This August will mark the 46th Anniversary of Hip-Hop. On 11th August 1973 18-year-old Jamaican American DJ Kool Herc only played the “break” or instrumental section of songs for his audience at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the Bronx, New York. During these breaks Coke La Rock used a microphone to hype up the crowd and thus the birth of Hip-Hop!
Here we chart some of Hip-Hop’s most influential albums from the genre’s pioneers. These classics should be on repeat for any Hip-Hop fans whether you’re into Grime, Gangsta Rap or more experimental artists.
The son of Jazz musician Olu Dara, Nas was born Nasir Jones in 1973. His lyrics always tell a story and they often concern growing up in Queensbridge Houses, a housing project in Queens, New York. Despite a clear talent and passion for writing he dropped out of school in the eighth grade for a life on New York’s mean streets, an experience which provided essential inspiration for his hard hitting, descriptive lyrical style.
Essential listening: Illmatic (1994)
2. Queen Latifah
New Jersey’s Dana Jones was given the name Latifah meaning delicate and sensitive by a Muslim cousin. Through her music she certainly doesn’t come across as delicate; Queen Latifah was more than equipped to match and often exceed many male rappers in both record sales and sheer talent. She’s best known today as an actor but was renowned in the nineties as a witty, political and ferociously quick rhymer.
Essential listening: Black Reign (1993)
3. LL Cool J
As the name might suggest, LL Cool J – or to give him his full title – Ladies Love Cool James began rapping on the streets of New York at the tender age of seventeen. He released his first single ‘I Can’t Live Without My Radio’ in 1985 and took up a unique space in the Hip-Hop scene as a sensitive Lothario style character and sometime party rapper. The popularity of up-tempo social commentary rap and gangsta rap in the late ’80s and early ’90s from the likes of Public Enemy and NWA respectively clashed with LL Cool J’s style causing a temporary dip in his record sales. Fortunately by 1995 he was back on form with new LP ‘Mr Smith’ likely thanks to the boost of his primetime TV show ‘In The House’. LL Cool J is one of Hip-Hop’s most enduring icons.
Essential Listening: Phenomenon (1997)
4. Public Enemy
Formed by Long Island University mates Chuck D and Flavor Flav, Public Enemy are one of the most well known and well respected Hip-Hop groups of all time. Widely known by some unexpected fans thanks to a genre transcending collaboration with Thrash Metallers Anthrax, Chuck and co have done more than most to broaden their genre’s appeal. Public Enemy are lead my Chuck’s unique baritone voice, a sound of authority which perfectly compliments their politically charged lyrics.
Essential listening: It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
One of the first all woman rap groups, Queens’ Salt-N-Pepa are Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton and Deidra “DJ Spinderella” Roper. At a time when many female fans felt alienated by misogynist rap lyrics and music videos which objectified dancers, the group’s sexually frank and optimistic music was the perfect antidote.
Essential listening: Blacks’ Magic (1990)
6. Naughty By Nature
Founded in East Orange, New Jersey Naughty By Nature began life as New Style before local MC Queen Latifah took them under her wing. With Latifah’s support they released their breakthrough single ‘OPP’ in 1991, which sampled the Jackson 5’s ‘ABC’. The track peaked at number 6 in the billboard chart meaning its one of the most successful crossover hits in Hip-Hop history.
Essential Listening: Naughty By Nature (1991)
7. De La Soul
Known for their hopeful outlook, spirituality and playful sense of humour, De La Soul openly criticised the violent lyrics of their contemporaries. Their fun, at times silly but always thoughtful approach to music was a refreshing change. The Long Island school friends even attempted to usher in the dawning of a new musical age with their group motto D.A.I.S.Y age (da inner sound y’all).
Essential listening: 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)
8. Eric B & Rakim
New Yorkers Eric B and Rakim released their first record in 1987 and it was huge; Paid In Full showcased Eric B’s unrivaled ear for a supreme Soul sample and Rakim’s mesmerising slow flow. Rakim was born William Michael Griffin but changed his name to Rakim (meaning “to show mercy”) as part of his Nation of Gods And Earths faith, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam. Much of his lyrics concern his faith and rap prowess.
Essential listening: Paid In Full (1987)
9. Run DMC
Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell began performing as Run DMC in 1981. They had already been part of their local music scene in Hollis, Queens since the early ’70s. Their stripped back musical approach and up-front rap delivery was something new; their career would continue to be defined by innovation as they gave Hip-Hop its first gold album (Run DMC, 1984), its first platinum album (King of Rock, 1985) and they took the genre to the Billboard top 10 with Aerosmith sampling ‘Walk This Way’. What had previously seemed stark differences between rap and rock suddenly seemed dulled once ‘Walk This Way’ was a success and their interest in rock samples and culture ushered in the notion that a rapper could be a rock star, a view held up by artists like Kanye West today.
Essential listening: King of Rock (1985)
No Golden Age of Hip-Hop list would be complete without the forefathers of gangsta rap, NWA. The Los Angeles supergroup initially setup as a side project was made up of renowned local DJ Andre “Dr Dre” Young, singer-songwriter and producer Kim “Arabian Prince” Nazel, Antoine “DJ Yella” Carraby, label owner and rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, rapper O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson and Lorrenzo “MC Ren” Patterson. Dr Dre had been DJing for parties at his family home since the age of ten playing everything form funk and soul to prog rock. Dre’s eclectic musical influences combined with the group’s forceful delivery and lyrics about life on the streets of Compton were a potent mix.
Essential Listening: Straight Outta Compton (1988)