Rock the Bells Vital Albums, Part 1

The Rock the Bells tour hits Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday and the lineup is stacked. There's plenty of up-and-coming talent -- the Cool Kids, Spank Rock, Wale, Santogold, etc. -- but the presence of so many of hip-hop's heavy hitters is what makes it one of the best tours of the summer. J. Freedom and I decided we'd pick the five best albums by Rock the Bells participants and then throw it out to you guys to see if you agree or disagree. The first four were easy but we couldn't reach an agreement on what the fifth entry should be. Call it generational differences. Mr. du Lac will check in with his picks some time soon, if he realizes this blog still exists.

Nas - "Illmatic"
Ah, "Illmatic," the "Exile in Guyville" of hip-hop. Here's what I don't get. Every single short list of best hip-hop albums has "Illmatic" near the top, and with good reason. It's perfect in nearly every way, from the beats to the production to the lyrics to the rhyme schemes to how Nas deals with the subject matter. Each song can stand on its own and they all fit together perfectly into the larger narrative. One of the defining characteristics of the album is how lean it is. At 10 songs and less than 40 minutes there's not a single wasted beat. You'd think that more hip-hop acts would try to emulate this, especially since it's so universally revered. But we're still inundated with albums pushing 80 minutes with tons of guests and skits. Even if those albums were more to-the-point, they weren't going to compete with "Illmatic" anyway.

Raekwon - "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx"
This one against GZA's "Liquid Swords" is like the Magic vs. Bird of Wu-Tang solo albums. For a long time "Cuban Linx" was my choice but over the past year I've drifted back to "Swords." Still, to rank as the second best solo Wu solo album is a great feat, as the Clan just churned them out one after another back in the early/mid-'90s. Like "Illmatic," there's a definite narrative going on and while this album glorifies some unsavory elements, well, who cares? It's from the era when RZA was still baking delicious track after track and the interplay with Ghostface is perfect. Plus, "Criminology," is the best Wu-related song there is.

Ghostface Killah - "Supreme Clientele"
I just love listening to Ghostface. He's kind of like the opposite of Jay-Z. Jay-Z's all cool, calm, collected, composed. Ghostface sounds like he's just chomping at the bit every time he's on the mic. There's something excitable, a "let me at 'em!" attitude that combined with his high-pitched voice just makes him a lot of fun to listen to. He raps like his life depends on it, like he has to get these stories out as quickly as he possibly can. And how can you not love someone who rhymes "Frederick Douglas" with "[expletive] this"?

Check back soon for J. Freedom's picks and check back early next week for some post-show photos.

By David Malitz |  July 24, 2008; 5:45 PM ET Rock the Bells
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the final two albums in question better be the Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders. And if yr including Rakim's work with Eric B, then Paid in Full and Follow the Leader have to be in consideration too.

Posted by: sean | July 24, 2008 8:15 PM

UHHHMMM, what he said. 'The Low End Theory' is a certified classic, and 'Midnight Marauders' is also fantastic. Method Man and Redman are also on the bill, so I'd nominate 'Blackout!' as a wildcard, if only for Meth dropping the line "wilding out like special ed classes." Awesome.

Posted by: mikef | July 25, 2008 9:08 AM

I nominate Pharcyde's Labcabincalifornia, for no other reason than "Drop."

Posted by: Sus | July 25, 2008 10:25 AM

Personally I'd take Liquid Swords over any other Wu release, maybe even 36 Chambers. And I agree that Illmatic is the greatest release of any of the Rock the Bells performers.

Posted by: Adam | July 25, 2008 11:59 AM

LIQUID SWORDS
MIDNITE MARAUDERS
ILLMATIC
ONLY BUILT FOR CUBAN LINX
MADVILLAIN(IF DOOMS REALLY ON THE CARD)

Posted by: jay-CA-all day | July 29, 2008 12:30 PM

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