My Most Important Albums, By Year (1978-2003)
This list is inspired by the book Mo' Meta Blues by ?uestlove, in which he lists his most influential albums by year.
The rule is that you have to have worn out the record in the year it was released. I have plenty of other records that were immensely important, but I came upon them after the year in which they debuted. This is more about immediate effect, in the moment, at the time.
2003 Ali Shaheed Muhammad - Shaheedullah and Stereotypes
This record doesn't have the same overall power as the Tribe discs that came before it, but at the time, this one matched my mood and circumstances - underemployed in Portland, Oregon - than any other record around the same time.
Also this year: Les Nubians - One Step Forward; Lyrics Born - Later That Day; Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2002 The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
I am a late convert to the Lips, but this was a great introduction. The album gets an even better treatment by the Kleptones in their mashup mixtape Yoshika Battles the Hip Hop Robots, which gives this album a second life for me. Both work.
Also this year: Prince Paul - Politics of the Business; Orishas - Emigrante; Talib Kweli - Quality
2001 Pep Love - Ascension
I don't have any idea how I stumbled upon this in Japan, but I did and it's still hard for me to figure out why this isn't a bigger album on critics list of the best CDs of all time. I really love the flow and the attitude. Pep Love has strong appearances as part of the Hieroglyphics, but he stands strongest here on his own.
Also this year: Mad Capsule Markets - 010; The Brilliant Green - Los Angeles; Tenacious D - Tenacious D;
2000 Coaltar of the Deepers - Come Over To The Deepend
I'm living in Japan and trying to soak up as much culture as I can possibly get my hands on. My Japanese is not that great, so I concede that I can't really appreciate the lyrics like I would an English album, but musically this album is a close to what I could want - part hard rock, part science fiction electronica. It's fast, and heavy, and I still think it's my perfect driving music.
Also this year: Mad Capsule Markets - OSC-DIS; Outkast - Stankonia; Missile Girl Scoot - Fiesta!; Rage Against the Machine - Renegades; Jedi Mind Tricks - Violent By Design; Deltron - Deltron 3030
1999 Beck - Midnight Vultures
This was a year of giant change. I moved from SF to Japan, and then spent the two weeks surrounding the Millennium in Thailand with the fellas. I got this CD in Japan and played the hell out of it, partly in need of English while immersed in Japanese, and then as the final party CD of the 20th Century while the island of Ko Samui.
Also this year: Handsome Boy Modeling School - So, How's Your Girl; Kool Kieth - Sex Style; Slick Rick - The Art of Storytelling; The Roots - Things Fall Apart; Utada Hikaru - First Love
1998 Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
It's just a really great album from start to finish. It's a hop hop autobiography, it's probably the best female hip hop canon album of all time, and because there hasn't really been a big career from LH since, a stronger document of a particular time.
Also that year: Les Nubians - Princessess Nubiennes; Outkast - Aquemini; The Coup - Steal This Album.
1997 Kool Keith - Sex Style
This is a tough year. I can't really settle on anything definitive. It was a year of Biggie's death, OK Computer, an ok Rakim joint, Slim Shady - none of which I latched onto more than any other. Keith gets the nod because it's the disc I always returned to night after night, and he cracked me up every time.
Also this year: Eminem - Slim Shady LP; Rakim - The 18th Letter; Pixies - Death to the Pixies
1996 Dr. Octagon - Dr. Octagon
This is one of those albums that I can't explain, but it became an obsession. I loved the crazy lyrics, I love the Automator beats, and I played it constantly for probably two years. It's just something that came out of no where and was perfect.
Also this year: The Roots - Illadelph Halflife; Versus - Secret Swingers; Fugees - The Score; Crucifucks - L.D. Eye
1995 Thurston Moore - Psychic Hearts
I think 27 is the line between adolescence and adulthood, and this record was the disk that made the transition for me. I was shocked out of one life and thrown into the next, and this is the record that was on in the background the whole time.
Relative to Sonic Youth, Thurston has always been my second favorite member of SY, Steve Shelley is what make both SY and this record for me. I started with him when he was with the Crucifucks, and I rocked this CD night and day mainly because it was a pop version of the best of SY.
Also this year: Jawbreaker - Dear You; D'Angelo - Brown Sugar; Broun Fellinis - Aphrokubist Improvisations
1994 Nas - Illmatic
I came of age on the East Coast, and although I'd been gone for a few years, the Nas record really represented the best of hip hop and lyrics, and setting a NYC tone. He is underappreciated in an era of big $ and sales, but for me, Nas is closer to what I want from hip hop. Jay Z, Puffy, and Dr. Dre are on the second tier.
Also this year: Beastie Boys - Ill Communication; Helmet - Betty; Sausage - Riddles are Abound Tonight; Vesus - The Stars are Insane; Gang Starr - Hard to Earn
1993 A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders
?uestloves marks this and 36 Chambers as the end of the Golden Era of group hip hop, as the highly produced, money thugs, and bling era of Jay Z, Dr. Dre and Puffy overran the charts and over-shadowed the real art. I remember sitting in rooms all over SF listening to this record on repeat, unaware that the last gasp of greatness was slipping away.
Also this year: Fishbone - Give a Monkey a Brain; Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville; Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream; Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu Tang - 36 Chambers.
