Nada Surf exploded into our lives in the summer of 1996 with their witty instruction manual for teenage dating etiquette called “Popular.” The song kicked off the band’s brief run at mainstream success and helped bring attention to the band’s debut album “High/Low.” That particular album was mostly punk and grunge influenced, but also showed that the band had the potential to grow and evolve into something different. Their follow up, “The Proximity Effect,” was released in Europe in 1998 through Elektra Records and did poorly due to the label not able to find a good single release. After a brief tour through Europe the label dropped the band and the album would go unreleased in the U.S. until August of 2000 when the band self-released the album through their own label. By this time, four years had passed and most Americans had pretty much forgotten about the band’s one hit. The album featured more mature themes like rape, domestic violence, loneliness, and depression. A bit of departure from the more relatable teen angst ridden debut from the band. The album also helped to influence indie and emo bands of the 2000’s such as The Postal Service, Death Cab For Cutie, Further Seems Forever, and Something Corporate. The band failed to achieve the success of “Popular,” but thanks to television shows such as Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother the band enjoyed a brief revival with their ballad “Inside of Love” from their third album “Let Go,” but it failed to achieve the same success as “Popular.”
Primitive Radio Gods – Rocket
In the summer of 1996 it was incredibly difficult to turn on top 40 or rock radio without hearing “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand” at least once an hour. Fueled by its melancholy atmosphere and sampling of BB King’s “How Blue Can You Get,” the song became a massive hit. But despite the lead singer being a mega success, thanks in part to its inclusion on “The Cable Guy” soundtrack, the album itself failed to go anywhere and received mainly negative reviews. For fans of the single that hoped to hear an album full of similar sounding songs, they were sadly mistaken. Despite the fans not taking well to the album, the entire record is a journey of rock and roll splendor. It sounds exactly like what it is, a guy messing around with samples and a four-track recorder and making pure magic.
Superdrag – Head Trip In Every Key
If I could think of one sentence to describe this record, I think the title perfectly sums it up. After scoring a minor hit in 1996 with the angsty rocker “Sucked Out,” Superdrag were fed up with their label and decided to make the most non-commercial album they could possibly make. While the band wanted to make the album intentionally unlistenable, what they actually made was a pop masterpiece. However, the label didn’t see it that way and refused to market the album and its lead single “Do The Vampire.”
The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good
The Promise Ring is considered one of the bands that helped to usher in the emo movement of the 2000’s, and with their sophomore album, its very clear why people say that. The album is definite high point in the underground emo scene of the mid 90’s with songs like “Raspberry Rush” and “How Nothing Feels.” Its no surprise that bands like Fall Out Boy and Taking Back Sunday consider The Promise Ring to be a major influence on their sounds.
They Might Be Giants – Flood
The best part about alternative music is that most of the artists had sounds that could not be defined, hence why it’s called alternative, because its the alternative to everything else. No other band really encompassed that anything goes mentality of alternative music quite like They Might Be Giants. The band’s sound ranged anywhere from polka to ragtime to punk and everything in between, but always with a brilliant pop sensibility. The music and lyrics may have both been equally as strange, but there was no denying that the songs were catchy and could still fit in with anything else being played on top 40 radio at that time.
Death Cab for Cutie – Something About Airplanes
Death Cab for Cutie wouldn’t hit their mainstream success for a few more years, but it was their debut album released in 1998 that showcased exactly what the future would hold for the second wave emo pioneers. Th record also showcased songwriter and vocalist Ben Gibbard’s true abilities as a writer. Although the record didn’t spawn any hits, its still a classic alternative rock record released on the brink of the death of alternative rock and the mainstream breakthrough nu metal.
Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne
Several years before the smash hit single “Stacey’s Mom,” Fountains of Wayne released this gem of a debut album. After already having two failed bands prior to FoW, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger decided to go at it one more time. They would meet at a bar and just jot down funny song titles attempting to make each other laugh. After having over a hundred song titles, they would decided which of them would write the song for each title. Its an unconventional method for songwriting which proved effective and lead to bassist and principle songwriter Adam Schlesinger penning the title song from the film That Thing You Do and landing numerous gigs producing hits for a plethora of other artists.
Though the album is highly praised by both fans and critics alike, Accelerate saw the band repeating a formula that had worked for them in the past. After the somber and melancholic Around The Sun, R.E.M. went into the studio with the intent of making a more edgy rock record, much like they did going from Automatic For The People to Monster. Accelerate still has it’s moments where the band shines in their typical form, the album as a whole really falls short of the quality of the work the band had put out in recent years.
It’s very rare that with a band whose body of work is as impressive as R.E.M.’s, especially when the band are a bunch of perfectionists, as they are, that the band would release an album where the biggest stand out tracks are the singles. In the post-Bill Berry era of the band, R.E.M. continued struggling to find what worked, without really finding a formula that truly worked for them. Reveal is a great example of that.
13. Lifes Rich Pageant
While the band’s earliest works are still held in such high regard among both fans and critics, what truly makes something classic is its ability to stand the test of time, unfortunately the vast majority of the band’s earliest records sound completely stale and dated when listened to now, with a fresh set of ears. While, overall, the band’s earliest works sound dated, it’s Lifes Rich Pageant that sounds the most out of touch with modern pop culture. However, I am not opposed to giving credit where it’s due, in that the Lifes Rich Pageant single “Falls On Me,” is what began the band’s ascent into the pop mainstream.
