Welcome back to 10 x 10. We give 10 industry luminaries the unenviable task of selecting their 10 best hip-hop albums of the nineties; indisputably the creative high point in hip-hop’s fourty-four year lifespan. Following eye-opening entries from Peanut Butter Wolf and DJ Muggs next up we welcome: DJ Semtex.
A mainstay of the UK’s broadcasting culture for a number of years, John Fairbanks aka DJ Semtex came through the pirate radio scene in Manchester before becoming the go-to voice for breaking upcoming MC’s on Radio 1 Xtra. We hope you enjoy his choices below.
1.Redman – Whut? Theee Album (1992)
The intensity, the insanity, the lyrical creativity, the artwork put Redman in his own lane. He bought animated character to lyricism, and looking back its easy to see why he is one of Eminem’s favourite rappers of all time.
2.Main Source – Breaking Atoms (1991)
I bought their debut album from the worlds uncoolest record shop. I knew nothing about them, but the cover caught me. I played this at home, and the drums of the opening track immediately smacked me across the face, but it was Live at the BBQ that opened my mind. This was the first verse I had ever heard from a young Nasir Jones. Who the fuck was this guy? He was talking about ‘hijacking Delta’, ‘kidnapping the presidents wife without a plan’. Few rappers would have the audacity say that today. I needed more. Coming back (to) SXSW a couple of years ago I was on a Delta airlines flight with Nas. I was so gassed. Every hip-hop head was looking at each other on the plane with the same dewy eyed excitement.
3.Dr Dre – The Chronic (1992)
Back on Express Yourself by NWA Dr Dre rapped “yo I don’t smoke weed or sess, Cause it’s known to give a brother brain damage….”, then he dropped a defining moment of his career, the Chronic lol. This album single handily put the West coast sound on the map, he opened the door for Snoop Dogg, the Dogg Pound, Nate Dogg, Warren G, in fact every west coast artist that you hear today.
4.A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders (1993)
90’s hip-hop had the best art direction. The album and 12” covers were as important as the music.
This was an exemplary body of work in every sense, Tribe creatively pushed the envelope with Midnight Marauders, they created an absolute classic that they couldn’t match themselves.
5.Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang : The 36 Chambers (1993)
The emergence of the Wu-tang clan was a highly original defining moment within Hip-Hop culture, it opened the doors to a new way of doing things on every level. Wu-Tang will never die. 50 years from now a new generation of MCs will be inspired the teachings of the RZA, The GZA, Ol Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and the Method Man. Wu-tang forever!
6.Nas – Illmatic (1994)
We were patiently waiting for this album to drop. Nas was a lyrical game changer for the culture, the significance of Illmatic within hip-hop culture is almost biblical. From start to finish It is a perfect eternal classic, the omnipotent rosetta stone of hip-hop greatness.
7.Notorious B.I.G – Ready To Die (1994)
Between Diddy’s aspirations for success and B.I.G.’s lyrical ability they created a cornerstone that served every kind of audience. Like Illmatic, Ready to Die was crafted by some of the greatest producers in their prime. Juicy is still the ultimate rags to riches track that everyone can relate to in some way of other. This lives on at every major rap concert, festival, club night, etc. Recently I played this at a Wu-Tang show and the whole crowd rapped the entire first verse word for word without the music. That was pretty emotional.
8.Bone Thugs n Harmony – Creepin On Ah Come Up (1994)
I hated this at the time, I was so backpack and boom bap, I didn’t appreciate the brilliance of their technical ability. This is the primer, the ground zero of every double time flow you hear today. Thuggish Ruggish is one of the genetic building blocks of every grime MCs DNA, everyone from Jay-Z to A$AP Rocky was inspired by the Bone Thugs flow.
9.The Fugees – The Score (1996)
The Nappyheads remix was a game changer for the Fugees, prior to this no one cared about them as dope as they were. This took them from being a weird quirky live group into a full fledged boom bap rap phenomenon that helped to define the nineties sound. Lauryn Hill is easily the best female MC to walk the earth, she murdered her own team on this jaunt. We immediately wanted her solo album, and when The Score dropped the Fugees were embraced by millions around the globe.
10.2Pac – All Eyez On Me (1996)
This was the ultimate album, an epic release. Two discs, copious amounts of features, many styles of music, singles, club hits, radio hits delivered by an MC who had a lot of rage within, a lot of things to get off his chest. When this dropped I didn’t appreciate it because I was a B.I.G. fan. I hated the beef that was happening at the time. This a classic because of the quality of music, but it also represents everything that was right and wrong about hip-hop at that moment.