Thursday, October 29, 2009
Pretty much this entire post is lifted from my favorite music blog, Passion of the Weiss, who recently did a "Top 50 Rap Albums of the '00s." I agreed with so much of it, it made me want to share these with you guys (and maybe turn you on to an album or two). Because their reviews are so well done, I've just cut-and-pasted them here for you to read. I've picked my Top 15 from their list, but because I had so much trouble putting them in an order, I've just left them in the order the Weiss Guys listed them in.
So without further adieu, I bring you my Top Hip-Hop Albums of the past decade...
41. De La Soul - The Grind Date (2004)
Consider The Grind Date a guide to aging gracefully in hip-hop. It’s not that hard to do; let Pos and Dave show you how.
Start with strong, sonically unified production. The Grind Date’s producer lineup is serious. De La are blessed with fantastic beats by Madlib, Dilla, Jake One and regular collaborator Supa Dave West, and a surprisingly dope 9th Wonder production on “The Future”. The tracks are filled with thick bass lines and hard drums. Dilla’s mix of turning signals, reverberating strings and pounding bass on “Verbal Clap” spurs Pos and Dave to spit their hardest verses since Stakes Is High. On “Shopping Bags”, Madlib slices and splices Just-Ice’s “Cold Getting Dumb” until it sounds like the beat was played on empty glass bottles. Jake One’s thunderous, piano-driven thump on “Rock. Co. Kane Flow”. Supa Dave West dependably provides soulful boom-bap backed by gorgeous vocal samples on “He Comes”, “The Future” and “The Grind Date”.
Next, add age-appropriate features. Guest spots are provided by fellow borderline AARP members Common, Ghostface and MF Doom, each of who brings his A-game. Even newcomer Butta Verses acquits himself nicely over “No”. Doom actually switches his flow up to complement the stuttering piano on “Rock. Co.Kane Flow” and Common sounds genuinely energized on “Days of Our Lives”. The album suffers when De La take an avenue through rap and bullshit on “It’s like That” with neutered Carl Thomas and Yummy Bingham’s caterwauling on the overly soft “Much More”. And yet their attempts at R&B influenced hip hop are still more listenable than most of the efforts of rap groups half their age.
Finally, and most importantly, keep it short and strong. De La heed the GZA’s advice to “[m]ake it brief son, half short and twice strong“. The Grind Date is 12 tracks, devoid of intros, outros or skits, save for a brief interlude on “Church”. Four years later, The Grind Date still provides an exemplary guide to aging comfortably in hip-hop; less trying to get into the club in your sweats, more didactism-free reflection on adult life. If only more 30+ rappers followed suit.
De La Soul ft. MF DOOM - Rock Co Kane Flow
38. The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come for Free (2004)
In theory, it’s the worst sort of album. The self-absorbed, grandiose, convoluted concept record. Mike Skinner is a smart lad, and knew the stakes–alienating his audience and squandering the goodwill built up from his first album was a probability. Then the world got a listen of A Grand Don’t Come for Free, and all was forgiven.
Skinner took a rather mundane storyline, and turned it into one of the edgiest, most contemplative, and striking listening experiences of the decade. Carefully utilizing his casual yet captivating flow—his greatest strength—Skinner keeps his storyline grounded in a way that makes his characters come alive, as if they could be any one of your friends—or even yourself. Considering the ambitiousness of the lyrical content, the most remarkable thing about the record is its deft and sometimes graceful soundtrack. From the hopeless romantic love story of “Could Well Be In” to the paranoia and blurry vision conveyed by “Blinded by the Lights” to the populist-reflective “Empty Cans,” Skinner alleviates his story’s more melodramatic moments by endearing them with the most human of concerns, but stays away from pure sermonizing. And even when Skinner does approach the limits of self-pity and cliché on “Dry Your Eyes,” he embeds it with a chorus so strong you’d have to be born with frostbite not to feel anything.
It’s arguable that the music gets lost among the overall concept, which would be a valid complaint, especially when you consider that Skinner’s career post-Grand seems to center around entirely self-absorbed propositions. But it’s hard to complain about a record so illuminating and special as this, which, over 5 years after its release, still sounds like nothing else out on the market.
