25 Essential Hip Hop Albums from 1994

Was 1994 the best year for music ever?

I wouldn’t have been able to tell you then–I was 13!

Buzzfeed’s Matthew Perpetua thinks so. He published a list of thirty-six albums to illustrate his point. Hip hop and R&B were well represented, with TLC, Biggie, Nas, Outkast, Method Man, and others making his list. It goes without saying that the year 1994 was a great year for hip hop with several all-time great albums hitting the streets that year.

Perpetua’s post begs the question:  Was 1994 the best year for hip hop? Well, with any year between 1989 and 1998, it’s debateable. Nas dropped hip hop’s bible. Warren G capitalized on the ascendancy of the West Coast. Biggie built upon Dre’s and Snoop’s blueprint for commercial success. Scarface and UGK repped Texas while Outkast started their classic album run with Southernplayalistic… Gangstarr dropped one of my favorite albums from the group. But was 1994 better than the year before or the year after? That’s the beauty of hip hop’s golden age. It could go either way.

Here is a list of albums–with release dates–in anticipation of their twenty year anniversaries.

1. The Fugees – Blunted on Reality (February 1)

Before they were famous.

2. Gangstarr – Hard to Earn (March 8)

One of my favorite Gangstarr albums. I may like Hard to Earn more than Moment of Truth. It’s hard for me to tell.

3. Above the Rim Soundtrack (March 22)

“Regulate” <– Iconic, culture-shifting track. Also introduced Nate Dogg, the one-note hook guru.

4. Nas – Illmatic (April 19)

Illmatic needs no explanation. Nas let the genie out of the bottle and its proved to be a gift for the genre and a curse for the artist. Nas, the genre, and young hip hoppers are still chasing its ghost.

5. Outkast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (April 26)

The day the dirty south started its slow rise. The fact that Outkast dropped their classic debut album a week after Illmatic astounds me in retrospect. That would be like Kanye somehow dropping College Dropout after Kendrick Lamar released Good Kid, MAAD City.

6. Jeru the Damaja – The Sun Rises in the East (May 24)

Two words:  “Come Clean”

7. Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (May 24)

Everyone remembers MTV playing “Sabotage” 1,203,304 times a day that spring and summer. That sure beats whatever MTV airs now.

8. Warren G – Regulate:  The G Funk Era (June 7)

One of the few times a hip hop artist successfully capitalizes on his/her buzz and releases an album after dropping the smash single.

9. Da Brat – Funkdafied  (June 28)

Few fronted on Da Brat’s “Funkdafied.”

10. Gravediggaz – 6 Feet Deep (August 9)

Classic. Prince Paul + Rza.

11. Organized Konfusion – Stress:  The Extinction Agenda (August 16)

Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch really put it together on their second album. “The Extinction Agenda” is one of my favorite hip hop songs ever.

12. Notorious BIG – Ready to Die (September 13)

Another album that needs no explanation. RTD all but shifted east coast rap’s aesthetic. You knew this was the case after the feel-good rags-to-riches anthem, “Juicy,” and after listening to the album’s first track, “Things Done Changed.”

13. 2Pac – Thug Life, Vol. 1 (September 26)

Great album. Often gets lost in the shuffle.

14. Common Sense – Resurrection (October 3)

The piano loop starting “Resurrection” is tattooed in my brain. Common gave voice to those critical of gangsta rap and the direction of the genre in “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Luckily Ice Cube, Mack 10, and W.C. dissed him for that because we wouldn’t have gotten the scathing “The Bitch in Yoo.”

15. Pete Rock & CL Smooth – The Main Ingredient (October 8)

Not Mecca and the Soul Brother, but The Main Ingredient is great, nonetheless.

16. Murder Was the Case Soundtrack (October 15)

Death Row had so much talent.

17. Digable Planets – Blowout Comb (October 18)

One of my favorite hip hop albums.

18. Scarface – The Diary (October 18)

The title track was a staple on my personal mixtapes. “Hand of the Dead Body” is an epic track and video.

19. OC – Word…Life (October 18)

Crazy track.

20. Artifacts – Between a Rock and a Hard Place (October 25)

21. Brand Nubian – Everything is Everything (November 1)

22. Keith Murray – The Most Beautifullest Thing in the World (November 8)

23. Method Man – Tical (November 15)

Method Man took his position as the Wu’s leading member with Tical. He also released one of the genre’s greatest love songs.

24. Redman – Dare iz a Darkside (November 22)

25. Scientifik – Criminal (Recorded in 1994, rereleased in 2006)

Straight boom bap.

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