In which we continue our list of 25 albums overlooked by Passion of the Weiss‘s Top 50 Rap Albums of the Decade.
Previously: 25 That Should’ve Made the Cut: Part 1
(Albums chronological by year.)
Gang Starr — The Ownerz (Virgin, 2003)
Listen: “Deadly Habitz”
The final (?) release by one of the greatest duos in rap history, The Ownerz dropped in 2003 to decidedly mixed reviews. I’m not really sure what people were hating on, because quite simply put, this shit bangs. DJ Premier has never watered down his production style, and The Ownerz finds him dropping some of the hardest beats of his career, Gang Starr or otherwise. Guru’s signature monotone and dope lyricism are in full effect, and he sounds infinitely more exciting here than he has in the six years since (dude is not the same without Premo). While Moment of Truth is arguably the best Gang Starr album, The Ownerz is undoubtedly the hardest.
Immortal Technique — Revolutionary, Vol. 2 (Viper, 2003)
Listen: “Freedom of Speech”
An underground hero of sorts, Immortal Technique is a kind of Chuck D for rap’s newer generation, his lyrics tackling everything from government corruption to the shady aspects of the music industry. Revolutionary, Vol. 2 picks up right where Vol. 1 left off, with Tech taking shots at the Bush administration, as well as terrorism and the mainstream media—all with a rugged, emotional delivery and stinging punchlines. The production, while simple, fits Tech’s message perfectly, even containing a few unlikely sample sources (peep “Freedom Of Speech” for one of the illest sample flips ever, from Disney’s Pinocchio!). Some heads might be turned off by Tech’s lyrics full of political commentary, conspiracy theories and militancy, but the Peruvian-born, Harlem-raised emcee clearly has something to say—and he knows just how to say it.
The UN — UN Or U Out (456, 2004)
Listen: “Ain’t No Thang”
The first (and only?) release of Carson Daily’s short-lived 456 imprint, UN or U Out was a commercial suicide for all involved. Unapologetically traditionalist, the album contains no radio singles or R&B hooks, instead relishing in the grimy loops and thugged-out street talk of NY’s golden age. Lyrically, former Flipmode member Roc Marciano and his Long Island brethren break no new ground, but their stubborn refusal to change with the times ends up being one of the album’s strengths. The production is similarly uncompromising, with Pete Rock, Large Pro, and the UN themselves providing dusty bangers that take the listener back to 1994. Shit knocks.
R.A. The Rugged Man — Die, Rugged Man, Die (Nature Sounds, 2004)
Signed by Jive in 1992 following a label bidding war, the emcee formerly known as Crustified Dibbs proceeded to piss off enough people in power to get himself virtually blackballed from the industry. After seeing his ’94 debut permanently shelved, the Long Island native found himself isolated, broke, and battling clinical depression, and it wasn’t until 2004 that he finally got a second chance. A debut 15 years in the making, Die, Rugged Man, Die draws on R.A.’s status as a legendary might-have-been, chronicling his myriad career mistakes with brutal honesty and a wonderfully twisted sense of humor. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he can rhyme his ass off. R.A. may well never release another album, but with Die, Rugged, Man Die he takes his spot as one of the best who ever did it. And to think, he almost never did.
Little Brother — The Minstrel Show (Atlantic, 2005)
Listen: “Not Enough” ft. Darien Brockington
Little Brother’s sophomore LP (and their last with producer 9th Wonder) boasts even more soul and maturity than their beloved debut. An ambitious concept album, The Minstrel Show smartly skewers various aspects of Black popular culture, managing to anger more than a few people in the process. Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh are both outstanding emcees, and 9th’s production just bleeds pure soul. The Listening may be a classic to many, but it offers only a small taste of the artistic and musical integrity on display here.
The Product — One Hunid (Koch, 2006)
Listen: “Dead Broke”
To form The Product, Scarface recruited two largely unknown rappers from two of hip-hop’s most slept-on regions. Together with Face, San Francisco’s Will Hen and Mississippi’s Young Malice crafted One Hunid, a bluesy and decidedly unglamorous portrait of the streets that made no mainstream concessions, and was consequently overlooked by listeners and critics alike. While each reflects the area from which he hails, the three emcees display a natural chemistry, their world-weary wisdom and unforced lyricism combining to create poignant street poetry. Tone Capone, J. Bido, and Scarface himself contribute haunting productions that set the album’s melancholy tone, providing beautiful accompaniment while keeping the focus on the lyrics. One of the “realest” rap albums ever made (no joke), One Hunid also happens to be one of the best.
Pimp C — Pimpalation (Rap-A-Lot, 2006)
Listen: “Rock 4 Rock” ft. Scarface, Willie D, and Bun B
Following his 2005 release from prison after a three-year bid, Chad “Pimp C” Butler set to work on his official solo debut, and from the intro to the final track, it sounds as if he’d never left. While he’s definitely not the most inventive lyricist, Pimp’s voice and Southern style are absolutely unmatched, and the man has oozed swagger since before most people started throwing around the term. The production here is some of the best I’ve heard on a Southern rap record, and while Pimpalation features many guests (including Bun B and a host of other Texas rappers), this is definitely Pimp’s show. Sadly, Pimp C would pass away the following year, but his legacy in hip hop continues to live on, thanks in part to albums like this. R.I.P.
Young Jeezy — The Inspiration (Def Jam, 2006)
Listen: “3 A.M.”
On his second album, Young Jeezy stepped his lyrical game up (slightly) over the lushest, most groundbreaking production of any major label release that year. The beats on The Inspiration (by, among others, DJ Toomp, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Shawty Redd, and The Runners) geniously combine the soul-sampling tradition of the East Coast with the bass and synths of Atlanta crunk, suggesting what vintage Kanye might have sounded like, had the producer grown up in Bankhead. Lyrically Jeezy cheats as usual, but his swagger reaches new, monstrous heights on tracks like “I Luv It,” while he proves his ability to move the listener on the gorgeous “Dreamin’,” featuring Keyshia Cole. It’s easy to hate on Jeezy without giving him a chance, but I defy anyone to listen to this album and tell me he doesn’t have something.
Marco Polo — Port Authority (Rawkus, 2007)
Listen: “Nostalgia” ft. Masta Ace
Producer Marco Polo may hail from Toronto, Canada, but his sound is undeniably on some hardcore New York shit. He may not be a household name just yet, but the man has already been putting in work for several years now, producing bangers for Masta Ace, Sadat X, Supernatural and the Boot Camp Clik, among others. On his debut album, Marco cooks up a storm of hot tracks taking the listener back to the days of mid-’90s boom bap. The impressive guest list includes the aforementioned Masta Ace and Sadat X, as well as O.C., Kardinal Offishall, Ed O.G, Buckshot and Kool G Rap — and that’s just for starters. If you’re fed up with the declining state of hip hop (particularly in the mainstream) and want to relive the good old days, let Port Authority be your guide.
Prodigy — Return of the Mac (Koch, 2007)
Listen: “Bang On ‘Em”
Prodigy will probably never be the lyricist he once was, but Return of the Mac finds him at his most captivating in years, thanks largely to a bevy of Alchemist beats inspired by the Blaxpoitation era. P’s voice remains his strongest asset, and here he uses it to kick the most nihilistic, relentlessly negative lyrics of his career (which for P is really saying something.) The result, when combined with Al’s atmospheric production, paints a haunting picture of New York at its most heartless and unforgiving.
Part 3 (the last five) coming soon!