Questlove Names His Top 4 Rap Albums Of All-Time

This morning, ahead of their The F.O.R.C.E. Live Tour, LL Cool J, Questlove, and Black Thought appeared on The Breakfast Club for an 80-plus-minute conversation. After discussing Hip-Hop’s 50th anniversary, their collaboration Rock The Bells performance with The Roots and DJ Z-Trip, and the earliest days of LL’s career, the conversation shifted to one of Hip-Hop legacy.

At 1:06:00, DJ Envy chimes in. “[The] Mount Rushmore of Hip-Hop to y’all. Who would be the four faces on there?” Charlamagne Tha God clarifies that the question is not about personal favorites. Rather, he implies that is designed to inform future generations when they look at the figurative memorial and ask, “Who are those people?”

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After some discussion about folks putting themselves in, Questlove responds to a different question entirely but explains why.  “Aight, so my…as a music-lover, a DJ, and a producer—I’m representing my era; I was 17-18 in ’88. So for me, to hear my parents’ record collection come alive in these records was everything. So, I would say that probably my Mount Rushmore of albums would probably be…” Charlamagne says, “That’s cheating.”

However, Questlove asserts his reasoning. “No. It’s too monolithic.” DJ Envy, who asked the initial question, also gives way. “Can the man answer?” The Oscar and Grammy Award-winning artist continues, “For me, albums-wise, I would say Nation Of Millions, 3 Feet High And Rising, Enter The 36, and probably, lastly, I might say Midnight Marauders.”

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After citing the albums by Public Enemy, De La Soul, Wu-Tang Clan, and A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots co-founder explains, “Like, those four records sort of informed me to go deeper into the culture and actually to get my own career. So I wouldn’t have [Mount Rushmore] faces; [LL Cool J and Black Thought] will have MCs or whatever, I don’t know.” Questlove the producer, musician, and DJ emphasizes how he processes legacy as bodies of work. “But for me, those are [them].” The four choices are all albums released between 1988 and 1993, with Tribe and Wu’s LPs dropping on the same day.

Next up, LL Cool J fields the original question. “Look, I just keep it simple. To me, when you talk about a real Rushmore and you talk about the shaping of the culture, you have to look at—it’s first principles. It’s like anything else; you break it down to first principles. You gotta put DJ Kool Herc—he started the s__t!” The artist gets sarcastic. “He ain’t on Rushmore? He just started it; no big deal!”

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Then he acknowledges peers, who happened to perform at last weekend’s Rock The Bells Festival. “And then you have to put Run-D.M.C. up there because they kicked down the doors and the walls and put me on their back as well, to a certain extent, and I was the solo guy who went out there and go shot out of that cannon. Right? And then you have to put Flash and Melle.” He is referring to The Furious Five band-mates Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Melle. “Flash, because he made us dream of the culture. The DJ: the art of the DJ. The idea that a DJ could affect and move culture. Flash made us do that. And then you gotta say Melle because he was the first original prolific writer that [offered great substance].” To LL Cool J, these artists are keystones of culture. “You remove that and what you got?”

Black Thought weighs in last. “For me, I think it boils down to who had the most impact on my craft. And I think it’s always been a balance between a certain cadence and something more stylistic. So I give props to the L’s and the Beastie Boys and Chuck D’s, and even [Run-D.M.C.] even though they weren’t Def Jam artists, but that whole first wave of Def Jam artists [and Rush Management roster] were the first people that I heard that had that powerful cadence, which is different from what Mel and Kurtis Blow and everybody was doing.” Black Thought mimics the yelling style of those MCs who he says dressed like people in his South Philadelphia neighborhood—and reflected his lifestyle. “They changed the way I wrote after I was exposed to that. That whole wave would be half of my Mount Rushmore. Then the other half would be once artists started doing something stylistic that made the voice more comparable to an instrument, right? So the Rakim’s, the [Big Daddy] Kane’s, and the [Kool] G Rap’s—that next graduating class or the 1.5 version of what L and them was doing, who came out said, ‘I’m gonna challenge myself to do this and not have to yell. I want to draw you in in a different way.’ So I think what I’ve done is always been a balance between the two. So that’s sort of my Mount Rushmore.”

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Black Thought then acknowledges an additional legend. “One artist that I think that has navigated that well, definitely early on his career, was [Ice] Cube. When Cube came out, and when he broke off from N.W.A. and started doin’ his solo s__t, that was the space that I wanted to occupy. That was reflective of what I was—in between a Chuck and the narrative storytelling of a G Rap.”

The dates for The F.O.R.C.E Live Tour with LL Cool J, The Roots, and DJ Z-Trip are as follows:

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Earlier this year, Black Thought partnered with El Michels Affair to release Glorious Game, which garnered praise from Ambrosia For HeadsSelections from that album currently appear on the AFH playlist (in addition to songs by Method Man, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Posdnuos, and Ice Cube):