Calling something “classic” is confusing. How can a journalist use the “c” word to describe an album after one listen, often three months before it hits stores? The controversial word says something not only about the quality of the music, but how it impacts the hip-hop community for years after its release. Shoot, most LPs that we would consider classic today, from The Chronic to Comin’ Out Hard, didn’t receive a flawless rating from any major publications when they were released.
Sure, XXL gave Clipse’s new album Hell Hath No Fury an “XXL” rating (something that only 5 albums have previously obtained). Still, nowhere in the review is the word “classic” used, and with good reason. While the music is arguably perfect, only time can decide its classic status. Hoping to get some insight into what they consider hip-hop’s most timeless tracks, we asked Pusha and Malice to name 10 albums (in no particular order) that they would give a classic rating to. Hindsight is 20/20, of course.
Clipse "Ride Around Shining"
Clipse "Keys Open Doors"
Clipse feat. Bilal "Nightmares"
All taken from Hell Hath No Fury, in stores now.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
Pusha: “Cuban Linx was great ’cause you had this crew coming out of New York who just set hip-hop on fire, and everybody had their own character, but Cuban Linx was just the uncut raw version. Rae really painted a picture. The album itself was just a cohesive masterpiece. I’m talking bout from production to lyrics. Lyrically, they were trendsetters—they had their own slang, and they rapped it like they didn’t care if you knew it. You had to go find out what it meant. There was no explanation. You could tell they were totally doing them.”
Favorite Track: “Incarcerated Scarfaces”
Boogie Down Productions
(B-Boy Records, 1986)
Malice: “Oh my God, yes! Criminal Minded. I remember when they came out and it was just underground. There was a couple big heavy dope dealers from New York in Virginia that we just all knew. They came to Virginia and they was cool with us. My man Reggie and Fred—they came with this Boogie Down Productions joint. It had “The P Is Free” on there, and it just wrecked my life. I wanted to be associated with New York, hustlin’, getting’ money, big chains…it was just so damaging to me. And then we have family in the South Bronx, and my cousin Snapper would just talk about what’s hot because New York had everything first. That whole album is crazy. What I need to do right now is revisit that album. I’m sure it will spark the motivation to get back into writing.”
Favorite Track: “Criminal Minded”
Pusha: “Reasonable Doubt is definitely the best of all the Jay albums. It set a new standard and it gave a face to the whole lifestyle—the whole street culture and the actual lusting for the finer things in life. There was a whole mystique that came along with Reasonable Doubt. I was into all the rumors that came along with it. People were saying like, You see Jay-Z as the face man, they loved Dame Dash as being the brash dude, but Biggs was like the mystery man. Even he played a part in it because he gave a sense of reality. You always heard the stories like, 'He was in the streets for real' or 'he won’t get in the videos.' It just added to the mystique of the whole Roc-A-Fella situation.”
Favorite Track: “Can I Live?”
Kool G Rap
Wanted: Dead Of Alive
(Cold Chillin’, 1990)
Malice: “Kool G Rap was one of my favorites. 'Streets of New York,' with that piano, is one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s a nostalgia, I remember where I was at when I got that. I had just got a brand new stereo system, brand new equalizer with the drum machine with the 4 pads on it. I just remember the video where he was spitting like crazy. I remember thinking he was such an ill lyricist.”
Favorite Track: “Streets Of New York”
(Death Row, 1992)
Malice: “I wasn’t a fan of West Coast rap—I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand the white gloves and the permed hair. But when Snoop and Dre came on the scene with The Chronic, I could understand it and I respected Snoop as an MC. I thought he was insane, and he was so anticipated, just off that album. The music on that album, from beginning to end, you could just ride to that. It made me have a great feel for the West Coast and I really appreciated the sound from that side.”
Favorite Track: “Let Me Ride”
Pusha: “That was it man. Young, rebellious, Black angst. It just embodied the ignorance of youth. When it dropped, that was the best thing since sliced bread to me. I was quoting that shit line for line. 'I use to drive an Ac and kept a mac in the engine/Windows painted black with crack sales intentions.' I was done. The videos in the Audi, oh my God. The cups of Hennessey. It was something different. It showed a little younger side to the wild street shit. 'Shook Ones' was a guaranteed fight started in any club that year.”
Favorite Track: “Shook Ones Part II”
Malice: “Illmatic captured the whole New York state of mind for me. It embraced everything I knew New York to be. The album had 10 songs, all of them flawless. Me and my homies got great memories of rolling around listening to that, huslin’, smokin’, chillin’. That embodied everything that was right with hip-hop. That CD never came out my deck.”
Favorite Track: “New York State Of Mind”
Eric B. & Rakim
Paid In Full
(4th & Broadway, 1987)
Malice: “When Rakim came out, he just changed the climate. Like how snap music came this year and took everything over, Rakim came and made everybody just talk when they rapped. It was just smooth and mellow. He brought a lot of knowledge of self to the table. When I first started rhyming, I used to scream like Run from Run-DMC, and he showed me that you don’t have to do that. You can just talk and get your point across. He just broke through the door and was just cool with it.”
Favorite Track: “Eric B. Is President”
The Notorious B.I.G.
Life after Death
(Bad Boy, 1997)
Pusha: “It totally showed the growth of Big from Ready To Die. It had so many dimensions to it. And all of them were just great interpretations of whichever lane he was in. If he was talkin’ about some gangsta shit on “What’s Beef,” or he was telling a comedic story on “I Got A Story To Tell.” “Praying On My Downfall”…there were so many great moments. Even if he went the R&B route with R. Kelly—“I’m Fuckin’ You Tonight”—he killed every vein of it. When he was recording it, he must have been like, Man, we keepin’ everything!”
Favorite Track: “What’s Beef”
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
(Def Jam, 1988)
Pusha: “It was politically charged, aggressive, but still, they conveyed it in a way that you wasn’t preachy. They made you appreciate it and love it. It was some of the most militant shit I was hearing and it was great. And they crossed genres—it seemed like everyone was listening to them, not just hip-hop. They took issues head-on, it didn’t matter, they addressed it. This particular album was in their heyday, and I think it was the highlight of their whole career.”
Malice: “I remember walking through school with 'Black Steel' on my headphones and thinking that I was gonna do what I wanted and the teachers wasn’t gonna tell me nothin’. Chuck D said he wouldn’t go into the military and the government were suckers, and I just felt so empowered by that.”
Favorite Track: “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos”