10 x 10 (Part Two)

It’s time to tuck into part two of our 10 x 10 feature. 100 of the best hip-hop albums from the 90s from those that made them happen, part one included contributions from Jehst, Jneiro Jarel, Jordan Ferguson, Kish Kash and Peanut Butter Wolf, with selections right across the board.

Coming up in part 2 we have DJ Semtex, DJ Muggs, Nightmares on Wax, Will Ashon and Andrew Spragg.


 

DJ Semtex

Semtex has been a mainstay of the UK’s broadcasting culture for a number of years, coming through the pirate radio scene in Manchester before becoming the go-to voice for breaking upcoming MC’s on Radio 1 as well as championing the best urban music from America.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Nightmares on Wax

The perfect fit for this list, George Evelyn himself has been releasing records since the early 90s, spanning electronica, hip-hop, trip-hop and down-tempo. His 1995 record Smokers Delight remains a classic to this day and was recently reissued by Warp.

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A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders (1993)
One of the definitive albums from the 90s, Midnight Marauders featured the timeless Award Tour. I remember hearing this for the first time and been blown away at how snappy and sharp the was in the mix. A true club banger!

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The Beatnuts – Intoxicated Demons (1993)
New York based duo The Beatnuts were prolific through the 90s, and their Intoxicated Demons: The EP featured the party slammer World’s Famous. I love the combination of samples in this track. The Beatnuts had a long purple patch of big tunes in the 90’s.
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Showbiz & AG – Soul Clap (1992)
From the groundbreaking Run Away Slave album, Showbiz as a producer for me was ahead of so many many when came sampling rare jazz tracks, The Bronx’s finest.

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Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
Although on the cusp of the 90’s, Fear of a Black Planet and especially Fight The Power reminds me of Troop trainers, hi top fades and hype dancing.

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Brand Nubian – In God We Trust (1991)
Love the lyrical flow of these Nubian brothers, all shine especially on Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down, an ill delivery in this top Diamond D production.
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The Pharcyde – Labcabincalifornia (1995)

What can you not say about this classic record with classic songs like Drop and that classic video? Some next level stuff all round. It hip hop you have historically those that are the cornerstone of era, this is a perfect example.
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Das EFX – Dead Serious (1992)
When these guy’s dropped, everybody was like ‘what is this?’ They brought an original flow, with a yardie touch. Lots tried to bite them straight away, but failed! Long live EFX !!!!

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Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992)
Everything about this epic album and the track T.R.O.Y had all us crate diggers going wild trying to find these never heard before samples at the time. Pete Rock’s style and ability to proof the art form of sampling pushed all us young aspiring producers to another level. Forever grateful.

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KRS One – Return of the Boom Bap (1993)
How can the T’cha not be in this list? KRS has always dropped jams and always dropped knowledge on them jams especially on Sound of da Police, the second single from Return of the Boom Bap. Woop! Woop!

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Cypress Hill – Black Sunday
Features Insane In The Brain, a monster herbalist jam from the west coast, reminds of the affiliation of blunts, weeds and hip-hop.

Will Ashon

Founder of Ninja Tune’s sub label Big Dada Records, Will has been responsible for nurturing a number of important artists in the UK and US hip-hop scenes including Wiley, Roots Manuva and Diplo. Additionally, Will is a writer of some note, having contributed to a number of music magazines, including Hip-Hop Connection, Muzik and The Source, throughout the 90s. More recently, Will has published the novels Clear Water and The Heritage on Faber and Faber.

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Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
You could take this as the final trumpet blast of late 80s hip-hop, I guess, but it was my favourite PE album and Fight The Power was killer.

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The Sindecut – Changing The Scenery
I could’ve picked Gangster Chronicle by London Posse, but this forgotten gem says so much about the inventiveness in the UK scene in the early 90s, largely ignored and squashed by the labels at the time. I still love the string stabs that open the record on Demanding Cycle of a Wordbound Hammerhead. Surely someone should reissue??!

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Brand Nubian – One For All (1990)
My 12 year old son and me listen to my old vinyl copy when we play table tennis. No funk is faked.