12. Collapse Into Now
Anytime a band decides to call it quits, you hope that they go out on a strong note; massive world tour, the best record of their careers, etc. But, as you’d expect from a band like R.E.M., they chose to walk away quietly, no massive world tour, and an album that can easily be forgotten somewhere between their best album and their worst album. While the lyrics are some of the best lyrics of the post-Millinium R.E.M. songs, its the vocal delivery and the music itself that falls short, although it’s the type of thing you’d expect from a band who’s known for their modesty, just as much as their music, to go out on a more somber note than a high note.
Reckoning was the point where R.E.M. really blurred the line between what was post-punk and what was alternative. The album stands as a pivotal point in the band’s career and really helped to elaborate on the sound that the band had created with their first record.
This album helped to usher in a completely new era for the band. Green was the last album the band would release in the 80’s, the last album for 3 years, and would spawn the last tour before a lengthy 5 year break from touring. The album not only showcased a new sound, which helped to show that R.E.M. could write silly pop songs and not have to be serious all the time, but it also established the 4 members of the band as true multi-instrumentalists.
Document was the final album that R.E.M. released with IRS records and the first album to really catapult the band into mainstream success, thanks to the singles “The One I Love” and “It’s The End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine.)” The album took R.E.M. to a whole new level with Stipe’s lyrics being brought more to the forefront and being more audible, as he had been known for mumbling his lyrics in the early days of R.E.M.
08. Out of Time
I’ve always felt like this album could probably be at the bottom of the list as far as R.E.M. records go, just because of the song “Shiny Happy People,” but you really can’t disregard an otherwise good record just because of one song. I’m not saying it’s a bad song, it just never felt like an R.E.M. song, it felt more like a B52’s song featuring R.E.M. But, in the band’s repertoire of songs, Out of Time is still a great record that has definitely stood the test of time.
This record is often held in high regards because…well, it was the album that introduced us to R.E.M., but it was no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. Like, most of their other earlier material, Murmur sounds very dated, so why is it in the top, and hovering so close to the top 5? Because it’s still a damn good rock record. From Michael Stipe’s cryptic lyrics to Peter Buck’s jangly guitar riffs and Mike Mills’ trademark backing vocals, Murmur was a breath of fresh air and a great introduction to the band.
I put Up at number 6 against my own better judgement. In my personal opinion, Up would probably rank at number 2 or 3, but most fans of the band actually did not care too much for this record, despite the fact of the importance of the album. Up was the re-introduction to the band, it was the end of one era and the beginning of another, as most albums by them have been, but it was also the first album they released as a 3-piece band, and still remains a significant effort in their discography.
05. New Adventures in Hi-Fi
New Adventures in Hi-Fi was almost like a bittersweet end to the 4-piece R.E.M. that we had come to know and love over the last more than a decade and a half. It saw the band leave behind the hard rocking sound of Monster and return to a more melancholic sound like that of Automatic For The People, with some more rocking moments, and a lot more growth and maturity.
04. Fables of The Reconstruction
While Fables of The Reconstruction may seem like a bit of a departure for the band, it served as the first album to see R.E.M. move from their own comfort zone and move towards the sound for which they would eventually become known.
03. Around The Sun
At first, Around The Sun may be difficult to listen to, but as you listen more, the album becomes almost like a soothing lullaby. The album’s release was timed almost perfectly with the 2004 presidential election, in typical R.E.M. fashion. At a time when political tensions in the United States were at an all time high, Around The Sun is the answer to that, by assuring the listener that no matter what happens, everything will be alright.
Monster remains one of the band’s greatest works. It was a major stylistic shift from what the band had been doing in recent years and was a huge nod the grunge bands that they had influenced. From start to finish, Monster is a rip-roaring sonic explosion of sound.
01. Automatic For The People
Automatic For The People is easily one of the most influential albums of all time. No matter what genre, you can find that this album has influenced someone.
Since the release of their Untitled album in 2007, with the release of every new album from Korn, we are promised that it is a return to the sound of their first two albums, but with each new album it’s not a return to their older sound, and I’m ok with that. I hate when a band keeps doing the same old stuff over and over again. A band needs to grow and mature with their audience and no band in the last 30 years has done that as flawlessly as Korn. But each album also has it’s upsides and downsides. So here it is, every Korn album ranked from worst to best.
12: Korn III: Remember Who You Are (2010)
To date, this album remains the only Korn album to ever be recorded as a four-piece band. Notiecable from the very beginning is that the album lacks the two guitars and layered effects, as well as advanced production techniques, all of which Korn has become known for since the beginning. It’s a stripped down approach to writing and recording that fans are not used to hearing from Korn. This is also the last Korn album to feature Fieldy’s unique bass playing style, where he taps the strings against the pickups to give Korn their signature clicking percussion. Overall, it’s still very listenable for a die hard Korn fan, but it ranks as Korn’s worst album.
11. Untitled (2007)
I may get a lot of shit for this one, but everything in between 1-12 are really the hardest to rank. With as much as this is a personal favorite of mine, I had to be fair and unbiased with my approach to ranking this album. The album relies too much on electronics and effects that, while they’ve done that since Untouchables, I feel like with this album it takes away from the heaviness of the guitars and the pure power of emotions expressed within the album. The change in drummers on the record is also a very hard pill to swallow for a lot of listeners. Both David Silveria and Ray Luzier have very different and distinctive drumming styles and to go from the previous album to this one, it’s extremely noticeable. Some might also say it’s difficult to follow up an album that was produced by The Matrix.
10. Take A Look In The Mirror (2003)
A bittersweet farewell, as this was Korn’s final album to feature their original lineup. The album was rushed by the band and the record label after disappointing sales of Untouchables, and you can definitely tell as the album feels lackluster at best. The guitar riffs are sloppy and at times feel like they’ve been ripped off of previous Korn releases. While the lyrics hit deep at times, the overall feeling of the delivery of the lyrics feel forced, and have a complete lack of emotion, which is a huge departure for Jonathan Davis who is known for his unique, passionate vocal delivery.
