The Top 20 NYC Rap Albums of All Time: The Complete List

Categories: Hip-Hop

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4. Eric B & Rakim
Paid in Full (1987)
Paid in Full is hip-hop's essential document, the reason the rappers you already love began rapping in the first place, and rapped the way they did. It's also the source of some of the most frequently quoted lyrics in all of hip-hop. With Eric. B providing a brilliantly sourced backdrop, Rakim transformed Paid in Full into a collection of indelible songs, with the most versatile rhymes ever spit, including what is still, arguably, the greatest line ever written in rap, on "My Melody." Rap it with us: "I take seven MC's put 'em in a line/ Add seven more brothers who think they can rhyme/ It'll take seven more before I go for mine/ Now that's 21 MC's ate up at the same time." From the snarling opener "I Ain't No Joke" to the iconic opening lines and scratching tutorial of the title track, Paid in Full was the first golden age album that sounded fully formed, containing all the essential ingredients that came to define rap. -- Jonah Bromwich

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3. Raekwon
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)
The movie samples, the soulful production, even the interludes about dying Wallabees and dudes who emulate their styles: Every aspect of Raekwon's solo debut was without flaw. Though ODB and Method Man had already released their debuts, the anticipation for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx unreal, and it stood up to the high expectations. The intro finds Ghost and Rae about to embark on a final attempt to reach "a pot of gold" by selling drugs. The cinematic lyrics and dark, haunting production that follow made for the perfect mobster movie aesthetics in song form. Cuts like "Rainy Dayz," "Verbal Intercourse" and "Ice Water" illustrated the street life in such detail every notable New York rap album that followed OB4CL's summer of 1995 release took a page from Raekwon's rhyme book. Even Nas, the only non Wu member to be invited to rap on a Wu project at the time, revamped his image the following year to suit the wave Rae and Ghost started by renaming himself Escobar and injecting more crime boss isms to the mix. Which makes sense, when you consider it's the most influential New York rap album next to his own Illmatic. That kind of influence buys you a number three spot on the best NYC rap albums of all time list, no doubt. -- J. Pablo

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2. The Notorious B.I.G.
Ready to Die (1994)
The perfect rap bildungsroman, on Ready to Die The Notorious B.I.G. vividly wove poignant, funny and sometimes altogether horrifying tales of growing up in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn at the height of the crack epidemic, whilst still maintaining a commercial sheen thanks to the adept executive production of a young Sean "Diddy" Combs. The bleakness of "Things Done Changed" or "Suicidal Thoughts" was offset by the braggadocio and excess of "Big Poppa." Lead by the seminal rags-to-riches anthem "Juicy"--which every bonafide rap fan is expected to be able to recite word-for-word-- Ready to Die immediately anointed Biggie as the "King of New York" in hip-hop's Pantheon; a title many fervently believe he still holds 16 years after his death. -- Sowmya Krishnamurthy


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