Paid In Full
Eric B & Rakim, Paid In Full (1987)
Label: 4th & B’way/Island
Pusha T: “That was the changing of the guard. That’s when hip hop couldn’t get any louder or more rambunctious than Run. These guys were just as loud, but the style was different. Rakim was just that motherfucker.
“Rakim embodied the seriousness. My sister was in love with Rakim. I used to be like, ‘Why this guy?’ She’d be like, ‘Because he never smiles.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t think that was a good thing.’
My sister was in love with Rakim. I used to be like, ‘Why this guy?’ She’d be like, ‘Because he never smiles.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t think that was a good thing.
“I remember going to the south Bronx and telling my cousins that Run-DMC was the best. They were like, ‘Fuck no. Take this. This is who the best is right now. That shit you’re talking about is old. Shit’s switched up. We’re done with that. This is the new shit.’ That’s what it meant to me. I was floored.
“Run-DMC was street, but the Rakim era took it to street-corner fresh. The Rakim era influenced everybody. Not to say that Rakim was the one who did it, because I believe it was the street guys that influenced the raps, but he was just a part of that era. His rhymes were so good it might be taken back to him.
“To this day, I’m in the midst of buying jewelery, and I have to think of styles I want to do, and I go back to the Supreme Team album cover. That’s in 2011. It still resonates. I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll do that with the 2011 spin on it.” I didn’t go to anything in the past five or ten years, I went to that. That’s what Rakim and them did.”
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Public Enemy, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
Label: Def Jam/Columbia
Pusha T: “It’s really fucking easy to like the bad guy, the brash asshole. It’s easy to relate to that or act like you relate to that or want to be a part of that. What’s hard is being a part of the positive clique without sounding preachy and still pulling in everybody. Who can do that?
“[Public Enemy and KRS-One] are the only people on my list that spoke directly against the crack era. They made huge singles out of political records. They made huge strides. Pac took on rappers, but no one was taking on the U.S. and the establishment.”
By All Means Necessary
Boogie Down Productions, By All Means Necessary (1988)
Pusha T: "KRS-One was the epitome of hip-hop and storytelling. KRS-One is a rap god, but he and Chuck D get passes [for being positive]. You look at KRS-One—and who Scott LaRock was to him and how he went down—and he could have easily turned that into angst and anarchy. He could have been like, ‘Fuck it. You just did this,’ and it really could have went all the way bad, and it didn’t. He still kept his stance. He still did ‘Love’s Gonna Getcha.’
“We sort of succumb to the bullshit and the negativity, and these guys fought against all of that shit. They fought and put out music with the best of them. They still prevailed. These albums are reflections of them, and that’s why I give them that competitive spirit. They didd something harder than probably everybody on my list.”
Follow The Leader
Eric B & Rakim, Follow The Leader (1988)
Pusha T: "You still discover shit on Follow The Leader. You can still discover lines. You might have missed some shit. I missed things [that I discovered] just recently. That’s how fucking intricate he was. Of that time, Rakim was Nas, Jay-Z was Kane. Rakim was just greater than most in everything—persona, lyricism.”
It’s A Big Daddy Thing
Big Daddy Kane, It’s A Big Daddy Thing (1989)
Label: Cold Chillin/Reprise/Warner Bros.
Pusha T: "Kane was the style maverick. Come to find out, I heard there was a rift between him and Rakim. Kane wanted it, Rakim wanted it. I've heard this and I don’t know [for sure], but their verses lead me to believe that they were talking [to each other].
Come to find out, I heard there was a rift between him and Rakim. Kane wanted it, Rakim wanted it. I've heard this and I don’t know [for sure], but their verses lead me to believe that they were talking [to each other].
"They were rhyming with such an intensity and direct aggressiveness for someone. I heard it was an on-going thing. I heard Kane really wanted it. But I don't know how true it was or not.
