(ThyBlackMan.com) There are albums that are considered everyone’s favorites. Like, everyone agrees you should check these albums out. Then there are albums that folks say that you should check out but you probably never heard of the artist before. I’m not going to lie, often times the ones everyone say you should check out just don’t hit me like they should. Here’s a mix of known classics and old school albums you might have never heard of or probably forgotten about. All pre-2010. It’s time for 10 Classic Albums You Should Check Out.
Eric B & Rakim – Paid in Full (1987)
I’m not the biggest fan of east coast/New York/Golden Age hip hop—actually, most of it does nothing for me. I’ve always been big on the west coast and Dirty South stuff. However, this is an incredible album no matter the decade or region.
Rakim’s mastery of wordplay is on display in the duo’s debut. This is near-primordial hip hop dropped just years after the age of Grandmaster Flash, Fab Five Freddy, and The Sugarhill Gang. Like the rhyming ability here is taken to new levels by Rakim and another legend on this list and that’s what really shines on Paid in Full to me. And the delivery?!
Rakim was like Jake the Snake on the mic, he could say what he needed to without having to shout at you. Refreshing.
That Track: I Ain’t No Joke and My Melody
8Ball & MJG – On Top of the World (1995)
Speaking of primordial hip hop, in Memphis the primordial period would’ve been late-1980s up until the early-1990s. When 1994 rolled around things really started to pick up for a number of Memphis artists when the Memphis’ horror-backed beats and lyricism started to make their way to full length albums.
Just listen to artists such as 8Ball & MJG, Tommy Wright III, and Three 6 Mafia pre-1994. There’s shift in beats or maybe it’s a jump from 1992 to 1994 where Memphis really started to sound like Memphis.
Then you have 8Ball & MJG’s On Top of the World which is steeped in Memphis’ gritty, dark lyricism but would sound just as at home on the west coast or Houston. The word I’m looking for isn’t “strange” but it’s a unique album that stands out in 1995 Memphis album but it’s right in place with Dirty South albums from the period.
That Track: Hand of the Devil, Space Age Pimpin’, and In The Line Of Duty
Esham – Boomin’ Words from Hell (1990)
This was a dark, dark album for 1989-1990. Almost bleak at times. Boomin’ Words from Hell was definitely in line with gangsta rap of the period if I had to compare it but historically, it’s a precursor to a lot of the horrorcore and rap rock that would come out of Detroit just a few years later.
You’re not going to achieve another level of consciousness listening to this, it’s not food for thought, or anything. You’ll actually starve listening to this if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s gritty, violent, and a strong stage for Esham’s early lyrical style and writing ability. That said, he would go on to much better years later.
That Track: Some Old Wicked Sh**!!! and Devils in the Soup
2 Live Crew – As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1989)
Listen, my uncle played this all the time in the early 90s. Chilling out? It was blasting. In his room? It was blasting. Washing the car? It was blasting. He loved this album and other 2 Live Crew stuff as well but As Nasty As They Wanna Be was like the holy grail of dirty rap to him.
And you know what? It’s probably is. Filthier stuff has come out in the last three decades but this 2 Live Crew classic is the gold standard how nasty, how dirty, you can get. Like, you need to go down to the free clinic after bumping As Nasty As They Wanna Be.
That Track: D*** Almighty and Me So Horny
Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (1994)
Esham and Insane Clown Posse were dropping some wicked stuff vinyl and tapes in Detroit while Three 6 Mafia, Tommy Wright III, and Gangsta Pat were making some gritty, diabolical stuff in Memphis. Down in Houston, you had Gangsta N.I.P and Geto Boys delivering Houston’s spin on horror and hip hop while out in California, Brother Lynch Hung and X-Raided were developing the state’s own spin on horrorcore.
Almost every scene at the time had artists doing something new and building horrorcore—except for New York City which had moved forward from Kane and Rakim’s period. Then the supergroup Gravediggaz dropped 6 Feet Deep in 1994.