The Streets-”Dry Your Eyes”
34. MF Doom (as Viktor Vaughn) – Vaudeville Villain (2003)
In 2003, to use the parlance of the times, MF Doom was a known unknown. After resurrecting his career in the late 90’s with the stunning Operation Doomsday, Doom continued to work under the radar, dropping baffling side projects featuring deranged alter egos. Of these, none could compete with Viktor Vaughn and the time traveling 90’s hard rock of Vaudeville Villain. Conceived as a younger alternative to Doom, Vaughn gave Daniel Dumile an outlet to combine the hardcore rhymes of his Black Bastard Days with an updated multi-syllabic storytelling style. Imagine if Biggie never signed with Puff, was homeless for a few years and then began to write in the 3rd person and you’re halfway there.
Though ostensibly a concept album, the plot is shaky and Vaudeville Villain works best as a collection of short stories. Whether he’s robbing the elderly, going back in time to save his Donkey Kong game-watch or shooting up a wack open mic night, Viktor does it with style, humor and an eye for detail matching the best period pieces. A love letter to old school New York, the album is filled to the brim with purposefully outdated slang, dark post-Wu boom-bap and a love of language that makes V “the emcee who’s as nasty as nose hair”.
Upstaged by the stoned delirium of Madvillainy, Vaudeville Villain pointed towards another direction for Doom. Putting the premium on storytelling and gun talk instead of blunted philosophy, the Viktor Vaughn character is a singular achievement in emceeing, an album delivering a totally new style at a time when few rappers took the time to flesh out even a single persona.
26. OutKast — Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
Other OutKast albums may be lyrically more inventive (Aquemini) or may have spawned more hits (Stankonia), but no OutKast album better reflects the dichotomy within the band itself. Big Boi and Andre 3000, while friends and partners, are vastly different, and these two solo-albums-sold-together, were the perfect mechanism to celebrate those differences.
Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx featured witty tales of street life, dressing smart, and partying, with amazing hits like “The Way You Move,” “Bowtie,” and “Church.” Dre’s album was more experimental, offering only one monster single (“Hey Ya”) to conventional OutKast fans. In fact, Andre produced Kelis’ “Millionaire” and Gwen Stefani’s “Long Way to Go” for The Love Below, but chose not to include these top 40 hits. The result was a moody, wild ride through Andre’s consistently off-beat imagination.
Together, these albums showcase the power of hip hop to create both traditional “songs” and genre-crossing compositions. I can’t think of any band that has ever done this better.
Big Boi-”Flip Flop Rock”
24. MF DOOM — MM..Food (2004)
Elusive as he may be, MF DOOM can always be counted on to drop a cohesive project, and MM..Food is no exception. Saturated by a spice rack selection of jazz, rock and soul samples, choppy drum breaks, quirky cartoon snippets and other oddball additions, MM..Food is soufflé for the alternative rap addict’s aural taste buds. Fusing the realms of geekdom and purist hip hop, DOOM makes nerd rap cool with his witty lyricism and added zest of boom bap. Though lacking in energetic delivery, DOOM’s clever wordplay nevertheless offers glimpses of comic genius throughout. Unlike most new-gen rap records, which are served as buffet tables with pick-and-choose track selections, MM..Food is enjoyed best in one sitting—a full course meal if you will—fast-forward button unnecessary.
21. Common — Like Water for Chocolate (2000)
Recorded during the same sessions as D’Angelo’s Voodoo and Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun; Common’s Like Water for Chocolate’s very creation can be viewed as a statement. Openly rejecting gangsta bravado and all-digital production, the album instead found inspiration in the history of black music and the revolutionary politics of the civil rights movement, marking itself as a consciously mature and intellectual alternative to the chart toppers of its era. With Common rapping about love, freedom and the state of the black community, Like Water for Chocolate earned the Chicago emcee his first taste of mainstream success even as it alienated those who criticized the record as “soft” and lacking the grit of previous releases. Ten years later however, Like Water for Chocolate reveals itself to be a vital testament to one of the decade’s most progressive musical collectives.
