50. AYEJUSWANSEING (2000)
Artist: Musiq Soulchild
Production: Dre & Vidal, Carvin & Ivan
Acclaim: Over sunny neo-soul grooves, Musiq’s vocals make love sound so innocently simple on songs like the nostalgic “Girl Next Door” and okie-doke pickup anthem “Just Friends.”
Peak moment: A cliched concept becomes a matrimonial favorite on “Love,” thanks to sentimental lyrics and Soulchild’s delicate falsetto.
49. SONGS IN A MINOR (2001)
Artist: Alicia Keys
Production: Alicia Keys, Krucial Keys, Taneisha Smith
Acclaim: Its classical-R&B coupling sounded like the result of Mozart being bred in the school of hard knocks.
Peak moment: The dramatic crescendo breakdown on “Fallin’.”
48. AMERICAN IDIOT (2004)
Artist: Green Day
Production: Rob Cavallo
Acclaim: Punk rock’s finest ventures outside their thrashy garage band norms for a sobering take on the American dream.
Peak moment: The Son of God is personified in “Jesus Of Suburbia.”
47. WHERE I WANNA BE (1999)
Artist: Donell Jones
Production: Donell Jones, Edward “DJ Eddie F” Ferrell
Acclaim: Buoyed by soft mid-tempos and guitar-plucked instrumentals, Jones offers sophisticated R&B that warms you like a mug of hot cocoa.
Peak moment: The iconic breakup ballad “Where I Wanna Be,” a relationship escape hatch for cold-footed dudes for 14 years (and counting).
46. THE RECESSION (2008)
Artist: Young Jeezy
Production: Midnight Black, Drumma Boy, Shawty Redd
Acclaim: Jeezy’s trap raps grow up a little. On his lyrically enhanced third LP, The Snowman addresses government fuckery while prematurely boasting a Black president. He still pledges allegiance to the white, of course (“What They Want”).
Peak moment: Kanye West’s electrifying, Auto-Tune-warbled lead-in to the passionate final verse of “Put On.”
45. KALEIDOSCOPE DREAM (2012)
Production: Miguel, Salaam Remi, Pop & Oak, Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis
Acclaim: Psychedelic, experimental and bold, Miguel’s sexy second LP pulls from Marvin Gaye, Prince and The Beatles for a colorful update on modern-day R&B.
Peak moment: Lead single “Adorn”—the 2000s “Sexual Healing”—gets you in the mood every time.
44. BE (2005)
Production: Kanye West, J Dilla
Acclaim: Common and Kanye connect for a hearty soul soup seasoned by chopped samples, captivating concept records and weighty musings that make you go hmmm.
Peak moment: The title track symphony explodes from solitary bass strings to all-out, grown-up band camp on the album’s opening seconds. And the grooves never taper.
43. 21 (2011)
Production: Jim Abbiss, Paul Epworth, Rick Rubin
Acclaim: We can’t see it coming from her eyes, so she’s gotta make the whole album cry. The UK songstress’ Grammy sweeper pieces together her shattered heart by leaving it all on the music. Keep a Kleenex handy.
Peak moment: On the chorus of “Someone Like You,” atop a hypnotic piano, Adele finally finds closure. Or does she? “Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.”
42. TRAVELING WITHOUT MOVING (1996)
Production: Jason Kay, Al Stone
Acclaim: Jay Kay and his beastly UK funk/acid jazz crew drops the most infectious dance record since the 70’s disco revolution.
Peak moment: At the two-minute mark, the driving groove on “Traveling Without Moving” transitions into a bassline-paced, heavy workout that would give Bootsy Collins the funk face.
41. B'DAY (2006)
*GREATEST PARTY ALBUM SINCE '93*
Production: Beyoncé Knowles, Swizz Beatz, Rich Harrison
That the release of Beyoncé’s sophomore album coincided with her 25th birthday is appropriate; the turnt-to-the-max LP possesses enough high-powered vibes to sweat out an entire club’s worth of weaves. Much of the 10-song tracklist still dwells in DJ playlists: There’s the cocksure “Upgrade You,” always-in-style sexy “Freakum Dress,” end-of-the-night sass of “Irreplaceable”. But the pinnacle, when stilettos are swapped for flats, comes on the Swizz Beatz-ignited sing-along “Get Me Bodied,” a call-and-response twerk-off that serves as pesticide for pesky wallflowers. Now do an old-school dance... —John Kennedy
40. 112 (1996)
Production: Sean Combs, Stevie J., Tim & Bob
Acclaim: Bad Boy continues its impressive run of R&B statements with a criminally underrated set that is arguably the strongest showcase for a male vocal group since Jodeci’s heyday.
