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What defines a classic rap album


Last week, Complex Magazine’s staff all chimed in on the topic of what makes a classic rap album, and although the topic is entirely subjective, I wanted to chime in on what I think makes a “classic” hip-hop record. I will be focusing on releases from this decade and give my take on their long-lasting significance.

Since hip-hop’s popularization in the mid-2000s, there always came the debate on who is the greatest in the game and who is the greatest of all time has existed. Truly, there is no algorithm that can decipher a good album between a great album or a classic.

However, there are some fundamental factors that can contribute to this notion, which can be traced to the societal impact, the musical quality, the lasting value and its creativity or innovation.

For me, a classic becomes a classic from what the record spawns afterwards. It’s defined by the rappers that it influences and how they take a different approach from it. It also stems from the global reception and how people perceive the album.

I don’t need to wait a decade to say that Kendrick’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a classic. Nor do I need to wait for hip-hop heads to look back at artists like Young Thug and say they birthed a classic with one of his mixtapes. We are currently living among a new generation of hip-hop and classics are rapping among us.

The narcissistic old-school hip-hop head needs to get off their high horse and actually give the new generation of rap a chance. Instead of criticizing those in the game, similar to how Charles Barkley talks down to Lebron because he didn’t play in his era, listen deeper into the music. As we in this generation are able to adapt to change easily (c’mon, we jumped on Lil Yachty’s back), we have destroyed all boundaries in the world of hip-hop and now anyone can progress in this field.

Below are some of the classic albums I believe will become classics 10 or 20 years down the line. While some are no-brainers, some could be controversial and debated upon.

Kid Cudi – “Man On the Moon”

I know I said albums from this decade, but “Man On the Moon” helped spawned hip-hop in the 2010s. Talk to just about any rapper or R&B artist in the game currently and they’ll tell you Cudi is one of their biggest influences.

Not only is this a classic hip-hop project, but it is the benchmark for alternative, experimental rap albums. There wouldn’t be a Travis Scott without Kid Cudi; there wouldn’t be a Frank Ocean without Cudi; and the list goes on.

This record contains bangers, like “Day ‘N Night,” “Make Her Say” and “Up, Up and Away,” and, it also contains wavy, experimental sounds and lyrics that have never entered the realm of hip-hop, such as “Pursuit of Happiness,” “Cudi Zone,” “Enter Galactic” and “My World.”

Some will look back on this album and say the somber songs, such as “Solo Dolo” or “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” were their top songs; others will take a production-heavy song like “Sky Might Fall” or “Heart of a Lion” as their top track; but, that’s the beauty of “Man On the Moon” — it was an album that needed no answer key. Rather, the listener was and is able to make what they wanted from hip-hop’s Kurt Cobain, or Scott Mescudi.

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Close your eyes for a second and play “Runaway” by Kanye.

In just three minutes, Kanye redefines greatness through simplistic, yet genius production.

And, that’s only three minutes of the one hour and eight-minute masterpiece that is “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” Some, including Kanye himself, have regarded this as the greatest hip-hop album of all time.

I agree.

There will never be another MBDTF, plain and simple. If Kanye’s career ended at “Graduation” or “808s & Heartbreaks,” he would have been in the conversation for one of the greatest. However, MBDTF lifted him up to a whole new level. It’s Ye at his best production. It’s Yeezy calling upon those at the top of the game, such as Rick Ross (who dropped the best featured verse of the 2010s in “Devil In a New Dress”), Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver, Pusha T, JAY Z, Rihanna and John Legend, and utilizing them to their utmost potential.

The album is universally sound and can be heard at any point in your life. You can listen to “All of the Lights” at the club and everyone would be bouncing. “Runaway” can turn a car ride to a karaoke session and have everyone singing along. “Lost in the World” is the perfect track to listen to when you’re alone at night. “POWER” can be listened to before playing in a big game and pump up any individual at any given time.

Before I stop riding this album far more than I already have, I want to end this excerpt with my favorite line of this album that highlights how awesome this album is, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re stuntin’ on a jumbotron.”

Drake – Take Care

During the latter part of the 2000s, underground hip-hop started to boil. The community got so hot at one point during 2010-11 that these underground artists started being shown in the limelight, such as The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Tyler, the Creator, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa and more.

But one hip-hop artists stands out among the underground crew.