At the album’s heart lie the grooves of James “Dilla” Yancey, then credited as Jay Dee. Building on the sparse funk and offbeat sampling of the then-delayed Fantastic Vol. 2, Dilla provided the core of the album’s production, lacing the project with heavy bass, thick drums and laid-back loops. From there, collaborators including ?uestlove, James Poyser, D’Angelo and Kariem Riggins, under the banner of the Soulquarians, would embellish the tracks with added percussion and instrumentation, giving the album a live, organic sound then uncommon to underground hip hop. The high-minded musicality of this collective, along with Common’s increasingly worldly concerns proved that hip hop could age gracefully without losing its edge or dynamic energy. Stretching far beyond the genre’s minimalist roots, the crew pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible in rap musically while still remaining committed to the uncompromising ideology of their predecessors. Though conceived in opposition to the trends of its day, Like Water for Chocolate remains vital not because of what it isn’t but because of the hip hop, funk, jazz, soul, and afrobeat that it is.
Josh's note: I don't think the above song is a good representation of the album, but it was the one provided. I recommend you check out the whole album
20. Common — Be (2005)
Ever held out hope that one day your favorite artist’s stars would align for them to create an opus? They’d find creative lyrics, content that matched their maturity level and a production quality that held it all together. That’s been my journey with Chicago’s Lonnie Lynn and me—he as an artist and me as an avid follower reached that pinnacle with 2005’s Be. With Kanye handling the bulk of the production, the sound stage was set and Common excelled by doing a range of styles (the story of “Testify” and the fast-paced hum of “Go”) while managing to tackle adult content (”Faithful” and “Love Is”) and still
proved himself lyrical (”Chi-City” and “The Corner”).
13. Ghostface Killah — Fishscale (2006)
Y’all be nice to the crackheads, everybody listen up. It’s late night at Tony Starks’ enterprise, and a major operation is taking place. Burgess Meredith’s ghost mumbles P.Tone “ain’t been hungry since Supreme Clientele.” The response: architect music. Verbal street opera. James Bond in the Octagon with two razors. Swagger like Mick Jagger. Ghost tapping dustbones out with star writers like he fucked Celine Dion, hitting baseball spliffs, eating fries with ketchup, and fish—tartar sauce on the S. Dot kicks. Only supplies needed: two waters, a Dutch, and a cranberry Snapple. After all, there’s a history of lightning victories, conceptual breakthrough ain’t no mystery.
Sharp darts at a time when we’d been stuck with “Laffy Taffy.” Bricks so clean and uncut that everyone else seemed like they’d been pushing diet coke. A kilo is a thousand grams, it’s easy to remember now. Catch Starks in the ’80s drop, old school Mercedes with a brand new baby glock, living the role like Pac in Juice, holding the weight of four synagogues.
Breaking only for 2 o’clock appointments with a girl named Dawn, a ten in your wildest dreams, when she steps out the tub it’s like an ill flick—this ain’t the Avon lady. At night dreaming, lucid or otherwise, seeing rubies, diamonds, smothered under octopus, jellyfish sharks soar, aquaproof pocketbook, pearls on the mermaid girls Gucci belts that they rock for no reason from a different world. Spongebob in a Bentley Coupe banging the Isleys. Fishscale so pure as to elicit contact high. You don’t like this? Maybe you’re on some Curly, Moe, and Larry shit, or you wear capris.
Ghostface Killah & Wu-Tang-”9 Milli Bros”
11. Kanye West — Late Registration (2005)
He may be pompous, arrogant, contemptuous, and annoying, but it’s pretty hard to deny that Kanye West hasn’t earned his place as one of the most (if not the most) innovative and influential musicians of the decade. West’s greatest skill lies in his doing for hip hop what Stevie Wonder did for soul; making it Pop, with a capital P. He could have gone the easy route, watering down the genre to its bare essence, but instead, he fuses disparate sounds into the hip hop conventions, churning out top grade pop music that can transcend and expand its place and time.