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A Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory (1991)
“Back in the days when I was a teenager…” I didn’t get it at first but now I consider it to be Tribe’s greatest record by a country mile. The opening track doesn’t just make the hairs stand up on my neck, it makes them get up and walk off.

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Freestyle Fellowship – Inner City Griots (1993)
I used to like the jazzy-wazzy tracks, now I like the hardcore rhyming tracks. I don’t think there’s been a better collective of MCs at any time, anywhere. Wonderful group.

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Various Artists – Project Blowed (1994)
A follow-on from the above, I had this on tape first, then on vinyl, then on CD. Sheer inventiveness and outrageous styling. A record where everyone wanted to sound different.

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Wu Tang Clan – Enter The Wu Tang: 36 Chambers (1993)
One of the greatest hip hop records of all time. Period period period. And the scales fell from my eyes….

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Organised Konfusion – Stress (The Extinction Agenda) (1994)
I missed this when it came out but it’s a record that keeps on giving. Has been on my iPod/iPhone almost permanently since I got one in 2002. That’s longevity.

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Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus (1997)
Probably the first band I really discovered for myself, when I picked up the 12″s on a trip to New York. Still feel huge respect for everyone involved. In the mid-90s, at the height of Bad Boy cheese, this was punk rock.

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Roots Manuva – Brand New Second Hand (1999)
A personal milestone as well as a public one, in that it was the first artist album we put out on Big Dada. I think Roots Manuva is one of the greats, any decade. Pure imagination, pure style, utterly unique, an inspiration. It’s a privilege to have been in the room when some of this was recorded and mixed.

 

Andrew Spragg

Andrew is a published poet, author, the lead album review writer for Bonafide and contributor to the Quietus. He’s also a thoroughly nice chap.

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Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5 (1998)
This was the kind of hip-hop record that found crossover into many listeners’ record collections, mainly because it toned down the more problematic aspects of nineties rap music and replaced it with nostalgic Daisy Age era positivity. At 14, the flute loop in Jayou was probably the first time I got hooked on a hip-hop record. I used to alternate between playing that and the opening drums from When the Levee Breaks (Led Zepplin) on feverous repeat, lying on my narrow bedroom floor.

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The Roots –Things Fall Apart (1999)
Table of Contents (Parts 1 & 2) is so widely panned in its mixing that I didn’t even hear half the instruments in the song for a week. It didn’t matter though, as it is still a record I consider amongst my favourites. The music was precise but passionate, the lyrics intelligent but tough enough to give it an edge. Drummer ?ustlove’s sleeve-notes revealed so much about the rewards of the creative process that it made me want to make records, to do and make things generally. I probably owe a lot more to this record than any other.
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Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers (1995)
I think I bought this in Wimbledon, on a school trip to the theatre. I lost my theatre ticket because I was smoking around the corner and had to be snuck in. The brilliance of the Wu-Tang Clan has been revealed to me in stages, starting here and building up to a now extensive love and knowledge of the group.

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Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)
If ODB supplied an opening, Raekwon’s debut would be the next record I would recommend. Deeply immersive in its delivery, language and production, there are not many albums that can top it for consistency of artistic intent and merit. The irregular vocal sample (“But WHAT if he-“) on Verbal Intercourse still stands as one of my favourite moments on any album. It may seem a strange one, but it was there that the whole album unravelled and made sense to me, after years of distracted, frustrating half-listens in an attempt to understand what the fuss was about.

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Jeru the Damaja – The Sun Rises in the East (1994)
DJ Premier’s stark, almost abstract input was the perfect musical accompaniment to Jeru’s lean and gruff delivery. D Original is the archetype of all that was great about nineties hip-hop production; its angular, dissonant piano loop placed against a raw and steady drum loop to create a thrilling juxtaposition.

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Nas – Illmatic (1994)
I’m not even going to justify this one. So much has been written and said about it already. If there is one definitive template for nineties hip-hop, it would be Illmatic.

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Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995)
Purists might contest this one, but I don’t care. Tricky produced an album that is still sending ripples in electronic music today. More credit should also go to Martina Topley-Bird, who gave the album, and British hip-hop, an intelligent, assertive female voice.

