Label: B-Boy Records

Before KRS-One became known the hip-hop icon who over-pronounces his words, he was a young trash talker who helped shape the golden era of hip-hop with Criminal Minded in 1987. You love to hear the story again and again of how MC Shan of DJ Marley Marl's Juice Crew dropped "The Bridge," an ode to Queensbridge's early days of hip-hop, and KRS One responded with "The Bridge is Over." But that was just the warning shot. Soon after dropping that lethal 12", the young Bronx MC, along with his longtime partner DJ Scott La Rock, and, on the low, Ced-Gee from the Ultramagnetic MCs, pulled together jagged fragments of sound from a crazy era to construct a rap masterpiece known as Criminal Minded.

Unafraid to take beef head on, KRS metaphorically threw up his set on "South Bronx"—another shot at the Juice Crew—and a revision of hip-hop's creation myth. KRS, still a teen at the time, popped shit like most teenagers do. On "9mm Goes Bang" he rhymed about shooting drug dealers and popping off at cops. A far stretch from the teacher KRS fans are used to hearing today.

Boogie Down Productions' debut album represents the infancy of New York's hardcore rap scene borrowing from dancehall's rude boy element and the African-American street perspective. Think of the same vibe Black Star, Black Moon and the Boot Camp Click threw down in the '90s and '00s. It was songs like "P is Free" and the album's title track that became the foundation of the BDP sound.

Although KRS rapped from the streets, Criminal Minded was not one-dimensional. Its shape included the DNA of other hip-hop to come, including the genre's internal contradictions. The street mentality, KRS understood, was not a singular state of mind, but a shard of a larger experience. And his art contained a similar totality: "You seem to be the type that only understand/The annihilation and destruction of the next man/That's not poetry, that is insanity/It's simply fantasy far from reality," he rapped on "Poetry." Hip-hop was about the language of violence, but it was also about a lot of other things, too. It was about life. Other obvious contenders as the best rap album of the 1980s, like It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Straight Outta Compton both came from within Criminal Minded. Its world splintered in different directions as hip-hop expanded.

The album's stripped-down and minimal sound has aged better than most. Maybe ten year ago—in the wake of G-Funk, Puffy's lush disco loops, and Timbaland's juggling rhythmic innovations, the BDP beats sounded stiff and dated. But true art maintains; a decade later in the Yeezus era, that moment feels like a trick of history's lighting. Ced-Gee and Scott La Rock's production holds up track-for-track, a skeleton key for unlocking the genre's potential. —Larry Hester & David Drake