09. Life Is Peachy (1996)
As a standalone record Life Is Peachy is a great album, but where it fails is that it was almost an exact clone of their previous album. Life Is Peachy still stands the test of time and is just as listenable 20 years later, as it was when it was first released, and has become a favorite among long time fans of the band, and it also contains the band’s first hit single “A.D.I.D.A.S.”
08. The Paradigm Shift (2013)
This was Head’s triumphant return to the band. What makes this album truly a good album in Korn’s discography is that it takes elements of everything Korn has ever done. The album shows some of Davis’ most mature lyrics and the electronic elements borrow from both Untitled and The Path of Totality, but it doesn’t overpower the essence of Korn’s own music.
07. The Serenity of Suffering (2016)
The latest release from Korn definitely deserves a spot right in the middle. While the album shows definite signs of the band reaching backwards at what originally made the band great, it also shows extreme signs of maturity in songwriting and playing, without losing the dark and heavy elements that have become their trademark. Jonathan Davis even brings back his scat/growling style which was a huge part of Korn’s music on their first 3 albums. I think the most impressive thing about this album is that Jonathan Davis, after 22 years of making albums and 12 albums into his career, can still drum up all of those emotional lyrics from dark places in his life.
06. Follow The Leader (1998)
While this album was pivotal in bringing the band to the forefront of mainstream modern rock, and helped to usher in the wave of nu metal bands that followed, the album has become eclipsed by a lot of the band’s earlier and later stuff. The album is a pure work of art from start to finish, and even features some great guest appearances from rapper Ice Cube and Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, along with a bonus track featuring Cheech and Chong. However, with all of the great aspects of this album, within Korn’s discography it feels and sounds dated, even more so than the band’s self titled debut.
05. The Path of Totality (2011)
When I first asked someone to explain dubstep to me they said it was electronic music with weird sounds thrown in. Korn is heavy metal music with weird noises thrown in, Korn is the dubstep of metal, and dubstep is the Korn of electronic music. This album was the first album I had heard in a few years that I felt made sense. Korn collaborated with numerous dubstep artists to put together a sound that is undeniably pure genius.
04. See You On The Other Side (2005)
While most may consider this album to be a departure for the band, being that it was the first album without Head, it would ultimately become the last album to feature David Silveria. What probably saved this album from being totally trash is that the four remaining members of the band stepped up their songwriting skills and hired The Matrix and Attitucs Ross to team up for the production. It may be Korn’s poppiest record to date, but the pop elements know their place and don’t try to take away from the band’s heaviness.
03. Untouchables (2002)
After the more melodic Issues album, Untouchable was a return to heavy music for Korn. After nearly a 3 year wait, Korn unleashed this album which not only saw the band returning to their heavy roots, but it also showed a lot of growth and maturity with their songwriting. The band, however, didn’t completely abandon the melodic direction they took with the two previous records. The album’s sort of ballads, feature some of Head and Munky’s best guitar tones, and Jonathan Davis’ greatest emotional moments.
02. Korn (1994)
This was the album that started it all for Korn. The album borrowed elements from grunge, hip hop, thrash metal, hardcore punk, funk, and new wave to create a fresh new sound that would start the most vicious music trend in history. While, still showcasing a less mature sound, it is the album that proves that Korn is one of the most important bands of all time.
01. Issues (1999)
If Korn is one of the most important bands of all time, then Issues is one of the most important albums of all time. With their fourth album Korn perfectly displayed the ability of a metal band to grow and mature without totally abandoning their roots. A lot of the songs on Issues took a more melodic direction, but if you listen more closely, not only are the songs more melodic, but the sounds and themes on these songs are darker as well. With just one album Korn proved that they were “Here To Stay,” (yes I know that song is on Untouchables,) and that they weren’t afraid to grow and mature, and that they were going to prove to the world that they were not just a momentary trend.
When you think of music that perfectly sums up the process of the end of a relationship, only 2 albums should come to mind, Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt and Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. Both bands achieved exceptional success in their times in the spotlight, and both bands also released iconic albums about members of the bands having romantic relationships coming to an end.
During the height of their success, Fleetwood Mac comprised of founding member and drummer Mick Fleetwood, along with couples Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, and John and Christine McVie. But it was during the writing and recording process of their iconic album Rumours, that the two couples in the band saw their relationships coming to an end. The material on the album reflected those breakups, and at times can become a chilling portrayal of the pain and heartache involved with a breakup.
Rumours is held in high regards in pop and rock music, and had a huge hand in securing the band’s spot in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Each song is a perfectly crafted, miniature rock opera, often times seeing Buckingham and Nicks going back and forth, as most couples do at that point in a breakup.
Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album and the band seen minimal success prior to its release, but the album catapulted the band into the top of the charts and has become one of the most important albums in history.
Nearly 20 years later, in 1995, we saw a ska band from Anaheim, California break out into the mainstream with their own unique spin on Fleetwood Mac’s iconic Rumours album. The band is lead by their high energy vocalist Gwen Stefani, who quickly turned into a sex symbol shortly after the album was released. It was Stefani’s break up with bassist Tony Kanal that turned into the album Tragic Kingdom. While at face value, the album seems like a concept album, Stefani used her excellent lyric writing skills to compare the breakup to a treacherous trip to Disneyland, full of all sorts of ups and downs, and a trip on a roller coaster of emotions; anger, fear, depression, physical pain, rejection, etc.
