Raekwon – Rainy Dayz (feat. Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry)
Lenzman: To me, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album is just incredible. It is simply one of the greatest hip hop albums ever made and what's more it still sounds as fresh as it did the day it came out. I could pick a number of tracks off of it and they would've each held their own in this list - it's that good. 'Rainy Dayz' is just pure emotion with Ghostface and Rae spitting some of their best lines. RZA - who produced the entire album - is at the height of his career and the off key vocals of Blue Raspberry are the cherry on top of this a chilling yet soulful gangster ballad.
Mobb Deep – Survival Of The Fittest
I've got to be honest, I'd never heard of Mobb Deep until they released their second album, The Infamous in 1995, but in retrospect, what a change of sound this group made in just two years. This album, which is no doubt one of the greatest ever made, is so cold and apocalyptic. As a young kid growing up and listening to this, it really brought Queens, NY to life. I recently saw how Havoc (who produced the track) flipped the sample on Youtube and it's pure goosebumps material. When Prodigy (top 5 emcees, dead or alive) comes in with his classic verse “there's a war going on no man is safe from” it's game over.
Group Home – Up Against The Wall (Getaway Car Mix)
Another producer at the height of his career in '95 was DJ Premier who produced all of Group Home's debut Livin' Proof album - another LP that also has plenty of gems on offer. My pick of the bunch is the 'Getaway Mix' of 'Up Against The Wall' which has a gentle but utterly infectious piano riff with signature Premier drums and cut up chorus. Although they aren't the best rappers to ever do it, Lil' Dap and Nutcracker's contrasting 1-2 voices and melancholic inner city stories make this a prime slice of golden age hip hop.
GZA – Shadowboxin' (feat. Method Man)
Yup, more Wu-Tang! After Raekwon's ...Cuban Linx LP, GZA's Liquid Swords is probably the greatest of the Wu's solo efforts. In one year RZA produced both these albums entirely - what a G. 'Shadowboxin'' featuring Meth is on of my favourite jams off the whole LP, although I did struggle to choose between this and '4th Chamber' but the beat on 'Shadowboxin'' is too infectious (lucky for you this video has both tracks for you to enjoy).
AZ – Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide (feat. Nas)
Everyone was blown away by AZ's verse on Nas' 'Life's A Bitch' and there was a massive hype for his debut album, Doe Or Die. Some thought it didn't quite live up to the hype but personally I think it's a classic album and invokes strong memories to a certain time in my life. Perhaps it's the consistent sound and atmosphere it has, sonically, or maybe it's just a personal thing, who knows? Anyway, on this track Nas returns the favour and both are as hungry as you're likely to hear them. The string heavy soul sample in Dr Period's beat is the perfect backdrop for the mafioso rhymes the duo spit here. There's also a hidden track at the end 'Born Alone, Die Alone' which has AZ spitting a no hope piece and it's perhaps my favourite verse of his (this isn't included in the video here - you should search for it though).
Goodie Mob – Thought Process (feat. Andre 3000)
Although Goodie Mob's Soul Food album is considered a classic and helped put southern hip hop on the map, it never seemed to get quite the hype it deserved. Perhaps they were a little too political for some folks. This is probably my favourite cut off the Organized Noize produced album. It features Outkast's Andre 3000 and covers tales of frustration and struggle with an oppressive system.
LL Cool J – I Shot Ya (Remix) (feat. Keith Murray, Prodigy, Fat Joe & Foxy Brown)
There are posse cuts and then... there are posse cuts. This is all-time-top-five material to me and as I'm not even a massive LL Cool J fan it says a lot that I have any of his tunes in one of my 'lists.' The Trackmasters beat on this is just ice cold plus some of the featured guests were arguably at the height of their careers when this track came out. Everyone comes pretty tight but Prodigy steals the show dropping his famous "Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body / secret society, trying to keep they eye on me" line.
Smif-N-Wessun – Bucktown
Brooklyn's Bootcamp Clik are one of the most prolific posse's in hip hop's history and Smif-N-Wessun's 1995 classic, Dah Shinin', is perhaps the best album any member of the collective has put out. With the signature bass-heavy, lo-fi boom-bap beats of Da Beatminerz (who produced all of the album) and back and forth verses of Tek and Steele you are taken straight to Brownsville. This is perhaps hip hop in its purest form.
Onyx – Last Dayz
Back in the days I wasn't a massive Onyx fan, they were just a bit too furious for me to handle. But this track, produced by group member Fredro Starr, is pure gold. As MCs, the group reigns it in just a little bit on this melancholic soulful piece, offering up the right combination of raw and melancholic rebellion.
Masta Ace – Top Ten List
On this Saukrates production Masta Ace goes after Fat Joe who he had beef with back in '95. It's not exactly the hardest diss track in terms of lyrics, but Masta Ace's flow is pretty much always on point. Plus the beat is hard as hell and the triggered KRS-One sampling hook “at 8 you're a sucker, at 7 a motherfucker” just slays me.