a worldly man trying to walk a higher path, and connect more with The Almighty.
How: 2012 was a polarizing year in Hip-Hop. Chief Keef had arrived, and so did his impact. Kid Cudi had successfully brought “depressed rap” to the mainstream (Those kids also hate “gangster rap”). Kendrick Lamar was named messiah and Drake was king. In his 7th year, Chuck’s genre had been squeezed to a niche.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: Ali Bomaye featuring Rick Ross, 2 Chainz
3. METHOD MAN TICAL 2000: JUDGEMENT DAY
Why: Method Man is in top form. His flows, rhymes and even subject matter were day and night from “M.E.T.H.O.D Man”. Maybe the first Wu-Tang album RZA doesn’t do the majority of the beats. Though ‘Prince Raheem’ does contribute, 4th Disciple, True Master, Erick Sermon, Mathematics and Lb Da Life Bringa handle their part of the load on this 28-track album (around 10 skits). Oh, can’t forget, Inspectah Deck has beats on here, too. Even more interesting, not heavy on Wu features either. Only Deck and Cappadonna make their way onto ‘2000’. Somehow, still VERY Clan-ish. This album takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where Method Man somehow thrives despite the being leveled with war and plague. Lastly Janet Jackson, Donald Trump, Chris Rock and Ed Lover all have their own skits on the album.
How: Released in late 1998 on Def Jam. Nuff said. If you watched ‘Backstage’, the documentary detailing the “Hard Knock Life” tour, this one isn’t a puzzle. Method Man and Redman were opening up for an act who just signed the previous year on ‘Hard Knock’. The label shifted focus from whatever Meth and Red were doing to the hyper-street shit DMX, Jay Z and Ja Rule were doing. With only one album, the far less than critically-acclaimed ‘Tical’ to his name, he didn’t have the leverage to demand the attention needed to get an album like this off the ground. To Method Man’s credit, RZA’s house flood ruined the original Tical. Life.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: “Cradle Rock” featuring Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes
4. JEEZY – SEEN IT ALL
Why: This may not be Jeezy’s Magnum Opus, but it’s for sure his masterpiece. Even the best Jeezy albums, you can critique from a pure musical standpoint. Not ‘Seen It All‘. 12 songs of propane! His best batch of beats, BY FAR his best rhymes, and the MOST VIVID he’s ever painted “the game”. Originally titled “The Statue Of Limitations Is Over With“, so…you know. His most personal album to date, still (see “Holy Ghost”). He brought Akon back in traditional fashion, made his best song with Jay Z (yes, better than “Go Crazy“), and patched it up with Rick Ross on “Beautiful” also featuring The Game. 20/20 Pyrex vision.
How: Jeezy was approaching a 8 years in the rap game, and honestly had a stigma of not being able to grow musically. This also happened to 50 Cent when he refused to make introspective cuts. Plus his relationship with Dej Jam had somewhat soured around the time he and Ross were beefing. Rozay may have had something to do with it. The building loved him and Jeezy’s people were exiting. Ross has even alluded to this in an interview.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: “Beautiful” featuring Rick Ross, The Game produced by Tony Rey and Black Metaphor (he’s come up a lot, sheesh)
5. DRAKE – SCORPION
Why: Drake HAS a classic album. The 1st half of 2018’s ‘Scorpion’ is a FLAWLESS score. Raps are too good. Too much sauce. A lot of these joints do even have real HOOKS. He snapped. The 2nd half of this “double disc” only gets muddy with the first two songs. After those records, even though some R&B is present, side #2 is still SOLID. Pusha lit a fire under Drake that Kanye had already set the stage for. He was fuming at thought of either of them, and it made for the most aggressive, unapologetic, Drake. If he came in the game possessing this street-feel and edge, there’d be less questions about his GOAT status.
How: Pusha T. He stole a bit of Drake’s thunder with his W in the battle (though Drake had the better record). It took some focus off the album, and even the singles. The whole album rollout had a weird tint on it. It just wasn’t received like a normal Drake album. That, along with the fact that Drizzy was no longer the lone rapper at the top. Several newer rappers on the come-up were chipping away at his fan base and popularity. Especially in the streets.
