11 Criminally Underrated Hip-Hop Albums

Written by Rizoh. Posted in Lists, Music

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Published on June 30, 2010 with 24 Comments

[Ed’s Note: Many moons ago, we toyed around with the idea of highlighting underrated albums as a running series, but it never materialized. Thankfully, I was able to get Jaap and Patrick on board for a feature on underrated hip-hop albums. It started out as a Top 10, but I couldn’t stop thinking of albums that deserve a mention. I had to draw the line at 11 to keep the focus on albums that are criminally underrated as opposed to albums we thought were decent enough to be heard. Surely, you’re welcome to add to the list. Now let’s get into it. – Rizoh]


11. Tash – Rap Life
There are certain labels and eras in hip-hop that effectively shaped our music preferences because of the quality product we’ve come to know them for. Late 80s to early 90s Def Jam for instance, or Rawkus circa 2000. Loud Records from mid to late 90s is another one of those giveaways, and Tash’s ‘Rap Life’ is the last album of that era. The album was delayed several times and the original title ‘Bermuda Triangle’ ultimately discarded. That’s never a good sign for an album’s commercial chances or it’s creative success but the Likwit Crew alumni and Alkaholics member didn’t disappoint on the latter. Features by respected colleagues from both coasts and solid production by fellow crew-member E-Swift (among others) are important ingredients but Ca-Tash-trophy is without a doubt the star of his own solo-debut. What really makes this record work is Tash’s humour and how much fun he sounds like he’s having. The guy really enjoys rapping here, and rightfully so. See Drizzy? It CAN be fun. Jaap
 


10. Vakill – Worst Fears Confirmed
Backed mostly by no-name producers and under-the-radar MCs, Vakill crafted one of the best hip-hop albums of 2006. This Chicago MC is one of few who can trade bars with pure lyricists like Ras Kass and Nickel Nine and still murder the track. Worst Fears Confirmed probably won’t get a mention when the history of Chicago hip-hop is written, but it should.
Rizoh
 


9. Louis Logic & JJ Brown – Misery Loves Comedy
They don’t call Louis Logic “Drunken Dragon” for nothing. Dude has a way of bullying good beats into submission, after all. One man who knows just how to outfit Louis’ lyrics with the right tracks was JJ Brown. There’s no better example of their chemistry than 2006’s Misery Loves Comedy. That album tackled failed relationships and personality chaos, but Logic and Brown approach these topics with a unique blend of style and substance. These stately hallmarks notwithstanding, Misery Loves Comedy is still crawling under the fog of relatively unknown, criminally underappreciated albums in hip-hop. Rizoh
 


8. Prince Paul – Prince Among Thieves
Prince Paul is, besides a producer with classics under his belt, not only the godfather of the skit but the king of the hip-hop concept album as well. Something he perfected on Prince Among Thieves, a full-fledged hip-hopera released long before Mtv coined the term. Breeze Brewin performs the part of an up-and-coming mc who needs to finish of his demo for an audition with The Rza but needs cash for his studio sessions. His friend, played by Big Sha, suggests he tags along with his street hustle for a few days. He reluctantly agrees and drama ensues. I won’t give away the twist ending but I will say it all plays out over a plethora of dope beats with roles by a who’s who of the people Prince Paul worked with, from De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane and Kool Keith to Everlast and Chris Rock. With such a high concept pinpointing a single couldn’t have been easy, which might explain it’s lack of commercial impact. An absence of quality certainly wasn’t the case. Jaap
 


7. Freestyle Fellowship – To Whom It May Concern
Freestyle Fellowship was one of the few rap crews to ever live up to its moniker. These tongue-twisting lyricists ignored song structure whenever it threatened to impede their progress. Yet, they had a way of pulling their strengths together form the hip-hop version of Voltron and blast mean rhymes on wax. Their freestyle-flavored classic, To Whom It May Concern, was the last great hurrah for lyrics-driven west coast hip-hop before thuggery overtook the genre. This is one of those albums you must bump, buy or burn at some point before you die. Rizoh
 


6. Apathy – Eastern Philosophy
Apathy is a man from a different age. His rugged voice but versatile flow and clever punchlines over hard knocking boombap could’ve been a goldmine for the record label illuminati 15 years ago. But Ap lives in the now and sadly needs to fight to get his tracks out. Originally meant as an independent release on Babygrande to hold over fans until his major label debut on Atlantic Records dropped, ‘Eastern Philosophy’ could easily compete with many of it’s peers and is far more than a glorified mixtape. Which is certainly a good thing since that major label debut never got released anyway (looking at the turds that do get packaged I wonder why the majors are going broke… Smfh). Strong concepts like ‘The Buck Stops Here’, where he takes the perspective of a dollar bill, are interspersed between impressive battle raps and smart metaphors. The standout track to me however has to be ‘The Winter’, a moody ode to the season of big jackets, hoodies and snow crunching under boots assisted by Blue Raspberry, songstress of Cuban Linx fame. Speaking about Cuban Linx, since Raekwon was able to resurrect that era Apathy may finally get some well-deserved recognition. Let’s get these guys in a studio together! Jaap
 


