The Unkut 4×4: New York’s Greatest Wins/Losses
Tuesday June 21st 2011,
Filed under: Albums,Not Your Average,Reviews,The Unkut 4x4,The Unkut Opinion
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Four of the best and four of the worst New York rap albums ever. Let the complaining begin!


Roc Marciano – Marcberg

The reason that Roc Marciano‘s solo debut was the best hip-hop release of 2010 is the simple fact that he ignored the plague of excessive guest appearances and all-star producers in order to deliver a focused, singular vision. Taking it back to the basics isn’t for the faint of heart, however. You can’t get over with brag raps and soul loops anymore. Where Marcberg wins is the raw cinematics it delivers, leaking paranoia and backroom deals through a haze of blunt smoke. Stream-of-consciousness verbal sprays so nonchalant you might not notice you just got murked until you hear the rattle of the shell casings spilling onto the concrete. Unorthodox beat construction that creeps up on you and puts you in a choke hold when you’re least expecting it – ‘Snow’ never loses it’s impact, no matter how many times you spin it back. Save your swag, this is Grown Man Rap at it’s most evolved.

Raekwon The Chef – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…

The pinnacle of the Wu-Tang Clan‘s bid for rap supremacy in the 90’s, Rae and Ghostface constructed the most sophisticated crime narrative ever submitted to tape, all under the masterful direction of The RZA at the very height of his powers. No matter how many times you throw this album on, you’re always sure to catch another nuance or hidden chamber buried somewhere within it’s murky depths. Musically impeccable, the entire project has that unmistakable feel of a couple of master crooks pulling of the ultimate heist – that one last roll of the dice that will get them out of the game forever if everything goes according to plan. If not? Fuck it, at least they went down fighting. Crime Rap will never sound this good ever again.

Mobb Deep – Hell On Earth

Easily the bleakest audio document to emerge from the harsh streets of Queensbridge, Hell On Earth showcased stripped-back, stark sonics as beady-eyed vultures circled over the rotting carcass of street-level rap. Havoc and Prodigy took that anti-social, break a bottle over your head mind-state to a new level, as if they already knew that the rise of shiny suit Jiggnorance and slick talking hustlers was about to relegate Black Hoody and Timbs Rap to the sidelines forever. Harsh and unforgiving like winter in the Rotten Apple, the pinnacle of this experience is hearing Prodigy black-out on ‘Apostle’s Warning’, providing perhaps the finest demonstration of that Thun Language that we’re ever going to witness. Each sound is so tightly wound-up and refined to it’s barest element that it manages to transfer a sense of unease and tension to the listener without alienating you completely – you can’t help but stick around for the ride.

Ultramagnetic MC’s – Critical Beatdown

In 1986, a song called ‘Ego Trippin” was unleashed from the Ultra LabCed-Gee‘s studio deep in the heart of the South Bronx, which had it’s walls famously covered in tin foil to resemble the inside of a space shuttle. This track proved to be so far ahead of it’s time that even 26 years after the fact, the world still hasn’t caught up! While the competition were caving in to record label pressure and throwing love ballads in the middle of their albums, Ultra was smoking dust and making riot music for B-Boys. The beat science displayed on Critical Beatdown was beyond the realms of this small planet, as drums, horns and bass were chopped and strtched into oblivion before being sewn back together to punch you square in the face, during an era when you could get away with just looping a James Brown 45. Kool Keith unleashed subliminal shots at every big name in the game while he pioneered new cadence and flow, introducing the off-beat rhyme style and taking rap metaphors to bizarre new heights. The perfect rap album – it will never be topped.


