Consider diving back into some oft-forgotten albums and mining for gold. Here are 20 great rap songs featured on 20 terrible rap albums.
In a world where streaming dominates the music industry, bad albums are cast away quicker than fans can say “new music Fridays.” If albums don’t resonate quickly, it’s unlikely that music fans will take the time to weed through the noise and get to the good stuff.
And there is always good stuff.
Very rarely is there a bad album with no redeeming value somewhere on the project. Huge names in hip-hop, like Nas, JAY-Z, Ludacris, Method Man, and Common, are all the proud owners of bad albums. But even those projects that have fallen off are worthy of revisiting.
Is it possible that Eminem’s disappointing Revival album has a great song on there? It is. Believe it or not, even Raekwon’s universally panned Only Built 4 Cuban Linx follow-up Immobilarity features a track worth revisiting and adding to your playlist. As we all seek to fill our time during COVID-19 quarantine, consider diving back into some oft-forgotten projects and mining for gold. Here are 20 great rap songs featured on 20 terrible rap albums.
Kris Kross — Da Bomb (1993)
Mass hysteria. Worldwide fame. Views from the top of the charts. This is what followed Kris Kross after the release of their debut album Totally Krossed Out. That album sold more than 4 million copies in the United States and was so successful that even the VHS single for the hit single “Jump” sold more than 100,000 copies. Their second album, Da Bomb, wasn’t exactly a sales bomb, selling 2 million copies in the US but the release was largely panned and was instantly forgettable, save for the rap/reggae clash on “Alright.” A bouncy Reggae hook from Supercat supported Mac Daddy and Daddy Mac’s verses that were a nod to the beloved storytelling flows from their debut album and their uber-successful singles “Jump” and “I Missed The Bus.”
LL Cool J — 14 Shots to the Dome (1993)
Song: “Ain’t No Stoppin’ This”
Fueled with the same energy of classic tracks like “Mama Said Knock You Out” and “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” “Ain’t No Stoppin’ This” is one of the few bright spots on LL Cool J’s worst album, the 1993 release 14 Shots to the Dome. Largely panned by critics, the album saw LL experimenting with sounds and bringing in a west coast influence to his music. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ This” was a fresh breath of fresh, familiar air as LL turned up the braggadocio flows over a tension building track that exuded battle energy. The song wasn’t exactly innovative as we’ve heard LL in the mold before, but it was welcome given the more off-kilter offerings on the project.
Luniz — Lunitik Muzik (1997)
Song: “Hypnotize” Feat. Redman
The Luniz sophomore album was a blatant attempt at commercial success with guest appearances by Brownstone, Raphael Saadiq, 2 Live Crew, former Roc-A-Fella r&b artists Christion, and more. Most cuts missed the mark and lost much of that playful street energy that was found on the duo’s debut album Operation Stackola. The one true saving grace is the Redman-assisted “Hypnotize.” Redman produced the smoothed out cut that samples The Tymes’ “Hypnotized.” It was an unexpected coming together of East and West at the height of the coastal tap feud, resulting in a melting pot of street corner flows and funk.
Raekwon — Immobilarity (1999)
The best way to describe Raekwon’s debut album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is lightning in a bottle. It’s widely considered the best Wu-Tang solo album and, in many circles, held high as a hip-hop classic. So the pressure was on for Raekwon to deliver on his sophomore album Immobilarity and, unfortunately, the project largely fell flat. Plagued by poor production and the complete absence of his partner in rhyme Ghostface Killah, the album was largely forgettable except for the hidden gem “Casablanca.” The Infinite Arkatechz produced album cut is classic Raekwon filled with mafioso styled drug references and twisted wordplay. The strings fueled beat lays a tension-filled canvas for Raekwon to paint his pictures on what otherwise was a pictureless project.
Nas — Nastradamus (1999)
Song: “Come Get Me”
When all else fails, get DJ Premier. Such was the situation with one of Nas’ most controversial albums, the platinum 1999 release Nastradamus. Regarded amongst many as Nas’s weakest album, the release did spawn the hit single “You Owe Me,” featuring Ginuwine, which would later become a point of reference for JAY-Z on his “Blueprint 2” diss track.
At best, Nastradamus was an uneven release weaving between poppy tracks like “New World” and valiant attempts at classic Nas, like “Life We Chose.” The album’s one undeniable moment is the chopped up DJ Premier produced “Come Get Me.” The classic Preemo sound inspires Nas to go back into his mafioso flows from It Was Written with lines like: “I’m like Luca Brasi, Vito’s best hit-man/That’s “Godfather” shit, back seat, next lit plans.”