5. Masta Ace Incorporated – Slaughtahouse
In 1993, Masta Ace teamed up with Lord Digga, vocalist Paula Perry, Eyceurokk, and Brooklyn singer/songwriter Leschea to form Masta Ace Incorporated. Ace worked with this group on 1993’s SlaughtaHouse and 1995’s Sittin’ on Chrome. Their first project, Slaughtahouse, was born mostly out of Ace’s disdain for the lack of creativity in rap. Musically, the album was heavy on bass, even borrowing elements of west coast g-funk. Standout tracks include: “Saturday Nite Live,” “Style Wars” and “Jeep Ass Niguh.” Just how important is Slaughtahouse? The title track made such an impact on Eminem that he briefly came out of retirement just to remix it. Rizoh
 


4. INI – Center of Attention
The lead single is still a staple of any classic 90s set, and all the stars seemed to be aligned right for INI as they were about to release their debut album on Elektra imprint ‘Soul Brother Records’. Group member Grap Luva could hold his own on the mic and with back to back production by his brother Pete Rock during the high point of his career very few things could go wrong. That didn’t stop the project from going down the drain however, despite the initial buzz in ’96 industry rule #4080 seemed to be in full effect once again as the album was never actually released in any official way until 2003. It has the questionable honor of being one of the most bootlegged hip-hop albums ever, and anyone telling you that it’s wack is just Fakin’ Jax. Jaap
 


3. Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night

“This is it (What?!)/ Luchini pourin’ from the sky / Let’s get rich (What?!)”

Nobody could keep quiet with Camp Lo’s call and response chorus over the infectious Dynasty sample (“Adventures in the Land of Music”), but the album’s drawing points didn’t stop with smash single “Luchini.” Vintage 90s NYC beats ranging from laid back to dark and eerie coupled with confident blaxploitation swagger from Geechi Suede and Sonny Cheeba.  The main attraction, though, was Lo’s unparalleled associative rhyming style. Peep the opening of “Krystal Karrington,” for instance, where they spit over sparse piano hits:
“I get Krystal Karrington, ice rock gritty
Carlito on flowin tea flashers, Acapulco how my sign seen?
Second to catch it, First I feel it when I peel it
In the hall with my orchestra, orchestratin’ my plans”
This was probably the big Achilles heel as well. Years before Ghost’s Supreme Clientele or anybody hearing Aesop Rock many hip-hop listeners remained unaware of the full impact these two could and would have. Jaap
 


2. Royce Da 5’9” – Death is Certain
Ryan Montgomery, better known as Royce Da 5’9,” recently hooked up with three other top notch MCs to form Slaughterhouse. But one of his earlier notable collaborations took place with fellow Detroit MC Eminem. In a feud with Em’s group, D12, their relationship soon ended (as of today the dispute has come to an end and Em, D12 and Royce are all on good terms.) After the beef with D12 and a reported battle with depression, Royce released Death is Certain to vent his frustration with music, personal relationships, and life in general. With some help from DJ Premier on the first single and a darker sound, Death is Certain affirmed that Royce was no fluke.Patrick
 


1. Cru – Da Dirty 30
I can’t think of any other 30-track longplayer that I could sit through from intro to outro without getting restless. Cru’s Da Dirty 30 runneth over with nostalgic songs that capture the essence of the 90s. The energy is intoxicating. The excitement is fresh. And none of it as accidental. One of the opening cuts finds Yogi wishing he had a track on Nas’ Illmatic. Yogi, Chadeeo, and Mighty Ha spend the next 60 minutes trying to achieve this goal. The outcome is akin to that saying — and forgive me for going cliché on you — “Reach for the stars so if you fall you’ll land on a cloud.” If you ever forget why you fell in love with the 90s, pop this in your system and jam to it. (Further Reading: Max over at Hip Hop Isn’t Dead has a great write-up on Da Dirty 30)
Rizoh
 


[Update: I agree that Doe or Die isn’t criminally underrated. I’ve replaced it with Vakill’s Worst Fears Confirmed. – Rizoh]

 
Words by: Patrick Laird, Jaap, and Rizoh

TRU

Rizoh

Rizoh is the most powerful man in all the lands. He lives in Houston where he earned a BS in Nerf Herding. He's the founder of The Rap Up, the former editor of Roc4Life.com, and is in the Grammy-awaiting band Pervertable Disciples.

