This is a list by Kelvin Bernardi. "I’m just giving back what music did with my life by writing about it."
Here are some of my favourites and some of the best hip-hop albums you should listen to or even have in your vinyl collection.
1. Chronic by Dr. Dre.
Oh, the sweet sound of a new era beginning. Present in Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Albums of All Time, Dr. Dre’s Chronic sets a new ground for hip-hop. Right after his exit of the group N.W.A and his old record label Ruthless Records, the west-coast-rapper started working on his debut solo album. We got to thank what would then become one of the most influential, innovative and important projects of the rap game for introducing personalities such as Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg and Warren G. Death Row Records was becoming a hit factory and it was the time for the gangsta rap, or G-funk, to prove people and critics that it was not only a commercial success but also an instant and dominant style. Released in 1992 and composed by singles like “Lil’ Ghetto Boy”, “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” and “Let Me Ride”, Chronic is a great introduction for those who are willing to understand more about the scene and hear some groovy beats on your turntable.
2. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan
In 1993 the music stores would be receiving Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Like many others, I didn’t listen to the album on its release, neither had heard of them. I would only discover Wu-Tang Clan years and years later in the future but I believe it’s never too late, right? As Dre’s Chromatic, 36 Chambers is the group’s debut album. Besides restoring New York’s status in the genre, the connection between eight members and their innovative techniques, intensity and density worked as inspiration for Notorious BIG, Nas and Jay-Z. Once you start it, it won’t take long to the associative and metaphoric lyrics take you down for some reflections. Besides “C.R.E.A.M”, take a look at “Protect Ya Neck”, “Tearz” and “Da Mystery Of Chessboxin”.
3. Illmatic by Nas
One year later, in 1994, Nas was releasing his debut album to the world, entitled Illmatic. Yes, I am sure this list is not only about debuts. It’s hard to talk about a classic but if I had to define it by one word I would pick ‘poetry’. The East Coast rapper choose to open his album showcasing us multisyllabic rhymes between narratives of his homeland, New York. His flow, rhythm and ideas keeps striking your ears trough the entire piece, just remember as examples “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, “The World is Yours” and “N.Y State of Mind”. Even though it wasn’t a commercial success in its time, it is still important, current and completely powerful. Considered one of, if not the best hip-hop album ever made, Illmatic is a classic that you need to have in your collection.
4. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy
You thought I would follow the year release until the present day, eh? Let’s go back few years, until 1988 where Public Enemy decided to release an album which could be compared to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On for hip-hop. That’s how It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was released by Def Jam, with the idea of creating music charged by social and political lyricism. If we compare the group’s previous project, here they created a new fast-paced environment for performances purpose resulting in… Well, believe the hype. What’s nice about this piece is their decision in not only making us their audience for their show but making us believe that we can also be active in the community. And it’s the truth. It’s a new way of showing us how to read and listen to the world. Even though Chuck D. says “I hated that record” I think it’s truly remarkable.
5. To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
I had to talk Kendrick Lamar before ending this list. My favourite hip-hop artist nowadays brought us one of the best records in the last few years. His third studio album, To Pimp A Butterfly was released by Interscope Records in 2015 and it’s already considered a new classic. Incorporating funk and jazz rhythms, his lyrics are honestly written around his interior fighting, racism, violence and dissatisfaction. The whole project is honest and humble, creating a hero image of Lamar’s guidance for the community, as he becomes an influence for many people. Every song present here is about something else, either fame, money, exposition, and that’s what makes the record unique and truly for its moment. Think about songs like “The Blacker The Berry”, “u” and “Alright” and I promise you will realize what I am saying.
6. Ill Communication by Beastie Boys
When talking about Ill Communication we have to think about how diversified it is. It may not be the best Beastie Boys album, but it’s definitely one to pay attention when listening. The group blends the punk rock movement with hip-hop making “Sabotage” a mark, I think everybody remembers Spike Jonze’s video, and the use of jazzy flute in “True Shots” quite memorable, showing us that any genre can be mixed in any type of project. Overall, is a mature, extremely underrated, creative and imaginative album that will certainly surprise you when starts playing.
Here are some honourable mentions so you can check more about the hip-hop universe: N.W.A — Straight Outta Compton, The Notorious BIG — Ready to Die, 2Pac — All Eyez On Me, Eminem — The Slim Shady LP and Jay-Z — The Blueprint.