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De La Soul – Stakes is High (1996)
The centrepiece of this album is the title track. A call for arms and an early example of J Dilla’s (back then, Jay Dee) triumphant production, it sits amongst a number of songs that are mature in a genre that rarely was anything but adolescent. Stakes is High should rightly be considered an equal to De La Soul’s earlier work, a refinement of the group’s finest elements while still offering progressive challenges to their contemporaries.

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Roots Manuva – Brand New Second Hand (1999)
Roots Manuva brought an idiomatic and singular style to his music and lyrics, one that seemed steeped in the experience and culture of a British-Jamaican London. Brand New Second Hand was the debit of a rare talent at his most joyful and gloomy.

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Common – Like Water for Chocolate (2000)
A slight cheat this one, as it actually came out in 2000. However, the music, produced through a long residency at Electric Lady studios in 1999, highlights an incredible period of creativity for all involved. Many people would argue that D’Angelo’s Voodoo was the high water mark for producer super group the Soulquarians: ?uestlove, Jay Dee, D’Angelo, James Poyser et al. However, Like Water for Chocolate feels less the work of one singular genius, and more like the group effort from some of hip-hop’s greatest innovators. If one album managed to simultaneously look back to the nineties and forward at the same time, it was Like Water for Chocolate.

 

DJ Muggs

Lawrence Muggerud, aka DJ Muggs, has worked with everyone from Dizzee Rascal, to Chuck D, U2 and, erm, Die Antwoord. He is also one of the founding members of Cypress Hill, a seminal rap group that sound tracked the dorms of stoner students worldwide, from Salford to Salzburg. Muggs took the brief to include his favourite albums from the 90s, including several albums released in the 80s, but we’ll let him off.

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Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions (1988)
That record changed my life, man. It was just, like, organised noise. Just chaos, but organised, fucking ridiculous.

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Brand Nubian – One For All (1990)
In LA, we had the gang culture. In New York, they didn’t really at the time because they had already finished with that in the seventies. Motherfuckers in New York was smarter than everyone else, because they had books on the streets. You would pick up the books and that’s where the Five Percent Nation came in, giving the street kids and the thugs knowledge. When they wouldn’t listen in the schools, they would listen in the streets. The Brand Nubians came from that place.

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Lord Finesse – Funky Technician (1990)
I really liked that record that DJ Premier produced, that was bangin’.

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EPMD – Strictly Business (1988)
That was my favourite group in the world, man. That was gangsta rap back then. There was this hard b-boy shit, hard beats, more aggressive lyrics, but there wasn’t too much cursing, no drug slangin’, they might say they smoke weed once or have a forty, but it wasn’t over the top like now.

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Gang Starr – Step In The Arena (1991)
Fucking loved that record, man. I met Premier and Guru early, before the first album; they were still on Wild Pitch. I was down at their video for Word I Manifest, before Cypress came out, in like ‘89. That was a good time in New York man; I loved New York in the late eighties. It was incredible. The creativity and the culture of the city was so raw. That’s where a lot of subcultures came out of, that rawness. You didn’t see a lot of shit come out of Beverly Hills… there’s a reason for that.

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GZA – Liquid Swords (1995)
Probably one of my favourite Wu-Tang records. When I first heard Wu Tang, my favourite rappers the first time was RZA and GZA. People always look at me, like ‘why?’. I don’t know why, just those were the voices that resonated to me. I really started liking Raekwon and Ghost, Ghost’s first album is amazing, as is Cuban Links. But those were my favourites. I cultivated relationships with RZA and GZA and ended up doing an album with GZA, and built friendships with them. I never meant to, but it ended up ironically that my two favourites eventually became friends and we made records together.

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LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
LL was a beast. I thought LL was over by then, but he came back with this record that Marley Marl produced, it was amazing.

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Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990), Death Certificate (1991)
Incredible. Some of the best lyrics, some of the best storytelling I’ve ever heard in my life, dog. Go listen to those two first Ice Cube records; he’s one of the greatest storytellers ever. He doesn’t get enough credit for his lyrics. Shit, Death Certificate, lyrically, urghhh, he’s a beast.

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Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary (1988)
I learned so much from KRS-One and Public Enemy, more than I did in schools. About African culture. Just learning, metaphysics, different things from hip hop records back in those days. You couldn’t be a dumb rapper, it was about being smart back in those days.

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