“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.”
– Nick Hornby, High Fidelity (1995)
Readers who have enjoyed our interviews from time to time know that we typically ask artists to share their five favorite albums of all time at the end of our conversations with them. No matter who the artist is, it’s always fascinating to discover which long players have impacted their personal and professional lives. A few of our interview subjects have even scoffed at the standard five album limit, rattling off upwards of a dozen or so titles and second-guessing if they’ve made the right choices.
Today, we’re excited to feature our writers’ respective lists of their 10 favorite albums, an exercise that proved agonizing for a few of us, even prompting a few rage-filled messages to be sent to our editor-in-chief who came up with the nutty idea. We all reserve the right to change our minds about these choices in the future, but for now, here are the indispensable albums that we can’t live without.
Check out Jay Wasserman's picks below, click the “Next” button at bottom to browse the lists, or click here to return to the main index.
Blockhead | Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book | 2007 | Buy | An absolute workhorse of an album. Put it on at 3pm or 3am, any volume level, method of transportation, state of consciousness, etcetera. Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book is unique in its ability to sound coherently like one piece of music while being 13 different songs, each with its own details and quirks that come and go with repeated listens. it will never get burnt out despite its heavy rotation.
Clipse | Hell Hath No Fury | 2006 | Buy | Personally, I think this is one of the greatest visual yet non-narrative focused albums in rap history. While their first album was straightforward, Hell Hath No Fury introduced more introspection and honesty to the Clipse dynamic. Each brother seemed to be at his own separate crossroads, which makes for a compelling listening experience every time. Production-wise, this may be the best work The Neptunes will ever do.
Most impressively, some albums glorify the drug trade, some denigrate it—this album does neither, or both. It’s difficult to explain. If you know, you know.
CunninLynguists | A Piece of Strange | 2006 | Buy | Adequate words fail me when I try to explain what is so special about this album. Otherworldly production, brutally compelling storytelling, and some of the best lyricism on ANY rap album in the past 20 years combine to make my personal favorite album of all time. To this day it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard—grounded enough for the boom-bap fan in me and ethereal enough for philosophy majors everywhere.
Jay-Z | The Black Album | 2003 | Buy | Maybe not Jay’s best album, but one that I could still recite roughly 90% from heart (sorry, justify my thug). Of all of Jay’s good albums, this one came at a time of relative peace in his life: No Nas beef, no assault trial, no “I cheated on my wife and the mother of my daughter” drama. And it shows. Everything sounds effortlessly produced (Just Blaze and Kanye do great work, while Timbo and RR give us modern classics). Plus, when are we going to discuss the interlude being the best rap interlude of all time?
It would’ve been a great drop-the-mic exit moment had he, you know, actually dropped the mic and exited.
Led Zeppelin | House of the Holy | 1973 | Buy | The misguided silliness of “The Crunge” aside, House of the Holy balances artful cheer with brooding melancholy wonderfully well in a short amount of time. “The Rain” and “No Quarter,” the former symphonic and the latter hauntingly deliberate, are my two favorite Zep songs of all time. Throw in a fantastic opener in “The Song Remains the Same” and an even better closer in “The Ocean,” and you’ve easily got a classic album on your hands.
OutKast | ATLiens | 1996 | Buy | No album captures a regional mood better than ATLiens. If you’ve ever spent anytime in the south, then you know exactly what I mean. At night, the southern air feels thicker. There’s more gravity to it, somehow. The critters’ chirps sound both miles away and right at your screen door. This album sounds like a flickering porchlight and the cool condensation on an ice cold beer drunk on an 85-degree night.
OutKast | Aquemini | 1998 | Buy | Too many of OutKast’s best songs are on this album, to the point where it doesn’t make sense. I don’t know how “SpottieOttieDopalicious,” “Synthesizer,” “Chonkyfire,” the title track “Aquemini,” AND “Liberation” are supposed to share space. It’s mindboggling. Listening to Aquemini from start to finish is the audio equivalent of opening your eyes when the Ark of the Covenant is opened.
Pink Floyd | Animals | 1977 | Buy | Not Pink Floyd’s prettiest (Wish You were Here) or most iconic (The Dark Side of the Moon) or most popular (The Wall), Animals is the level-headed product that appreciates like wine. I’m never NOT in the mood to listen to Animals, and it’s messages about socioeconomic issues remain poignant to this day.
Sean Price | Monkey Barz | 2005 | Buy | I miss Sean Price so much. This album was such an amalgamation of top-notch lyricism and Brownsville braggadocio that I can’t wrap my mind around it to this day. Price was effortlessly funny while being 100% authentic in every rhyme. While “Onion Head” and “Boom Bye Yeah” have bars that would decimate roughly 75% of the current rap landscape, the most interesting cut on this album is the perplexing “I Love You (Bitch)” dedicated to Price’s wife. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is sometimes calling your better half a “Heineken-for-breakfast-ass-bitch.”
Radiohead |In Rainbows | 2007 | Buy | I had never heard anything like this album when I first heard it. I didn’t know much about Radiohead other than “Creep,” but once “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” finished, I was absolutely blown away by what I was listening to. Every other Radiohead album, many of which are extraordinary, has some song or sequence I could do without except In Rainbows. Each track is essential, bursting with more colors than a Jackson Pollock.