6 Underrated Def Jam Records; The Roots, Nas, and One Seminal Album You Won't See Coming
Green Label, a pop culture site, has come up with another interesting list for hip-hop heads, this one celebrating the 30 year anniversary of Def Jam Records by listing the "10 Most Notable Albums" from its history. You can check out their list below.
It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick by Slick Rick, Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J, Muddy Waters by Redman, Licenses to Ill by The Beastie Boys, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot by DMX, The Blueprint by Jay Z, Strictly Business by EPMD, Graduation by Kanye West and Life Is Good by Nas.
Not a bad list. We thought up a short list of our own from Def Jam's discography, not including artists already mentioned. Some are just worth mentioning, and others we feel were disgracefully left off Green Label's account. In order of importance:
06) Word of Mouf by Ludacris (2001)
We're not going to argue that Word of Mouf is a lyrical gem full of complex themes, but consider what it was up against: The early '00s were full of rappers cursing every other word and acting way harder than justified (namely Ja Rule...another Def Jam product). Luda found his groove and created a number of hit singles full of braggadocio and thump ("Rollout (My Business)," "Area Codes" and the immortal tough guy anthem "Move Bitch") for his second Def Jam release. Ludacris has calmed down since then and we somewhat regret it.
05) Bacdafucup by Onyx (1993)
If you took the time to piece together the one-word sentence hidden in the title of Onyx's debut album, you realize that the group was the embodiment of what Tipper Gore feared when she heard the term "hip-hop." This hardcore album features a litany of obscene tracks with similar titles. Onyx and its style started to burn out after a few albums but its first ranks up there with the best of the Geto Boys and Esham.
04) Distant Relatives by Nas and Damian Marley (2010)
Yes, Nas was already mentioned in Green Label's list, but Damian Marley gets just as much credit for this album (plus we disagree with GL's assessment). Considering the weight that has been put on guest spots for hip-hop in recent years, it makes perfect sense that this pair would do an entire album together to keep the flow fresh between their unique vibes. Plus, add the concept of Pan-African sympathies between black men of different cultures and the theme falls right in line with what Nas has always preached. A delicious combo.
03) Channel Orange by Frank Ocean (2012)
Frank Orange was always a little too normal to make sense amongst the off-kilter Odd Future crew, so releasing his debut Channel Orange on Def Jam was sensible enough. Still, he was eclectic enough to release a standout R&B album for a label that has always been curiously weak on the genre (Cisqo...and yeah). It might seem a little early to rank the 2012 album this high on our list, but it was critically adored when it dropped two years ago and we predict its status will continue to stand out in years to come.
02) Game Theory by The Roots (2006)
Those who only know The Roots from its appearances with Jimmy Fallon are shocked to realize that the group can be unhappy. The peak of the band's lows don't shine through as much as blacken out on Game Theory, an album dealing heavy attacks on social politics from emcee Black Thought, and a mood further darkened by the recent death of J Dilla during early 2006. It's a strong precursor to ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, the band's 2014 release and one of the darkest albums of the year thus far.
01) Reign In Blood by Slayer
What? You expected a hip-hop album? Green Label selected a number of great hip-hop albums from the label's catalog but fell into the classic mistake of ignoring Def Jam's history with other genres. Reign In Blood is one of Rick Rubin's most notable production credits and also stands as the biggest album in the history of Slayer, which itself is one of the most seminal bands in metal music. Classic tracks such as "Raining Blood" and "Angel of Death" made the other members of the burgeoning California thrash movement seem almost family-friendly. This album is a must for Def Jam's "greatest hits," regardless of how well it syncs with the label's current business plan.