Today I’m taking you back to ’90s hip hop and the best debut albums, in my opinion.

Dr. Dre: The Chronic (1992)

The first one on my list of best debut hip hop albums is The Chronic. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, released in 1992, redefined the West Coast sound. Above all, the album illustrates Dre’s ability as a manager. In truth, he assembled a West Coast troupe featuring Snoop Dogg, Dogg Pound, his stepbrother Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Suge Knight, among others, and got the best out of them. Moreover, it established Dre as the “Godfather of G-Funk”.

Lyrically, The Chronic caused some controversy, as Dre’s hardcore gangster rap is all about guns, sex, and drugs. In fact, the album was noted as a “frightening amalgam of inner-city street gangs that includes misogynist sexual politics and violent revenge scenarios”. Most of the N.W.A. members made their way on the album. Eazy-E and Ice Cube were dissed on the second single “Fuck wit Dre Day”, while MC Ren was shouted out on the album’s intro.

Yeah, Eazy-E, Eazy-E, Eazy-E can eat a big fat dick
Tim Dog can eat a big fat dick
Luke can eat a fat dick
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…

Dr. Dre – Fuck wit Dre Day ; Outro: Snoop Dogg

As a whole, The Chronic does what all great hip hop should do: take you somewhere else. Specifically, it’s a soundscape of ’90s LA. For example, the sociopolitical situation is acknowledged with samples of a documentary about the LA uprising and references to the story of Rodney King on tracks (“Lil’ Ghetto Boy” and “The Day the Niggaz Took Over”).

Dr. Dre: The Chronic (Full Album) (1992)

Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)

Released in 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang ushered in a new standard for hip hop at a time when hip hop music was dominated by the jazz-influenced styles of A Tribe Called Quest, the Afrocentric viewpoints of Public Enemy, and the rising popularity of West Coast gangsta rap. Lyrically, this is a masterful battle rap album, with hundreds of ferocious bars from some of the hungriest, most talented and creative MC’s to ever grab the mic.

Although the lyrics vary from artist to artists, the themes stay the same. In detail, we hear about urban life, martial arts movies, comic book references, and marijuana, all taking place in New York City. While the majority of the songs have the vibe of a cipher on the corner, there are three tracks that stand out in have more of a storytelling style.

Pullin’ out gats for fun
But it was just a dream for the teen who was a fiend
Started smokin’ woolies at 16
And runnin’ up in gates and doin’ hits for high stakes
Makin’ my way on fire escapes

Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M. ; Verse 1: Raekwon

My favorite is the classic C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) with its memorable piano loop, coupled with “growing up hard” lyrics by Raekwon and Inspectah Deck. Furthermore, the track is topped off with the classic chorus by Method Man. In conclusion, the greatest part about this album is that every single song is a classic. There’s absolutely no song that is forgettable because each song provides the listener with an experience.

Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)

Make sure to check out Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men documentary, if you haven’t already.

Nas: Illmatic (1994)

Upon its release in 1994, Illmatic set off a seismic shift in rap geopolitics. In other words, the album galvanized Queensbridge and East Coast hip hop as a whole. It raised the stakes for hip hop production, lyrical technique, content, and overall artistic ambition.

Illmatic depicts Nas’ unique style of delivery and poetic substance. To illustrate, his lyrics about gang rivalries, desolation, and the ravages of urban poverty, contain layered rhythms, multi-syllabic rhymes, internal half rhymes, assonance, and enjambment. Nas, who was twenty years old when the album was released, focuses on conveying his own experiences through comprehensive first-person narratives that deconstruct the troubled life of a teenager.

I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, it’s a blessin’
The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now I’m fresh and
My physical frame is celebrated ‘cause I made it
One quarter through life, some godly-like thing created

Nas – Life’s a Bitch ; Verse 2: Nas

Illmatic is also prominent for its many portrayals and descriptions of places, people, and interactions. As a result, Nas often points out the corners and boulevards of Queensbridge and mentions his friends, local crews, and drug dealers, whilst utilizing vernacular slang that’s indigenous to his hometown.

Nas: Illmatic (1994)

Check out my review of Nas’ latest album Nasir.

The Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (1994)

Ready to Die was Biggie’s debut album, released in 1994. Immediately, the album received praise for its honest portrayal of his internal conflicts. For example, he talks about robberies at gunpoint on the A train, open-air hand-to-hand crack deals on Fulton St., shootouts with the NYPD. Moreover, he raps about these topics in clear, sparse terms, allowing the lyrics to hit the first time you hear them.

For example, songs like “Everyday Struggle” and “Suicidal Thoughts” show Biggie’s depth. Besides, the frequent references to his mother show his rearing and dropping words like “placenta” show his coy love of language. He was a smart kid that liked to do dumb stuff, but the album shows us how the genius gets sharpened when faced with obstacles. It’s an affirmation of hip hop as a platform for such genius to be realized and monetized.

I know how it feel to wake up fucked up
Pockets broke as hell, another rock to sell
People look at you like you’s the user
Sellin’ drugs to all the losers, mad buddha abuser

The Notorious B.I.G. – Everyday Struggles ; Verse 1

Ready to Die contains a loose concept that starts with an intro detailing his birth, early childhood, adolescence and his life at the point of the album’s release. Specifically, the album was released with a cover depicting an infant that resembles Biggie. To illustrate, the infant has an Afro, which pertains to the album’s concept of his life from birth to his death. In brief, it’s listed as one of the best album covers in hip hop.

The Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (1994)

Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

The last one in my list of best hip hop debut albums is Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, released in 1996. Consequently, this album helped transfigure gangsta rap into Mafioso rap, popularizing the sub-genre and the imagery of high class, expensive lifestyles, and tastes in hip hop.

Shopping sprees, cop in three
Deuce fever IS’s fully loaded, ah, yes
Bouncing in the Lex Luger, tires smoke like Buddha
50 Gs to the crap shooter, niggas can’t fade me

Jay-Z – Can’t Knock the Hustle ; Verse 1: Jay-Z

Reasonable Doubt might not have the radio hits or club bangers of many of Jay-Z’s other albums, but it may feature him at his most lyrical and honest. The narrative that emerges from the album is startlingly rim. In detail, it’s a masterpiece of dissociation, a graveyard of dead emotions. In addition, from the outset, Jay-Z projects surface glamour. But behind all of it, the message’s clear: It was all too late for him, and the money was just cold comfort.

Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt (1996)

Finally, that’s my list of 5 best hip hop debut albums from the ’90s.

What are your favorites? Let me know down in the comments!

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