“Kane was extremely lyrical. He embodied everything. He had the women, the style, the lyrics, he even had dancers. He would dance in unison with these guys and you didn’t diss him. With Rakim you had nobody smiling, walking back and forth on stage, and we admired it. He had the slingshots on the back of his Air Force 1’s, and we admired and love it.
“At the same time, Kane was so good at his persona, we accepted it. We loved Rakim’s street, hard-edge persona. Kane was so good at rapping, we accepted the dance. We could take both, and it would be what it be. Now, we might frown upon a rapper being a dancer.”
Fear Of A Black Planet
Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet (1990)
Label: Def Jam/Columbia
Pusha T: “They also took on the ignorant culture that us young blacks adapted to. They took that on and said, ‘Nah, that ain’t fly. That ain’t the shit. That ain’t what you’re supposed to do, and I’m going to say it. I don’t care how many big gold chains he has on, I’m going to say it.’ And the music was better.”
Amerikkka’s Most Wanted
Ice Cube, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted (1990)
Pusha T: “We all knew Cube was great from N.W.A. and everything. He was the writer of the majority of the hits for N.W.A., but who steps out from something so great and wreaks havoc on all them motherfuckers? He wreaked havoc on everybody and he won.
“It’s was like, ‘I’m in N.W.A. for a reason. All that shit can go. I’m still standing here,’ and it hit everywhere. Everybody knew Cube was the truth nationwide. You couldn’t stop that. That gangster shit was just accepted from everybody. It was out of adversity too. He came from a time when people were like, ‘Damn, what’s he going to do now?’ He went solo and really killed it.
“It wasn’t half-ass or somewhat weak—none of that. We weren’t saying, ‘Oh, but I miss Dre. Oh, but I miss Eazy.’ Mind you, this is one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time. How could you not miss them? He made you not miss them. That’s what was crazy.”
The Low End Theory
A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (1991)
Pusha T: "The Low End Theory was the coolest, hippiest album. It gave the alternative guy a face a little bit. The Low End Theory gave the non-thug, the not Chuck-D-esque rapper, the woven-belt guy, the twisted-hair guy, the railroad-pants guy, the house-shirt off-the-shoulder guy an identity. The soundtrack was just fucking phenomenal for it.”
Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)
Label: Death Row/Interscope/Priority
Pusha T: "The Chronic is one of the greatest albums ever made. The Chronic and Doggystyle were well put together with interludes, songs, attitude, defining moments in music, and time, and history. You had to follow what they did. You felt like people smoked weed because of it.”
Enta Da Stage
Black Moon, Enta Da Stage (1993)
Pusha T: “Black Moon created a mood with what they did. Musically, Buckshot was a new voice. Sales didn’t eclipse a lot of those guys but they had such a stronghold and such position, you cannot deny the classic-ness of that shit. I don’t care what they ended up selling.
“They had their feet planted firmly in that whole Bucktown-Duckdown movement. That was the argument. Their shit was so good, it was like, ‘Who’s better? Is Mobb Deep better, or is it Buckshot and them? In school that’s what I was arguing.
“Aesthetically, the guys who were a little more rugged and into that shit was Buckshot. The followers followed the moods of each of the artists. I was into all of it. I couldn’t not listen to Buckshot or any of them. I had to listen to it all.”
A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders (1993)
Pusha T: “Midnight Marauders brought in everybody. When The Low End Theory came out, there was still guys saying, ‘Get that shit out of here. I’m cool. I can’t really relate.’ They polished it on Marauders and it was digestible for everybody. Q-Tip was cute to bitches on Marauders. [Laughs.]
“On The Low End Theory they were weirdos but if you had the eclectic taste to get it, you’d love it. If you were just hardcore like, ‘Fuck it. I can’t do it if it’s not straight-forward,’ you couldn’t get it. Marauders brought everybody in. Cohesively, Marauders is definitely in the higher end of my Top 25.”
Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Wu-Tang Clan, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers (1993)
Pusha T:“Wu-Tang was so great, because they provided a whole world for you to come in. They created a whole world through slang, styles, multi-styles throughout the artists, and made a mesh that people can’t make. Everybody can’t be fly. Everybody can’t be the man.