Lyrics on songs such as “The Climb,” “Don’t Speak,” and “End It On This,” reach near perfection, along with her vocal inflection and passion that send chills down the listener’s spine. Throughout 1995, 1996, and 1997 Tragic Kingdom was the essential break up album, especially for teenagers and twenty-somethings.
With both albums being broken down a little bit, which do you think is the better breakup album? Listen to both albums from start to finish and decide for yourself.
Coming up with any kind of list of the best this or the best that is always going to be a difficult task, however I’ve never struggled as much with creating a list as I have with this one. I had to take into consideration a lot of different factors; how well they flow, lyric writing ability, lyrical content of the songs, mainstream popularity as well as underground popularity and respect, and influence on the future generation of not just hip hop but of other genres as well. I opted to not just include some of the pioneers of hip hop, but also some of the pioneers of rap rock and rap metal as well, because the vocalists of these bands are rappers as well. I chose not to include some of the newer generation of rappers, who may someday prove themselves to be elite, because they may only have a limited body of work in which to go off. Any newer rappers who may have been included are here because they have already proved themselves to be elite with their limited body of work.
With a career going back to 1987, Coolio has proven himself to be one of the deepest lyrical rappers of the mid-1990’s. While a lot of his contemporaries glorified life in the ghetto, Coolio’s songs highlighted the bad things about the thug life. While his biggest hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” was a huge pop hit in the summer of 1995, the lyrics spoke from to soul of anyone who could relate to the downside of life in the ghettos. Coolio still records and tours and has a wonderful body of work including time he spent with WC and the Maad Circle.
49. Jimmy Pop Ali
While most may not consider Jimmy Pop from Bloodhound Gang to be a rapper in the traditional sense, Pop and his bandmates have become a staple in the history of rap rock. Blending hip hop vocals and beats with surf punk style guitars, and heavy metal basslines, Bloodhound Gang have earned their place in hip hop history. Jimmy Pop tends to write lyrics that often humorous and ironic, but its his straight faced delivery of lyrics that are so funny they make you cry, that solidifies his spot on this list.
Canadian reggae rapper Snow, may be the butt of a lot of jokes in a lot of inner circles of hip hop, but Snow’s career goes beyond his one hit “Informer.” Snow, was one of the pioneers of reggaeton, a style of hardcore hip hop/reggae fusion. Snow is still making music, and has a lot of respect among other reggaeton artists and fans of the genre, as well.
47. Nicki Minaj
With only a few albums under her belt, Nicki Minaj captured her place in the ranks of elite rappers by becoming a household name before ever releasing an album. Minaj made a name for herself with her early collaborations with artists such Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Rick Ross, Drake, and even Jeffree Star. Her mainstream pop hits may be considered cheesy and not lyrical, but its actually her albums’ deep cuts that keep her relevant.
Chicago’s Twista is best known for his deep lyrical content and rapid fire delivery. While his mainstream success may have dwindled pretty early on in his career, Twista is still making music today, and still has respect among his colleagues and rap fans.
45. Skee Lo
Known as the anti-gangsta rapper, Skee Lo is best known for his feel good, summer of 1995 hit “I Wish.” Unlike other rappers from Compton, Skee Lo opted to take himself less seriously, adding humor to the imagery of the Compton ghettos in his songs. Much like many other rappers of his era though, Skee Lo has matured with his fans, by diversifying and branching out lyrically.
44. Krizz Kaliko
Krizz Kaliko may not be a household name, but I’m pretty sure he’s ok with that. Krizz is a long time collaberator with Tech N9ne and has become well respected enough as an underground artist, that he’s even done guest spots with more mainstream artists such as T-Pain and Chamillionaire, as well as underground juggalo rappers Twiztid.
Kokane began his career writing songs for NWA and Above The Law, before launching his own career in 1991 with the release of his first album. While being most known for writing songs for other rappers and his numerous guest spots over the years, Kokane has also proven he can stand on his own with his distinct vocal style and delivery.
42. Cold 187um
Cold 187um started his career founding Above The Law, but was able to launch a solo career that may not have given him mainstream success, but earned him enough respect from everyone from fellow gangsta rappers and fans, as well as undergound artists such as Insane Clown Posse and their fans, known as juggalos, even signing with their label Psychopathic Records for a brief time. Cold 187um keeps proving time and again why he is one of the most underrated pioneers of gangsta rap.
41. Melle Mel
Melle Mel came into prominence as a member of rap pioneers Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. At the time people really didn’t know how to react to hip hop, but the Five were able to bring awareness to what life on the streets was really like. The music has remained so iconic that to this day, “The Message” is still one of the most sampled songs in hip hop history.
40. Sonny Sandoval
P.O.D. was the first Christian rap metal band. Sandoval’s lyrics proclaim a power message, and he doesn’t preach about religion, he preaches about positive things. P.O.D. has also matured along with their audience, experimenting with more melodic tones and even incorporating punk elements into their songs. With a change in their musical style, Sandoval has written lyrics that tackle such topics as suicide, being an outcast, school shootings, and other serious things.
39. Travie McCoy
Travie McCoy is most known for being the lead vocalist for the hip hop band Gym Class Heroes. McCoy who rapped long before joining the band has chosen to, instead of using the typical template for rap lyrics, rap about more lighthearted things like romance, life on the road, and all of the great things he’d do for people if he were a billionaire. McCoy’s delivery is also out of the ordinary, as he’s chosen a more laid back approach to rapping, which features harmonic singing mixed with his rapping, that is no doubt influenced by Snoop Dogg and Bone Thugs N Harmony.
