30. Eric B. & Rakim, Follow The Leader
Released On: July 25, 1988
One of the earliest examples of an “event album,” Follow The Leader, the anticipated follow-up to Eric B. & Rakim’s breakthrough classic, Paid In Full, enraptured rap fans in the summer of 1988 impatient to hear the duo’s new LP. On the album, the listener finds the duo moving away from the perfected minimalism of their debut towards a grimmer more complex sound. Rakim’s unparalleled lyricism is on full display and on songs like “Lyrics Of Fury”, “Microphone Fiend” and the title track remain some of his finest performances of his career. A must-have for any serious rap fan wanting to know both the ledge and their history.
29. A Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhyme & Life
Released On: July 30, 1996 (Jive/BMG)
It’s kind of hard to believe that at, one point, Tribe fans hated this album and blamed the great J Dilla for ruining the good vibes and positivism of their first three albums. Time has been far kinder Beats, Rhyme & Life and fans now acknowledge how masterful the album is. Released in July 1996, the album marks a departure from the joyful positivism of their earlier albums towards an album darker in tone and subject. Beats, Rhyme & Life marks the debut of the legendary production team, the Ummah (Q-Top, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and the previously mentioned Jay Dee) who would go on to produce the bulk of Tribe’s next album and Q-Tip’s first solo album as well as production for artists like Michael Jackson, Busta Rhymes and Jamiroquai.
28. Black Star, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Released On: August 18, 1998 (Rawkus/Priority/EMI/MCA/Universal)
Black Star, the full-length collaborative album, from the duo of the same name consisting of Mos Def and Talib Kweli remains one of the finest examples of 90s independent hip hop and one of the seminal examples of so-called “backpack rap.” Trading on Talib’s and Mighty Mos’ trademark lyricism, pro-black politics and anti-commercial righteous fury, Black Star is an emblematic of true school rap idealism and uncorrupted talent.
27. UGK, Super Tight
Released On: August 30, 1994 (Jive)
Super Tight feels like a hot Texas day in the middle of August. UGK’s second album serves as one of the most important albums in the Underground Kingz’ discography. On the LP, Bun B steps up his lyricism tremendously while Pimp C’s swaggering production and general misanthropic swagger blisters like the midday sun in a heat wave. Tracks like “Front, Back & Side To Side”, “I Left It Wet For You” and “Feds In Town” have become Southern rap classics fondly remembered by fans and frequently name checked by the duo’s artistic kin.
26. Naughty By Nature, Naughty By Nature
Released On: September 3, 1991 (Tommy Boy)
No group mastered the artist of “the anthem” quite like Naughty By Nature. Coming straight out of East Orange, New Jersey, Vinnie, Treach and company mastered the art of crafting confectionary, crossover radio hits on their self-titled sophomore effort, Naughty By Nature. Classic jams like “O.P.P.,” “Uptown Anthem” and “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right” featured a formula for success that made Naughty by Nature one of the era’s most popular and enduring groups. The main ingredient to their success is that the group made hits that were tough enough to command respect from hardcore fans while remaining fun and sing-songy enough for pop fans. The group’s secret weapon was lead rapper Treach whose intricate, finely tuned lyricism makes him one of the most underrated rappers in the history of rap.