Drake, who rose up because of the likes of Lil Wayne in 2008, is truly the example of someone who made it from the underground. “Take Care,” his sophomore album, is unapologetically suave and sparked a new style of rapping. He used vocals and bars effectively to develop a classic in “Take Care,” while still staying true to his roots on his lyrics.

Now, whenever Drake releases a project, people judge it based off “Take Care” and see where it compares to it. Critics will compare soft and dark songs to “Shot for Me,” “Doing It Wrong” or “Marvin’s Room”; they will find parallels between his new commercial-sounding tracks to “Take Care,” “Make Me Proud” and “The Motto”; and, they will draw similarities with hard-hitting tracks like “Lord Knows,” “HYFR” and “Headlines.”

The truthful, lyric-centered album will radiate through the R&B and hip-hop community for years on end as a classic.

Kanye & JAY Z – Watch the Throne

The talks of a joint album between Kanye and JAY-Z can be traced back to 2007, and finally in 2011 the world was given Watch the Throne. This album was effortlessly amazing. It reaped great verses between Ye and HOV, featured strong production and was almost too much for listeners to handle all at once.

But what people don’t realize is this collaboration spurred the idea among the rap community that it’s okay to make an album like this. This album didn’t have to win awards, nor receive any positive critical praise. It was a classic because Jay and Ye said it was. They did it not because they had to, but because they wanted to. What did they have to lose? Nothing.

Because of HOV and Yeezy’s collaboration album, it made it welcoming for big projects, like Odd Future’s “OF Tape vol. 2,” A$AP Mob’s “Cozy Tapes” and Drake and Future’s “What a Time to Be Alive.” It also made it okay for artists to do joint albums at a small scale, like Chance the Rapper and Lil B’s “Free” mixtape and T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s “T-Wayne” mixtape.

Nowadays, rumors circulate over a plethora of collaboration albums, such as Drake-Kanye, Childish Gambino-Chance the Rapper, Kendrick-J. Cole and Quavo-Travis Scott. You may ask, why should anyone believe these rumors? Because Kanye and JAY-Z, two of the kings of rap in 2011, joined together and made a masterpiece.

Not to mention, “Made in America,” “No Church in the Wild” and “New Day” are straight Jay/Ye classics.

And here come the controversial ones:

Odd Future – The OF Tape Vol. 2

Remember how all those young Disney Channel characters would grow up and become weird or another wash-up? Well that’s the complete opposite of Odd Future. Each of them joined the California-based rap group from different backgrounds at a young age in their respective careers. They rapped, they sang, they skated, they acted. You name it and they probably did it.

They were teenage angst and everyone wanted a piece of them.

This tape was so ahead of its time and no one knew it. At the time, most brushed Odd Future leader/founder Tyler, the Creator for his controversial lyrics and grimy voice. Also, at the time, most didn’t know of rappers and artists in the crew, such as Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, Syd tha Kid or Hodgy Beats.

Tyler brought together all these artists, skaters, musicians and even Jasper, who himself thought he had no talent, and had them at their best. Tyler was only 22-years-old and he already had a clothing line, a television show on Adult Swim, a record label and an award-winning album, “Goblin.”

Frank Ocean went on to become a Grammy award winning artist. Earl and Domo left the group to pursue a solo career and received massive critical reception for their efforts on their respective albums. Syd tha Kid continued with her band, The Internet, and kickstarted the group into the alternative R&B spotlight. Actors Jasper, Taco and L-Boy continued with Loiter Squad and assisted Tyler in creating Golf Media, a channel where the crew could continue to post clothes, animated shorts and more.

This album didn’t have to be a critically acclaimed album. Instead, what it spawned was so much more. Tyler said it himself, “So instead of critiquing and bitchin’, bein mad as fuck, just admit it; not only are we talented, but we’re rad as fuck.”

Odd Future showed that to become successful in the hip-hop world, you don’t need to take a specific route and you can become whoever you want to be.

Kendrick Lamar – good kid m.A.A.d city

“Section 80”
“good kid m.A.A.d city”
“To Pimp a Butterfly”

Four albums, four classics.

But where did it all start? Of course it began in the early days of the T.D.E. crew rapping together as Black Hippy and the “Overly Dedicated” Kendrick Lamar days, but it wasn’t until “good kid m.A.A.d city” that people started to notice the King from Compton.