Late Registration, to extend an analogy, serves as West’s Innervisions. But where Stevie Wonder needed TONTO’s Expanding Head Band to rein in his audience-alienating subject matter for the audience to understand his message, Jon Brion provides enough sonic flourishes to keep listeners interested when confronted with West’s more self-centered lapses. While Wonder’s message was global conscious and West’s was confliction with his inner-self, each was ultimately concerned with the world as they saw it: “Something is wrong. I have something to say. I don’t know if I’m ultimately right, but fuck you, I’m going to make you listen.”
Luckily, the music here is so irresistible and distinguished that the message sounds anything but polemic. Although this is by no means a flawless album (particularly the awkwardly cheeky moments), there’s a sense of power conveyed by the intricacies of the beats and arrangements, as if Kanye West were making the only record of the 21st century, and made damn sure that there was enough to grab on to every second. And in the end, this sort of philosophy is what makes Late Registration so universal: give your message power, but make sure the music’s more powerful.
Kanye West ft. Consequence & Cam’ron-”Gone”
08. Jay-Z — The Black Album (2003)
As of this writing, I don’t know who won the poll. But I bet it wasn’t Jay-Z. And here’s why: Rap fans are snobs. “Real” rap fans (say that they) want to keep rap out of top 40 and away from the mainstream. Jay himself even bragged, on “99 Problems,” that “I got beef with radio . . . they don’t play my hits/I don’t give a shit.” But that’s a lie on an otherwise brutally honest album. In truth, everyone wants to be loved, and when our heroes become successful, we dig it, too.
As for content, although Biggie did a semi-autobio on his first joint, The Black Album spanned from day one to retirement—showing Jay-Z change from thug to poet, expressing love and vulnerability between bursts of braggadocio and toughness. Did Jay really retire? Of course not. No one expected him to. But the Jay who came back was a
different artist—older and more introspective.
Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe The Black Album will win this poll, or will be the highest-ranked Jay-Z album. But I doubt it. To most of us, that’s like putting Sergeant Pepper’s above The White Album. One is all hits, the other is cutting edge and cool. But when nobody’s around, honestly, which one do you listen to more?
Jay-Z-”What More Can I Say”
06. Eminem — The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
There’s never been a rapper like Eminem and you can tell by his lack of imitators. Really, who? Asher Roth? Bubba Sparxxx? Fred Durst? The only artist who’s ever worked an aesthetic even remotely similar to Eminem is ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, and you can tell by how chagrined Em was at his competition taking him on, denying Yankovic permission to make a video for his “Lose Yourself” parody. Eminem’s so vain about his wits that he doesn’t even beef with rappers, he spars with other comedy acts. If anyone’s still perplexed why he took aim at Triumph the Insult Comic Dog—a fucking puppet we all cried—it’s because no one outfunnies the funny man. It’s not the smartest tack, but it is the least fair, and most misanthropic way, which makes it gangsta.
Eminem’s career was made taking down soft targets: lightweight rappers like Benzino and Everlast, lightweight bystanders like Moby, LFO, Versace, Liberace, and weak characters like his wife and his mother. He found a kinship in 50 Cent, who also made his name taking sledgehammers to knife-wielders: Ja Rule, Fat Joe, Rick Ross. But the reason Eminem’s no ordinary schoolyard bully is because his scenarios are ridiculous to the point of satire, and satirical to the point of political, but not so political that the message goes over people’s heads; just enough people that he can snag those who are in on the joke and those who ain’t. Perfect.
No matter what I say as the Knowledgeable Critic, there will always be people who hear “Kill You” or “Criminal” as a license to hurt somebody. And there will always be people who get the joke. But most will generally understand that Eminem, while in on the joke, is hardly immune to it himself. These contradictions and imperfections keep most casual-to-excited hangers-on from admitting The Marshall Mathers LP is the scariest, most exciting, original and possibly greatest record produced during their lifetime. That’s okay, who would want it to be? Take refuge in the filler tracks with D12 or Dre bait like Xzibit and Snoop. Take comfort in the now-provocative-now-tiresome downturn that befell Encore and everything on for doing what he’s always done rather than leading us to the promised land. Eminem is selling imperfection. Hilarious, politically incorrect, human and disturbingly inhuman imperfection.