Eric B – Eric B

What do you do after a career as a DJ of questionable ability and a habit for taking credit for other people’s beats? You make an album of love rap’s, of course! Thanks to Rakim‘s legendary lyrics of fury, even Erib B.‘s clumsy scratching and clunky beats were bearable over the course of four LP’s. But when he decided to break north and become a soloist, attempting to transform himself into hip-hop’s answer to Barry White, the rap world did the only appropriate thing and promptly pretended it never happened. For those of you not lucky enough to own this piece of audio gold, let me assure you that your boy Eric Barrier considers himself ‘smoother than velvet’, as Big L would say. With song titles such as ‘Love Trap’, ‘You’re My Painted Picture’ and ‘Like Candy’, there’s no denying that this big fella is quite the catch, ladies! Like a big teddy bear, except this cuddly character will have you run out of town if you go and tell The Source that you gave him tracks for his his third album…

The Firm – The Album

It was the ultimate showcase of rap star power on paper – combining Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown and Cormega into a New York super-group, with the legendary Dr. Dre behind the boards to bring his platinum touch to proceedings. So why did this turn out to be one of the most disappointing hip-hop projects in recent memory? ‘Affirmative Action’ proved that the quartet had an impressive chemistry when they first combined minds on ‘It Was Written’, but it wasn’t long before industry fuckery and Nas’ new manager soon poisoned whatever potential this group may have had. When Cormega refused to sign some funny money paperwork, he was ousted and replaced by another Queensbridge up-and-comer named Nature, while the sonic bubblegum peddlers of the day (The Trackmasters) were rushed-in to quickly knock put some elevator-muzak pop rap beats. With the exception of ‘Phone Tap’, this is a steaming pile of over-produced, cynical Hollywood bullshit, all centred around the painfully cliched Mafiaso Rap theme. ‘Five Minutes to Flush’, indeed.

The Notorious B.I.G. – Duets – The Final Chapter

A good case could be made for the conspiracy theories that claim that Puff Daddy and Suge Knight were involved in the murders of their biggest artists. The deaths of Tupac and Biggie Smalls generated enormous record sales as a result, and finally gave Puffy an excuse to step from behind the desk and live his dream of being a superstar rapper, despite his severly limited abilities. As if Born Again wasn’t bad enough, the Duets album was a shameless attempt to milk the last drops of blood from the Notorious one’s bloated corpse by reheating more old accapellas and grabbing everybody from Korn to Ja Rule to jump on board. The result came off with the whiff of desperation not seen since the last call at your local over-28’s nightclub (No denim, please. Let’s keep it classy!). And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more exploitative, they start wheeling out Biggie’s kids for the skits! Never before has the acronym ‘SMH’ been so appropriate.

Grand Puba – Understand This

There once was a time when Puba was the cutting edge of lyrical technique, as he demonstrated with the mighty One For All album that he put together with his group Brand Nubian, which provided the New York with it’s theme music in 1990 before he convinced people to start sporting Tommy Hillfiger. But following a series of poor career decisions and a work ethic that was infamous for all the wrong reasons, by 2001 the Grand Man had been reduced to releasing an album via the Rap Graveyard known as Koch Records. Having contributed some fine production work to his previous projects, the cheap, cheesy sound of ‘Understand This’ was more reminiscent of ‘My First Swizz Beats’ Casio keyboard than the timeless Zulu Nation-flavoured tunes he delivered in his prime. Tinny drums and keys combine with tone-deaf singing in what can only be described as the musical equivalent of your dad wearing a shiny leather jacket and trying to chat-up 18 year-old girls at your school formal.

Originally published in Acclaim Mag’s NY issue.

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43 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Indeed… as part of them 2010 ish years Marcberg is the solidiest record, we hardly find anything better or similar yet on NY rap.
The FIRM was fun tho… Biggie duets, WTF is this record, agreed Rob E!!!

Comment by Donaleski 06.21.11 @

dam I wish I could put words to paper like this. Good shit Robbie.

Comment by krmnl 06.21.11 @

You’re My Painted Picture gets love just off the beat, but yeah that album sucked

Comment by cocotaso 06.22.11 @

I’m too tired too expand on this…but I’ll be back..

Comment by Cresno Fresh 06.22.11 @

i would put dah shinin and 4,5,6 for the win.
and das efx how we do it and onyx trigganometry for the all time losses.

Comment by swordfish 06.22.11 @

Good cases made for all of these here. Nice.

Comment by djbosscrewwrecka 06.22.11 @

I would replace maybe hell on earth for illmatic (only because what gets better then illmatic) and for a loss, id go with any fat joe album without ditc, the bootleggin of the original nas i am album, the shelving of KMDs black bastard (cause when that shouldve came out, it shouldve been a 4.5 or 5 mic album) or any pete rock project before petestrumentals/soul survivor that never came out. by the way @swordfish, das efx is from jersey.

