Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Without a great deal of music to be terribly excited about at the start of the new millennium, America’s Dirty South birthed an unexpected but much needed movement in 2003. While bigger Southern cities like Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans seemed to hold the recipe for hit-making, yielding countless hits since the late ‘90s with a wave of “Crunk” music, the smaller college town of Durham, North Carolina helped spawn hip-hop’s post ‘90s intellectual renaissance.
With perhaps the most appropriate name of the genre, Little Brother surprisingly emerged as the reincarnation of groups we saw dissolve in the previous decade like Pete Rock & CL Smooth and A Tribe Called Quest. Finding most of their acclaim for the stellar production by the group’s producer 9th Wonder, they received nods from nearly every legendary producer including DJ Jazzy Jeff, Questlove, and Pete Rock.
Almost completely losing its identity in the whirlwind of litigation over sample clearances, hip-hop began to settle for a more synthesized production sound at the close of the ‘90s. Beginning to find its way with albums like Jay Z’s Blueprint (2001) and Scarface’s The Fix (2002), The Listening helped anchor in a second Boom Bap Dynasty with the sophisticated infusion of ‘70s rhythm & blues vocals from the likes of Bobby Womack, Melba More and Creative Source.
Phonte and Big Pooh’s well-crafted rhymes were also a welcomed break from the typical, simplistic fashion, gunplay and egotistical exaggerations of the time. Creatively, The Listening stood out as Hip-Hop 201 for listeners who had studied the prerequisite albums like The Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia (1994), OutKast’s Aquemini (1998) and Slum Village’s Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000).