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1. Hardcore by Lil' Kim delivers surefire hits and absolutely was the blueprint for so many other female rappers owning their sexual identities by being as raunchy as possible.
2. Self-titled album 702 will give you a much-needed dose of nostalgia with its bumping base and dope harmonies throughout.
3. Never Say Never, sung beautifully by Brandy (a.k.a. the only Cinderella we acknowledge), is an absolute classic. In her second album she truly bested herself with hit after hit after fucking hit. I mean, it delivered "The Boy Is Mine," so you already know how epic it is.
4. Around The World In A Day features a psychedelic Prince who wanted to try out new sounds that weren't like "Purple Rain" — and what we got were bops like "Raspberry Beret," and "Pop Life."
5. 4 often gets looked over for the (epic) album that followed, but with songs like "Love On Top," with multiple key changes sung to perfection, Queen Beyoncé didn't deserve to be slept on.
6. Stankonia set the stage for Southern rappers to do their thing. With songs like "Mrs. Jackson" and "So Fresh, So Clean," Outkast made a sound that was truly ahead of its time.
7. 808s & Heartbreak redefined hip-hop for all time. Kayne really proved himself as a genius and by adding syncopated beats and honest vocals, he set the stage for rappers to be emotional and truly open.
Emo Kanye is the best Kanye, hands down.
8. Nothing Was The Same gives us seasoned Drake who has gotten used to the fame, but notices how different everyone around him acts since he made it.
9. Channel Orange, Frank Ocean's (aka my favorite Scorpio) debut album features melancholy, innovative R&B that'll give you all the fucking feels.
10. The Electric Lady follows up on our favorite android's theme of Afrofuturism and got more in-depth with what it means to be a black women with a vision. Janelle Monaé did that!
11. Ready To Die by Biggie Smalls himself defined a whole era of East Coast hip-hop and represented for Brooklyn, especially. His flows were spectacular, and every song told a story of what it meant to single-handedly lift yourself from the hood.
12. True is a lowkey pop masterpiece that was really ahead of it's time. Solange wrote dope songs like "Locked In Closets" and "Losing You" inspired other pop stars to play with different (retro) sounds.
13. Hard Knock Life diversified Jay-Z's style and flow, while revisiting his roots as a hustler from the Marcy Projects trying to get out and provide for himself even though the powers that be want him to stay right where he is.
14. My Life continues the story of everyone's favorite musical auntie Mary J. Blige and how she navigates all of her interpersonal relationships, while just trying to have fun.
I mean damn, all I wanna do is be happy, too!
15. Age Ain't Nothing But A Number was Aaliyah's debut album and she made a fucking splash. It's filled with tons of hits sung in a soft timbre that would one day define her artistic style.
16. Project: Funk Da World by Craig Mack brought us one of the best singles of all time, "Flava In Ya Ear." It featured hip-hop's biggest stars at the time — Biggie, Busta Rhymes, and L.L. Cool J.
Legends, all of them!
Reviews here have been edited for length and/or clarity.