Comment by konsept 06.22.11 @

Fantastic piece. Agreed that Prodigy’s verse on Apostle’s Warning is his finest ever, it’s always great when a rapper goes in and they just let him spit for like 30 fucking bars of FIRE!

Comment by McNulty 06.22.11 @

It warms my heart to see Critical Beatdown get the love that it deserved when it was released back in ’88. I still have my well-worn cassette copy as well as the ’04 re-release. Can’t really argue that much against Hell On Earth but if you’re gonna go there, you gotta throw CNN’s The War Report up there. Bloody Money secures its place damn near for dolo. Marcberg is indeed the most beautiful piece of grime you’ll probably ever hear. The Purple Tape is The Purple Tape, no explanation needed. I’ll tell you what could have been the worst NY joint of all time: Group Home’s Livin’ Proof…WITHOUT Premo.

Comment by oskamadison 06.22.11 @

Give me Midnight Marauders over Marcberg and we’ve got a deal. **co-signs**

Comment by A'Peks 06.22.11 @

what about Marco Polo & Torae’s Double Barrel,Das Efx Hold It Down,Heltah Skeltah Nocturnal,The Un U In Or U Out, KRS One KRS One Showbiz & AG Runnaway Slave, Eric B & Rakim Let The Rhythm Hit Em,KRS One&Marly Marl HipHop Lives, The Beatnuts The Beatnuts(aka street level), Mobb Deep The Infamous,Public Enemy It Takes A Nation…,WuTang Enter The 36 Chambers,Big Daddy Kane Long LIve The Kane,Diamound D Stunts Blunts & Hiphop Run-Dmc Run Dmc,Pete Rock & Cl Smooth All Sold Out and Mecca & The Soul Brother, A Tribe Called Quest first three Albums,3rd base Derilicts Of Dialect,Busta Rhymes The Coming,Main Source Breaking Atoms,Organize Konfusion Stress The Extincion Agenda, Black Moon Enter Da Stage, Warzone, Total Eclipse I Can’t just put 4 best albums there are to many to keep going but these are some of my best picks. My worst I will do later cause I have plenty an some I know are some of people’s favorites.

Comment by derrick 06.22.11 @

I’m not going to disparage Marcberg but it seems a little out of place with the rest. We’re talking all-time, no? No BDP on here? Not including Illmatic on a N.Y. best of list is strange to me as well. Props on including Critical Beatdown – never gets the love for being the classic that it is.

Agree or disagree, thanks for continuing to rep real hip hop, this site is refreshing.

Comment by Rock 06.22.11 @

@Derrick- good list except for DOuble Barrel, that thing’s a brick.
@Rock- I think Marcberg was fantastic, top 20 All Time Rap album, but thats just my $0.02

Comment by McNulty 06.22.11 @

Takes a Nation of Millions
3 Feet High and Rising

Comment by Jesse 06.22.11 @


Comment by QUITDABS 06.22.11 @

The beat science displayed on Critical Beatdown was beyond the realms of this small planet, as drums, horns and bass were chopped and stretched into oblivion before being sewn back together to punch you square in the face, during an era when you could get away with just looping a James Brown 45. Kool Keith unleashed subliminal shots at every big name in the game while he pioneered new cadence and flow, introducing the off-beat rhyme style and taking rap metaphors to bizarre new heights. The perfect rap album – it will never be topped.

haha word up Robbie and I agree 100% with your choices.

derrick…I agree and this cannot have been an easy choice for 4 a piece, I would add Heltah Skeltah-Nocturnal to that list and a lot more that I will think of once I log off lol.

Comment by Jaz 06.22.11 @

Gotta agree that 36 chambers should have been on there, although the Rae joint is a classic. Couldn’t agree more about that Firm shit. I remember being amped when that dropped and then listening to it and going “what the fuck is this garbage???”

Comment by BIGSPICE 06.22.11 @

And I am putting Blackstarr on there. That shit was a classic. For a loss, Nastradamus, no explanation needed.

