Clipse- Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
Although Ludacris' Release Therapy won an award for 'best rap album' at the 2006 Grammy Awards, there's no question that the honor should have gone to the Clipse for their ferocious effort on Hell Hath No Fury. With the sonic duties left entirely to Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, the production duo known as 'The Neptunes' provided the perfect stripped-down, yet vicious backdrop for Malice and Pusha T to spit their coke-fueled stories. More than just 'cocaine-rap,' this album showcased a despair and frustration that could only have been generated by 4 to 5 years of label politics.
Jay-Z- The Blueprint (2001)
Jay-Z's second best album to date, The Blueprint was significant for a variety of reasons. First, it served as the coming-out party for Kanye West, who produced "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Takeover," "Heart of the City," and "Never Change." With the exception of Timbaland and The Trackmasters, Jay-Z enlisted Just Blaze, Kanye, and Bink! to create the backbone of his album- leaving it in the hands of three barely proven up-and-comers. The result was a soul-driven classic which has stood the test of time.
Madvillain- Madvillainy (2004)
When I first heard about this album, I was more than skeptical about taking a listen to it. One look at the cover, and all I could think was this must be the craziest sounding album ever. And I didn't mean that in a good way. After reading the review for it on pitchfork.com, I decided to check it out. What I heard was one of the most creative and wild albums I've ever had the privilege to listen to. Madlib's beats are some of the finest of his career and DOOM kills it. Much like DJ Premier worked perfectly with Guru, Madlib and DOOM are perfect for each other. To this day I still bump it, and I can't wait for the sequel to come out sometime in 2010...
Kanye West- The College Dropout (2004)
Kanye's first and best album. I don't care what anyone says, from top-to-bottom College Dropout is his best effort to date. With CLASSIC cuts like "Two Words," "Through the Wire," "Last Call," "Jesus Walks," and "Slow Jams," it is without a doubt one of the best albums of the decade. Sure, the skits along with a couple unnecessary tracks disrupt the flow of the album, but as a collective body of songs it is phenomenal.
Common- Be (2005)
Once again, Kanye adds some of his signature flavor to another great album. Be was the best Hip Hop album of 2005 (though The Documentary was close) and it resurrected (get it?) Common's career. Four years later, "The Corner" is still my jam. Kanye's production along with Dilla's two contributions ("Love Is" and "It's Your World") were the perfect palette for Common to spit his knowledge.
The Game- The Documentary (2005)
One of the best Dr. Dre executive-produced albums ever, from a production stand-point The Documentary is nearly flawless. Don't believe me? First track... "Westside Story"... second track... "Dreams"... third track... "Hate It Or Love It... fourth track... "Higher"... fifth track... "How We Do"... and I could keep going. Not to mention bangers like the Timbaland-produced "Put You on the Game" and heartfelt songs like "Start from Scratch" and "Don't Worry." If Game could have cut back on his "name dropping" and had shown a little more lyrical prowess, this is without a doubt a 4.5 star album.
Raekwon- Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II... (2009)
Is it too early to call this album a classic? Perhaps... but it is definitely the best Hip Hop album of the last few years (yeah, I said it) and the best East Coast album since The Black Album. Too many dope songs to mention, but without thinking too hard "Gihad," "Broken Safety," "10 Bricks," "New Wu," and "House of Flying Daggers" come to mind. Only mentioning these songs does not do this album justice, as there are very few flaws. It is a Hip Hop head's perfect album; a gritty, new-school Wu-Tang album with production from greats such as J Dilla, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, RZA, The Alchemist, and Scram Jones among others.
Jay- Z- The Black Album (2004)
Speaking of The Black Album... what was supposed to be Jay-Z's last album, is also one of his best. With a slew of top-notch producers including DJ Quik, Just Blaze, Kanye West, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Eminem, and Rick Rubin (!), this would have been the perfect album to go out to. "What More Can I Say" is one of the greatest lyrical onslaughts I've ever heard... "with so many different flows, this one's for this song, the next one I'll switch up, this one will get bit up." There are so many heaters on this album, it's pretty ridiculous... "Public Service Announcement" and "Dirt Off You Shoulder" are the two that I always find myself going back to, but this album is one that you can listen to without ever having to press the 'fast-forward' button.
Ghostface Killah- Fishscale (2006)
Before Fishscale was released, Ghostface managed to create an incredible buzz by announcing that he would be teaming up with DOOM for production on his upcoming album. In addition to this revelation, he added that Pete Rock, J Dilla, and Just Blaze would be contributing as well. What followed was one of the best Wu-Tang albums of this decade, and what I believe resurrected Wu-Tang. With bangers like "R.A.G.U.," "Kilo," and "9 Milli Bros.," this was one of the best albums of 2006, and is one of my all-time favorites.
50 Cent- Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003)
Get Rich or Die Tryin'... talk about a memorable debut album. "What Up Gangsta" has gotta be one of the best intro songs in Hip Hop, and what unfolds after it is nothing short of incredible. "Patiently Waiting," "Many Men," "In Da Club," "High All the Time"... If a few songs had been cut out, this would be a near-perfect album. One of my favorite lines will always be "you don't want me to be your kid's role model, I'll teach him how to buck them 380's and load up them hollows, have shorty fresh off the stoop, ready to shoot, big blunt in his mouth, deuce deuce in his boot." It's a testament to 50's brash, rebellious nature, and man is it entertaining...
Eminem- The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
One of the greatest Hip Hop albums EVER... The Marshall Mathers LP, in Dr. Dre's words, is his most complete album as an executive producer. This album is a showcase of lyrics, top-notch production, and provocative stories. Everyone remembers the controversy surrounding it... I even remember my mom hesitant to buy it for me due to the firestorm of negative publicity it was getting in the media. Eventually she gave in and I'm happy she did because it quickly became one of my favorite albums. Cuts like "Stan," "The Real Slim Shady," "The Way I Am," and "Drug Ballad" are just a few of the classic songs on this album. Through and through, this album in fire...
Little Brother- The Minstrel Show (2005)
When Little Brother dropped "The Minstrel Show," it was surrounded with controversy. First of all, a title like "The Minstrel Show" is bound to rile up some feelings (even though what they have to say regarding the title is absolutely true), but what followed between the group and TV-network B.E.T. was unreal. When the group released their lead single, "Lovin' It," B.E.T. would not play it because they claimed it was 'too intelligent.' When I heard this, I was shocked and offended. Talk about dumbing down for your audience... B.E.T. admitted to doing just that. It created waves within Hip Hop, with people discussing the topic left and right. "The Minstrel Show" wasn't significant just due to the controversy it created, it was and still is an excellent album. 9th Wonder cooked up some of his best beats, and MC's Phonte and Big Pooh crafted memorable lyrics to create one of the all-time great 'underground' albums.
Scarface- The Fix (2002)
I remember the first time I heard a Scarface song. It was the year 2002, and I was a young lad that happened to stumble across a cut called "On My Block." It became my favorite song for a couple months then I forgot about it. Fast-forward a few years later and somehow (I believe I read a similar "all-time Hip Hop albums list) I managed to hear about Scarface's The Fix. I had heard about him and his former group The Geto Boys, but hadn't listened to anything they'd done. The Fix is more than a collection of songs that accompany "On My Block," it is an unbelievable album. "Guess Who's Back," with Jay-Z (and produced by Mr. West), is an all time classic, and the entire package is one of the best Southern Hip Hop albums ever.
Honorable Mention: DJ Muggs & GZA- Grandmasters, De La Soul- The Grind Date, Jay-Z- American Gangster, OutKast- Stankonia