At that point in time, 1988, rap had a solid foundation as a result of over a decade of groundwork. Additionally, the barriers that acts like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys had recently knocked down proved there was a market for this Bronx-born style of music. Real money and marketing efforts started being used to bring Hip-Hop’s growing popularity to the masses. In March of that year, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince won the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance, and Yo! MTV Raps debuted in August.
The greatest example of Hip-Hop capitalizing on all this though was the amount of quality music that was released that year. There was so much of it that 1988 is widely regarded as rap’s best year ever. And so AllHipHop.com rose to the challenge of ranking its most remarkable releases.
These are the best of the best. Here are the greatest Hip-Hop albums from ‘88. It is referred to as rap’s first Golden Era, and for very good reason.
10). Straight Out the Jungle by The Jungle Brothers: While De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest are often recognized for their contributions to the Native Tongues movement, it officially began with the Jungle Brothers’ debut, Straight Out the Jungle. From sex raps to Afrocentrism, the album was clearly a well-rounded piece of work that presented the trio as daring emcees. They weren’t afraid to explore real topics. The trail they blazed is still being followed to this day.
9). Lyte as a Rock by MC Lyte: MC Lyte’s first album was a breakthrough in Hip-Hop. Her commanding vocals, sense of style, and rapping abilities made her a tour de force. “Paper Thin,” “I Cram to Understand U,” “10% Dis,” and the title track proved that she could hold her own in the male-dominated world of rap. Public Enemy’s Chuck D put it best, “S**t, she’s the bomb. Lyte is the ultimate MC, with the voice, style, and the ability to cut a rhyme and make it hurt.”
8). Power by Ice-T: Ice-T’s sophomore effort is one of Hip-Hop’s most honest evaluations of the crime life that would be glorified in the coming years by countless others. However, songs like “High Rollers” and “Drama” both expose the real consequences of that lifestyle. And as a former criminal himself, Ice-T’s rhymes are some of the best commentary on the subject that Hip-Hop has ever heard.
7). By All Means Necessary by Boogie Down Productions: After the death of Scott La Rock (R.I.P.), KRS-One returned with this Hip-Hop classic. From beginning to end, this 10-track set is very potent. “Jimmy,” “Stop the Violence,” and “Illegal Business” confront sex, violence, and drugs. And while a record like “My Philosophy” discusses BDP’s evolution, it still manages to take a subliminal shot at Run DMC. This album has a lot to teach, but one of the most memorable lessons is “Don’t f**k with Kris.”
6). Follow the Leader by Eric B. & Rakim: Most people would fold under the pressure to follow up a monumental debut. But Eric B. and Rakim aren’t most people. Atop improved production courtesy of Eric B., Rakim again delivers of some of Hip-Hop’s greatest lyrics. This is the duo in their prime. Like Ra said on “Microphone Fiend”: Spread the word, cause I’m in E-F-F-E-C-T/A smooth operator operating correctly.
5). Strictly Business by EPMD: EPMD was ahead of their time. For a case in point, check out how “It’s My Thing” opens with helicopter sounds and samples “Seven Minutes of Funk.” Erick Sermon’s productions served as a precursor to the G-Funk sound that would soon emerge from the West Coast. In terms of rapping, “Jane,” another one of the albums many highlights, has the two guys from Brentwood, Long Island, seamlessly rhyming back-and-forth with each line.
4). Long Live the Kane by Big Daddy Kane: The first solo offering from Big Daddy Kane is one of rap’s best albums. He has raps for days about how great he is, but unlike most rappers, Kane’s boasts are justified by his incredible skills. “Raw,” “Set it Off,” and the flawless “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” are all reasons why “[his] rhymes will remain like a hieroglyphic” like he says on “Just Rhymin’ with Biz.”
3). The Great Adventures of Slick Rick by Slick Rick: This is an album which lives up to its title as a result of Slick Rick (and his alter-ego MC Ricky D) covering a lot of ground in 49 minutes and 46 seconds. Because of Rick’s personality and amazing storytelling prowess, songs like “Treat Her Like a Prostitute” and “Lick the Balls” appear comfortably alongside records like “Teenage Love” and “Hey Young World.” “Children’s Story” though is LP’s magnum opus.
2). Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A: Never had the streets been addressed with such explicit ferocity. “F**K tha Police” in particular got a lot of attention. And while some of it was violent (Without a gun and a badge, what do you got?/A sucker in a uniform waitin’ to get shot), it also raised awareness about police brutality (Police think they have the authority to kill a minority). Neither of those things should’ve been ignored. And because of the controversy N.W.A created, they weren’t.
1). It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy: With the crack epidemic and Reaganomics in full swing, Public Enemy’s second album transcended music and served as a call for social change. There is a sense of urgency in everything that’s heard. And that helped create the album’s most enduring quality which is that it provides hope. Even after a quarter of a century, It Takes a Nation remains one of the most righteous recordings of all-time.
Honorable Mentions for “The 10 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums From 1988” List:
Critical Beatdown by The Ultramagnetic MCs
Tougher Than Leather by Run DMC
In Full Gear by Stetsasonic
Life Is…Too $hort by Too Short
Act a Fool by King T
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