That imperfection often rides with hooks, as on the bouncy first single “The Real Slim Shady,” or triumphs of craft like the stalker fable “Stan.” But it’s mostly hunger and appetite and a nearly Olympic desire to keep topping himself, upping every ante and distending topics into creepy, vile places if that’s what it takes to close off any other remaining entrances to his summit. No matter how difficult or uncomfortable Marshall Mathers gets to listen to, it is always outdoing everything expected of it for this reason. The opening “Kill You” is the definitive depiction of the cycle: “You don’t wanna fuck with Shady/ Cuz Shady will fucking kill you/ (laughs).” Repeat to finish, past him raping his grandmother, disposing of his wife’s body, politely turning down a fan and telling him to treat his pregnant lady better, accepting fellatio from Insane Clown Posse. All of which are funny as hell, too good for rap and often comedy too. If that’s not an honor worth defending from a puppet dog, I don’t know what is.
05. Outkast — Stankonia (2000)
For my sixteenth birthday, in February of 2000, I got a Diamond Rio mp3 player. It held 32 megabytes of memory, or about 12 songs. During my sophomore year, those songs included “Project Chick,” “Forgot About Dre,” and whatever DMX songs were current. It also held the first single off Stankonia, “Bombs Over Baghdad.” From the moment the twinkling synths were interrupted by Andre’s breathless “one, two, one, two, three, YEAH,” I was hooked. Hooked to the point where I would spend anatomy class after anatomy class memorizing both verses, wondering how to do the ragtop, and what exactly a “power music electric revival” constituted. The song sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before, and to this day, it’s my favorite rap song ever. And with Stankonia, it’s just the start.
Were Stankonia to include just its singles (“B.O.B.,” “Ms. Jackson,” and “So Fresh, So Clean”) and an hour of filler, it likely would have merited inclusion on this list. Thankfully, these songs are surrounded by even bigger triumphs. Massive, towering songs that owe their success to tiny details that teach you something new upon each listen. The change-up in “Humble Mumble.” Big Boi’s sage relationship advice contained in the ad-libs of “We Luv Dees Hoes.” The entirely new dictionary Andre creates using only different iterations of stank and funky.
Stankonia is witty, wide-ranging, and revolutionary (Kanye and Lil’ Wayne as we know them today don’t exist without this record). Previous releases had only hinted at the experimentation that pervades Stankonia. And while that freedom eventually lead to joint solo albums rife with refutations of a break-up (and a Grammy), on Stankonia Big Boi and Andre are together. And when Big Boi and Andre are together, we’re winning. That’s funky.
03. Madvillain — Madvillainy
In the early parts of the decade, rumors of a collaborative album between hip-hop underground stalwarts Madlib and MF DOOM nearly sent fans into convulsions. The former, with his dusky break beats and obsessively crate-dug samples, developed an output so vast, it proved that even those who presumably smoke at least three-quarters of a pound of weed every day can be prolific, driven artists. As for the man born Daniel Dumile, he reemerged from a self-imposed exile wearing a mask and peppering his superlatively-complex rhyme schemes with third-person references to himself. With the classic Operation: Doomsday under his belt, it seemed as though DOOM turned not only MC’ing, but the idea of being an MC, into high-art.
The few tracks on Madvillainy that were redone in response to the leak of unmastered Madvillain joints sound a little different than in their original form; DOOM’s delivery is slower, more blunted. They come from a voice far deeper and less fiery, and yet they sound more cohesive with Madlib’s blunt-stained, art-damaged quasi-boom-bap. Listen to DOOM’s intonation as the assertive horn stabs toward the end of “All Caps” split the beat apart at the seams. What about how Villain’s low growl trudges its way through the eerie swamp of “Meat Grinder”? In these versions, DOOM’s voice compliments the music, instead of beating the beats up like before.
