Reflection Eternal -Talib Kweli (2000): Talib Kweli is one of Hip-hops most poetic rappers. His influences can be seen today with mainstream stars Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West. The song Africa Dreams takes listeners on a musical journey beginning with tribal drums and ending with DJ scratches on a turntable.
The Marshall Mathers LP - Eminem (2000): This is Em’s opus. It is a disturbing and grotesque album. But the way Eminem delivers line after line makes it one of the best lyrical albums of the decade. Very few artists can write the way he does and tell a story.
Hybrid Theory -Linkin Park (2000): I had never listened to any CD more when Linkin Park came out with their debut album. The group successfully combined rap and metal into an album that allowed them to have cred with both genres of music.
In Search of… - N.E.R.D. (2001): The album is like a free flowing river, becoming calm at times and then rough and treacherous. N.E.R.D, which stands for No One Ever Really Dies, keeps listeners on their toes the entire album, switching tempos and musical construction mid song, producing a sound that is truly unique.
The Beautiful Struggle - Talib Kweli (2004): His beats are more mainstream this time around, but the messages he raps about are as powerful as ever. In “Going Hard” he spits,‘Parents never there, they're busy building homes they can't afford to buy, Cars they can't afford to drive, Working jobs that don't support their life, You busy screaming gangsta, gangsta all that talk is trife.’
The College Dropout - Kanye West (2004): His first album is a classic, bringing the soul sample to the forefront of hip-hop. The song “Family Business” is my favorite on the album. West changes keys on his final verse rapping, “I woke up early this mornin' with a new state of mind, A creative way to rhyme without usin' knives and guns, Keep your nose out the sky, keep your heart to God, And keep your face to the risin' sun’.
The Cool - Lupe Fiasco (2007): To fully appreciate everything in a Lupe Fiasco album it must be listened to many, many times, because the Chicago MC slips in so many metaphors that you need to go back again and again to fully grasp his abilities. For example on the song “The Coolest” he raps ‘please forgive Michael Young History’, but just listening to the song it sounds like ‘please forgive my cool young history’.
3. The Blueprint – Jay-Z (2001): In my mind this is his best album, even better than Reasonable Doubt. “H-to the Izzo” was my anthem during sophomore year of high school. I remember listening to it before soccer games. Kanye West produces the majority of the album lending the soul sample to Jay-Z’s rhymes. “Heart of the City” and “All I Need” are standouts. And his storytelling ability is on full display on the track ‘Song Cry” – ‘I can’t see them coming down my eye, so I got to make this song cry’.
2. Late Registration – Kanye West (2005): West didn’t suffer a sophomore slump with his second album. Late Registration is a more polished album with better lyrics and production. He sticks with the soul-sampling technique of The College Dropout but adds more string instruments, horns and pianos to give the album a more epic feel. The song “Roses” has a simple beat, but may be the albums most powerful song. On “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” Mr. West samples Shirley Bassey “Diamonds are Forever” as he discusses the issue of blood diamonds, ‘Good Morning, this ain't Vietnam still, People lose hands, legs, arms for real, Little was known of Sierra Leone, And how it connect to the diamonds we own’.
1. Food & Liquor – Lupe Fiasco (2006): I have never listened to an album more than Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. Whether it was playing in my ears as I fell asleep or coming back from the bar at State College, this album was always playing through my iPod. The intro on the album sums up exactly what you can expect to hear. You will hear the good, that’s the food. And the bad, that’s the liquor, from the mind of Mr. Fiasco. “Kick Push” is the story of a skater just looking to find a place to ride. The “Intrumental” is about a person who believes everything the TV tells him. “Daydreamin’” sarcastically mocks every other hip-hop artists rap videos, poking fun at how easily it is to predict what will be in the video to get it played on MTV. ‘And where's the champagne? We need champagne, Now look as hard as you can with this blunt in your hand, And now hold up your chain slow motion through the flames, Now cue the smoke machines and the simulated rain’. On Sunshine he drops my favorite verse of the entire album,‘Never met her before, But I think I like her like a metaphor’. On “The Cool” he tells a story of Michael Young History digging himself out of his grave after the gangster lifestyle ended his life early. Every track is well crafted and honest; “Hurt me Soul” opens with Fiasco stating he used to hate hip-hop. The production, done almost entirely by Soundtrakk, who is able to match Lupe’s rapping style perfectly with the beats. It is the most honest, compelling and intelligent album of the decade. Each song is layered with lyrics that will make you think and laugh, and deserves multiple listens. Listening to a Lupe Fiasco song is like watching an episode of Arrested Development. You constantly hear new metaphors with each additional listen.