6. RAE SREMMURD – SREMMLIFE
Why: Man, this shit is good music. It’s fun, well-written and serious when it needs to be. Mike Will Made-It was in his prime. A+ For Eardrummers, Sonny Digital, Soundz, Young Chop and Swae Lee himself all contributed to ‘SremmLife‘. It was the perfect storm. I know grown people look at Rae Sremmurd like Kriss Kross. While I wouldn’t say the groups are “day and night”, I can tell you early Kriss Kross never spit anything like “Bitch, I say what I want/I do what I want, I grew up on Pac”. I can’t vouch for anything else they ever did but this is a straight through listen.
How: They just got written off. Not having a street presence, nor being emo left them just the ‘pop rap’ crowd. No matter what you do in this position, your music won’t be taken seriously. It performed well, but wasn’t taken in the way Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly‘ was, released the same year.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: “Up Like Trump” produced by Sonny Digital
7. BEANIE SIGEL – THE B. COMING
Why: Amidst the turmoil that was the “Roc-A-Fella split” and an attempted murder trial, Beanie Sigel somehow found himself musically. While Bleek (who appears earlier on this list) went with Jay Z and the new ‘Roc’, ‘B Mac’ dropped this gem on Dame Dash Music Group. Later, Sigel would say he never CHOSE to go with Dame, but that’s another article. The B.Coming is everything 2000’s ‘The Truth‘ album by Beanie could’ve been. The Truth was great. ‘The Reason‘ had elements The Truth didn’t, but The B.Coming is the fusion, along with a new sense of urgency, given the circumstances. Young Chris, Redman, Grand Puba, Cam’ron, Peedi Crakk and Bun B all shine as guests. If you’re familiar with the “Public Enemy #1” mixtape that dropped months prior to ‘B. Coming’, you know the space he was in mentally and lyrically. “Tried to charge me for an attempt, disrespecting my aim”. SHEESH.
How: Beanie Sigel was never the biggest star. The premiere roll player at Roc-A-Fella, with ‘M Easy trailing close 2nd. 50 Cent and G-Unit took the streets, and Jeezy was heating up. Not to mention, ‘The B.Coming’ was released while Sigel was in the middle of serving a 1 year and 1 day sentence on a federal gun charge.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: “Feel It In The Air” featuring Melissa produced by Heavy D
8. BUSTA RHYMES – THE COMING
Why: Not the MOST underrated album BUT is when we speak on debuts. This is one of the best debut albums of all-time. Yes, Busta Rhymes was a certified star before ‘The Coming’ with his gravely delivery anchoring ‘Leaders Of The New School‘ sound. Yes, he was world famous for his ‘Scenario‘ performance, his other work with ‘Tribe‘ and his “Flavor In Your Ear (Remix)” verse. Busta was STILL a rookie as a solo act and on this album he proved he was here to stay. DJ Scratch, The Ummah and the LEGEND Easy Mo Bee give Busta the perfect bop to do that “Busta thing” on. Not many features, though Dinco D and Charlie Brown reunite with ‘Bussa Buss’ for “Keep It Movin‘” and Rampage The Last Boy Scout appears on 3 separate tracks. Time to put Busta on that “Top Rap Debut” list.
How: Busta had a 6 year career before this release.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: “Abandon Ship” featuring Rampage Da Last Boyscout produced by BUSTA RHYMES.
9. 50 CENT – WAR ANGEL LP
Why: This was technically a mixtape, but as the title implies, it’s at least an album STYLE effort with all original production. Dr. Dre even shows up,, producing the lead single “OK, You’re Right“. Not too much to say. ‘War Angel’ is the epitome of a HIP-HOP project. This album is debatably flawless (depending on if you like the acquired taste of the 70’s inspired “Cocaine” featuring Robin Thicke). 50’s hidden gem, ‘War Angel’ can go head-to-head with ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ any day.
How: People were over 50 Cent, his stunts, his personality, clothes, and especially his musical efforts. Too bad for them.
If You Only Listen To ONE Song: CREAM 2009 produced by 6-Figga (of Young Gunz “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” fame)