Canibus — 2000 B.C. (2000)
Song: “Horsementality” Feat. Ras Kass, Killah Priest, and Kurupt
Is Canibus hip-hop’s greatest bust? That’s up for debate. Canibus’ first two major-label albums were a mish-mash of attempts at radio-hits and wizard-like lyrical displays over mediocre production. His sophomore album, 2000 B.C., was the worst of the bunch save for the track “Horsementality.” The song brought together the short-lived group the Four Horsemen, made up of Canibus, Ras Kass, Killah Priest, and Kurupt. The Chaos produced song sees the four MC’s trying to outdo each other lyrically with Ras Kass taking the cake with bars like: “I spit empty gravesites, rap stars fill ’em up/You what? Thirty, forty years old and still wack as fuck/Me? I ain’t even in my prime/When I write my dopest rhyme, Western civilization declines.”
Amil — All Money Is Legal (2000)
Song: “That’s Right” Feat. JAY-Z
If you have a strong recollection of Amil’s one and only Roc-A-Fella records album, you may be the only one. Her debut album, All Money is Legal, was forgotten almost as quickly as it was released despite guest appearances from Beyoncé, Carl Thomas, and JAY-Z himself.
“That’s Right,” produced by a young Just Blaze, is something that would have rung off at The Cheetah Club or Life back in the day. With the skitzo, New York nightlife driven backdrop, Hov unleashes classic forgotten bars like: “Jigga man got Grammys so cops cannot stand me/Ladies want me to put cock in they hot panties/Big man on campus, 6 sedan/Over 100 million made, niggas, shipped and scanned.”
Wyclef Jean — Masquerade (2002)
Song: “The Mix Show” Feat. D.G., F.A.M.S, G.O.D., and Prolific
Between Frankie Valli samples and guest appearances by Tom Jones sat the shining star of Wyclef’s Masquerade album. “The Mix Show” is a posse cut quite literally dedicated to the mix show DJs as ‘Clef and a host of young and hungry MCs take it old school and rap with the purpose of outdoing each other. But ‘Clef takes the cake with bars that seem to be directed at Canibus, who once accused the former Fugees member of stealing money. “You wanna run and said Clef took my paper/Clef ain’t take your paper/Clef is just a narrator.” The two eventually squashed their beef on ‘Clef’s 2018 track “Letter to Canibus.”
Common — Electric Circus (2002)
Song: “I Got A Right Ta” Feat. Pharrell Williams
“I Got A Right Ta” is the greatest bad Common song of all-time. Found on Common’s experimental (and forgettable) Electric Circus album, the Neptunes produced, Pharrell Williams-featured track is powered by a defiant hook from Pharrell that almost feels like Common giving the middle finger to critics who had boxed him into the introspective, alternative rapper box. The song still rides to this day and was almost the moment that Common crossed over to making pop rap hits before going back to his soulful, introspective sound on Be.
DMX — Grand Champ (2003)
Song: “Where The Hood At”
DMX’s career progression can simply be traced through the quality of his albums and the significant drop-off seen beginning with his The Great Depression album. The follow-up to that album was even more challenging to listen to. At an exhaustive 23 tracks in length, the passion and introspective nature of X’s previous releases was lost on Grand Champ. The LP was really about firing darts at radio singles and seeing which one hit. Spoiler alert: none of them.
The best song was the horn-driven Tuneheadz produced “Where The Hood At.” The song might be best known for its overtly homophobic first verse with the lyrics: “Last I heard, y’all niggas was havin’ sex with the same sex/I show no love to homo thugs/Empty out, reload and throw mo’ slugs/How you gonna explain fuckin’ a man?/Even if we squash the beef, I ain’t touchin’ your hand.”
Method Man — Tical 0: The Prequel (2004)
Song: “The Turn” Feat. Raekwon
Method Man’s solo discography is one of the most debated amongst Wu-Tang fans. He lays claim to one of the best solo albums, but solo projects for Meth went downhill after that. 2004’s Tical 0: The Prequel counted a who’s who of hip-hop at the time with guests like Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, and more lending their services. The project took Method Man away from the griminess of previous projects. It didn’t turn out well. The lone glimpse of the Tical era Meth on the project is the outstanding “The Turn” which features Raekwon. As Rae raps about buying fly gear over the RZA produced track, Method Man gets into his classic flow grooving over the beat as he references Kid N Play, Redman, and TLC.
2Pac — Pac’s Life (2006)
Song: “Dumpin’” Feat. Carl Thomas, Hussein Fatal, and Papoose
The posthumous pillaging of 2Pac’s previously recorded material in the early 2000s knew no boundaries. And while much of the material was forgettable, including the bulk of the 2006 album Pac’s Life, those willing to dig will find hidden gems. Such was the case on the Pac’s Life album with the posse cut “Dumpin’.” 2Pac kicks off the song with vocals from his rebellious Death Row days rapping about his “murderous mind state” over Sha Money XL production that’s haunting enough to have been found on ‘Pac’s Makaveli album. But the real treat on this one are the guest verses from the criminally underrated Hussein Fatal and New York’s own Papoose.
