Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about. As a new Run the Jewels album drops this week, we look at a rich history of records by hip-hop duos.
It’s hard to believe that hip-hop is only about 47 years old, give or take a year or two. So many memories, iconic figures, highs, lows … the genre brings about a wealth of emotion, regardless of one’s demographic. As hip-hop has grown, so has its sound, its reach, as well as its influence on popular culture. But during its infancy, the rapper and the DJ were the perfect marriage between two musicians of different crafts blending together to make a singular sound. Hip-hop “crews” were more prevalent early on, but there was something about the duo that audiences were drawn to more than any other dynamic. Now, the individual seems to have risen to the top of the ranks, but there have been and still are some amazing duos in rap.
On June 5th, the rapper/producer team of Killer Mike and El-P will officially release the fourth installment of Run the Jewels. The group, which goes by the same name, represents what many people consider the essence of hip-hop — the emcee and the DJ. The digital age has transformed that into the “rapper and the producer,” but the concept remains. Proverbs 27:17 states that “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The same could be said about two musicians coming together for a common cause.
In anticipation of Run the Jewels 4, we’ve compiled a list of 10 albums by hip-hop duos that every fan should be privy to. Whether it be two rappers or a rapper and a producer, the final product is undeniable. A combination of different coasts, older releases, and more contemporary classics, these albums are crucial to anyone who enjoys hip-hop and a testament to why the genre (and the hip-hop duo) is here to stay.
Eric B. and Rakim –Paid in Full (1987)
For all intents and purposes, rap music could be divided into two different eras: Before Rakim and after Rakim. As one of the most revered MCs of all time, Rakim forever etched his name in the annals of hip-hop history with the release of Paid in Full. Unlike the MCs that came before him, Rakim deployed a laid-back, intricate rhyme scheme that differentiated him from the rest of the pack. Combined with the dexterous DJing of Eric B., the duo was the first MC/DJ tandem to break through in major with hardcore hip-hop. Not a second is wasted on Paid in Full, including the title track, the dance floor banger “I Ain’t No Joke”, “Eric B. Is President”, and “I Know You Got Soul”. It’s absolutely stacked with classic after classic. Paid in Full is a landmark LP, launching the genre of rap into the golden age of hip-hop while becoming one of the albums by which all great hip-hop records are measured. –Rashad Grove
Hardest-Hitting Track: “I Ain’t No Joke”
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
Many hip-hop enthusiasts would claim that It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is the superior project, but they cannot argue the heights reached by Public Enemy’s third album, Fear of a Black Planet. Chuck D’s powerful voice and disruptive content permeated culture on a global scale, especially after the success of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. The group’s spark, the energetic Flavor Flav, popularized the “hype man” in hip-hop and added a unique element to the extremely militant tone of Public Enemy. “911 Is a Joke” and “Fight the Power” are two of rap’s most memorable tracks, and “Burn Hollywood, Burn” (which features Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane) became an ironic classic when Cube would later conquer the movie business. Fear of a Black Planet holds a special place in rap’s pantheon because the messages that Public Enemy expressed in 1990 still remain on point 30 years later. –Okla Jones
Hardest-Hitting Track: “Fight the Power”
Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth – Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992)
When it comes to MC and DJ/Producer duos, few were quite as masterful as Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. With the slyly smooth lyricism and the jazz-influenced soul samples of Pete Rock, their second album, Mecca and the Soul Brother, is still regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Among the gems that the project is laced with, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” is the standout. Inspired by the loss of hip-hop dancer Troy Dixon (aka Trouble T Roy), who died tragically in an accident, Rock and Smooth created a timeless classic full of pathos that still reverberates today. Along with other singles “Straighten It Out” and “Lots of Lovin,” Mecca and the Soul Brother remains the crème de la crème of hip-hop and a benchmark for all projects that followed in its footsteps. –Rashad Grove
Hardest-Hitting Track: “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”
Salt-N-Pepa – Very Necessary (1993)
Salt-N-Pepa are the greatest female rap group of all time and one of the best rap acts to emerge during the late ’80s and early ’90s. After gaining a considerable following on their first three albums — Hot, Cool, & Vicious, A Salt with a Deadly Pepa, and Blacks’ Magic — the trio released their fourth album, Very Necessary, to critical acclaim and tremendous commercial success. With themes of Black femininity and club jams, the LP spawned an array of singles, including “Shoop”, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100; “Whatta Man”, which featured En Vogue and shot up to No. 3; and “None of Your Business”, which earned the group their first Grammy. Without question, Very Necessary is still the crown jewel in the Salt-N-Pepa discography and one of the best albums of the ’90s. –Rashad Grove
Hardest-Hitting Track: “Shoop”
Mobb Deep –The Infamous (1995)
Considered a major contributor to New York’s rap renaissance in the mid-’90s, Mobb Deep’s The Infamous became what many hail as one of the greatest albums in hip-hop’s history. Havoc’s haunting and rugged melodies fused with Prodigy’s stories of the street life in the inner city are credited with redefining the sound of hardcore rap. The Infamous received critical acclaim and featured some of rap’s seminal artists of the time; Nas, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Q-Tip were all an integral part to this classic body of work. Mobb Deep’s sophomore album is an exploration through the urban landscape of the Queensbridge Houses from the perspective of two African-American youths in a world filled with narcotics, poverty, and the possibility of death around every corner. The Infamous introduced a grittier style of music that many artists attempted to recreate in subsequent years, solidifying its place as a classic in any genre. –Okla Jones
Hardest-Hitting Track: “Shook Ones Pt. II”
Click ahead for more great albums from hip-hop duos…