And really, cohesion is part of what makes Madvillainy such a classic record; the crackling vinyl that steadily courses through the melodic madness and cartoonish vocal samples is never interrupted by a glossy synth beat. The instrumentals, including and especially the sinister thump of certified banger “Supervillain Theme,“ give the vocal-driven tracks a bit of breathing room. The only hook—and the word “hook” is being used very liberally in this instance—on the entire album is a bizarre, seemingly pitch-shifted gremlin repeating the word “raid.” It can be presumed that “cohesive” could be synonymous with “anti-mainstream” here, as the back-to-basics, “shut the fuck up and rap” aesthetic is how the record raises the bar as far as rap albums go.
If The Source was still relevant in 2004, it could have literally made every DOOM verse on Madvillainy into a Hip Hop Quotable and have been set for the remainder of their tenure as a magazine. In his Pitchfork review, Rollie Pemberton, a talented MC in his own right, headed each paragraph with a DOOM lyric, something that hardly, if ever, happens in music criticism. I mean, what can you say about DOOM that he hasn’t said about himself? He holds the cold one like he holds the old gun. He’s a hopeless romancer with the dopest flow stanzas. He’s giving y’all nothing but the lick like two broads. This could literally go on for days. But even amidst the punch line-fury, DOOM can step out of “himself” and into the shoes of a vulnerable Viktor Vaughn, who berates a cheating lass, but with a clever, meta twist: “That’s you if you want a dude who wear a mask all day.”
Madvillainy is the prime example of a super group being far more than the sum of its parts. This is no cynical cash-in from two huge names; this is a statement that forced fans to scribble their descriptions of each of its creators, replacing the word “genius” with “legendary.” Madvillain is the rare work of two solo artists coming together and hashing out a masterpiece so flawless, each man has yet to surpass its brilliance.
02. Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele
I’m still uncertain as to what inspired G-Unit lapdog Tony Yayo to say Supreme Clientele was actually written by Theodore Unit lapdog Superb, but if his intent was to better “So Seductive” in terms of making people give a shit about him, the endeavor was a wild success. It’s hard to imagine too many rap blogs without a high degree of fluency in Supreme Clientele, and inevitably, Yayo’s claims were attacked mercilessly and unanimously.
But even amongst the more notable controversies surrounding authorship (Dave Grohl wrote I Get Wet! Kurt Cobain wrote Live Through This! To a far lesser extent, Gillie Da Kid wrote Tha Carter II!), this has to be the least plausible one ever. Imagine someone handing Ghostface a rhyme book with shit like “dick made the cover now count how many veins on it” with the implication, “naw, man—this is gonna be ill when you spit it. Trust me.”
The reason Supreme Clientele will be at the top of these kind of lists for years to come is that it’s the least likely record to be ghostwritten, as opposed to Ghost-written. Here, Ghostface bypassed all conventional conversational filters and just went straight from the cerebral cortex, his lyrics unhinged and unearthly, taking the listener to places that were at times frightening, but never less than thrilling. But he did so with a topical breadth that’s become Supreme Clientele’s most underrated aspect: plenty of critical favorites got weirder than Ghost, but you weren’t getting a straight up party rhyme like “Cherchez La Ghost” on an anticon. disc; on an El-P record, “Child’s Play” becomes “Stepfather Factory”; and whatever you want to call “Malcolm,” nobody was on that level. Of course, Supreme Clientele is more than happy to speak for itself : “Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious/Dociousaliexpifragalisticcalisuper/Cancun, catch me in the room, eatin grouper…” It goes great with a Remy Martin on diamonds.
01. Jay-Z — The Blueprint
Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero ‘cause what’s a hero? Sometimes there’s a man and well, he’s the man for his time and place.
Go ahead and throw stones. He’s not spitting like on Reasonable Doubt. He bites lines. It didn’t sell like Volume 2. It’s too NY-centric. It’s maudlin and overly sentimental. “Ether” killed him. Eminem killed him. Eminem can’t produce. Kanye West and Just Blaze saved him. Kanye West and Just Blaze are overrated. Volume 3 is underrated. Chipmunk soul sucks. Who the hell is Bink? That Trackmasters beat is awful.
The Blueprint isn’t the best rap album of the decade because it’s faultless, but because it steamrolls over its faults so effortlessly. It’s the sound of a victory lap, the sound of an artist at the top of his game making the album he wanted to make, current trends be damned. It’s swagger personified. It’s Rocky beating the Russians. It’s Ali beating Frasier. It’s MJ winning a ring. It’s the fuckin’ Blueprint.