Comment by BIGSPICE 06.22.11 @

Agree with Jesse:
Nation of Millions
3 Feet High
All are up there with the greatest albums of all time (let alone just the Tri-State) transcending any one time period or genre of music.

Comment by keatso 06.22.11 @

I would add 36 chambers to the list above too

Comment by keatso 06.22.11 @

any native tongue joint puts dat marcberg-hype to sleep. i mean come on…marcberg is what mobb deep was before infamous, been there done that…and even puttin this marcberg album on the same level as critical beatdown or only built for cuban linx is darin as f. haha. there’s probably 6 million other nyc albums i’d mention before marcberg. and one of my top ten is definitely BLACK SHEEP’S “A WOLF IN SHEEPS CLOTHING” period. marcberg..haha come on yo

Comment by blacksheep 06.23.11 @

Except for maybe Criminal Minded, and Paid In Full. I don’t think I would included any pre 90’s albums. Almost all the 80’s product from NY artist had a NYC feel to it. After all during that time we made most of the records and ran the strip.

In the early 90’s the West Coast was strong and other regions were starting to shine a lil bit. So heads were trying to restore the feeling.

With that said my 6 ( cause 4 ain’t enough) that had a NY vibe so distinct that you might of needed a translator would be:

36 Chambers
Enta the Stage
The Infamous
Da Shinin’
War Report

NY had PLENTY of Basura out to during this time, my biggest dissapointments were:

NORE-Melvin Flynt the Hustler
LOX-We Are the Streets
Method- Tical

Comment by BKThoroughbred 06.23.11 @

‘stripped-back, stark sonics as beady-eyed vultures circled over the rotting carcass of street-level rap.’ Just pointing this line out and appreciate the writing skills on here, I pictured vultures hovering over QB, straight up. I would also replace marcberg with illmatic, but I think only time will tell how much of a classic marcberg will be since it already has that classic sound to it even though its relatively new. There are so many countless terrible albums to come out of NY during the 90s when everybody was trying to be the next biggie et al. I remember that Eric B song ‘like canday!’ definitely questionable rap content in any era. I ain’t really got no gripes on this article Robbie, another homerun imo.

Comment by gstatty 06.23.11 @

Kool Keith exotron geiger counter 1 is still my favorite MC.
Here’s a classic video from Critical Beatdown that shows in addition to the subliminal shots Ultra could make it very clear who they were going at :

I think they may have also invented the term “Skeezoid” in the video too.

Oh yeah, its “four OF THE best and four of the worst New York rap albums ever” not “THE four BEST New York albums ever! PERIOD!” you silly people.

Also : comments about how you’re too tired to comment? That’s like some sort of surrealist performance art piece.

Comment by Lair 06.23.11 @

Correction: Even though I didn’t like “We are the Streets” either I actually meant “Money,Power,Respect” as one of NY biggest L’s. Back in the mid 90’s the LOX had the mix tape scene on fire and I couldn’t wait to cop their album, so when they put out this BS…..I was dissapointed to say the least

Comment by BKThoroughbred 06.23.11 @

Yo, I’d comment about y’all’s comments but I’m too tired right now. Plus I have to work and there’s some other shit I want to read about online and I have a bunch of Facebook messages to check out or whatever. Y’all hold your heads.

Comment by A'Peks 06.23.11 @


I’m a lover not a hater. You’re quite obviously the latter, each to their own…

Comment by Jesse 06.23.11 @

Illmatic also has to be on there, any De La joint, and the Infamous as well. They are all classics. As for losses, I am gonna put Cappadonna’s joint on there. Just because I expected that to be a sleeper, with some of the verse’s he dropped on other Wu projects (Winter Warz for example). And when it dropped it was very disappointing, to say the least.

Comment by BIGSPICE 06.23.11 @

This could go on forever. I don’t think anyone’s gonna seriously put Marcberg above Illmatic, and 36 Chambers might be better than Cuban Linx and The Infamous better than Hell on Earth. But I read the choices on this list as albums with a common theme of dense, dark, suffocating claustrophobia. It makes sense like that (Critical Beatdown the exception).

