Sometimes you don’t really take in how mediocre the game has gotten until you really sit and examine the days of way-back. Take 1991, 20 years ago. I’m sure there are quite a few of you reading this who weren’t born yet, but regardless if you were still swimming in your daddy’s nuts, shitting your diapers or finishing elementary school, anyone with a healthy respect for the foundation of Hip Hop can look at the albums on this list and realize the significance of this year. I’ll let the albums do the talking.

“Had a spark when you started…” – 10 Best Debut Albums

2011 had some highly anticipated debuts to be sure. You think J. Cole and ‘em will hold up to this group 20 years from now?

(in no particular order)

Black SheepA Wolf In Sheep’s Clothes : An incredible LP that often gets lost among Native Tongue domination

Cypress HillCypress Hill: Eight albums later and this remains their magnum opus

Organized KonfusionOrganized Konfusion: Pharoahe Monch raps, what else needs to be said?

DJ QuikQuik Is The Name: Sadly overshadowed by N.W.A./Cube, but funky as dogshit

KMDMr. Hood: Always keep young DOOM and company within arms reach

2Pac – 2Pacalypse: ‘Pac at his most thoughtful…and least angry

Leaders of the New SchoolA Future Without A Past: Like a dungeon dragon

Naughty By NatureNaughty By Nature: Lots of hard beats and Pop sensibility

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien: I Wish My Brother George Was Here – Del was never this funky again

ScarfaceMr. Scarface Is Back: The first in a long line of stellar solo albums

Honorary Mentions (since they were only short EPs, not a full albums)

Pete Rock & C.L. SmoothAll Souled Out – A glimpse into Pete Rock’s genious

Showbiz & A.G. – Soul Clap EP – Few have ever chopped a sample like Showbiz

“You don’t have to drive a fancy car, just for you to be a shinin’ star” – 2Pac Begins His Rise to Stardom

1991 was the year that one of Hip Hop’s most enduring superstars began his rise to the top. Just 20 years old, ‘Pac released what would remain the most political and conscious album of his career in 2Pacalypse Now. While the album was well-received, it was his performance in Juice* that truly made people take notice. Bishop, the legendary character Pac played, had a dark side that he would often embody throughout his controversial career.

*Juice officially hit theatres January 17, 1992, but who’s counting

“A state that’s untouchable like Elliot Ness” – Best West Coast Albums

Gangsta Rap may have been playing the front on the left coast, but that was far from the only movement taking place. The Project Blowed/Good Life scene was repping the rest of L.A. while the Oakland scene continued to bubble. Whether or not they were all unified, they didn’t need New York to validate what they were doing.

(in no particular order)

Compton’s Most WantedStraight Checkn ‘Em: This album should have gone platinum just like N.W.A.

Freestyle FellowshipTo Whom It May Concern: “the hunt of an emcee brings investigation”

WC & The Maad CircleAin’t A Damn Thing Changed: This is the Dub-C album to bow down to

Ice-TO.G. Original Gangster: Widely regarded as T’s best work

Hi-C – Skanless: Funky and hilarious. Leave my curl alone!

Digital Underground – Sons of the P:  Funky enough to earn the title. Their best album hands down

2nd II None – 2nd II None: Criminally overlooked & DJ Quik-produced

L.A. Posse – They Come In All Colors: DJ Pooh, Bobcat and company are forgiven for Cool J’s “I Need Love”

AMG – Bitch Betta Have My Money: A pimp’s bible on tape

Raw Fusion – Live From The Styleetron: So slept on it hurts. Plus a ‘Pac guest appearance if that gets your attention

“…with no vaseline”  – Ice Cube & N.W.A. Beef Escalates

Even though Ice Cube left Niggaz Wit’ Attitude two years earlier and released AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and Kill At Will since then, he hadn’t responded to any of his former group’s shots. “No Vaseline” changed all of that, and then some. Still regarded as many as the greatest diss record of all time, Cube captured the attention of the Hip Hop world. The unfortunate thing is that the beef, combined with the quality of their respective albums, hogged the spotlight. So many of the albums listed above didn’t get the shine they deserved, and still don’t.

