Welcome to the Semiannual Top 5, a new once-in-a-while feature where I’ll rank the top 5 of something. It should be lots of fun, as I love judging things. (Don’t expect Nathan to participate though, he has trouble ranking things.) This week, I’m dropping my top five hip-hop albums into this hizzouse. Word.
5. The Beastie Boys, Check Your Head
Hip-hop’s resident outsiders, the Beastie Boys reinvent their sound with each album. On Check Your Head, the band’s third and arguably most challenging album, the Boys look to their roots as a hardcore punk band and back their rhymes with live, abrasive instrumentation. It’s their most ragged and unorthodox record, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
4. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye West may be an idiot, but he’s also a genius. Perennially a better producer than rapper, Fantasy combines Kanye’s always excellent samples and beats with more focused lyrics than we’ve seen on Kanye’s almost as good previous records. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a sprawling, ambitious record almost matching Kanye himself for sheer audacity.
3. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising
By the late ’80s, mainstream hip-hop had started to transition toward the often blustery and overly arrogant gangsta rap, so De La Soul’s clever 1989 debut stands out all the more. Joyful and never too serious (outside of “Ghetto Gang”), 3 Feet High is a pleasure to listen to just because of the obvious fun De La Soul is having recording it.
2. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Sporting one of the best album titles of all time, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is a shotgun blast of socially conscious rap that proved hip-hop could be as culturally relevant as rock. Chuck D’s forceful vocal style and the Bomb Squad’s thick, sample-heavy production combine to make one of the most powerful rap albums ever.
1. MC Hammer, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em
1. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique
The Beastie Boys have never been at the forefront of the hip-hop movement, nor are they particularly important to hip-hop’s evolution. They succeed, however, simply because they are masters of their craft. On their magnum opus, Paul’s Boutique, their unique, frantic flow, sample-dense production, and always clever lyrics come together to form less a collection of songs than one long sustained groove. It’s the sound of science distilled into its purest form.