Boyz N Da Hood — Back Up N Da Chevy (2007)
Song: “Bite Down”
The brainchild of Puff Daddy, the Young Jeezy led supergroup Boyz n Da Hood saw marginal success in the mid-’00s with their self-titled debut album. Jeezy eventually left the collective, and their follow-up, Back Up N Da Chevy, was a massive-flop selling less than 100k copies thanks to underdeveloped collaborations with the likes of Ice Cube, T-Pain, Rick Ross, and others. But one saving grace was the Carl Mo produced ode to getting drunk and high on drugs called “Bite Down.” With a hypnotizing, catchy hook by group member Gorilla Zoe, the Boyz rapped on the merits of getting “blowed” and popping beans to astonishingly impressive results.
50 Cent — Before I Self Destruct (2009)
Song: “Strong Enough”
Everything 50 Cent has released after his The Massacre album has been a bit of a crapshoot. Curtis had hits but lacked much of the intensity of his previous efforts and Before I Self Destruct was the opposite, leaning heavier on the gritty street sounds of his debut but with more uneven results. “Strong Enough” is far and away the album’s standout cut. Produced by Nascent and Q Da Problem, the beat relies heavily on a beautifully chopped Gladys Knight & The Pips sample of “If I Were Your Woman.” The song is famous for 50 addressing the break-up with G-Unit: “It was five of us, all of us millionaires/Now one’s a fucking junkie, and one’s a fucking queer/Now it’s three of us, that’s the way we started.”
Lil Jon — Crunk Rock (2010)
Songs: “Get In Get Out”
Save for “Shots,” there really isn’t anything else on Lil Jon’s 2010 album Crunk Rock that is undeniable. Most songs blend into the other, except for the call and response, crowd participation driven “Get In Get Out.” A display of lyrical wizardry this is not, but it’s everything that made Lil Jon who he is. Rowdy lyrics encouraging middle finger flips and general debauchery all screamed over a tension-filled, thumping backdrop.
JAY-Z — Magna Carta… Holy Grail(2013)
JAY-Z’s first “free” album, Magna Carta… Holy Grail was released as a digital download for Samsung customers on July 4, 2013. It was the first JAY-Z project where he seemed lost for direction, and, amongst Hov fans, it usually ranks as one of his worst albums. But lost in the mediocrity of songs like “Beach is Better” and “Versus” is the ferocious Timbaland and J Roc produced “Heaven.” The beat is enough to screw up a listener’s face as Jay spins lyrics centered around the Illuminati, 5 percenters, and religion.
Ludacris — Ludaversal (2015)
Song: “Beast Mode”
As the movie career of Ludacris continued to soar in the 2000s, Luda seemed determined not to leave the music behind. And 2015’s Ludaversal was evidence that maybe he should have left it behind. Gone was much of the witty, ferocious wordplay of previous albums replaced with airy introspective tracks like “This Has Been My World.” The album was a commercial disappointment and most rap fans would be hard-pressed to name one song from the project. There is, however, a hidden gem on the album in the form of “Beast Mode.” The song is as Luda as Luda gets with humorous wordplay like “And I sleep with the John Dillinger/And always keep an eye half-open, like Forest Whitaker” and relentless bars making for a song that’s a nod to the Word of Mouf days.
Eminem — Revival (2017)
Eminem’s mess of an album from 2017 couldn’t get anything right. From the album sequencing — “Walk on Water” first? — to awkward guest features from Ed Sheeran and Pink, it’s Eminem’s most forgettable album. But buried under the weight of mediocrity is the album’s closing track. “Arose” is everything that made Eminem one of the greatest artists of all-time. Told from the perspective of Eminem in his hospital bed post overdose in 2007, it’s a love letter of sorts to Eminem’s daughters as he apologies for his drug use and past mistakes and recaps the thoughts running through his head as he laid in the hospital bed. It’s powerful, poignant, and the lone bright spot on this failed effort.
Kanye West — YE (2018)
Song: “Ghost Town” Feat. PartyNextDoor
Kanye West’s YE album was met with disappointment from critics and fans alike. However, the Kid Cudi, 070 Shake, and PartyNextDoor assisted “Ghost Town” broke through the mediocrity and became a favorite amongst West fans. One only needs to look at the live performance footage of the song from Camp Flog Gnaw 2018 to see just how much this soulful, reflective track connected with the masses.
Chance The Rapper — The Big Day (2019)
Song: “Get A Bag” Feat. CalBoy
To say that Chance the Rapper’s debut album The Big Day was a disappointment is the definition of the word understatement. As fans eagerly anticipated the soulful, inspirational collaborations and lyrics found on his Coloring Book mixtape, they were met with a concept album centered largely around Chance’s recent marriage. There were hints of the Coloring Book sound but overall the project was major label slick and overproduced. With that in mind, “Get A Bag” was the most quality example of that slickness, but in a good way. The Chance produced track expertly samples James Taylor’s “Only One” as that playful Chance heard on tracks like “No Problem” comes through speaking on his newfound riches alongside Chicago rapper CalBoy.
Adam Aziz is a music consultant and writer living in Toronto, Canada. He has worked with the likes of Dave Chappelle, T.I., Xzibit, to name a few, and has written for ESPN, Complex, VIBE, and others. Connect with him on Twitter @brokencool