Before moving to Los Angeles I worked at Villanova. I worked in the kitchen and to make the time go by faster we'd make top 5 lists. It was basically High Fidelity but 100degrees and shittier. My co-worker/friend Jerrel was a rapper so hip-hop music became a frequent topic in our top 5 lists.
One time we were trying to decide who was the world's worst rapper (who was trying to be serious). Jerrel kept trying to put Skee-Lo on the list. I wouldn't allow it, (a) I Wish is one of the best rap songs ever (b) I don't consider him trying to be "serious". We did agree on Shaq, Project Pat (or anyone else from Three 6 Mafia) and of course Soulja Boy Tell 'em.
One of our biggest and lengthy's discussions was this:
You meet someone who has never heard rap music before. He wants to know the best of the best but also wants it to cover various levels of hip-hop. He only has enough money to purchase 5 albums. What are the 5 albums you recommend to him?
No matter what your list was, someone in the kitchen would yell "HOW COULD YOU HAVE NO BIG DADDY KANE?" or "YOU PICKED THAT ALBUM!" This was my list. I will admit that there are no surprises on this list but there's a reason why they're classics.
5. Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die
Biggie Small's debut album is a blend of the gangsta rapper image of the late 80s/early 90s mixed with heartfelt sincerity. The single Juicy is one of the most touching 'rise to celebrity' stories. The album opens with the birth of our rapper and it goes throughout his life ending on the stand-out track Suicidal Thoughts in which Biggie calls his friend Sean "Puffy Daddy, P Diddy, Swag" Combs and starts manically rambling out all the reasons he wants to end is life. It's dark, touching and the perfect ending note for this album.
4. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
Wu-Tang Clan is built around a group of Brooklyn friends and relatives. Each rapper had their own rap style. Whether it's Method Man's smooth verses or Ol' Dirty Bastard's crazied sing/talk/rapping the album has some of the most memorable verses in hip-hop. Rza's low production values at to a gritty and raw sound. Unlike many rappers at the time, while Wu Tang had gangsta cred and could easily 'fuck yo ass up', they also dropped pop culture references like a bunch of Brooklyn Tarantino's. Example Method Man's solo rap Method Man has a hook that's a reference to Hall & Oats "Methods of Modern Love" and the opening line is a reference to the Rolling Stones. That's just a starting point, kung fu flick samples and comic book reference galore make this one of the most original debut albums of all time.
3. A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory
While N.W.A. was terrifying us white people and creating genre of gangsta rap... the Native Tongues Posse created Alternative Hip-Hop. The combined efforts of The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest brought positive hip-hop over jazz samples back into the rap genre. This list could very easily be replaced with De La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising what was the deciding factor is that Tribe's 2nd album contains my pick for the greatest rap single ever released Scenario. That being said any song on this list could have been a hit single.
2. Run DMC: Raising Hell
Run DMC are the Beatles of hip-hop. They didn't create the genre, but they perfected it for the mainstream. Almost every single song is a hit. Be it the nursery rhyme based Peter Piper or the tribute to their favorite pair of shoes My Adidas but it will be remember for it's Aerosmith debut/cover Walk This Way. With Walk This Way Run DMC took hip-hop to the mainstream. The blend of hip-hop and rock helped open the doors for hip-hop's ability to reach rock fans and paved the way for the Beastie Boy's debut album License to Ill. Speaking of which...
1. Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique
At the time of it's release the Beastie Boy's follow up album was a flop. Isn't that the way most masterpieces' origins begin? While License to Ill is a brilliant album that's heavily influenced by Run DMC, Paul's Boutique is the Beastie Boys being all their own. The stars of the show aren't just Mike D, Ad Rock and MCA but the incredible sample heavily beats by the Dust Brothers. While the album still isn't known for it's singles (although some people will know Hey Ladies) every track is an impressive combination of rap, rock, funk and movie clips. One of the biggest highlights is the ending of Eggman where the dust brothers sample the shower scene from Psycho overtop of the first attack sequence in Jaws creating one of the the greatest singular horrifying closing moments to a song. In closing here is the (in my opinion) the best song on Paul's Boutique as well as the best song the Beastie Boys ever recorded.