Peak moment: Biggie turns in a song-stealing appearance on the club-aimed track, “Only You.”
39. CONTINUUM (2006)
Artist: John Mayer
Production: John Mayer, Steve Jordan
Acclaim: Mayer’s mellow sophomore LP exhibits weedhead-like musings about love, sociopolitics and simply staying afloat (“Gravity” weighs heaviest). Painted with an introspective pen and warm guitar licks, this food for thought platter placed Taylor Swift’s ex amongst the strumming elite.
Peak moment: John begins “Dreaming With a Broken Heart” with a sobering reality check (“When you’re dreaming with a broken heart/Then waking up is the hardest part”).
38. WHO IS JILL SCOTT? WORDS AND SOUNDS VOL. 1 (2000)
Artist: Jill Scott
Production: Dre & Vidal, James Poyser, Darren Henson, Keith Pelzer
Acclaim: Jilly’s debut was a love supreme; her classically-trained chords climbed skies, burrowed the earth, and even spat spoken word.
Peak moment: The poetry and vocal performance on “He Loves Me (Lyzel In E Flat)” separates Jill from her contemporaries.
37. FAITH (1995)
Artist: Faith Evans
Production: Sean Combs, Chucky Thompson
Acclaim: As pure vocalists go, Faith Evans demonstrates that she’s amongst the elite on this pitch-perfect debut.
Peak moment: The clever flip of Isaac Hayes’ “Walk On By” on “No Other Love,” which allows Faith to effortlessly flex her striking, angelic vox.
36. R. KELLY (1995)
Artist: R. Kelly
Production: R. Kelly
Acclaim: Kellz (slightly) scales back the sexual seduction of 12 Play, peppering this sophomore work with gospel influences and suggestive lyrics likening a woman to an SUV (“You Remind Me of Something”).
Peak moment: R. dims the lights on the certified panty-dropper “Tempo Slow” with hot-and-bothered fornication (“As our bodies connect, and those juices start to flow...”).
35. ONLY BY THE NIGHT (2008)
Artist: Kings of Leon
Production: Angelo Petraglia, Jacquire King
Acclaim: The absolute finest offering of new millennium rock, the Kings’ crown jewel scored A’s on all fronts—molasses rich baselines to sweet sinful writing.
Peak moment: The band comes together to form molten lava on “Sex On Fire.”
34. The Black Album (2003)
Production: Just Blaze, Kanye West, The Neptunes
Acclaim: Mr. Carter’s pseudo sayonara is perhaps his most candid LP; aside stadium rockers and street nostalgia Jay cleans out his closet (and throws on a button-up, while he’s at it).
Peak moment: Jay-Z reintroduces himself, as somber keys give way to a raucous guitar on “Public Service Announcement.” His name is Hov!
33. BACK TO BLACK (2006)
Artist: Amy Winehouse
Production: Mark Ronson, Salaam Remi
Acclaim: Intensely bleak, slightly snarky, Amy’s ’60s-derived memoir clapped back at cupid with AA-worthy anecdotes.
Peak moment: Amy serves poetic justice on “Wake Up Alone” with finger-snap-inducing metaphor (“Soaked in soul, he swims in my eyes by the bed”).
32. HARD CORE (1996)
Artist: Lil’ Kim
Production: The Hitmen, Jermaine Dupri, Ski
Acclaim: Rife with F-bombs and frank sex talk, its XXX-rated feminist bars (semi-penned by a guy named Biggie) expertly flexed the power of the P.
Peak moment: The Queen B’s first couplet, um, spit—“I used to be scared of the dick/Now I throw lips to the shit”—serves as the album’s eyebrow-raising thesis statement.
31. TONI BRAXTON (1993)
Artist: Toni Braxton
Production: Babyface, L.A. Reid, Darryl Simmons
Acclaim: Toni Braxton loves hard as hell on her debut. It’s endearing when she sings about special nights by candlelight; then she’s downright scary on the clingy “Breathe Again.” Braxton just wants her man to do right. Consider this a road map of dos and don’ts.