As part of the trio Run DMC, DMC helped to bring rap to the mainstream, but it was as a solo artist that DMC proved why he’s an important part of the hip hop community. Known for being the first to blend rap and rock with Run DMC’s collaberation with Aerosmith, it was as a solo artist that DMC reignited those rap rock roots with duets with Sarah McLachlan and late Static-X frontman Wayne Static.
Ice-T might be most known as Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit or as the lead singer of seminal thrash metal band Body Count, but before any of that he was known as one of the pioneers of gangsta rap, which at that time didn’t have a name. Gangsta rap was so new at the time that Ice-T was a part of the game, the producers of the genre simply referred to it as “reality rap,” because to them it was reality. The songs focused on the everyday struggles of young black men in the ghettos of America.
36. Snow Tha Product
While Snow Tha Product is one of the younger rappers on the scene right now, she has proven that she deserves every bit of recognition that she’s gotten in her career so far. Her flows and lyrical content are far superior than men of her male contemporaries.
35. Bizzy Bone
While each of the five founding members of Bone Thugs N Harmony are all exceptional rappers, it is Bizzy Bone, who is the harmony in the group, who proves that he is the voice that truly stands out from the rest. Aside from his success as a member of Bone, Bizzy has also had a moderately succesful solo career, exhibiting a more laid back style, often rapping over r&b ballad style intrumental tracks.
Jay-Z took a lot of influence from west coast gangsta rap while adding his own unique twist. Instead of following suit with songs that boast gang affiliation, Jay took a mafioso sort of approach, making him the king of New York.
KRS-One rose to prominence in the mid 1980’s as a member of Boogie Down Productions. It was during that time, and his subsequent solo career that KRS-One was able to secure his place as an important figure in the history of hip hop. KRS-One has also been able to branch out and work with many well respected rock acts such as R.E.M., Sugar Ray, and others.
Domino’s career began when he joined rap supergroup Bloods & Crips, a collective of gang members from Compton, Watts, and Long Beach looking to capitalize on what the called a fake trend of fake gangsters cashing in on gangsta rap. Domino’s laid back flows delivered with Motown-esque vocal style delivery set him apart from other similar rappers of the time like Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Bone Thungs N Harmony.
31. Adam Yauch
Adam Yauch’s career began in 1979 with the hardcore punk band Beastie Boys, after a few years the group would shift their focus more towards hip hop while still keeping some of those punk elements in their music, as well as adding elements of soul, pop, jazz, alternative rock, and psychedelic. A lot of Yauch’s lyrical content focused on social issues and often told short stories.
Fabolous was one of the first new rappers to come to prominence in the new millenium, kicking off his career with the hit single “Can’t Deny It,” a collaberation with Nate Dogg. Fabolous quickly showed that he deserved a spot among his hip hop predecessors with a string of hit singles and guest spots. Despite the fact that Fabolous was a part of a new generation of young hip hop artists that took their focus off of the streets and onto the club, a style that a lof of the gangst rappers refered to as party rap, Fabolous has been able to coninue to make music and be successful.
29. Chuck D
Chuck D is considered one of the fathers of rap. Along with his group Public Enemy, he rose to fame in the 80’s with social and political commentary lyrics inspired by the equal rights movement of the 60’s and the struggles of black people in America. Chuck D has continued to be a relevant member of the hip hop community, later collaberating with Anthrax on the rap rock staple “Bring The Noise,” and then starting the rap rock supergroup Prophets of Rage with members of Rage Against The Machine and B Real of Cypress Hill.
As a member of Naughty By Nature Treach showed his skills as both an emcee and a lyricist with his wordplay and subtle innuendo. While most may not consider Naughty By Nature to be as relevant today as they were more than 20 years ago, hip hop elitists still hold them in high regards.
27. Fred Durst
Fred Durst may not have respect among critics and fans of either hip hop or metal, but many in the music business consider Fred to be on the best of worlds. Artists as diverse as Lil Wayne, Korn, Kevin Rudolf, Xzibit, Ice Cube, Snot, and many others have collaberated with the Limp Bizkit frontman, who has proven himself as a lyricist, rapper, and singer in his nearly 20 years in the business.
In the lengthy list of influential gangsta rappers, no one is more underrated than Kurupt, who along with Daz Dillinger, made up the group Tha Dogg Pound. Initially, proteges of Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound were able to step out from behind Snoop’s shadow to show that they could stand on their own, but it was Kurupt’s solo career that showed that he was more than just a guest rapper.
25. LL Cool J
LL Cool J was the first rapper to rise to fame with a hardcore style that also took elements of pop and r&b. LL Cool J’s sound went straight from the streets to the bedroom with love ballads and sex anthems, after making his mark a streetwise hardcore rapper. LL Cool J may be considered a Hollywood star now, as he’s done quite a bit of acting and currently hosts the TV show Lip Sync Battle, but LL still has mad respect from his hip hop peers and fans of rap music.
24. B Real
As a member of Cypress Hill, B Real made a career by catering to hip hop fans who REALLY love weed. Cypress Hill made a name for themselves by pioneering stoner rap, but they also attacked social political topics, and yes the legalization of weed was one of them. B Real is currently a member of Prophets of Rage with Chuck D and members of Rage Against The Machine.
23. Schoolly D
Schoolly D is the father of gangsta rap. He was the first rapper to take the topic of life on the streets and expand it to talk about the lives of gang members; including run ins with the police, dealing drugs, pimping hoes, and killing people.
22. Snoop Dogg
Snoop’s signature laid back style has been influential in inspiring a young crop of fellow G-Funk rappers to come up with similar styles of melodic rapping, contradictory of the origins of rap and gangsta rap. Snoop has shown not just longevity in his career but also increased respect and popularity among younger fans of hip hop, making him arguably the most influential hip hop artist of all time.
