The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time: 20 – 11


Any list of the Greatest New York Rap Albums of All Time is, essentially, a list of simply the Greatest Rap Albums of All Time. The genre was invented here, after all, and over the years — from early days to Golden Age and onward– the city’s hip-hop history has been an embarrassment of riches. Fashioning this list, then, was no easy task, and though some of the albums on it are of the “DUH” variety, a couple may surprise you. Here now, our list of the Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time, 20 – 11.

20. 50 Cent
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003)
The coin drop. You know the one. Right off the top, before tape clicks and cues the building beat of “What Up Gangsta,” 50 Cent makes his presence known–and it only takes a short seven second burst of sound. That’s what 50 Cent does: He makes himself known. And with his debut studio album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, released in 2003, the rapper said hello to the entire world. Under the direction of Dr. Dre and Eminem, the record–which sold just under 900,000 copies in four days and has since been certified six-times platinum–has become a blueprint in how to create success in the rap game. It’s also how 50 Cent became a name recognized by your grandpa. The lead singles “In da Club” and “21 Questions” are bouncy, radio-friendly jams, but tucked away are cuts that embody the attitude of the streets of 50’s Jamaica, Queens. “Many Men (Wish Death)” carries obstinacy. “If I Can’t” shows swag. “Heat” illustrates struggle. Get Rich‘s diversity of sound, combined with the rapper’s mass appeal, speaks to 50 Cent’s quality as a musician and a brand. — Eric Sundermann

19. LL Cool J
Radio (1985)
Bursting onto the scene like a guy who knew he was poised to become a hip-hop legend, Kangol-hat wearing, Queens native James Todd Smith (better known as Ladies Love Cool James) rocked every kind of bell when he dropped his debut album Radio on Def Jam in 1985. Using minimal beats and scratches that were infamously “reduced” by future producing guru Rick Rubin, the callow yet utterly confident Smith (who was just 17 at the time of the album’s release) injected the rap world with swag way before anyone knew what the hell that meant. Radio is littered with boombox anthems — “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” “Rock the Bells,” “I Can Give You More” – that showcased LL’s knack for witty, simplistic and effective rhymes. Ushering both Def Jam’s reign as the premier hip-hop label and Smith’s eternal rep as the genre’s studliest b-boy, Radio gave ghettoblasters all over this great land their own signature soundtrack. — Craig D. Lindsey

18. Run-DMC
Raising Hell (1986)
The first rap album to hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and arguably rap’s first full-length masterpiece, Raising Hell changed the way the world heard hip-hop. A mere seven years after the genre’s first single was committed to wax, Run-DMC proved what was still being written off as a “fad” had the potential to truly become the next greatest innovation of 20th century American music. While “Walk This Way” fully bridged the gap between rap and the pop-rock world by making an old standard new and exciting again (revitalizing Aerosmith’s career in the process), it also showed how memorable rapping at its most masterful could be. While rap will likely always remain a single-focused medium, Raising Hell proved not only could album-minded hip-hop be done, but could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the efforts of any genre. — Chaz Kangas

17. Slick Rick
The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988)
When well executed, rap music’s ability to tell stories has always been one of the genre’s most championed achievements. Perhaps the rap artist most synonymous with storytelling is MC Ricky D, better known as Slick Rick. On his landmark 1988 debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, “the eye-patched-one” delivers fable-after-fable, not solely for shock value or braggadocios purposes, but rather as a somewhat-subtle bit of edutainment from someone who’s seen enough to pass the wisdom on. From the cautionary (“Children’s Story”) to the wistful (“Teenage Love”) to the wise (“Hey Young World”) Rick offers quite the poignant guidance in-between a how-to guide of the New York dating scene. Rick became the Ali Baba of late-80s NYC, making The Great Adventures of Slick Rick a treasure-trove of all the emotions hip-hop was capable of resonating in a person alongside some of the most memorable productions of the era. While Rick’s follow-ups would sadly be compromised by subsequent prison time, Great Adventures remains the standard by which all rap storytelling is judged. — Chaz Kangas


16. The Beastie Boys
Licensed To Ill (1986)
Paul’s Boutique may be hailed as the Beastie’s hippest album, complete with its Lower East Side store title prank, but 1986’s Licensed To Ill was the attention-grabbing record that launched the disorderly trio of Ad Rock, Mike D, and MCA as cheap-beer-swilling rap menaces to the world. Overseen by bearded maestro Rick Rubin, the record is a brilliantly gruff experience as monstrous beats are paired with nods to rock riffs and punk ‘tude. Songs like “The New Style” and “Slow And Low” come off as winningly raw and prove that most times rap doesn’t need to be much more than some tough beats and a bunch of rappers trading rhymes and cock-sure flows. At times Licensed To Ill kicks things deliberately uncouth — “I grabbed two girlies and a beer that’s cold!” — but that’s part of the charm of an album that endures as a better late-night dive bar soundtrack than anything else on this list. — Phillip Mlynar

