10. Blackalicious - Blazing Arrow
The reason to root for Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel is that occasionally they show you things you didn't know were possible within the confines of hip-hop. Hardcore, grown-ass rap bathed in breezy soul rhythms, for example.
5. The Roots - Phrenology
After winning a Grammy for the Erykah Badu-assisted rap ballad "You Got Me," The Roots show they're neither gangstas nor punks. Sometimes you can't tell if they're trying to break trends or kneecaps.
2. Nas - God's Son
There comes a time when a man must put youthful idiocy aside and grow the f-ck up. For some, it happens in their mid 20s to early 30s. For others, it happens in their 80s. For Nas, it happened on God's Son. The timing of this album (it arrived on the heels of his mother's death) couldn't have been more brutal. It forced Nas to look within and, in the process, revealed a soul learning to deal with new vulnerabilities ("Warrior Song") while simultaneously seeking closure on old rivalries ("Last Real N---a Alive").
1. Scarface - The Fix
Forget everything you've ever learned about southern rappers when traversing Scarface territories. He attacks the mic with a brazen poise. He's one of the greatest storytellers in the game. And he commands a cult-like following from the east coast to the west coast. Face's heightened spiritual awareness and ominous street tales on The Fix helped make this a southern classic and an essential album for all hip-hop heads.