Esham is one of the lesser known emcees, and undoubtedly one of the most underrated artist in the history of hip hop. Easham came up in Detroit, known for dirty garage rock and the Motown sound, but it was the sound that Esham pioneered that would would put Detroit music back on the map and inspire a plethora of new acts to come out of Detroit with a similar sound in the style of horrorcore. Creating imagery of death and serial killers may sound like something out of a horror film, but it would influence artists such as Insane Clown Posse, Eminem, Anybody Killa, Twiztid, Eminem, and many others.
Jadakiss first came into prominence as a member of The LOX, and made his mark early on for his freestyles and battle rap abilities. Later on Kiss would make his mark as a solo artist and part of Ruff Ryders.
19. Ghostface Killah
While every member of Wu-Tang Clan has the ability to stand on their own as a solo artist, its Ghostface Killah who has proven himself as the most lyrical member of the Clan, with his deep, poetic solo efforts, taking gangsta rap to whole new level.
18. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is the youngest member of this elite class of rappers, and through his limited body of work he has proven with his delivery, lyrical approach, and style that he has earned respect. Kendrick first became known through his hit single “Swimming Pools (Drank),” but it wasn’t until his verse on the Big Sean song “Control,” where he attacked numerous elite rappers, that all eyes were on him.
17. The Notorious B.I.G.
Though B.I.G.’s career was tragically cut short in 1997, he left behind an impressive body of work, comprised of two albums, and a slew of unfinished songs that would find their way to posthumous albums. B.I.G.’s work still proves that he will always be one of the best in the game.
16. Kool Keith
Kool Keith is a pioneer of underground and alternative hip hop. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Peeping Tom, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Dan The Automator, and The Prodigy. He still remains one of the most respected artists in hip hop.
15. Tech N9ne
Tech N9ne has become the popular and most respected artist on the underground hip hop circuit. With his solo efforts and collaborations, Tech has shown lyrical diversity and powerful, unmatched vocal delivery. Remaining a strong contender for king of the underground has given Tech a career that he can look forward to lasting for many years to come.
RZA began as a member of gangsta rap collective Wu-Tang Clan, before both establishing himself as a solo artist and founding the horrorcore group Tha Gravediggaz.
13. J Cole
J Cole has become one of the younger, highly respected rappers of this generation with his unique delivery, incredible wordplay, and new school vibes meets old school influence.
12. Busta Rhymes
During his lengthy career Busta Rhymes has become known for his unusual approach to songwriting, rapid fire delivery, and his sometimes nauseating music videos. But its his longevity, coupled with being able to constantly reinvent himself in the ever-changing world of hip hop, without compromising what made him famous to begin with, that makes him someone deserving of a spot on this list.
Some of NAS’ best known stuff may be his numerous collaborations with R.Kelly and Jay-Z, but NAS has also made his mark with an impressive discography featuring stand out solo tracks that will blow away even the most casual listeners.
10. Kanye West
From all-star producer to a rapper with a reputation for his wordplay and incomparable mic skills. Looking beyond West’s outrageous before, he has a discography that stands out from most other hip hop artists, and an ability to write rhymes to include words that may have you reaching for a dictionary. Yeezy will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.
As one of the earliest players in the hip hop game, as part of the duo Eric B and Rakim, Rakim has proven that his pioneering of lyrical and delivery skills are still held in high regards even with the drastic changes in hip hop over the years since Rakim first came into prominence.
Both as a solo artist and as a member of Geto Boys, Scarface has solidified his place as a true elite of the hip hop community, with unique delivery and skills .
While many people would consider all rappers to be poets, when I think of rappers who are truly poetic, 3 names come to mind; Tupac Shakkur, Kendrick Lamar, and Common. Common’s artsy approach to lyrics and music make him the Pink Floyd of Hip hop.
06. Big Daddy Kane
As a pioneer of hip hop, Big Daddy Kane used a smooth, jazzy approach to his delivery. Held in high regards as one of the best lyricists, Big Daddy Kane has held on to the respect he earned in his early days.
05. Big L
Another underground legend is the late Big L, who’s unique approach the lyrical wordplay makes him another rapper known for his superior songwriting ability.
04. Ice Cube
Ice Cube is a key figure in bringing gangsta rap to the mainstream. Though he wasn’t the most notorious member of N.W.A., he was the talent behind the group’s biggest hits. Not only was Ice Cube one of the main voices in the group, he was the man behind the pen, writing lyrics for the other emcees. Cube’s departure from the group may have even spawned the first ever rap beef and the first diss track with the Ice Cube song “No Vaseline,” an attack on his former bandmates, and manager Jerry Heller.
03. Mos Def
With heavy influence from Motown, jazz, beat poets, and progressive rock; Mos Def has a one-of-a-kind approach to music making. Rising from the underground to become a unique artist with plenty of mainstream respect.
02. Tupac Shakur
Tupac is considered by most to be the most legendary rapper of all time. In coming up with this list, I had to take all factors into consideration, and while Tupac may have spend a very long time being the best of all time with his poetic approach to writing rhymes, he has recently fallen to 2nd place.
While Eminem began his career as a horrorcore rapper, it was his humor infused lyrics that brought him into the mainstream with the release of his 2nd album The Slim Shady LP. But Eminem didn’t completely abandon his horrorcore roots, in fact his 3rd album contained his most controversial track to date, “Kim.” Over the years Eminem has risen to be the best rapper in the game; from his more mature ballads, to his freestlyes, and his diss tracks, Eminem can not be touched.
