The 90's was a golden era of hip hop. In the mid-90's, one thing that stood out was the the "Mafioso" sub-genre of rap that was created by Kool G Rap. In the late 80’s, NWA took the world by storm with the Gangsta rap sub-genre. By the time the mid-90s hit, east coast rap came with their own twist of gangsta rap influenced by the mafia culture. The sub-genre was overshadowed by west coast rap music. Pop culture didn't take a liking to it, maybe because the songs were too intricate. The average listener is not trying to dissect through lyrics and meanings on a casual listen. Mafioso rap gave birth to one of the greatest rappers ever, Jay-Z, so it's hard to overlook the music that came out during this era. Here's a top 5 of Mafioso albums:
5. Scarface The Diary (1994)
Geto Boy's stand-out member and Houston native, Scarface, is one of the illest rappers to ever touch a microphone. Many rappers have highlighted Scarface as a major influence and an elite lyricist. Scarface known for his sinister/dark stories about murder, death, poverty and the afterlife. This album is Scarface at his apex of rapping abilities and lyricism. One of the best storytellers in rap history, he provides introspection about the metaphysical human experiences. Death has been a constant element in his music In songs like "I've Seen A Man Die" he lures you into the dark experience of seeing a dead man laid out on the pavement and facing the repercussions of committing murder. His constant obsession of the death is a genre in its own. Scarface almost personifies a grim reaper narrating a person's life before his/her's death. He keeps dark tone with this album on songs such as "No Tears," "Hand of the Dead Body," and "Goin' Down."
4. Nas It Was Written (1996)
Illmatic was such a classic any follow up album would of been hard for Nas to live up to. It Was Written was an underated album at the time, now considered a classic. Some Illmatic enthusiast dislike this album because it made Nas go "pop" with the classic "If I Ruled The World" featuring Lauryn Hill. The album was elite, God MC Nas verses laced with production from the Trackmasters and Dr. Dre. It Was Written was him with more confidence, wealth, and maturity than the debut. Illmatic was life in Queensbridge Projects, It Was Written was Nas with the riches and survivor’s remorse. He goes from “Nasty Nas” to “Nas Escobar”. Escobar gives us one of his more introspective songs, “I Give You Power,” where he raps from a perspective of a gun. Despite the negative criticism from music outlets, It Was Written is his best selling album of his career. Nas created one of the few mafioso rap albums that crossed over into the mainstream.
3. AZ Doe or Die (1995)
Hailing from East New York, Brooklyn to be exact, AZ is known for his rather unique (pun intended) voice and rhyme flow. AZ was introduced to Nas via mutal friends over the phone, which led to him getting a feature on Nas' debut Illmatic. Getting introduced to the masses on the hip hop classic, Nas' Illmatic, there was a lot of hype surrounded by AZ. He lived up to the hype when he dropped his debut album Doe or Die. AZ came out the gate with a hip hop classic. AZ's bars were crafted with impressive vocabulary and illustrious lines telling a story of a mobster on the road to riches and the pitfalls of living fast. Grandiose bars highlighting low life activities while living the high life, taking other people's goods in "Gimme Yours" while simultaneously protecting his riches from "Ho Happy Jackie". Biggie's Ready to Die and AZ's Doe or Die set a standard for rappers coming out of Brooklyn, including Jay-Z.
2. Jay Z Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Jay Z didn't become a household name until his third album, In My Lifetime Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life. Unfortunately, at the time of its release, Reasonable Doubt flew over people heads. Most listeners had to go back and listen to the project. 2Pac dissed him on his posthumously released album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, and people didn't know who Jay Z was yet. I guess 2Pac foresaw the success Jay Z was going to achieve in the music industry. His debut album is Jay Z's arugably most elite bars, sparring with the likes of the legendary Brooklynite Biggie Smalls, his mentor Jaz-O, and his then-sparring partner Sauce Money. Jigga even secured the Queen of R&B Mary J. Blige, with an alleged bag of cash.
1. Raekwon Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)
The Chef cooked up a 3-course meal on his solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, also known as "The Purple Tape" for the unique cassette color. This project impacted rap music like an atomic bomb. The album was practically a collaboration album with Rae's Wu-Tang group mate Ghostface Killah; Ghost being featured on nearly every song and skit. The Purple Tape was felt in the streets across the country. Arguably the best Wu-Tang solo album, Raekwon had a short stint as the King of New York when this project released. The lyrics and RZA's beats were all on point, maintaining the Wu-Tang style and showcasing the Chef's unique style simultaneously. Rae and Ghost take you on a trip to Shoalin, where they snort coke and hit licks. Like most Wu-Tang albums, most features only included Wu-Tang members. The exception of this rule was Nas, who spit some of his most memorable bars on “Verbal Intercourse”, with Rae and Ghost holding their own with one of the best MC’s of all time. Without this album there wouldn't be a Reasonable Doubt or It Was Written. The subject matter of OB4CL inspired Jay-Z and Nas. The subject of a mobster trying to leave the life to become a full-time rapper.