15. EPMD
Strictly Business (1988)
Eric Sermon raps like he looks, half asleep. Parrish too: smooth, but with palpable hints of undeniable anger. And it was often that odd combo that made EPMD (Eric and Parrish Makin’ Dollars) such a unique and exciting duo, the two finishing one another’s sentences in the Beastie mold, but with a finesse the trio lacked. On their 1988 debut, Strictly Business, they managed many a miracle, not the least of which was turning a sample of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” into the backbone of a viable rap track on “You’re a Customer.” But the whole album soars, and on top of the aforementioned “Customer,” “Strictly Business,” “You Gots To Chill,” and “Let the Funk Flow” are all break out songs. Even the silly would-be dance craze that never was, “The Steve Martin,” was unabashed fun, laying down the law for how Otis Redding samples should be utilized in hip-hop. “Time keeps on slippin’,” but Strictly Business remains vital. — Brian McManus

14. De La Soul
3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
A Tribe Called Quest may have gotten all the accolades over the years for being hip-hop’s jazziest innovators, but we shouldn’t forget that their fellow Native Tongues crew members De La Soul were the ones who initially broke free from rap’s ghettofied conventions. On their 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising, this trio of Long Island bohos – Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove (later just Dave) and DJ Maseo – laid down quirky rhymes (“Potholes in My Lawn,” anyone?) over beats provided by the great Prince Paul, who proved that songs from Hall & Oates, Steely Dan and the Turtles (who notoriously sued De La Soul for their song-jacking) had samples that were just as worthy as the average James Brown break. De La Soul may have been seen as hip-hop hippies, creating music for “the D.A.I.S.Y. age” (that’s “da inner sound, y’all”), but they were the first to think outside of the box in the hip-hop arena. — Craig D. Lindsey

13. Jay Z
Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Jay-Z’s debut album could have very well been ripped from the minds of Scorsese or De Palma with its gangster bravado and illicit chaos. As much a protégé of Biggie as he was his contemporary, Jay-Z had an uncanny ability to breathe dimension into gritty rhymes with his quick wit and lyrical dexterity. But real Gs move in silence and unlike his peers, Jay was markedly the quiet hustler, never quite removing the veil even on introspective tracks like “Regrets” and “Can I Live” (“It gets tedious / So I keep one eye open like, C-B-S/ Ya see me stressed right? Can I live?”). Amid a remarkably prolific career that has spanned nearly two decades, Reasonable Doubt is still considered Jay-Z’s magnum opus (and not even bringing the Nets to Brooklyn can top that). — Sowmya Krishnamurthy


12. Beastie Boys
Paul’s Boutique (1989)
While the Beastie Boys’ critically-lauded sophomore album Paul’s Boutique was recorded almost entirely in Los Angeles, the trio’s transplant into the City of Angels managed to flush out exactly what made them such definitively New York artists. The Boys’ abilities as MCs has been somewhat underrated in hip-hop circles. While they’ve never been the “lyrically lyrical spiritual miracle”-types, their styles fully took shape and excelled on Paul’s Boutique as an industrial-strength pop-culture web of every media they’d ever experienced, immaculately complimenting a similarly-minded groundbreaking sample-hodgepodge of a production. This newfound niche captured how New York-influenced they truly were, down to naming the album after a lower east side Manhattan clothing store. With all of its multi-textual references and obscenely layered production, Paul’s Boutique is the rare album that feels like its actually alive, pulsating with a vibrant energy whose relationship with the listener reveals something new with each listen. — Chaz Kangas

11. Ghostface Killah
Supreme Clientele (2000)
Conventional wisdom states that Supreme Clientele is far and above the gem of the second wave of Wu-Tang solo albums. And sometimes, conventional wisdom is such for a reason. Supreme Clientele indeed occupies a very specific space in the Wu-Tang discography. The album is front-to-back amazing and as bizarre as you could hope, from Ghost cutting the best song on the thing (“Saturday Nite”) off halfway through, to him copping to fucking his own fans on “Mighty Healthy” to RZA’s beat on “Stroke of Death,” which centers around a single ominous scratch being run continually back. Written largely during an extended trip to Africa by Ghost and Executive Producer RZA, the album was a lyrical turning point for Ghostface, menacing at times, silly and downright psychedelic at others. It was one of last battle cries from a dying empire, proving that even late in the game Wu-Tang still had one undefeated champion. — By Drew Millard

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