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No Country for Old (Rap) Men: Essential Queensbridge rap albums

Essential albums from a hip-hop epicentre

Posted by Robbie Ettelson

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The late, great Prodigy wasn’t born in Queensbridge, but there’s no denying that ‘Shook Ones, Pt. II’ is considered to be THE official QB anthem (at this point I might have to begrudgingly admit that it’s finally surpassed MC Shan’s ‘The Bridge’ for the number one spot), which makes now as good a time as any to revisit an essential QB Rap albums list in honour of one it’s favourite adopted thuns.

01. MC Shan – 'Born To Be Wild' (1988)

Despite lacking the aforementioned ‘The Bridge,’ Shan and Marley Marl’s second LP is a vastly superior listen to his patchy debut, Down By Law, with richer beats and stronger rhymes. Unfortunately for Shan, rap fans had become far more demanding than they were the previous year, having been spoilt by a steady diet of Public Enemy, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and BDP, so this enjoyable set of back-to-basics Juice Crew jams went largely unappreciated at the time.

02. Intelligent Hoodlum – 'Intelligent Hoodlum' (1990)

Following on from influential tracks such as The Super Kids ‘The Tragedy’ and ‘Live Motivator’ from Marley Marl’s first compilation, Tragedy dropped his powerful debut in 1990, straddling the fence between Rec Room rawness (‘Trag Invasion’), political commentary (‘Arrest The President’), and dancefloor fillers (‘Game Type’). He would later prove to be one of the most influential and enduring QB rap figures over several generations.

03. P.H.D. – 'Without Warning' (1991)

Having previously gone up against KRS-One during the Bridge Wars of 1987, Blaq Poet and DJ Hot Day kicked down the door with an album dedicated to violent stick-ups, tonz-o-gunz, moving weight, and slamming people’s heads into Pac Man machines. Worth it just for the amazing album cover photo alone.

04. Nas – 'Illmatic' (1994)

This album has already been written about to death in magazines, been the subject of a book, and had a feature-length documentary made about it, and for good reason—it’s a poetic masterpiece that documents a period in Queensbridge life with more depth and range than most rappers could ever dream of. The music ain’t too shabby neither!

05. Mobb Deep – 'The Infamous' (1995)

The earlier Juvenile Hell was charmingly rough around the edges, but it was the second LP the cemented the Mobb’s position amongst the rap elite of the nineties. Havoc proved himself to be a watchful student in the company of Q-Tip, Large Professor, and DJ Premier, and began blazing his own trail as he married snippets of silky smooth jazz and R&B with the hardest drums on earth to create an atmosphere of beautiful ultra-violence—the ideal canvas for Prodigy to threaten people over.

06. Capone-N-Noreaga – 'The War Report' (1997)

Sure, NORE is from LeFrak City in Corona, but thanks to the guiding hand of Tragedy Khadafi and the goon credentials of Capone, The War Report proved to be a testament to uncompromising, hardcore Queensbridge rap in the face of an increasingly hit-driven commercial landscape. Painting themselves as generals within the Gulf War of New York’s boroughs, tracks such as ‘Illegal Life’ incorporated snippets of Arabic music with deep bass and loud snares to create a new kind of audio tension, while the trio unleashed advanced new slang over the airwaves.

07. Screwball – 'Y2K' (2000)

This QB supergroup combined former Marley Marl signees Kamakazee with soloists Hostyle and Blaq Poet, producing brilliant moments such as ‘Who Shot Rudy?’, ‘F.A.Y.B.A.N.’ and ‘H-O-S-T-Y-L-E,’ this LP featured guest spots from Nature, Capone, Mobb Deep, Cormega, Big Noyd, and MC Shan—making it a true testament to the sound of Queensbridge rap at the turn of the century.

08. Cormega – 'The True Meaning' (2002)

An argument could be made for both The Testament and The Realness, but the inclusion of QB role call ‘The Legacy’ tips this one the pick of the litter, while ‘Verbal Graffiti,’ ‘Built For This,’ and ‘Therapy’ showcase Mega’s verbal technique at its most endearing.

09. Killa Sha - GOD Walk On Water (2007)

Another fallen QB soldier, Sha came-up with Trag, served as Mobb Deep’s original DJ and had ties to Marley Marl. His only retail release delivered a unique brand of hyper ad-libs, Five Percenter wisdom and sophisticated rhyme patterns, providing a treasure trove of a long-forgotten style of Bridge music.

010. Blaq Poet – 'The Blaqprint' (2009)

Poet was still going strong when he recorded this album with DJ Premier, continuing to terrorize cream puff rappers with an unrelenting aggression that’s equal parts invigorating and refreshingly contagious. ‘Don’t Give A Fucc,’ ‘U Phucc’d Up’ and the conceptual creepiness of ‘Voices’ make this is an absolute headcracker.

011. Big Twins – 'The Project Kid' (2009)

Thanks to the combined efforts of Sid Roams, Alchemist, Jake One and Havoc, this Infamous Mobb member makes the most of his gravely voice and rides these Dirt Class tracks all the way to QB rap perfection, marking the end of an era for this particular sound.

012. Prodigy and Alchemist – 'Albert Einstein' (2013)

Blunted nihilism at it’s finest, presented over a particularly stark assortment of ALC soundtracks. Drifting between bare-bones beat and lush loops, this is an enticing demonstration of Prodigy’s final evolution as a troubled yet brilliant rapper.

013. Havoc and Alchemist – The Silent Partner (2016)

Serves as a companion piece to Albert Einstein, presenting Hav’s insular, anti-social worldview over a delightfully bleak assortment of breaks and snippets. Not to mention that ‘The Gun Holds A Drum’ just might be one of the last times we hear P and Hav sharing verses.

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