“There’s so many groups out here, and how can everybody in the group be solo-worthy in some form or fashion? There’s never been a group that could break themselves down like that. All of those guys shined in their own particular way.
“Wu-Tang drew everyone in. They had males, females. It was so overwhelming. Who would have thought women were going to like it? This wasn’t clean rap. Granted they made records like ‘Ice Cream,’ but this was not clean rap. They had a piece of everybody with them.”
Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle (1993)
Label: Death Row/Interscope
Pusha T: “The Chronic and Doggystyle set it off. That was the start of their reign. It was like, ‘Y’all ain’t outselling us. I don’t care how good your music is or whatever.’
“I think Suge said it best. He said, ‘We sell records in volumes.’ I think Big was like 1.3 million. He was like, ‘So what? What is that?’ This shit was so good and it hit at the right time. It was packaged, and it was everything that it was supposed to be. The numbers and everything just reflected it to the point where it was undebatable that they had the stronghold. That was it.”
Nas, Illmatic (1994)
Pusha T: "That shit was poetry, man. That was storytelling at its best. The pictures that were painted, the descriptions, it was incredible. My favorite song on there was ‘One Love.’”
Mobb Deep, The Infamous (1995)
Pusha T: “The Infamous spoke to the corner boy, the corner hustler, the corner misfit, in a way that’s never been done before. Like, ‘I used to drive an Ac and kept the mac in the engine/Little, painted in black, with crack sales intentions.’ The verses, the lines, and everything on that was directly for guys who were totally fine with bandannas and cups of Hennessy.
“Everybody else was trying to be mob bosses, crime bosses, a little bit more lavish. These guys were like, ‘Fuck all that.’ This spoke to a real guy. I was like 16. I had just gotten my license and I had a Hyundai Elantra, that was my Acura. This is what I was playing in my car.”
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)
Pusha T: "Cuban Linx was the drug dealers’ bible. It eliminated a lot of gloss. It was way too real. All of Wu-Tang was really unorthodox, but Rae put everything in a street perspective so you could understand it. He incorporated the slangs, but it was fly. It was Polo, it was Snow Beach. It was all of that shit—they were the epitome of it.
"They spoke the language musically, but at the same time, they embodied the whole culture of fly with the cars, the Infinitis. I don’t feel that they were the opposite of Mobb Deep. For that I would go with Hov."
GZA, Liquid Swords (1995)
Pusha T: “GZA lyrically and musically put out one of the greatest LP’s. It shocked everybody. Of everybody, he was the least colorful. GZA’s the straight-ahead, articulate, real rap, true student of the old school. GZA was all of that shit man.
“Production-wise, it’s crazy that I have three different Wu joints on my list and the music and the soundbeds for all of them are distinctly different. They were all done in the same realm with the same producers, but with Liquid Swords, 36 Chambers, and Cuban Linx, you can listen to them all and be happy.”
All Eyez On Me
2Pac, All Eyez On Me (1996)
Label: Death Row/Interscope
Pusha T: “Great album. He was one of the more passionate guys. He was just amazing. All Eyez On Me was crazy. Just prolific shit. He was telling you the world. Who talked to more people than Pac? Who talked to more people than Pac without the color and the east cost metaphors that can draw you in?
“If you’ve got someone throwing metaphors and similes at you all day, you can see the cleverness in it. Pac didn’t have all of those. He didn’t have that at all. He just talked at you with order, like a preacher. He had so much passion and still reached out and touched everybody without all the bells and whistles. He and Big were so opposite, and both were so good in both of those veins that it was what it was.”
Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Pusha T: “Hov really took on the fedoras, the trenches, and the scarves. He was really talking Versace. I remember debating and arguing with my older friends—who were deep into the drug game—and they’d be like, ‘Why the fuck you like Nas?’ I’d be like, ‘He’s killing it. He’s dope.’
