DAR Hip Hop: 7 Classic Albums From 1998

By @TrueGodImmortal

For many, 1998 is considered to be one of the greatest years in hip hop history and 20 years later, as we look back, this rings true without question. With a large selection of music being released during this time, along with the arrival of some new artists that would change the game, 1998 was a landmark year in hip hop. Legends were born, stars were made, classics were released, and the hip hop genre was at a pivotal time. With Juvenile hitting stardom, Jay-Z breaking through the mainstream, Big Pun staking his claim, Outkast showcasing their creativity, Redman returning with another album, DMX making his name known, the arrival of the duo Blackstar, Gangstarr returning, Goodie Mob trying to defeat the sophomore curse, and so much more. With that, we wanted to select the 7 best albums from the year that are turning 20 this year. Which albums make the list? Read on to find out.
*Outkast- Aquemini 

-Of course, when we look into the history of Outkast, their work has been solidified as some of the greatest in the genre, and many debate over what their best album is. For some, including this writer, it is their sophomore album ATLiens. For others, it is their third album, which was released in 1998, Aquemini. The title, a combination of their two zodiac signs (Aquarius and Gemini), allowed the duo to showcase their strengths together while still allowing their individuality to shine just as much. The production here is experimental and expands on what the duo started on their previous album. Lyrically, both Big and Dre are at their best, and tracks like "Return Of The G", "Da Art Of Storytellin (Parts 1 and 2)", "Synthesizer", the title track, and "Liberation" showcase just how well the two artists have evolved. Another favorite "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" is revered by the hip hop community for the live instrumentation, the spoken word verses, and an all around amazing listening experience. Aquemini is the best album of 1998 IMO and it isn't really close. This album turns 20 in September.

*Juvenile- 400 Degreez 

-Quite possibly the most surprising album to hit the charts this year was 400 Degreez. I mean, Cash Money was known at the time, but on a smaller, regional level. We knew of their artists and what they were doing, but the world hadn't quite been exposed to the greatness of Cash Money and Juvenile. That would all change with their huge deal with Universal and with Juve making some of the most catchy music in his career. Backed by the classic production of Mannie Fresh, 400 Degreez is a landmark album for Louisiana hip hop and the greatest New Orleans hip hop album IMO. Juve delivers engaging lyricism and hilarity throughout on tracks like "Gone Ride With Me", "Back That Azz Up", "Juvenile On Fire", the title track, and the lead single "Ha" to keep the listener wanting more. I think this album is probably as close to a flawless album as Cash Money has ever released (though 400 Degreez isn't my personal favorite Juve album). 400 Degreez turns 20 in November.

*Jay-Z- Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life

-I am indifferent on this albim in terms of calling it a classic and in terms of enjoying it, but if we are talking career impact and mainstream wise, Vol. 2 is without a doubt the most important album in Jay's career. After a classic debut and a near classic sophomore album, Jay returned with his third album and seemed determined to win at all costs. There was something slightly different about this album IMO and it is likely that fact that pushed this album to such heights. When released in the fall of 1998, Jay was on the cusp of superstardom, and the first single on the album seemed to pave the way for him to at least experience high sales and exceed what he had done prior. With 6 million copies sold over the years, Jay would see his name rise to mainstream levels on the strength of singles like "Can I Get A...", "Hard Knock Life (The Ghetto Anthem)", "Nigga What Nigga Who", "Money Ain't A Thang", and of course "Money, Cash, Hoes". My favorite track on this album? It has to be "A Week Ago", which is Jay at his best. Vol. 2 turns 20 in September.

*Goodie Mob- Still Standing 

-When we look back at Atlanta hip hop and the artists that made it what it is today, a lot of the praise gets rightfully handed to Outkast, but it is telling that many tend to forget the role that Goodie Mob played in it as well. The Dungeon Family is the greatest movement in Southern hip hop from a quality perspective if you ask me, and their music throughout the 90's was top notch. Goodie Mob was of course known for their classic debut Soul Food, but their sophomore debut is extremely underrated and one of the better releases of 1998. The production is always great from Dungeon Family releases, and this is no different as Organized Noize contribute the majority of the sounds along with work from Mr. DJ, Craig Love, and DJ Muggs. The features are all in house, as Outkast shows up on the standout track "Black Ice", Cool Breeze assists on "The Damm", Backbone joins the party on "I Refuse Limitation", and Witchdoctor contributes to "Greeny Green". Simply put, Goodie Mob avoid the sophomore slump and delivered an album that still sounds great today and was vital to the Dungeon Family legacy IMO. This album turned 20 in April.

*Blackstar- Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Blackstar 

-This album was one of the better projects to be released this year and I honestly think it might be the best album of the year, or at the very least a close second or third behind Outkast and DMX. Quality wise, this album features some smooth production and some of the best lyrics I've ever heard committed to the page. Mos Def shines the brightest on this album with ease, while Talib Kweli does manage to keep up with him for the most part. Production on this album is a highlight as I mentioned, with Hi-Tek earning a bigger name for himself by contributing the best work from a sound perspective. Other producers who lend their touch to the album include Ge-ology, J-Rawls, 88 Keys, and Da Beatminerz. The best tracks here? In my opinion, I think the best songs are "Thieves In The Night", "Respiration", "Twice Inna Lifetime", "Brown Skin Lady", and "Hater Players", but the entire album is amazing from start to finish. If you want to hear Mos Def in his untouchable prime, listen to this project because this is one of the most amazing displays of lyricism. This album officially turns 20 in September. 

*Big Pun- Capital Punishment 

-When you think of legendary MCs from the Bronx, a few names come to mind. KRS is probably the first and some might even look at Fat Joe as one of those legends from the BX. For me, the best lyricist to come from that area is none other than Big Pun. The way he put his words together and managed to balance his flow was almost unmatched, and when he arrived on the scene with this debut album, the game felt a shift. He was the first Latino rapper in the culture to really breakthrough, continuing the work that Fat Joe had begun over the years. Pun was a different animal in general from Joe and many other artists, as his dazzling displays of lyricism are what make this debut such a classic. While the tracklist is a bit extensive and could be trimmed a little, it does allow Pun the chance to flex his skills on tracks like "Super Lyrical", "Beware", "The Dream Shatterer", and "You Ain't A Killer", along with the popular songs "Still Not A Player", "You Came Up", and "Twinz (Deep Cover '98)". Pun was excellent throughout this album and Capital Punishment turned 20 in April.

*DMX- It's Dark and Hell Is Hot

-If there was one rapper who owned this year, it was none other than DMX. The arrival of the rapper who had been around in the game for years before without a proper introduction was something that shifted the entire genre in so many ways. X was aggressive, angry, honest, and most of all, he made great music. With his signature barking adlib alongside his sometimes horrorcore style rhymes and vivid stories, X was an instant hit with the hip hop audience and rightfully so. With production mostly handled by Dame Grease, this album sounds gritty and that's where X shines the most. With tracks like "Ruff Ryders Anthem", "Get At Me Dog", "Niggaz Done Started Something", "Stop Being Greedy", and "How's It Goin' Down", X sounds focused and hungry, and if anything, this album has to be remembered for that hunger and passion X brought to the game. I don't think hip hop has seen the hunger and passion X brought in 20 years and that says a lot. This album turned 20 in May and like the rest of the albums on this list, it still holds a special place in the genre.



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