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What Was the Last Great Rap Debut LP?

I have this one friend who’s as unapologetic as hip-hop fans come, the kind of listener who’ll decimate a song upon first spin and ignore any inkling to play Devil’s Advocate. In other words, he’s the type of cat I love talking rap business with; heated debates are guaranteed any time he mentions a new track or album, and he keeps me on my toes, so to speak. I’ve known the kid since 1996, when we both were freshmen at Paramus Catholic High School (Jersey, FTW), comparing notes on Ghostface’s Ironman album during basketball-team-required study hall.

Fourteen years later, not much has changed, other than our respective willingness to experiment with sounds. For example, he’s never heard of Black Milk, and probably would bypass all of BM’s work if not for my mission to put him on to the wonderful skills of that Detroit beast-on-the-boards. If it’s not on the radio, or bumping in the clubs, he has little time for it. Which I can respect, in ways; not everyone has the time to obsess over forms of entertainment such as rap music.

Of course, this means that he’s quite aware of Drake, and has been anticipating Thank Me Later for over a year now. I brought him to Summer Jam this past Sunday night, at Giants Stadium, and afterward I hit him off with a copy of Thank Me Later, and told him that I expected an in-depth analysis some time yesterday (Monday).

Truth be told, I expected him to love it; everything about the LP falls in line with his sensibilities. But, much to my surprise and genuine fascination, he’s not impressed. In fact, he’s aggressively disappointed. He’d hoped for an undeniable classic, a debut album that’d sit alongside Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt and their kind in the pantheon of “best ever first efforts.” Yet, to paraphrase my friend, “This won’t even be considered for my best albums of 2010, let alone best debut albums ever.”

Personal opinions on Thank Me Later aside… Okay, screw it—I like the album a good amount, but I also agree that it’s not a wholly triumphant “official debut” (I say “official” because we all consider So Far Gone to be a complete body of work at this point, right?). All of this had me thinking last night, though, and the question that kept playing Pong in my head was, “What was the last unquestionably great rap debut?” I know what my answer is, folks—Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, which came out back in 2006 and has yet to be bested, IMHO.

Back in ’06, I found myself on the opposing side of several Clipse fans, who all swore that Hell Hath No Fury was that year’s crown jewel of hip-hop long-players; I, naturally, disagreed to the point of laughing in their faces as “The Cool” and “The Emperor’s Soundtrack” played on loop in the background. Clearly, I’m a Lupe fan, but I’ve long felt that, even if you’re not a Fiasco head such as myself, it’s virtually impossible to deny the greatness of Food & Liquor—well, it’s actually rather easy, according to damn near everyone I’ve debated with over the last four 365-counts.

So, yeah…Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor is, by my estimation, the last great debut LP in rap. I’ll admit that I’d been hoping that Thank Me Later would fall in line, but, alas, I can’t say it has. Drake’s premiere will certainly get tons of play this summer; I’m actually on Team “Shut It Down,” in terms of favorite-record-on-that-ish (reminds me of The-Dream’s epic “Right Side of My Brain,” and that’s a superb thing). But I don’t expect it to linger within my best-of lists for years to come. Besides, I’ve just started playing Eminem’s already-dynamite Recovery; meaning, Thank Me Later is slowly falling back, to make way for Mr. Mathers. (Sidenote, to bring this thing full circle: Imagine a Detroit connection between Eminem and Black Milk, with Shady ripping a BM beat to shreds, then tossing in an Elzhi guest verse for ear-pummeling measure…OMG).

I’ve said enough, though. How about you, commenter(s)? In your ears and mind, what was the last great debut LP in rap’s recent history? —Matt Barone

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