“They were very superficial. They couldn’t get over the fact that Nas was on TV in an army jacket. They didn’t get that, when you’ve got Hov with the diamond Jesus and the Versace t-shirt. That’s what they were living.
I didn’t know what Cristal was for a long time. I had no clue. The same guys I was just talking about were popping bottles of Cristal with Eazy-E. It resonated with them and I had to ask, ‘Yo, what’s that?
“They were like, ‘This man waited all this time to get on TV and he’s got on an army jacket? I’m telling you, Hov is the motherfucking man. He’s talking that shit.’ I related to Nas and the older guys related to Jay-Z at the time. Then they hipped me to Jay-Z. So Mobb and Rae would talk it, but they still had the aesthetic I could relate to. Jay was beyond me.
“I didn’t know what Cristal was for a long time. I had no clue. The same guys I was just talking about were popping bottles of Cristal with Eazy-E. It resonated with them and I had to ask, ‘Yo, what’s that?’
“When I got hip to it and understood what the ins and outs of what he was really saying and what it really meant... I wasn’t at that level to understand the perspective he was coming from. I related a little bit more to the Nas’ or the Mobb’s and the Raekwon’s. I didn’t really get all of that when I was debating back and forth.
“Then once I got into it, I had to get into a whole other lifestyle. Once again, these people had put me on to it. That’s when I first started stepping out. These people would take me out to the club, and I couldn’t be in the club. But they had so much money in the town, I could go in the club because I was with them.
That’s where the song ‘Doorman’ came from. ‘Hey doorman, line up the Cris/I’ll put my money on the roof, then crush this bitch.’ That’s what my friends used to say to the doormen, ‘I’ll take all my money and crush this bitch,’ talking about his club. That’s where all that comes from.
“Mind you, this is Versace and button-downs. We would go to the club and you would have to have on your Versace or collared shirt, your hard-bottoms, your pants. Think of the aesthetic of Puffy and the ballers back then. We could go and the guys I was with were so disrespectful. They would go in sweats and sneakers and they’d get a hard time at the door.
“They’d curse the guy out at the door and say, ‘Yo all the bitches in here waiting on us to come and buy their drinks anyway.’ So everybody in there spent their money on their outfit, but they ain’t got no money, and they had pockets full of money and they’d hold it up.
“That’s where the song ‘Doorman’ came from. ‘Hey doorman, line up the Cris/I’ll put my money on the roof, then crush this bitch.’ That’s what my friends used to say to the doormen, ‘I’ll take all my money and crush this bitch,’ talking about his club. That’s where all that comes from.
“When I speak of the Reasonable Doubt parallels, the older guys were entrenched in that life already. On top of that, they were really seeing these people. There’s so much that goes into the dynamic of why the people that influenced me were so caught up in it.
“Jay-Z speaks about it all the time. In one of his interviews he says, ‘I was out in Newport News.’ These guys were of his age and they were all in line.”
The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
Makaveli, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
Label: Death Row/Interscope
Pusha T: “That was war music. He took on a whole coast and took on the best of the coast. He addressed any and everybody, on top of making great records. He addressed it all, the who’s who. Everybody he addressed is on this list—one died, one is still here and still great, still top-tier, Mobb Deep’s still around with arguably another classic on here. Pac took on the top tier and was philosophizing on you. That’s what his thing was.”
Life After Death
The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death (1997)
Label: Bad Boy
Pusha T: “Life After Deathlet me know that Biggie was the best rapper ever. It let me know that he was light years beyond. He not only rhymed with color, not only did he rhyme with lyricism, not only did he rhyme with melody, not only was he a storyteller, he did every spectrum of rap and was the best at it.
Life After Death, to this day, is still the best double album ever.
“‘I Got A Story To Tell’ is still amazing. His best verse was ‘Young G’s,’ and that was on Puff’s album. He had already passed and Jay still rhymed on it, Puff still rhymed on it, and it still resonated. I had heard it before. He put it on Jackin’ 4 Beats initially.