This album was a really fun listen because the New York sound had gotten “meh” to my ears in the early 2000s and I stumbled across this old album at a friend’s house. Even though horrorcore had been around as a subgenre for over a decade at that point, Gravediggaz’s 6 Feet Deep sounded fresh. It was something dramatically different even in 2002. It helps that it was built on a group of New York veterans (RZA, Poetic, Frukwan, and Prince Paul) coming together for such a unique project
That Track: Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide and 1-800-Suicide
Big Daddy Kane – Long Live the Kane (1988)
Rakim is an incredible lyricist who inspired a ton of rappers who came after him—and those rappers inspire the generation afterwards. It’s how it goes. Another inspiration to many was Big Daddy Kane and his 1988 debut Long Live the Kane pretty much served the same purpose as Paid in Full: a stage for Rakim’s rapping ability with Eric B’s strong song production backing him up.
The difference between Rakim and Kane is that while both could twist and form words into these really slick rhymes, Big Daddy Kane has something I dig from skilled rappers: speed. While there are faster rappers today, at the time Kane’s speed mixed with a level of wordplay others could only dream of achieving made him dangerous on the mic and Long Live the Kane lethal to the ears.
That Track: Raw and Ain’t No Half-Steppin’
Flatlinerz – U.S.A (1994)
U.S.A dropped a few weeks after 6 Feet Deep. I discovered it on the same day I found Gravediggaz debut and listened to it a bit afterwards. U.S.A is the grittier of the two, while it is polished—it’s a Def Jam release and the label put money into the group—it’s not as polished as 6 Feet Deep to me. But that’s part of U.S.A’s charm.
If you’re going to do an album about horror and what not, it shouldn’t be overly polished to the point of sounding plastic. That is, unless it’s meant to be cartoonish horror where nothing here is to be taken seriously and you’re all in on the joke. U.S.A and 6 Feet Deep both hit that thin area between the two.
That Track: Run and Live Evil
Three 6 Mafia – When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1 (2000)
This. Album. Here. This was the album of my high school years. It was a mood then and at times it’s a mood now. When the Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1 is one of the crown jewels of crunk.
It has the whole Hypnotize Minds roster at that time on it, some surprising features like the Insane Clown Posse and former Psychopathic label mates Twiztid, and the beats? Man, oh man: the beats! It’s fast, it’s aggressive and it’s definitely a top ten album of all time for me.
That Track: Sippin’ on Some Syrup, Weak A** B****, and Who Run It
UGK – Ridin’ Dirty (1996)
When listening to modern stuff with my younger brother, he’ll often explain that an album or song we’re about to get into has a smooth sound. That’s how I’d describe UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty. The Houston hip hop legends have tons of songs dating back to their 1992 debut Too Hard to Swallow that have this laid back, chill vibe to them at a time when a lot of southern hip hop was leaning more towards the west coast’s gangsta rap sound. Bun B and Pimp C deliver on this as they always have.
To make Ridin’ Dirty otherworldly, find it chopped n’ screwed. It’s peak riding slow with nowhere to go music.
That Track: Pinky Ring and Diamonds & Wood
D.S.G.B – Til Death Do Us Part (2003)
The follow up to 2001’s The Last Supper was cleaner production-wise but it still had that same attitude and energy of Atlanta-style crunk. D.S.G.B or Down South Georgia Boyz most prominent member was Pastor Troy, who has gone on to become a southern hip hop legend himself. Til Death Do Us Part gives you a good balance of aggressive tunes, riding songs, and club songs without compromising the energy D.S.G.B and Pastor Troy bring to their albums.
I really wish there was a follow up to this as it still bangs today.
That Track: Who Down 2 Ride, and Make Em Get That Money Right, and Till Death Do Us Part
I’m a sucker for hip hop groups over just solo artists since you get to hear that chemistry and a variety of styles on display. D.S.G.B, Three 6 Mafia, and Gravediggaz are prime examples of this from the list.
Staff Writer; M. Swift
This talented writer is also a podcast host, and comic book fan who loves all things old school. One may also find him on Twitter at; metalswift.