When this album came out in the fall of 2012, people slept on it. The only Kendrick track anyone knew at that point was “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and then “Poetic Justice,” mostly because it had a Drake feature.

I remember the first time I listened to this album completely and I was blown away. It sounded like 90s west coast rap mixed with a new generation hip-hop twist. The illustrious story about his lover, Sherane, tales of gang-banging and a misguided youth flooded the project. It was so real (no pun intended) and truthful about a young rapper from California.

It wasn’t until he dropped his verse that called out every rapper in the game on “Control” when Kendrick truly blew up. Everyone started listening to GKMC and he started to be in discussion for the best rapper in the game.

Little did anyone know at the time that he would go on to become the greatest in the game.

Kanye West – Yeezus

Alright, this will be the last time Yeezy’s on my list (for now), but I can argue all day why “Yeezus” will be a classic when it’s all said and done.

When this album first came out in the summer of 2013, it received awful critic reception. Needless to say, this album was far ahead of its time. It was one of the first popularized dark hip-hop albums and used dark, thrashing trap beats.

This point in Kanye’s life was one of the most dramatic parts in his career. He had a falling out with Nike because of his shoes, he lost millions in foreign investments, he was receiving a lot of criticism for his marriage choice with Kim Kardashian and he went on about every major hip-hop station and was infamous for his rants, such as he did on Sway in the Morning.

Kanye didn’t make this album for his fans, for awards or for anyone in particular. It seemed as if he channeled all his inner frustrations, marginalizations and problems into this album, which made it sound raw and gritty.

Without “Guilt Trip,” artists like Travis Scott may have not ventured out and experimented with many beat twists throughout their song. If Kanye had never made “Hold My Liquor,” rappers like Young Thug would probably feel resistant to using so much autotune over harsh beats. After making “I’m in It,” it’s safe to say that this record directly influenced Bon Iver’s “22, a Million.” It was way ahead of its time and people are barely starting to realize how impactful it was. Possibly at the end of this decade, there could be a lot of albums using the acid house/thrashing electro production as Yeezy used on this tape.

Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

In 2013 Chance the Rapper wasn’t even old enough to legally drink, but he was already dabbling in illicit drugs and speaking against global issues, like gang violence, drug abuse and depression.

“Acid Rap” changed the entire way that not only rap, but all music can be easily accessed and critically received. It was 13-tracks of a Chicago rapper giving forth an honest account of his youth backed by jazzy sounds, acid blues and soul. He also revitalized how successful a rapper can be with a live band to support him.

Chance took spoken rap poetry to a new level with tracks like “Acid Rain” and “Paranoia,” where he discussed anti-violence approaches with a minimal beat. He often comes off as goofy on tracks like “NaNa” and “Lost,” but it works for the young artist on this tape. Chance’s bangers on this album will still be relevant years down the line on tracks like “Smoke Again,” “Coco Butter Kisses,” “Juice” and “Favorite Song.”

Now, Chance, who has reaped Grammy awards for his streaming count and gained a huge global following, has truly birthed a new front for hip-hop. To some, Chance comes off as soft and a little goofy. However, the independent artist who refuses to sell his album, made his music truly accessible to everyone. Other artists have already started to join in on this movement and rely on streaming counts for their numbers of listens and chart toppers.

So four years later, listening the album’s sending forth track, “Chain Smoker,” is very powerful to the now 24-year-old rapper. He raps at a young age, “Still a chain smoking/Name dropping/Good looking/Muh’ fucking/Motha, shut your mouth/Brain broken/Frank Ocean listening/Stain hitting, satin woodgrain gripping/Paint dripping/Motha, shut your mouth.” Four years later and it still resembles the artist who is now a father, a chart topper and a public figure in the city of Chicago.

Just missed it:

Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
Future – DS2
Childish Gambino – Because of the Internet
Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade
Migos – Culture

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About the Contributor
Adrian Broaddus, Sports Editor
Adrian Broaddus is the sports editor for The Prospector. He is a junior multimedia journalism major with a minor in political science.   Adrian was born and raised in El Paso, TX, and is a graduate of Franklin high school. He entered college in the fall of 2015 in hopes to better his career in journalism.   Along with sports, Adrian enjoys writing music reviews, perspective columns and news stories on politics.   Although he is pursuing his degree in journalism, Adrian would like to go to law school and be an attorney while doing part-time work in journalism.  
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What defines a classic rap album