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10 Vintage Hip Hop Albums That Still Sound Fresh Today

Published: August 18, 2015 in Mayday, Strange Music by

VINYL HIP HOP

Some albums sound just as dope today as the day they came out. In the case of the albums below, that’s saying quite a lot, being as they were released before President Clinton was getting dome in the oval.

In the spirit of ¡MAYDAY!’s Future Vintage, we broke down some albums that still hold up despite being on shelves for decades.

ice cube

Ice Cube – Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990)

Ice Cube broke away from NWA and hit the solo scene with a bang with this debut album. Although Bomb Squad’s incredible production shows its era, it’s still incredibly head-nodding, and Ice Cube’ provocative subject matter coupled with his incindiary delivery more than make up for it. Songs like “You Can’t Fade Me” are just as startling as they are the day they came out, with lines like “Cause all I saw was Ice Cube in court paying a gang on child support / Then I thought deep about giving up the money, What I need to do is kick the bitch in the tummy.” The original provocatuer of hip hop.

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NWA – Efil4zaggin (1991)

When people think about Dr. Dre’s production, it’s always his slew of solo albums, but Efil4Zaggin remains some of his greatest production to date (and that includes Compton). This album marks the absence of the Ice Cube. How do you make up for the absence of the greatest poet in your group? Make it a production masterpiece. An incredibly wide assortment of samples, musical snippets and vocal scratches, every song is a fully-realized, and forcefully-charged sonic vision. It’s albums like this that make you realize why Dr. Dre is the greatest beatsmith to ever live: he paid close attention to the details.

lowendtheory

A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory (1991)

With The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest made a bold artistic statement that hip hop had never seen. No longer was hip hop a novelty, but an art form that was to be taken every bit as seriously as jazz before it. This album features fresh rhymes galore and production that holds up today: jazz chords that Pharrell made an entire career off of and drums that hit in any era.

sweat_1338920562

Eric B. and Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique (1992)

Modern flow and lyricism began the day that Rakim picked up a microphone. What makes this album stand up above the rest is the production. While Eric B. and Rakim’s earlier albums had tracks that still stand the test of time, this album has production from front to bottom that you could find on any East Coast revival act. Most notable are the final two: “Know The Ledge” inspired CES Cru to write “Juice” and “Don’t Sweat The Technique” has some of the funkiest drums you’ve ever heard.

Outkast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Outkast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)

Great musicianship, fantastic flows and Cadillacs just never get old. Outkast’s debut album sounds just as fresh now as it did then simply for the fact that it’s rock solid from top to bottom. From Organized Noise’s funky production to Outkast’s flavorful flow patterns, this album will never get stale. Bump “Player’s Ball” at any gathering and it’s sure to go over just fine.

doe-or-die

AZ – Doe or Die (1995)

An unheralded classic of east-coast boom bap and mafioso rap, AZ’s debut album has everything you need for everlasting rotation. The production features some of the East coast’s finest beatsmiths: Pete Rock, Buckwild, Ski and L.E.S. contribute to the luxurious and sample-driven soundscape that fuels AZ’s rags-to-riches raps. We could cite some other boom-bap masterpieces (Illmatic comes to mind), but the atmospheric soundscape in this release gives Doe or Die the edge.

odb

Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return To The 36 Chambers (1996)

Let’s be honest – O.D.B. was one of the first emcees that was given a complete pass on lyricism in exchange for one of the most charismatic and infectious deliveries/personalities of the genre.  While some of the modern emcees that he’s clearly influenced have carried on his legacy with a little more robust lyricism, it’s hard to deny that without Return To The 36 Chambers, there would be no A$AP Ferg, there would be no Danny Brown…there would be no room in hip hop for an unapologetic weirdo that happened to be able to get down on a beat. Thanks, Dirty.

endtroducing

DJ Shadow – Endtroducing….. (1996)

Artful sample flipping never gets old, that’s why DJ Shadow’s startling debut masterpiece would be just as welcome today as it was back in ’96. With symphonic abilities to rival classical composers, DJ Shadow created sample collages that make for some of the best mood music of all time. “Building Steam With A Grain of Salt” is a hypnotic masterpiece, “The Number Song” is a fully-charged breakbeat explosion, and “Stem” is, quite simply, a movie of a song.

heltah nocturnal

Heltah Skeltah – Nocturnal (1996)

On their debut album Nocturnal, Rock & Ruck (aka Sean Price…RIP) gathered up armfuls of influence from their boom-bap predecessors like A Tribe Called Quest and Das EFX and dumped them into a cauldron of smoldering lyricism. Combining pointed Rock’s conscious musings with Ruck’s grimy street-level meanderings, this album could come out right now and people would probably ask , “When did Pro-Era release this new album?”

fugees

Fugees – The Score (1996)

In 2015, it’s suddenly once again possible to pay brilliant and honest homage to the stylings of our funk, soul, and Caribbean musical ancestors and still achieve commercial success. On The Score, not only did the Fugees achieve this same feat nearly ten years earlier, but they did it with a cohesiveness and purpose that left no room for imitation. The supergroup of Lauryn Hill, Wycleff Jean, and Pras Michel are still mourned today as a trio that was taken from us before their time, and considering they were a decade early in their genius…who knows, now could be the perfect time for their second coming.

  • What’d you think of the list?
  • What did we leave out?

Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • matt s

    Absolutely the best list I’ve ever seen. And I despise lists so that’s an accomplishment Mr. Nelson. Well done.

  • Carl H

    My personal list would include Eazy E-eazy duz it (1988) & Busta Rhymes-the coming (1996). But a fantastic list still!

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