Every decade the new generation and even some of the older generation develop a nostalgia for a certain era of popular music. Right now we’re stuck in a period of Millenial nostalgia for 90’s alternative rock, while the Generation X’ers who listened to this stuff while they were teenagers are back pedaling as well, longing for those days of Sega Genesis, Party of Five, Dawson’s Creek, and the era of alternative rock.
So let’s take a trip back, to the time before She’s All That was in theaters, when James Vander Beek was on TV, Jennifer Love Hewitt was your celebrity crush, Britney was just a high school student, the most important things you had to worry about where who you’d ask to prom and wondering if you were going to pass your driving test. But most importantly…Everclear and The Smashing Pumpkins were in regular rotation on Top 40 radio. Welcome to the 1990’s, the era of Generation X, the last generation without the internet at their disposal.
Fastball – All The Pain Money Can Buy
Fastball was an incredibly unique band when they broke into the mainstream with their sophomore album. Dueling lead singers Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga had two totally different approaches to both emotional vocal delivery and lyrical composition. But aside from that The album features power pop guitar structure with blatant southern influences, and organ driven melodies that carry most of the album’s tracks. The album bordered on modern Dylan-esque folk rock, with elements of punk influence. The best way to truly describe the overall feel of the album would be if The Wallflowers attempted to make a pop punk album of that time period and got about half way through and just said “fuck it.” The album has definitely become a staple of 90’s alternative rock and has definitely influenced some early 2000’s emo artists such as Further Seems Forever, Death Cab For Cutie, Bright Eyes, and Dashboard Confessional.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Adore
Adore is another long forgotten gem from 1998. It’s arguably the most hated Smashing Pumpkins album by the hardcore fans, even more hated than the new records by Billy Corgan’s new band that he calls The Smashing Pumpkins. The album starts off with a dreamy acoustic ballad before exploding into gothic and electronic experimentation. This was the band’s first album without longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, so just like another one of their contemporaries with a bald-headed singer, R.E.M., would do later that year as they would also lose their longtime drummer, they replaced him with session drummers, electronics, and drum machines. However, most people didn’t understand that this direction was nothing new for Corgan and company, as Corgan moved to Chicago initially with the intention of joining a goth rock band, a band that would also include future Static-X frontman Wayne Static. If you listen to early demos and independent EP releases by The Smashing Pumpkins, which basically just featured Corgan and guitarist James Iha, it was very post punk/gothic rock…oh yeah, and they used drum machines. This album, still in 2016 is way ahead of it’s time in production value, and usage of what now would be considered primitive electronic music. I don’t think that anyone would argue that Billy Corgan is a musical genius, but while most consider Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness to be his artistic masterpiece, it is actually Adore that truly showcases all aspects of Corgan’s genius. While most people stopped listening when they realizes that the album heavily relied on the usage of drum machines and electronic music, but it’s actually the album’s deep cuts that have the band going into directions that were beyond their usual artistry of previous albums Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness.
R.E.M. – Monster
Maybe not a forgotten record among purists of 90’s alternative rock, but among R.E.M. fans, Monster seems to get lost as the 9th of 15 albums that the band released in their 32 year career. This album was not just an iconic record, released at the just the right time in history, it was a departure for the band, and a huge risk. It was the first R.E.M. album to feature effects heavy guitar, and prominent usage of overdrive and distortion. While can be considered a band that prominently exhibits exceptional musical ability, they have always been a more lyrically driven band, but with the usage of effects and distortions the lyrics that usually carry R.E.M. songs don’t get lost as they sometimes do with heavier alternative rock. While R.E.M. has always been a unique band, even a trendsetter in their own right, they’ve never been known for taking a current music trend and riding it out, and though Monster may have been very much influenced by grunge, the band took their Cobain influence and made it their own, blending it with their own personal blend of post-punk and jangle pop that made the band one that truly deserved their status as members of The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.
Garbage – Garbage
The thing that definitely made the 90’s stand out from any other time period in popular music history, and may be why so many of the band, albums, and songs still stand out today; is possibly due to the fact that there was no shortage of unique music. So what happens when you put together 3 of the hottest American producers with a sexy goth diva from Scotland with a unique voice, style, and delivery…well, you get a band called Garbage. The band’s debut album and second single “Only Happy When It Rains” were a total cunt punch to the industry, critics, and fans. The record had elements of post-punk/goth, mixed with pop melodies and vocal delivery, with not-so-subtle elements of grunge, dream pop, and shoegaze. While Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and Berlin were among some of the earliest bands that were able to bridge a gap between industrial music and pop melodies, it was Garbage that was the first band to show no shame in being the first truly poppy industrial band.
Letters To Cleo – Aurora Gory Alice
With writing this article, I actually went back and relistened to all of these albums, and this was the first time in 17 years that I actually listened to this Letters To Cleo album. And even after going back to this album, which was originally released in 1994, after so many years, is that Kay Hanley’s voice and Stacy Jones’ drums and backing vocals, are both undeniably perfect. There was no other female lead vocalist during this time that could deliver a song even remotely close to the way that Hanley did. And while Kay Hanley may not be the most memorable female rock vocalist of the time, even with an appearance in the film 10 Things I Hate About You and being the voice of Rachel Leigh Cook’s titular character in the Josie and The Pussycats film, that doesn’t take away the fact that she is truly an unmatched, remarkable talent who has without a doubt earned her place in rock and pop history.