Peak moment: A cheating man gets reamed out with a chorus he won’t soon forget (“Love should have brought you home last night.”).
30. THE DON KILLUMINATI: THE 7 DAY THEORY (1996)
Artist: 2Pac (as Makaveli)
Production: Hurt-M-Badd, Makaveli, Big D
Acclaim: Tupac’s last official testament, this LP (commonly called Makaveli) is a blueprint on anger, retribution and seething angst aimed at all opposers, in music form.
Peak moment: The instantly mythical first bar of “Hail Mary” summarizes Mr. Shakur in a nutshell (“I ain’t no killer, but don’t push me/Revenge is like the sweetest joy next to gettin’ pussy”).
29. BADUIZM (1997)
Artist: Erykah Badu
Production: Erykah Badu, Madukwu Chinwah, The Roots, Richard Nichols
Acclaim: Badu’s Zen-like ambiance and “message!”-driven drawl mommied the neo-soul crusade.
Peak moment: Erykah picks on nappy busters via open mic: "Pick yo' Afro, Daddy/Because it's flat on one side." ("Afro")
28. KID A (2000)
Production: Nigel Godrich, Radiohead
Acclaim: The acclaimed British band embraces underground electronic music, injecting rock with a much-needed shot in the bicep.
Peak moment: The ethereal opening notes to Kid A’s sparse Thom Yorke-led warning shot, “Everything’s In Its Right Place.”
27. GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN’ (2003)
Artist: 50 Cent
Production: Dr. Dre, Eminem, Sha Money XL
Acclaim: Gangster threats are candied with radio-made hooks and pseudo-Southern drawls, comprising a street album suitable for all coasts—and everywhere between.
Peak moment: Fiddy’s miracle nine-shot survival story is candidly waxed on “Many Men (Wish Death),” a sincere yet unflinching open letter to an underworld boss and his murdered hitman.
26. THE INFAMOUS (1995)
Artist: Mobb Deep
Production: Havoc, Prodigy, Q-Tip
Acclaim: Prodigy and Havoc make violent tales of dangerous drug deals, Hennessy-soaked beatdowns and Queensbridge, New York housing project shootouts sound unusually elegant.
Peak moment: The harrowing "Shook Ones (Part II") on which Havoc declares, "For every rhyme I write it’s 25 to life."
25. WATCH THE THRONE (2011)
Artist: Jay-Z and Kanye West
Production: Kanye West, Mike Dean, RZA, Q-Tip, Swizz Beatz
Acclaim: Sociopolitical challenging or merely luxury rap? Whatever the case, the Throne’s epic long player threw stadium set lists for multiple loops.
Peak moment: Hov absolutely blacks out during the final 60 seconds of “Who Gon Stop Me,” boasting his corner come-up over an erratic Flux Pavillion flip.
24. THE EMANCIPATION OF MIMI (2005)
Artist: Mariah Carey
Production: Jermaine Dupri, Mariah Carey, James “Big Jim: Wright, The Neptunes
Acclaim: Falsettos take a backseat on the chest-pounding revival project, empowered by Carey's pen game and inner MC.
Peak moment: Finger wagging at haters on “It's Like That” (“Them chickens is ash, and I'm lotion”).
23. CHRONIC 2001 (1999)
Artist: Dr. Dre
Production: Dr. Dre, Mel-Man
Acclaim: Andre Young’s glorious comeback obliterated the hip-hop bar for super-producer orchestration, giving ample room for Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Devin The Dude and a murderous row of MC’s to command the mic.
Peak moment: The late Nate Dogg breaks into the memorable line—“When I met you last night baby…”—on the flawless “Xxplosive,” a nod to his star-turn on Snoop’s classic “Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None).”
22. janet. (1993)
Artist: Janet Jackson
Production: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
Acclaim: Has there been a more abrupt transition from socially conscious agenda (Rhythm Nation) to overpowering sexual manifesto? Unlikely. On her fifth album, MJ’s little sister drops the coy act and transforms into America’s sweetest horndog. The result: a bangin’ soundtrack.
Peak moment: Janet speaks to exhibitionists on “Anytime, Anyplace,” quietly crooning: “I don’t wanna stop just because/people walking by watching us.” Poetry in motion.