“Life After Death, to this day, is still the best double album ever. A lot of people try to make doubles and you find out that you can’t do 26 songs. You can’t do 26 songs and keep my attention. You can’t do 26 songs and keep everybody’s attention.
“I can tell you records from both sides and it’ll just be what it be. I mean, he did everything. He went west coast, he went Bone Thugs, he went everywhere and shined. Nobody has done that in 26 songs.”
Outkast, Aquemini (1998)
Pusha T: “That’s when they went totally crazy. All the risks were taken on that shit. Andre was full-on wigged-out. There was no scheme. There’s no uniformity to Outkast, yet for some reason it still works.
“They took up a whole lane. There was East Coast shit, there was West Coast shit, and Outkast took everything in between. They owned everything in between, and they had a piece of everybody.
“If you thought Tribe were weirdos, how did you feel about a pimp and a fucking wig-wielding man who will rap you out of house and home and talk remorsefully and consciously to you at the same time about fucking bitches? They were just all over the place and people related. I related.”
Jay-Z, The Blueprint (2001)
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Pusha T: “The Blueprint birthed everybody. It birthed Just, it birthed Ye, you beat up Nas and Prodigy. He was the aggressor in those fights. He made one of the best diss records ever with ‘Takeover.’ I still argue that ‘Takeover’ is better than ‘Ether.’ He had the best rhyme alongside Eminem. ‘Song Cry’ is one of the most poignant hip-hop records ever. The Blueprint gave you any and everything you wanted.”
The Black Album
Jay-Z, The Black Album (2003)
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Pusha T: “The Black Album has ‘Allure’ and a bunch of my favorite records. ‘Allure’ is one of my favorite records ever. Some of the verses on ‘What More Can I Say,’ ‘Encore,’ ‘99 Problems,’ which is probably one of the best videos ever shot.
“‘Public Service Announcement,’ I just watched him perform that on the Watch The Throne tour, and it still feels like it came out yesterday. It’s timeless. ‘Lucifer’ is one of the hardest records ever made.
“You can’t have all of those and that album not be in the top. All them shits make way too much sense. It was sickening to a lot of people. Not only is the album in the Top 25 because the music’s great, but you have to take everything surrounding it. High schoolers were walking around in fucking button-ups and cuff-links.”
Hell Hath No Fury
The Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
Label: Re-Up/Star Trak/Jive
Pusha T: “Hell Hath No Fury is the realest album ever. It’s the darkest, best record, hands down. The whole space and time, I always tell people that album will never be recreated.
“I don’t think I’ll ever even be in that state of my life again to ever even write records like that. If I am, you will be visiting me in jail. [Laughs] If not that, you’ll be hearing about label drama number 99,000 from me.
I personally would not have made ‘Young Boy’ or ‘Ma, I Don’t Love Her.’ I hate playing ‘When The Last Time.’ I’ll never perform it ever in my life. I hate it, and I don’t feel that way with any of the Hell Hath No Fury records.
“It just spoke the truest of the truest shit. It was a dark time but it made for the best music. There’s no record better than ‘Keys Open Doors.’ There isn’t a better record than ‘Mama I’m So Sorry,’ or ‘Ride Around Shining.’
“The soundtrack to that album are just the greatest beats. Nothing is fucking with those beats. That was the best rendition of mixing Goodfellas, The Godfather, King Of New York, all of the gangsterest of movies and putting them into an album.
“Cohesively, it’s a better album than Lord Willin’. I didn’t compromise anything. Not on one record do I feel I compromised. I personally would not have made ‘Young Boy’ or ‘Ma, I Don’t Love Her.’ I hate playing ‘When The Last Time.’ I’ll never perform it ever in my life. I hate it, and I don’t feel that way with any of the Hell Hath No Fury records.
“I still want to do a tour just performing all of the Hell Hath No Fury records. Right before me and Malice put out another album we’re going to do a Hell Hath No Fury show.
“Hell Hath No Fury was better than [Jay-Z’s] Kingdom Come. Yes it was. By far. It came out same time, we won.”