Collective Soul – Disciplined Breakdown
By 1997 grunge had been dead for what seemed like an eternity at that time, and the bands that rode high on the wave of grunge just a few years ago, were now opting for a more power pop driven sound and neo-glam image, Collective Soul were one of the first bands to experiment with this direction. The depressing teen angst of grunge wasn’t selling records anymore so bands opted for a sound and image more influenced by T-Rex and Cheap Trick and less by The Pixies and R.E.M. Although you could say that this power pop era of grunge could’ve been influenced by the glam-esque direction that R.E.M. took with the melodies on their Monster album. Someone recently told me that the only Collective Soul album that still held up today was their self titled second album, so I went back and listened to every album of their’s, even their most recent albums, and I realized that they all still held up today, but something stood out, so I listened to Disciplined Breakdown again, and that was it. I realized what a huge risk this album was for a band that many considered to be the diet soda of grunge.
Weezer – Pinkerton
Probably the most obscure and most forgotten album of the 90’s alternative rock era is Weezer’s sophomore effort, Pinkerton. The album is almost conceptual in nature in that the songs revolve around Rivers Cuomo’s infatuation with a half Japanese cello playing teenager, who turns out in the end to be a lesbian. To date, it is still the most arguably bizarre album that Weezer has released. The band who has become known for their quirky, tongue-in-cheek music and videos, Pinkerton is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish. Even thought Pinkerton failed to produce a hit from the 3 singles released, it stands as an important record mainly because of the real, raw emotional delivery, the passion and pain expressed in Cuomo’s lyrics and delivery. It has also become a template for albums to follow, inspiring an entire generation of band during the emotive hardcore (known as emo for short,) era that followed about 3/4 of a decade later. While Weezer may not be the first ever emo band, sophomore albums from both Weezer and Foo Fighters are considered to be the albums that really kickstarted the mainstream appeal of emo in the 2000’s. While Pinkerton, at times, sounds like a suicide note from a man who just had his heart ripped from his chest, we’re glad that Rivers Cuomo made this masterpiece and his still with us, making incredible music and pumping out the hits.
Sponge – New Pop Sunday
You can argue with me all you want, but Sponge frontman Vinnie Dombroski is one of the most important pop rock icons of the 1990’s. Sponge’s mainstream success caught the tail end of the grunge phenomenon, blending elements of 70’s glam pop with blatant classic rock grit, much like Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam before them, both of which Sponge drew comparisons to with their first record. The band’s sophomore effort then became a middle finger to the industry and critics that wanted to pigeonhole them to just another Pearl Jam/Stone Temple Pilots rip off. Wax Ecstatic is probably the most Detroit sounding album ever recorded (that’s right, fuck you Kid Rock.) Sponge began drawing influence from southern rock and blues, r&b, and dirty rock, garage rock, and proto punk bands to make a record that raised the bar for anything that would ever come from Detroit after that. Then you have this shit…New Pop Sunday was a collective of everything they had done previously and just vomited 70’s glam pop all over it, once again rebranding themselves. Sponge saw a lot of their grunge contemporaries going the way of power pop and neo-glam as I had mentioned before and they followed suit, while still holding their middle fingers high at the industry. New Pop Sunday may not have spawned any hits like their previous releases, but the overall quality of the songs and the subtle production valley earns this album its place in rock and pop music history.
Sugar Ray – 14:59
After the success of the breakout single “Fly” from their sophomore album Floored, Sugar Ray, known for their hardcore punk style mixed with metal, chose to completely change the direction of their music. Based out of Orange County, California Sugar Ray used their geographical location to set the tone of their landmark 3rd album. The album uses a blend of laid back reggae, ska, surf rock, pop punk, hip hop so-cal folk rock, and island music to create a sound that is unique. The move was bold and risky, especially at a time when a lot of their nu metal contemporaries were beginning to find mainstream success, and heavy metal and hardcore were in the forefront of modern rock music. Yet Sugar Ray was able to score 3 hit singles and sell out shows all over the country.
Dave Matthews Band – Before These Crowded Streets
While not a fan of Dave Matthews Band, I understand their popularity and I respect their importance to modern rock and pop music. When Dave Matthews Band first exploded into mainstream popularity they fit the mold of previous jam bands like Phish and Grateful Dead, but with their 3rd album, Before These Crowded Streets, they boldly went in a direction that was a major game changer for jam bands from then on. The band experimented with more gothic tones, world music, and even used electric guitar, which they had not done in the past. While it was not the band’s most successful record, it helped the band to create a long lasting career and showed that jam bands don’t always have to sound the same.
Local H – Pack Up The Cats
While a lot of grunge bands were going the direction of power pop and neo-glam, there were grunge influenced bands coming up trying to keep the genre alive. Local H was a seminal post-grunge band, possibly even the first post-grunge band. The band’s 3rd album, Pack Up The Cats, was a concept album, and to this do I’m still not exactly sure what the concept was, but it was released at a time when no one really gave a shit about concept records. Possibly more important than anything else, the album was released on Island Records at a time when their parent company Polygram was merging with Universal, which caused the album to be pushed aside and forgotten. It also didn’t help that it was released at a time when alternative radio was dying, while trying to stay afloat by shifting their programming to encompass the influx of nu metal that was beginning to come into the mainstream. Honestly though, how can you market an album that uses cats meowing as a musical instrument.
Bush – Razorblade Suitcase
Attempting to rid themselves of being labeled as the British Nirvana, Bush released the groundbreaking post-grunge effort known as Razorblade Suitcase. The album went beyond every critic’s expectation that it would either be regurgitated and recycled bullshit that sounds exactly like their debut or that the album would be full of songs that sound identical to their biggest hit to date “Glycerine.” However, what the album did is show that Gavin and the boys were truly a force to be reckoned with, a band who could write an entire album as well as standalone songs.