With his impossibly cool delivery, complex metaphors, previously unheard of internal rhyme schemes and Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths–informed knowledge, Rakim instantly changed the game for MCs with Paid in Full, his 1987 debut album with Eric B, released 25 years ago today.

The emergence of The God MC was remarkable, at the time at least, for another reason: He didn’t claim Brooklyn (where he had deep family roots), or Eric B.’s home borough of Queens, but Wyandanch, a small town 30 miles east of the city, in Long Island’s Suffolk County. People still generally don’t associate the suburbs with hip-hop credibility but starting with Paid In Full and Public Enemy’s aptly titled Yo! Bumrush The Show (also released in ‘87),

Long Island’s “Black Belt” became, for several years, hip-hop’s center of creativity. Embracing their outsider status, acts like De La Soul, EPMD, Leaders of the New School and KMD issued a wave of innovative albums in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, ushering in sounds and sensibilities that invigorated hip-hop’s core audience while evincing a universality rappers from the city couldn’t always muster.

Though not as vital as it once was, Long Island’s rap scene still produces the occasional gem—see Roc Marciano’s Marcberg, for one recent example. What better was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Paid In Full than to take a look at 25 of the greatest albums to come from Strong Island? Recognize.

Written by Jesse Serwer (@JesseSerwer)

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