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

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1. Nas
Illmatic (1994)
Amongst the sins that Lupe Fiasco has committed (snubbing Tribe, releasing Lasers), one of the most unforgiveable was the subtitle of Food and Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album. No one's going to fault ambition or self-aggrandizement, particularly not in rap music. But we already have the great American rap album and we've had it for some time now. That album, the platonic ideal of any New York (and thus, any American) rap album is Illmatic.

The stats, quickly: 10 tracks. Thirty-eight minutes of flawless rapping, without a single wack line. A dream team of producers, all of them operating at their apex, contributing to a coherent, well-defined sound. Five mics.

"I don't know how to start this shit," Nas mutters, at the beginning of "New York State of Mind." That's the last time you'll hear him hesitate. Over a divine Primo beat, he jets out, monkey-flipping other rappers, laying out his domain, baseheads near the corner, E&J brandy up in the stairway. It's cinematic, vivid, an undeniably full portrait of Queensbridge in the early '90's, details so real you could scrape them off your shoes.

Eight songs follow, each as fully realized as the last. The Gap Band provides a lugubrious nostalgia to contrast with AZ's snub-nosed nihilism. Large Professor sets the mood at "Halftime;" Nas wears Nikes and chains that excite the feds, in the streets with a ton of reefer, chilling with his fronts out, shouting out 40 side, John Jay high school, and all five boroughs.

Illmatic straddles two golden eras of Hip-Hop, marrying the late '80s and mid-90s into an undeniable fusion of pitch-perfect rapping and timeless, evocative production. It's the definitive rap classic because it defines how rich a rap album can be. It creates a world in which the specifics fill themselves in, an immaculate rendering of a one man's everyday life that encompasses an entire universe, extant within six blocks of New York City pavement. -- Jonah Bromwich

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109 comments
raoulduke
raoulduke

az- doe or die

mob deep- the infamous

bdp-criminal minded


otherwise pretty solid

nickajigga
nickajigga

Not sure what I would remove for the following greatest albums (except Cam'ron) but Mobb Deep, BDP and Special Ed's Youngest in Charge need to be on this list.

Flowalition
Flowalition

Capitol Punishment - BIG PUN im done here lol

3rdwrld
3rdwrld

Hey What about Enta Da Stage!!!

Ces1ne
Ces1ne

Very well written.....highlight was the EPMD write up!!

-obviously lists like this are opinions, but CNNs "The War Report" not being on a NY list is a criminal act. That album IS NY in the 90s.

heaterz
heaterz

Purple haze was dope maybe not as dope as listed... pretty good list though mobb deep and krs one and mos def should have made it though

davey
davey

Cool list and all, but  RE: Liquid Swords -- movie samples aren't skits.

barack.osama56
barack.osama56

Mobb Deep - The Infamous

It must be included. That is not debatable!

Donn
Donn

black star should be on this list. i mean how do you have purple haze and no black star.

Donn
Donn

black star should be on this list. i mean how do you have purple haze and no black star.

Donn
Donn

black star should be on this list. i mean how do you have purple haze and no black star.

nickleby
nickleby

i'd say Black Star fits all the criteria to be somewhere on this list. it's very NY, near flawless production and absolutely flawless lyricism by two of NY's greatest emcees.

wallyk3
wallyk3

i realized this list wasn't serious once they said Enter the 36 Chambers had "10" emcees

bunkerking86
bunkerking86

If the slim shady lp or marshall mathers album isnt up there then this list is fucked .......

alisonshabes
alisonshabes

lacking artists outside of NY, bullshit 

alisonshabes
alisonshabes

lacking artists outside of NY, bullshit 

chrissavvy
chrissavvy

@AnnakinSlayd cam'ron at 8..one of the peep makin list musta banged some chick to that album so he thinks its up there..

SamuriApocalysp
SamuriApocalysp

@bruthadub Camron better than Liquid Swords ??? Hahahaha No KRS no G Rap the Wrong Beasties the wrong De la no Midnight Marauders ??? FOH

TianHerstel
TianHerstel

@GerbenKor Dat ik ze bijna allemaal ken is gelet op mijn leeftijd geen goed teken voor de stand van de rap-scene...

kpoetic
kpoetic

No Kool G Rap.....are you serious?!?!? One of the best if not THE best street rapper....a story teller who has a gift of flow..... No Kane another flowsmith.....No KRS who is the greatest because of his ability to flow street AND education.......not having the aforementioned is a joke of the highest order, c'mon!!!

John Robert Hector
John Robert Hector

Flav & Rev Buzzy ! Hehehee! We was Bad in Bronx back when! Woe! Fun was cheap...& friends were4 keeps back n them houses then!

Jay Lane
Jay Lane

That list was pretty good, but omitting KRS ONE and BDP is an unforgivable crime. You should correct that "by any means necessary" Perhaps a little less love for the Beastie Boys, Jay Z, and Wu Tang Clan would allow for further diversity on what is a fairly solid list. What about Big Daddy Kane and the rest of the Juice Crew? Ultramagnetic MCs? Grandmaster Flash? And no female artists whatsoever? I just feel like you could have spread the love around better, that's all.

lyrical_gangsta
lyrical_gangsta

go on & throw popcorn at me ;-) but i was hoping 4 Black Sheep, Das Efx or Fushnikens ... but i'll take De La, Bboys, Run DMC & Tribe. Nice & Smooth had a really gr8 record back in the day, too. Digital Underground!!! I miss when hiphop was fun. i'm old ;-(

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