21. MIDNIGHT MARAUDERS (1993)
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Production: Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Acclaim: The apex of ATCQ masters a mellow blend of their trademark jazz and hip-hop aesthetics for a live jam session feel.
Peak moment: Phife Dawg forces you to press pause with his clever innuendo on “Electric Relaxation” (“Let me hit it from the back, girl I won’t catch a hernia/Bust off on your couch, now you got Seaman’s Furniture”).
20. AQUEMINI (1998)
Production: Organized Noize, OutKast, David “Mr. DJ” Sheats
Acclaim: It’s the moment Andre 3000 and Big Boi went left while everyone else in hip-hop went right. From the off-beat coolness of “Rosa Parks” to the spoken word, ska-inflected “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” ’Kast not only went beyond Southern rap, but rap itself.
Peak moment: The mighty tandem’s brave, straight-no-chaser rebuke of gangsta groupthink on “Return of The ‘G’.”
19. GOOD KID, M.A.A.D CITY (2012)
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Production: Hit-Boy, Pharrell, Tha Bizness, Sounwave, Terrace Martin, T-Minus, Just Blaze
Acclaim: K Dot Illmaticly narrates a real-life Boyz N The Hood episode on this conceptual carpool around Compton.
Peak moment: Kendrick channels multiple personalities on the first two stanzas of the haunting “Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst.”
18. REASONABLE DOUBT (1996)
Production: DJ Premier, Clark Kent, Ski
Acclaim: Before this classic, never had the glitz and emotional complexities of a drug dealer’s day-and-night been articulated with such premium, though coded, lyricism.
Peak moment: Verse two of “D’Evils,” where the tale of a friend-turned-foe is spun with sinister brilliance (“Thinking back when we first learned to use rubbers/He never learned/so in turn/I’m kidnapping his baby’s mother”).
17. THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP (2000)
Production: Bass Brothers, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mel-Man
Acclaim: Eminem’s most realized and laugh-inducing album captures the Detroit lyricist at the peak of his offensive brilliance.
Peak moment: Slim Shady’s “Stan” effortlessly depicts the stalker narrative, stripping it down to a poignant, cautionary tale about the darker side of celebrity.
16. LATE REGISTRATION (2005)
Artist: Kanye West
Production: Kanye West, Jon Brion
Acclaim: Kanye graduates to a grander orchestra on his sophomore LP, with all his loveable wit, conspiracy theorizing ("Crack Music"), bombast and society questioning intact. He still makes you dance, too. ("Gold Digger")
Peak moment: The dramatic piano-MPC-and-strings segue of “Gone,” which sets up a passionate 16-bar encore from Mr. West.
15. URBAN HANG SUITE (1996)
Production: Maxwell (as MUSZE), Stuart Matthewman, PM
Acclaim: Neo-soul’s def poet slays everyone softly with deep, falsetto-fueled mood music for frisky adults.
Peak moment: Alley-ooping clueless fiancés-to-be with the matrimony anthem, “Suite Lady (The Proposal Jam).”
14. ENTER THE WU-TANG (36 CHAMBERS) (1993)
Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Acclaim: Kung-Fu flick obsessions; ‘hood-fueled street drama; and quirky, genre-busting sampling courtesy of the RZA; indeed, the nine-man Staten Island rhyme clique was as inventive as it was lyrically frightening.
Peak moment: The Wu’s most slept-on MC Inspectah Deck eloquently describes ghetto life as, “Living in the world, no different from a cell” on a chilling “C.R.E.A.M.” verse.
13. READY TO DIE (1994)
Artist: The Notorious B.I.G.
Production: Sean “Puffy” Combs, Easy Mo Bee, Bluez Brothers, DJ Premier
Acclaim: Biggie’s maiden LP is the perfect mix of rugged raps and radio royalty grooves with charm, humor, creativity and cold-blooded themes throughout.
Peak moment: Puff futilely talking his protege off the ledge in the album’s outro, an eerie suicide note-in-song that climaxes with a gunshot and 300-plus pounds of Brooklyn’s finest hitting the deck. (“Suicidal Thoughts”)
12. DOGGYSTYLE (1993)
Artist: Snoop Doggy Dogg
Production: Dr. Dre
Acclaim: Doggystyle was revolutionary in bridging West Coast G-Funk tunes with East Coast’s wordy rhymes, in the process flaunting a gangsta/pimp aura, hazy bong hits and his homies on Death Row.