1992 Sonic Youth - Dirty
One of my very best friends from High School was shot and killed in LA a couple of months after our reunion in SF. There are two songs on Dirty about another shooting death of a friend of the band's in LA - 100% and JC. I found as much solace as I could in this record, and I drank a lot. I really love all the SY records with Butch Vig.
Also this year: Dr. Dre - The Chronic; Das EFX - Dead Serious; Gang Starr - Daily Operation; Pavement - Slanted and Enchanted; Rage Against the Machine; Basehead - Play with Toys; The Pharcyde - Bizzarre Ride II the Phyarcyde
1991 Nirvana - Nevermind
I broke up with my girlfriend, moved out of NYC and back into my parents basement. This record and the first Cypress Hill got me through the summer and on to other things.
Also this year: Terminator X; De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead; Prince - Diamonds and Pearls; A Tribe Called Quest - Low End Theory
1990 A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and Paths to Rhythm
It was my last semester of college and my writing teacher worked at the New York Post. He brought this CD into our class and asked if anyone wanted "what appears to be some kind of african drumming music". I was the only one who raised my hand. Boom, an advanced copy of the best CD of the year.
Also that year: Ice Cube - Amerikkka's Most Wanted; Geto Boys; Gang Starr - Step in the Arena; Brand Nubian - All for One
1989 Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
We got a hold of this record as a demo a couple months ahead of the release, and it was awesome if so many ways, but different than the final product. No idea where most of the samples were coming from, but there were so many, they came so fast, everything was dense and ever-changing -- it was both a party record and a headphones record.
Also this year: Jungle Brothers - Done By the Forces of Nature; Just Ice - The Desolate One; The DOC - No One Can Do It Better; Too Short - Born to Mack
1988 De La Soul - Three Feet High and Rising
This was my first CD, which made it last a lot longer than a vinyl version would have given how much I played it. Hip Hop turned from political and hard, to something more closely approaching my particular brand of multicultural, multi-era chop socky.
Also this year: EPMD - Strictly Business; Eric B & Rakim - Follow the Leader; Jungle Brothers - Straight out the Jungle; NWA - Straight Out of Compton; Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back; Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation; Too Short - Life Is...
1987 Public Enemy - Yo Bum Rush the Show
This is the record that knocked the Beasties off the turntable and our brains into a multicultural world. The punk ethos has been imported wholesale and PE established hip-hop as the black CNN.
Also this year: Eric B and Rakim - Paid in Full; LL Cool J - Bigger and Deffer; Schoolly D - Saturday Night; Sonic Youth - Sister
1986 Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill
I was in on Run DMC from the beginning and Raising Hell was the first thing I played when I settled into my dorm room on day one of Freshman year. But when this record hit later that winter, we played it over and over again for at least a year.
Also this year: The Cure - Staring at the Sea; Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded; Just Ice - Back to the Old School; Kool Moe Dee;
1985 Rites of Spring - Rites of Spring
This is the last year of pure punk rock and new wave.
Also this year: Run DMC - King of Rock; Paul Young - The Secrets of Association; Gray Matter - Food for Thought; Fishbone - Fishbone; Beefeater - Plays for Lovers
1984 The Replacements - Let It Be
This is another record that was played until it fell apart. I would come home from school and take a nap to this record, getting up only to turn over the LP.
Also this year: Squeeze - Singles 45's and Under; Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain; Husker Du - Zen Arcade; Crucifucks - Our Will Be Done
1983 Minor Threat - Complete Discography
I came too late to see them live, but I dove into the DC Scene with both feet based on this record.
Also this year: X - More Fun in the New World; The English Beat - What is Beat?; Suicidal Tendencies; REM - Murmur; Cyndi Lauper - She's So Unusual; Billy Idol - Rebel Yell
1982 Elvis Costello - Imperial Bedroom
This I got on vinyl and it was my introduction to EC. I played this every single day, multiple times, for months on end. I went back and caught up on all his other masterpieces: Trust and Get Happy!! in particular.
Also this year: A Flock of Seagulls; Adam Ant - Friend or Foe; Joe Jackson - Night and Day; Madness - The Rise and Fall; and The Clash - Combat Rock
1981 The Cars - Shake it Up
I saved up all summer for the original Walkman and this was my first cassette tape. The opening clicks of the first track cracked my head open and I've been hooked on headphones ever since. A year later The Cars became my first concert.
Also this year: The Tubes - Completion Backwards Principal; Tom Petty - Hard Promises.
1980 AC/DC - Back in Black
I moved to Baltimore at the beginning of summer, and spent the summer listening to 98 Rock on my clock radio waiting for school to start. I still have this record in heavy rotation but it's the last record from my classic rock, Indiana upbringing. From here on out I'm an East Coast boy.
Also this year: Rush - Permanent Waves; The Romantics - The Romantics; J. Giels Band - Love Stinks; The Babys - Union Jacks; The Buggles - The Age of Plastic
1979 Tom Petty - Damn the Torpedoes
My last year in Indiana, wearing satin shorts and vinyl iron-on t-shirts to the roller rink and bowling alleys of my youth. Part of me thinks I like this record because I had exactly the same haircut as TP sports on this cover.
Also this year: Rob Stewart's Greatest Hits, Vol. 1