Like Fine Wine, These Get Better with Age: The 10 Best Rap Albums from 1989

25 years is a long time.  300 months.  9,125 days.  It is a true testament to anything when it is still as highly regarded now as it was a quarter of a century ago when it was first introduced. And Hip-Hop is an accelerated art form, so for music from that culture to have maintained […]

25 years is a long time.  300 months.  9,125 days.  It is a true testament to anything when it is still as highly regarded now as it was a quarter of a century ago when it was first introduced.

And Hip-Hop is an accelerated art form, so for music from that culture to have maintained or even gained relevancy from when Do the Right Thing dropped to today is especially astonishing.  Plus, 1988 was the biggest year Hip-Hop had seen at that point, but by the grace of beats, rhymes, and life, the momentum kept going through the end of decade.

1989 was a great time for Hip-Hop too.  And in recognition of that, put together a list of that year’s best rap albums.  These are the essentials from Sunday, January 1, 1989, to Sunday, December 31, 1989.

These projects were amazing at the time of their release.  The mark that they and their creators made can even be seen in current Hip-Hop.  Here are the 10 best rap albums from 1989 and the reasons why Hip-Hop and pop culture wouldn’t be where they are now without them.

10). Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop by Boogie Down Productions: BDP’s third release found KRS-One bringing together the battle attitude of Criminal Minded with the consciousness of By All Means Necessary.  The result of that combination helped position Mr. Parker as the great teacher he is still widely regarded as.  Whether questioning Hip-Hop’s commercial aspirations (“Ghetto Music”) or educating listeners about African-American history (“You Must Learn”), KRS-One had valid points to make.  And with everyone from 50 Cent to Black Star paying respect to BDP in one way or another, it’s safe to say that KRS-One got those points across and then some.

9). The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say by Ice-T: This album is an excellent conceptual piece wherein Ice imagines an America where the government has control of everyone, á la George Orwell’s 1984.  Prior to this album’s release, Ice T was dealing with censorship issues.  In his 1994 book, The Ice Opinion, Ice wrote, “People had already told me what I could not say on stage in Columbus, Georgia.  You couldn’t say anything they called a ‘swear’ word.”  The rights and limits of free speech have been a constant battle and there is no end in sight.  However, this is a great advocate for the First Amendment if ever there was one.

8). The Cactus Album by 3rd Bass: This interracial rap collective made quite an impression with their debut.  Backed by production from The Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, and Sam Sever, the album proved that successful Caucasian rappers were not a fluke.  In fact, on the album’s first song, “Sons of 3rd Bass,” MC Serch even disses The Beasties to avoid comparisons: “Swam to the lyrics ‘cuz Serch is your father / Screaming ‘Hey Ladies,’ why bother?” And while Serch would be later recognized for helping get Nas his big break, this album is memorable too because it introduced MF Doom to the world (as part of KMD) on “The Gas Face.”

7). Unfinished Business by EPMD: EPMD followed up Strictly Business with another great collection of songs. Erick Sermon sticks to his winning formula of funk-inspired production and Parrish’s flow complements its nicely. Lyrically, the content is mostly B-Boy boasting. However, the highlight of this 12-track album is the humbling “Please Listen to My Demo.” Even to this day, it’s still a song that every aspiring artist can relate to. In 2012, Erick released the Breath of Fresh Air mixtape- a piece of work that successfully brought together stars of different eras (i.e. Rick Ross, Too Short, Method Man) and showcased newer talent (i.e. Fred the Godson, Twone Gabz).

6). It’s a Big Daddy Thing by Big Daddy Kane: It’s a Big Daddy Thing finds Big Daddy Kane reaching for a wider audience.  To a lesser artist, that would be a hindrance.  However, not in Kane’s case.  While his debut mostly presented him as a just rapper, his follow-up shows him as a true Hip-Hop artist the can be everything from a social commentator to a ladies’ man.  The beats could be a bit stronger (Marley Marl is only responsible for two songs this go-round), but that’s just a minor misstep because it doesn’t stop Kane from showing why he was and still is one of the dopest emcees ever.  It’s no wonder that Jay Z had to bring Kane out at his first Barclays Center show.