“You ain’t heard of that” – 5 Albums Too Many Slept On

ConvictsConvicts: Yet another great album from Rap-A-Lot, don’t sleep on Big Mike

MC Breed & DFC – MC Breed & DFC: Don’t front on this, there is no future in it

Poison Clan – 2 Low Life Muthas: Hilarious and intentional ignorance

Tim Dog – Penicillin On Wax: Wildly entertaining album overflowing with shit talk

Ed O.G. & The BulldogsLife of a Kid in the Ghetto: The reason Edo is a legend in the Bean

“and you can’t even get the clearances” – Gilbert O’Sullivan vs. Biz Markie

It never appears on any “most important/influential” lists but Biz Markie‘s “Alone Again” was a game changer. Failing to clear the Gilbert O’Sullivan sample, the Biz was sued for copyright infringement. From then on out, major labels attempted to clear everything. Album costs inflated, classic songs were shelved for lack of clearance and artists deemed unworthy of huge budgets were stifled. Rest assured, you’ll never hear an album like Paul’s Boutique again.

“Draped up and dripped out, know what I’m talking bout” – Houston Is On The Map

Geto BoysWe Can’t Be Stopped: If you had to own one Geto Boys album…

OG Style – I Know How To Play ’Em: Rap-A-Lot was untouchable in these years. Great album, better cover

Street Military – Aggrivated Rasta: 5th Ward, South Park and Trinity Gardens unite!

The Terrorists – Terror Strikes: Always Bizness, Never Personal: Only South Park went this hard

Too Much Trouble – Bringing Hell On Earth: One of the most ruthlessly offensive albums ever made

“you ain’t the star you were, fuckin’ the same hoes no more” – Juice Crew Gives Way To The Native Tongues

New York has had it’s share of great crews over the years, and most have had their day atop the mountain. The Native Tongues collective had been making their move since the late 80’s, but it was in 1991 that they clearly surpassed the mighty Juice Crew. Big Daddy Kane (Prince of Darkness), Marley Marl (In Control Vol. 2) and Craig G (Now, That’s More Like It) were all critical failures while De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were delivering two of the greatest albums of all time. The Juice Crew had lost MC Shan and up and comer Masta Ace didn’t generate the buzz as new Natives’ Black Sheep and Leaders of the New School. The torch was passed.

“these are the days and the ways I can never forget” – The Best of 1991

Every album on this list regularly appears on Top 5 and Top 10 Albums of All Time lists. Enough said…except that we’ll never see this again.

De La Soul – De La Soul Is Dead: 180 from their classic debut and a much better album   

A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory:  A life altering album for so many fans

Ice Cube – Death Certificate: Cube was absolutely untouchable here, just a beast

Main SourceBreaking Atoms: Perhaps the purest example of ’90s golden-era production

N.W.A. – Efil4zaggin: They missed Cube’s pen, but a sonic masterpiece

Gang Starr – Step in the Arena**:  Couldn’t be titled better, Guru and Preme truly arrive

**Often attributed to 1990, but did drop January 15th, 1991

“My mic is loud and my production is tight” – Watch The Throne: Dr. Dre & DJ Premier break loose

Ask any Hip Hop head who knows their ass from a hole in the ground who the greatest producer of all-time is and chances is are they’ll say DJ Premier or Dr. Dre. 1991 was the year both started along that path. While Dre was certainly well established, a bonafide star and a very good producer, he wasn’t quite on that next level yet. The Chronic gets all the love for taking him into another stratosphere (not without good reason), but the leap he made on Evil4zaggin was bigger than the one he made on The Chronic. DJ Premier was solid with glimpses of greatness on No More Mr. Nice Guy. Step In The Arena was like a good rookie winning the MVP in his sophomore. 20 years later both are still pillars in the game.

Bonus Round – 10 More Not To Miss

Public EnemyApocolypse ’91: So underrated, “Can’t Truss It” is still one of the hardest songs ever

Slick Rick – The Rulers Back: So undeserving of its rep as a mediocre sophomore album

The UMCsFruits of Nature: They were no Tribe or De La, but who was? High quality stuff

Ultramagnetic MC’s Funk Your Head Up: Kool Keith dissing everyone on “Pluckin’ Cards” is worth the purchase alone

3rd BassDerelicts of Dialect: Better known for their debut, but this is their best effort

Boogie Down ProductionsLive Hardcore Worldwide: Best live album ever, period.

Godfather Don – Hazardous: Godfather Don stayed winning

Terminator X – Valley of the Jeep Beats: Pioneering album for the deejay set

Juice Original Soundtrack: One of the best soundtracks ever

Boyz N The Hood Original Soundtrack: See above

In looking back at 1991’s significance, I wanted to pay proper respects to these artists who helped make the year so significant:

Eric “Eazy E” Wright
Tupac Shakur
Eric “MC Breed” Breed
Dwight “Heavy D” Myers
Eric “O.G. Style” Woods
Kurt Cobain

J-23 is HipHopDX’s Editor-At-Large. He was a full-time member of the staff from 2001 to 2011, and served in many roles throughout that time, most notably a long-time Music Editor. J lives in London, Ontario.