Peak moment: Dre’s ingenious flip of Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep” for the bassline of Snoop’s megasingle, “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?).”
11. ONLY BUILT FOR CUBAN LINX… (1995)
Acclaim: Paired with Wu-Tang brother Ghostface Killah, Rae exhibits various cinematic crime scenes in Scorsese-esque fashion. Original slang, fashion cues and cement-hard beats overflow.
Peak moment: Raekwon marshalls a journey through his mental in stream-of-consciousness fashion on “Incarcerated Scarfaces.”
10. CONFESSIONS (2004)
Production: Jermaine Dupri, Dre & Vidal, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis
Acclaim: Usher Raymond airs out his adulterous sins in a heady mix of ballads and bangers that Adam and Eve could get jiggy to. The touching (“Burn”), sexy moments (“That’s What It’s Made For") are perfect for horizontal sinning. No lie.
Peak moment: That orgasmic falsetto scream at the 3:56 mark of “Can U Handle It?”
9. THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL (1998)
Artist: Lauryn Hill
Production: Lauryn Hill, Vada Nobles
Acclaim: Inspired by the best of brown music—R&B, reggae—Lauryn and her jazzy vocals add to an evergreen dialogue: how to love (parentally, romantically, self).
Peak moment: It’s been over a decade since the ache to be liberated from love has been expressed as painfully poignant as on “Ex-Factor.”
8. THE BLUEPRINT (2001)
Production: Bink!, Just Blaze, Kanye West, Timbaland, Trackmasters
Acclaim: A pristine marriage of head-nodding chipmunk-soul and top-grade lyricism, Hov toasts to his abundance of money, cars, haters and love for girls (a full decade before Blue Ivy’s birth).
Peak moment: Eminem spreads the religious imagery on thick during the final verse of “Renegade,” declaring war on Mormons (a full decade before Mitt Romney’s presidential run).
7. TP-2.COM (2000)
Artist: R. Kelly
Production: R. Kelly
Acclaim: There’s a difference between Prince’s sexual frankness and Robert Kelly’s hump banter. TP-2.com voids fairytale lovemaking scripts. It’s aggressive (“TP-2.com”), blunt (“Feelin' on Yo Booty”) and full of hardcore penetration (“Like a Real Freak”). Men related, while women salivated.
Peak moment: Kelly flips from running game to putting neglectful men up on G with the cautionary tale “A Woman’s Threat.” Don’t let someone finish your porridge.
6. MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY (2010)
Artist: Kanye West
Production: Kanye West, No I.D., Jeff Bhasker, Mike Dean
Acclaim: The rapper-in-distress stages his own hip-hopera with different strokes of ego, emotion and more ego. It’s Kanye’s Mona Lisa, a musical culmination of all his works prior.
Peak moment: An intense 38-second game of piano Tap Tap on “Runaway” is amped with "Look at ya!" chants.
5. FUTURESEX/LOVESOUNDS (2006)
Artist: Justin Timberlake
*Greatest Album of the 2000s*
Justin Timberlake’s second album FutureSex/LoveSounds musically propelled the pop&B genre with audio novellas, interlude twists, Timbaland’s weirdo sound effects and that irresistible falsetto. VIBE runs back the ambitious classic that contemporaries are just now catching up to
The 21st century is rife with outstanding albums: Eminem’s American idol ascension The Marshall Mathers LP; Kanye West's brash My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; Jay-Z's cocksure The Blueprint. But unlike many of the epic post-Y2K works that literally pent the music world in a freeze-frame, Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds pressed fast-forward, in the process remaking much of the pop landscape in its image. And for that reason, J.T.’s sophomore set reigns supreme.
FutureSex/LoveSounds hybrid of sexy and sincere, of droid-pop and upfront intimacy—crafted in large part by Timbaland—resulted in a record that is as soft as it is steely. It pushed boundaries more forcefully than works by fellow crooners R. Kelly and Usher, whose TP-2.com and Confessions, respectively, fit neatly within hip-hop soul’s cubby. Timberlake’s music straddles the millennial divide effortlessly, thanks to Timbaland's deft touch. Its pop-soul obviously owes itself to early-'80s superstars like Michael Jackson and Prince, and while Hov’s Blueprint dusted off vintage samples, FutureSex swallows those influences whole and belches out something all-together new. The album embraced the hard/soft duality implied by the title to thrilling effect—and because of their mastery of that balancing act, FutureSex/LoveSounds would go on to influence, if not define, much of the pop music that came after it.
