In the 1990s and early 2000s, when rap fans first started writing and reading about hip-hop online, there was a sense among us that we were looking for something different.
Sure, we rocked with what was on the charts, too. But there was an excitement about the possibilities that the Internet had opened up. You could talk to fans from different regions and areas, trade music, find out about what tapes were hot in Texas, in the Bay, and which classics existed in Atlanta that hadn't received wider exposure. You could hear how the music changed from region to region.
We found out about cult classics, obscurities, and everything in between. Sure, some could fall down the rabbit hole and forget that whichever MC they'd found out about online was a fairly marginal figure, or a 6th-degree knockoff of a much more popular (and better) rapper. But as long as you kept perspective, the Internet let you see how much more was really out there.
In recent years, though, as tastes diversified and the number of channels providing music multiplied, it seemed like the music that was discussed became narrower in scope.
Instead, fans seek that sense of communal approval, of consensus. Without a single TRL/BET "mainstream" to react to, human nature seems to guide most hip-hop fans, whether through nostalgia or some lonely imperative, to a singular view of what's worth talking about (whether in favor or against).
Reading about rap is different now. Not better or worse, per se. But when this writer first had access to the Internet, the availability of cult classics, like the albums on this list, was eye-opening. Many of them don't have much of a profile outside of their region, or amongst a certain group of hardcore fans. But they're definitely worth hearing.