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24 Comments

There are currently 24 Comments on 11 Criminally Underrated Hip-Hop Albums. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

  1. All dope shit. I recently got back into CRU after completely forgetting about them for the better part of a decade. Record blew me away. Again.

    AZ is one of the GOATs, btw.

  2. All dope shit. I recently got back into CRU after completely forgetting about them for the better part of a decade. Record blew me away. Again.

    AZ is one of the GOATs, btw.

  3. Thanks for including INI’s ‘centre of attention’ folks pretend like that album wasn’t a fine piece of hip hop music..its so blatantly ignored its criminal almost.

  4. Thanks for including INI’s ‘centre of attention’ folks pretend like that album wasn’t a fine piece of hip hop music..its so blatantly ignored its criminal almost.

  5. It must have been epically painful to have to keep this list as short as you did, there are so many that could be on here (Boogiemonsters 1st LP and Black Sheep’s 2nd LP jump instantly to mind) but true, at some point it just becomes a list of albums that were good that more people should have bought. Great feature, I personally would love to see it become a series….

  6. It must have been epically painful to have to keep this list as short as you did, there are so many that could be on here (Boogiemonsters 1st LP and Black Sheep’s 2nd LP jump instantly to mind) but true, at some point it just becomes a list of albums that were good that more people should have bought. Great feature, I personally would love to see it become a series….

  7. This is a great list. Articles like this is why I keep coming back to this blog…

    Camp Lo is great and I listen to it a lot, but I have no clue what those guys are rapping about for pretty much the entire record. But the beats plus their flow over them… fantastic.

    CRU’s “Just Another Case” ranks up there with my favorite 90’s tracks with laid-back beats… up there with “’93 Til Infinity” and “Electric Relaxation.” Great stuff.

  8. This is a great list. Articles like this is why I keep coming back to this blog…

    Camp Lo is great and I listen to it a lot, but I have no clue what those guys are rapping about for pretty much the entire record. But the beats plus their flow over them… fantastic.

    CRU’s “Just Another Case” ranks up there with my favorite 90’s tracks with laid-back beats… up there with “’93 Til Infinity” and “Electric Relaxation.” Great stuff.

  9. Oh man, speaking of “Electric Relaxation.” If I got stuck on an island and could only listen to 3 rap albums on repeat, Midnight Marauders would be one of them.

  10. Oh man, speaking of “Electric Relaxation.” If I got stuck on an island and could only listen to 3 rap albums on repeat, Midnight Marauders would be one of them.

  11. great concept and list. only have heard Az’s and royce’s so now i got 9 albums to get on

  12. great concept and list. only have heard Az’s and royce’s so now i got 9 albums to get on

  13. Man that royce album is by far the most slept on album. I used to burn it and give it away to friends and fam and to a man they all were like “who is this dude he’s fire”??

  14. Man that royce album is by far the most slept on album. I used to burn it and give it away to friends and fam and to a man they all were like “who is this dude he’s fire”??

  15. Hey Riz, I totally agree. Midnight Marauders. I have listened to that album way too many times. It’d be one I’d bring. I love tribe

  16. Hey Riz, I totally agree. Midnight Marauders. I have listened to that album way too many times. It’d be one I’d bring. I love tribe

  17. BIG cosign on the Prince Paul record

  18. BIG cosign on the Prince Paul record

  19. Great post… Death is Certain is the truth!

  20. Great post… Death is Certain is the truth!

  21. Pretty good list. I would argue that Doe or Die isn’t slept on. Heads know that was AZ at his finest.

    I remember buying an “unoffical” copy of Center of Attention from HipHopsite.com after the “Faxin Jacks” single dropped in the stores.

  22. Pretty good list. I would argue that Doe or Die isn’t slept on. Heads know that was AZ at his finest.

    I remember buying an “unoffical” copy of Center of Attention from HipHopsite.com after the “Faxin Jacks” single dropped in the stores.

  23. I think the only kind of hiphop I like is criminally underrated! 1/2 of my purchases be on these lists! Rap Life is my shit but the Prince Paul joint and Death Is dont get enough props either! Love it!

  24. I think the only kind of hiphop I like is criminally underrated! 1/2 of my purchases be on these lists! Rap Life is my shit but the Prince Paul joint and Death Is dont get enough props either! Love it!

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