5). Done by the Forces of Nature by Jungle Brothers: While the impact of Straight Out the Jungle is undeniable, it doesn’t excuse the fact that the Jungle Brothers’ sophomore effort is more overlooked than it should be.  The production is better on this album and the quality of the instrumentals and the raps reflect that.  Topic wise, there’s Afrocentric themes as well as fun party music.  The balance of the two make for a well-rounded listening experience, which is exactly what a classic album should be.  Spiritually (“In Dayz “2” Come”), socially (“Acknowledge Your Own History”), and even sexually (“Belly Dancin’ Dina”), this is some of the best music that the Native Tongues ever put out.  The double disc reissue of the album does the project’s legacy justice.

4). No One Can Do It Better by The D.O.C.: The album title lives up to its name.  While many of the artists The D.O.C. wrote hits for were gangsta rappers, the poetic sensibilities that he displays here not only prove that he was diverse with the pen, but that his own skills were more akin to Kane and Rakim.  The possibilities for The D.O.C. seem endless when taking those factors into consideration, but that’s what makes listening to this album bittersweet.  After the release of it, The D.O.C. was in a car accident that damaged his voice.  While being interviewed by Playboy last year, The D.O.C. said, “The whole West Coast movement changed direction the night I had that accident.”  I couldn’t agree more.

3). Road to the Riches by Kool G Rap & DJ Polo: G Rap’s multi-syllabic rhymes from this release are now the stuff of Hip-Hop legend and Riches’ scratching and production (courtesy of Polo and Marley Marl respectively) gave the LP a refreshing sound.  From the saxophones on “Truly Yours” to G Rap getting it in on “Men at Work,” G Rap and Polo’s debut album and subsequent material definitely raised the bar.  Their influence can still be seen in 2014.  Want proof? Check the title of Joey Fatts’ upcoming mixtape, iLL Street Blues.  That’s also the name of a classic G Rap and Polo song from 1992’s Live and Let Die.

2). Paul’s Boutique by Beastie Boys: The Beasties’ sophomore set is phenomenal.  The Dust Brothers’ use of samples is astonishing and all three rappers hold their own.  It’s a different sound than their debut, but this album allowed the trio to evolve from frat boys who rapped to legit emcees.  One of the best examples of this is Adam “MCA” Yauch in “Year and a Day.”  His passing in 2012 was certainly tragic, so the playground in Brooklyn that was renamed after him in 2013 is a touching tribute.  “And lookin’ out at the world through my window pane / Every day has many colors cause the glass is stained / Everything has changed but remains the same.

1). 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul: This is an amazing album from start to finish.  The project has a cohesion to it that remains unmatched since it came out.  It not only introduced skits, but also served as a great contrast to the emerging popularity of hardcore Hip-Hop at the time.  De La Soul provided great rhymes that covered a variety of subjects and Prince Paul’s production was innovative to say the least.  The album is timeless, so it’s not surprising that today’s top Hip-Hop crew, Black Hippy, was inspired by the trail that Posdnous, Trugoy the Dove, and P.A. Pasemaster Mase blazed with this masterpiece.


Even though these albums didn’t make the list, they’re still really good and worth checking out.

All Hail the Queen by Queen Latifah: For skeptics who thought “Wrath of Madness” was all Latifah had to offer, they were sorely mistaken.

Grip It! On That Other Level by Geto Boys: This album was good enough for Rick Rubin to want to go in and make a few minor adjustments.  Once he did, the project went from good to great.  See The Geto Boys.

We’re In This Together by Low Profile: The re-introduction of this album was long overdue.  It had been out of print and then thankfully arrived on iTunes.

Youngest in Charge by Special Ed: Released when he was only 16, Youngest proved that Special Ed had skills beyond his years.

As Nasty As They Wanna Be by The 2 Live Crew: It laid the foundation that countless T&A-inspired artists have been building on for decades.

Do you agree with the list?  Share your thoughts in the comments section and let the debate begin!