This week, while we’ve taken a loving look back at the finest album-length offerings that the home of hip-hop has contributed to the genre, we’re also reminded of the empty spaces in our record collections where masterpieces should sit. It’s heartbreaking enough that rap in an album form didn’t catch on until long after The Crash Crew had an opportunity to record a proper full length, but the feeling of flipping through old issues of The Source and seeing advertisements month-after-month of rap albums that were never released made us feel like abandoned children. The music industry is a cruel place, and these surefire smashes never reaching store shelves is perhaps the most torturous evidence why. These are the five best New York rap albums that never happened.
Lord Have Mercy
Thee Ungodly Hour (1998)
In the latter half of the ’90s, Flipmode was truly “da Squad.” Busta Rhymes’ hyper-kinetic persona and outlandish wardrobe interjected an explosive burst of creativity into the mainstream rap world that made the would-be eccentric beloved by “jiggy” and “street” listeners alike. Adding to the unpredictable fun was his battalion of similarly-minded co-conspirators, the Flipmode Squad. Always enjoyable presences on his records, we were fortunate enough to get full-lengths from members Rampage and Rah Digga before things fell apart. The biggest casualty was the permanent moratorium given to member Lord Have Mercy’s Thee Ungodly Hour. With a memorably bass-y voice, Lord might have been the most instantly recognizable and intriguing member of the crew. Sadly, Elektra refused to release it, going as far as to allow the collaborations recorded for the album to finally surface on the guest artists’ albums.
Maximum Strength (1999)
A decade before he was writing his own gospels and seemingly being legally forced to appear in every hip-hop documentary ever made, blastmaster KRS-ONE had a fantastic streak of albums whose consistency few have ever been able to compete with. From his work with Boogie Down Productions through his solo endeavors, KRS was considered one of the genre’s most reliable artists, successfully transcending numerous hip-hop generations and staying atop wherever rap was headed. He looked to end the ’90s, and his contract with Jive Records, with a bang on his album Maximum Strength. While the label heavily promoted the album in the CD jackets and even tied the posse cut lead single in with the Mark Wahlberg/Chow Yun-Fat movie The Corrupter, the project mysteriously evaporated and KRS laid low until his 2001 Sneak Attack album debuted on Koch. It remains unclear to this day what happened to the project, but longtime fans were mercilessly tempted with a 2008 press release promising the long-awaited album’s forthcoming release, only for fans to discover the bait-and-switch of KRS-ONE releasing an entirely new album named Maximum Strength with the deceptively small subtext “TWO THOUSAND EIGHT.”
Oh My God (2002)
Years before Detox and people making “Dr. Dre takes forever” jokes, was the mythologized Dre-produced Rakim album Oh My God. The Rakim-Dre partnership seemed to come at a time when Dre was on top of the world. Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP had sold over ten-million copies, he’d been honored by The Grammys as the Producer of the Year and his 1999 album 2001 proved anyone who “Forgot About Dre” was a fool. The next logical step to further solidify dominance over the rap world would have to be signing arguably the greatest rapper of all time and releasing his magnum opus comeback album. Rakim hadn’t put out a project since 1997, and his pairing with the good Doctor screamed of fantasy rap dream teaming. Sadly, since we can’t have nice things, the album never happened. Rakim cites pressure from Interscope (many note the few leaked songs from this period feature far more profanity and gun talk than we’re used to from the R) and Dre chalked it up to creative differences. Man, if only Rakim had wanted to make headphones instead.
Inner Vision (2003)
The sad fate of Rawkus Records left a bad taste in the backpacker generation’s collectives mouthes. Yet, even during the dying days of the MTV tie-ins, the Funkmaster Flex hosted promo tapes and the flagship artists departing to start their own labels, Rawkus loyalists held on, hoping against hope that former half of Organized Konfusion Pharoahe Month’s sophomore album Inner Visions would make all the suffering worth it. While the project’s mind-melting single “Agent Orange” brought along a significant buzz, the album never materialized and by 2005, “Pharoahe Monch signed to…” rumors became the chatter-du-jour of rap news outlets. While Monch did eventually release a second album in 2007’s Desire, the album’s overall soul-inspired vibe sounds drastically different from the direction “Agent Orange” seemed to be heading in.
Nas & DJ Premier
Nasdaq: Dow Jones (2008)
The mid-2000s were home to many fabled rap releases that sounded too good to be true, and in all likelihood were. Along with Dr. Dre’s Detox, you had talk of an MF Doom and Ghostface Killah collaboration called Swift and Changable, promo items hinting at Madvillain 2, and a cruel bit of false hopes called Nasdaq: Dow Jones. Longtime Nas fans had been complaining about his production choices since his second album, so when Premier confirmed the plans for a collaborative album with Nas in a series of interviews, there was much rejoicing. Shortly after talk of this album circulated, Nas entered his Hip-Hop is Dead phase, championing old school tradition and even appearing on a Premier beat for the release of the posse cut “Classic.” Unfortunately, the two just couldn’t get the timing right and, allegedly, rumor has it Premier gave the production he was going to give to Nas to Christina Aguilera. Life isn’t good.