When they make Jay-Z’s biopic, they should end it here. Reasonable Doubt was Jay’s street life. Volume 1 was his transition from those streets to the fame. Volume 2 found him on top of the world and Volume 3 saw him getting restless, experimental, unsatisfied with being a pop rapper. The Dynasty was Jay putting on his fam, and The Blueprint?
That was his baby, the one with the BDP title. The one that made the Rawkus kids swallow their pride and pony up 15 bucks, the one that launched Chicago kid Kanye West’s career, the album that for one second had the entire Hip-Hop nation rallying around one king for what will probably be the last time.
Recorded in a matter of weeks and produced by a cast of then unknowns, The Blueprint set the tone for the decade, making and breaking careers. For Jay, it was his moment of glory, the album on which he finally stepped out of Biggie’s shadow and put all doubts about his legitimacy to rest once and for all. For Nas it was the spark that reignited a career. For Mobb Deep it’s the blow that derailed one. For Just Blaze and Kanye West it was a chance to bring back sampling to prominence in hip hop after nearly half a decade of keyboard beats. For Eminem it was a chance to go toe to toe with the one man who could match him lyrically and commercially. For Beanie Sigel, Freeway, The Young Gunz, Memphis Bleek and, yes, Cam’ron and the Diplomats, it literally was the blueprint on which their subsequent releases were modeled. But for Shaun Carter, the man behind the persona, it was a chance to reflect, to take stock, to look back and to grow up. The Blueprint was Jay-Z’s peak and in subsequent years, haters and aspirants to the throne would cackle that he’d subsequently gone old, soft and weak. That’s a debate for another time but one thing’s for certain: The Blueprint is where a wizened Shaun Carter’s concerns became bigger than rap.
I don’t even have to do this; you know the songs, they speak for themselves. The hulking bass of “The Takeover,” the Jackson 5 soul of “Izzo,” the buttery “Girls, Girls Girls,” the strident “U Don’t Know,” Timbaland rocking a breakbeat on “Hola Hovito,” “Heart of the City,” “Song Cry,” “Renegade,” it goes on. It’ll never get old, it’ll never go out of style and it’s absolutely timeless. It’s the fuckin’ Blueprint.
All of these are good reasons to have The Blueprint top out this list, but I’d like to share one more. On September 11th 2001, I took the bus downtown after school to pick up a vinyl copy from Off the Hook records. I’d been bugging them for weeks, asking if they’d have it on time (Canadian release dates for vinyl were always iffy) and the owner assured me they would, so I braved what then seemed like possible death in order to cop it on the first day. I remember walking through skyscrapers, people panicking, muttering, always looking up, and when I got to the store, I went in, found it and went straight for the register. The one guy running the shop was going nuts, trying to get news about family in NYC and frankly, he must have thought that this white kid was crazy thinking about records at a time like this. I went home, watched the news for a few hours and for the first time in my life, felt very, very worried. Not worried on some “I’m failing math” or “my parents are gonna break up” shit but adult worried. Like, “is this the end of the world” worried.
But then a funny thing happened.
I went upstairs, took the clear blue vinyl out of the sleeve and played the record. I’m not going to pretend it was the first time I heard it—I’d had the MP3 version for a few days—but sitting in my room listening to the album, suddenly everything was alright again and all that mattered was Jay vs. Nas and sampling vs synths. And nearly 10 years later, I know that no matter how shitty things get on any given day, I can go home, put on the album and, for 60 minutes, that’s all that’ll matter again.
Jay-Z–”The Ruler’s Back”
UPDATE: I forgot to add a few of my faves that would've made my Top 50, but did not make the "Weiss" list (and therefore do not have cool reviews).
Eminem - The Eminem Show
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold
Beastie Boys - To the Five Boroughs
Jadakiss - Kiss of Death
The Roots - Phrenology
Wu Tang Clan - Wu Tang Iron Flag
Devin the Dude - I'm Just Tryin Ta Live