Comment by djbosscrewwrecka 06.24.11 @

I dont understand whats on the cover of this magazine

Comment by keasto 06.24.11 @

say word someone FINALLY gave Ultramagnetic some shine on a Hip Hop blog…I’ll wait and see if Stetsasonic can get a posting sometime soon.

Comment by $yk 06.24.11 @

@ $yk

Word, you ain’t never heard no one big up Ultra over at xxl.

Comment by oskamadison 06.24.11 @

best NY ever?! err… all great crime n dun dun saga albums but why wasn’t your worst picks so one dimensional as well?! Where’s Tribe, Show n AG, (any ditc classic for that matter) Gangstarr, Boot Camp related, Pete Rock n CL, Brand Nubian, Juice Crew related albums, Nas, Main Source, CNN etc, etc, etc, etc… Your selection is as compelling as Koch.

Comment by AO 06.25.11 @

Ultra Mag was HOT, thanks to keyboard money mike…

36 chambers was dope, but compared to Rae’s purple tape it falls short. some of the songs on 36 were typical of the time (shout raps, METHOD MAN, cadence style hooks) with some standouts of course. OB4CL was a whole new style and sound, it picked up from the word play nas started with illmatic; one of the best albums.

Eric B, was some funny shit. I think your list is spot on. Good one Robbie…

Comment by biggist from brooklyn 06.26.11 @

@ oska

they’re the same ones who think Kanye self-produced that ‘Lord, Lord, Lord’ sample.

Shouts to Ced Gee for laboring on that ‘Criminal Minded’ project.

Comment by $yk 06.26.11 @

The drums on Marcberg made me go and add drums to the only two songs on it that I really liked … Shoutro and Thugs Prayer … :

How in the world is that album gonna get on that list over Goodfellas, New World Order, Dwight Spitz, Done By The Forces of Nature, Pauls Boutique, It Takes A Nation … … etc. etc. … So many more put that album and it’s drums to shame … This writer is HIGHLY suspect just for that one …

Comment by ACthePD 06.27.11 @

@ $yk

Ced did damn near that whole joint. Dude was a beast on that SP-12.

@ biggist

Don’t start that Keyboard Money Mike shit up again, lol. Ultra was hot…partly because of Paul C (RIP).

Comment by oskamadison 06.27.11 @

Fear of a Black Planet, come on! You want to talk about “drums horns and bass being chopped and stretched into oblivion before being sewn back together to punch you in the face”?!?! Critical Beatdown is the shit but for “beat science” I’ve gotta say F.O.A.B.P just edges it.

Comment by vollsticks 06.27.11 @

The Infamous
36 Chambers
Dah Shinin
Moment Of Truth

Comment by BK's Finest 06.28.11 @

@cocotaso, Painted Picture does have a nice beat. Sounds like it couldve fit on Dont Sweat the Technique.HAHAHA! I havent heard too many awful NY albums cuz I know what the good ones are. However,I do own The Black & White Soundtrack and Canibus’ 1st joint.

Comment by chronwell 06.29.11 @

hard to earn and liquid swords fit into the style of the best 4. and believe it or not, jealous one’s envy. criminal minded is right in there with critical beatdown in style. and just to mention it, Road to the Riches is the new york lyrical weapon of all time.

Comment by moi 07.04.11 @



Comment by TYBO2020 07.30.11 @

Great topic because it’s impossible to pick a top 4 and it will always stir debate.

In my humble opinion I would bump Rae’s album with 36 Chambers…Rae’s album is one of the best, but 36 was like the 92 Olympic Dream Team except it was like no one play before the olympics and just came out of no where F’d everyone up. Because that’s what that album did to hip-hop on a major global level.

I would also put ILLMATIC (THE GREATEST HIP HOP ALBUM OF ALL TIME) on there. Bump down any of them listed to fit it because it’s #1 all time in my mind.

I liked how you added Roc as something insanely good that came out in recent years and Ultra Mags showing there was and is always great hip-hop outside of the 90’s.

I’m not going to get into worst albums bc there are too many to waist my brain space on and so many I don’t know of (luckily).

Comment by AGROvate1 08.05.11 @

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