Label: Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros.
Release Date: 3/14/1989
For every Nas, Jay-Z, Raekwon, Mobb Deep-the list goes on and on-album released with a heavy mafioso (read: crime) rap approach and delivery, you have Kool G. Rap to thank for that. At the age of 21, he and then-partner DJ Polo released the groundbreaking Road to the Riches, which, interestingly enough, isn't entirely based on committing felonies and robbing folks. Standout single/opening track "Road to the Riches" might have been, but a majority of the album is just a stunning display of raw talent. And it's for that reason that it goes beyond merely paving the way for lyricists who like to rap about that crime life.
For one, it inspired one of the sharpest rappers of the past few decades—The Roots' Black Thought—and shaped his style. It also laid the groundwork for battle MCs who could both flex their skills ("Men at Work") and weave an engaging narrative ("She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not"). Oh, and did we mention Marley Marl produced the whole thing?