Matched in ambition only by, perhaps, Kanye’s aforementioned Fantasy, Justin’s masterpiece is more cohesive, with it’s melded transitions and synthesized atmospherics. It’s also more pivotal. Once the former *NSYNC frontman punctured the disco ball on the cover of FutureSex/LoveSounds, he created the template for post-millennial Growing Up As A Musical Artist: Don a suit and skinny tie and hook up with members of pop's vanguard, but don't forget to show the vulnerability that gained you all those admirers in the first place. (And keep the sneakers, so you can keep dancing.) Seven years after the idea of "bringing sexy back" entered the pop-cultural lexicon, the album from which that catchphrase sprung remains an era-defining statement. —Maura Johnston
4. MY LIFE (1995)
Artist: Mary J. Blige
Production: Sean “Diddy” Combs, Chucky Thompson
Acclaim: Mary’s imperfect vocals form a union with Thompson’s rhythm-hop production, which provides enough space for her transparent depression. You want to buy into her message on “You Bring Me Joy” but her tones are that of a suffering soul.
Peak moment: “Be Happy,” where MJB self-reflects, “How can I, love somebody else/If I can’t, love myself enough/to know/When it’s time, time to let go.” Sad.
3. ILLMATIC (1994)
Production: DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor
Acclaim: Scored with gritty instrumentals by all-star beat makers, this quintessential hip-hop classic plays like a Queensbridge surveillance video, capturing street strife from the vantage point of a brilliant, adolescent author who’d seen way too much, way too young.
Peak moment: Nas delivers a park bench sermon to a smoking young gun on verse three of “One Love” with HD visuals.
2. BROWN SUGAR (1995)
Production: D’Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Bob Power
Acclaim: D possessed himself with the black church, blues, jazz and R&B then let his cocoa voice and vintage pen write the soul album (no neo) of a generation.
Peak moment: The out-of-body revenge murder on “Shit Damn Motherfucker” will always kill.
1. LIFE AFTER DEATH (1997)
Artist: The Notorious B.I.G.
Production: The Hitmen, Sean Combs, DJ Premier, RZA
You never knew what to expect when The Notorious B.I.G. stepped inside the recording booth. Engaging humorist. Underworld fabulist. Swaggering seducer. The overweight kid from Brooklyn was the Swiss Army knife of MCs, and Life After Death is a thorough exhibition of that versatility, as the maturing 24-year-old Bad Boy toned down Ready To Die’s blustering flows while broadening his perspective beyond Bed-Stuy’s blocks.
Unlike Nas’ Illmatic or D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, both efficient 10-track landmarks that relentlessly hone on their niche and perform flawlessly, Life After Death revealed Biggie as a master of every trade. Utilizing Puff Daddy’s polished ear, he parties (“Hypnotize”), slap-boxes with rival rappers (“Kick In The Door”), makes bad singing sound good (“Player Hater”), spins popcorn-worthy narratives (“Niggas Bleed”) and hosts one of R. Kelly’s most hilariously obnoxious hooks (“F#@$ You Tonight”). Biggie bucked mid-’90s hip-hop’s divisive nature, shedding frequent flyer miles for Too $hort and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony features. And while there are slight chinks (“Going Back To Cali” is symbolically significant, but sonically mediocre), Life After Death is a transformative album so diverse that its 25 songs play as fluidly as 13, setting a double-disc bar that’s tempted—yet evaded—G.O.A.T. candidates like Jay-Z and Nas.
So we’re championing Big Poppa’s sophomore LP as the greatest to drop since Clinton’s first term. And in honor of our own 20-year anniversary, we’ve rounded up Music Editors of VIBE’s past—Erik Parker (2003-2006) and Jon Caramanica (2006-2008)—to wax reflective on B.I.G.’s (second) classic. Consider this a Life After Death postmortem. —John Kennedy, Music Editor (2009-present)
CLICK HERE FOR A BRAINY-YET-CONTROVERSIAL DISCUSSION ON LIFE AFTER DEATH