Not necessarily the biggest, or the most influential or important, just my personal favorites. No particular order, but the first 5 are pretty clearly in the top tier
1. The Roots: Things Fall Apart (1999). Brilliant. The Roots are an amazing group, and although the earlier Illadelph Halflife and the later The Tipping Point are also must haves, Things Fall Apart is nothing short of a hip hop work of art. The beautiful You Got Me made me an Erykah Badu fan, I love the hard-hitting 100% Dundee, the dark Step Into the Realm, but the best tune on the album might be a little collaborative ditty with Mos Def called Double Trouble. So “either stand tall or sit the fuck down.”
2. The Beastie Boys: Check your Head (1992). This album would make my Top 10 Albums of All Time list. Creative, unique, and fun as hell, Check Your Head is a masterpiece. We could see a shift to the more creative side with Paul’s Boutique, but in this album, the Beasties jumped in with both feet and made a huge splash in the hip hop ocean.
3. Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (1994). Hard, tight, and oozing with skill. Biggie Small’s first was his best. Or should I say techniques. Let Biggie say it himself: “I got techniques drippin’ out my butt cheeks/sleep on my stomach so I don’t fuck up my sheets.” And: “No spouse in the house so she rode for self/to the hospital, to see if she could get a little help/Umbilical cord's wrapped around my neck/I'm seein' my death and I ain't even took my first step/I made it out, I'm bringin' mad joy/The doctor looked and said, ‘He's gonna be a Bad Boy’.”
4. 2-Pac: Strictly 4 my N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993). An early 2-Pac album, and his best by far. It’s his best writing, best beats, and instead of half the songs on the album being good, they all are. It contains some lighter fare such as Keep Ya Head Up, some of his hardest songs, like the title track, and the very personal personal Papa’z Son.
5. A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders (1993). I saw A Tribe Called Quest play at Lollapalooza ’94, right after this album came out. They caught my attention right away. I went out and bought this album, then everything they put out before and after this. Some Tribe fans might prefer Low End Theory (1991) but I think there are more stellar tracks on Marauders. This is quintessential east coast hip hop, and it’s the best New York City has to offer.
6. Dr. Dre: The Chronic (1992). A hugely famous album that put gangster rap on the map. The beats are top-notch and the lyrics are scathing. I love Snoop’s work on this album.
7. Black Eyed Peas: Elephunk (2004). The earlier Bridging the Gap is also a great BEP album, and my first BEP album. And although Elephunk enjoyed much more success and is a bit more radio-friendly (which I usually don’t like), I still have to give it the edge as the best BEP album. Hip hop doesn’t get any more fun than this group. The emergence of Fergi on this album is great, and the back and forth between her and Will.I.Am on tracks like Shut Up really works. But what really make Elephunk a truly great the beats. Just play the title track and crank it up, cause “If it smells like funk it must be us.” My only top 10 album from the 21st century, it’s not hard to tell which decade was the best for hip hop.
8. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993). A great collaborative effort from some brilliant vocalists, including Old Dirty Bastard and Method Man, Wu-Tang was a great contribution to east coast rap.
9. The Fugees: The Score (1996). You gutta love Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean in the same group. Lauryn had the voice, and Wyclef could write with the best. I love the reggae feel and the Sly and Robbie mix of Fu-Gee-La could be the sickest track on the album.
10. Ice-T: O.G. Original Gangster (1991). This probably won’t make most folks top 10, but it has a special meaning for me. When I went to college in 1992, I was a huge metal fan but didn’t get into rap. Then my black suite-mate turned me on to a band called Body Count, Ice-T’s hard core effort. I loved it, and went out and bought O.G. I then proceeded to blast the album to my entire hall at all ours. IT was all over--I was a hip hop fan for life. There are many great songs on this album, such as Bitches and New Jack Hustler, but my favorite track is one of the hardest rap songs every put out: Midnight.