15 Best Hip Hop Album Intros
First impressions upon listening to any album are key, which is why the importance of an album-opening track cannot be underestimated. Intros set the tone and set up the forthcoming themes and ideas of a record. A first listen to an album has to be from top to bottom, front to back, with no interruptions. The impression that track one delivers is therefore all important, giving artists the chance to lay down the gauntlet, set up album anticipations and present fourth the mood for what’s to come. Intros are none more pertinent and important than those of a Hip Hop album, with artists aware about what the opening track of an album must contain. As such, we’ve gone back through endless albums to present what we feel are the top 15 Hip Hop album intros.
15) Big L – Put It On (Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous, 1995)
One of the most auspicious storytellers of Hip Hop, Put It On was the first single of Big L’s debut album Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerous. Big L made more a of a name for his dark, gangster style but as Lord Finesse recalls – who was one of the key producers on the album – Columbia records wanted something more bright, something with a hook that they could get radio play with; Put It On matched that remit perfectly, kicking off the album in infectious style.
14) Mase – Puffs Intro (Harlem World, 1997)
After Biggie, Mase was seen as Puff Daddy’s new protege. Puff signed him to his Bad Boy label and he gained immediate recognition when appearing on Mo Money Mo Problems. Harlem World was the Harlem rappers debut album, and included guest appearances from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Kelis, 112 and Lil Kim, with productions coming predominantly from Puff Daddy – one of the most understated hip hop producers of all time, by the way – as well as The Neptunes. Sampling Isaac Heys’ classic track Joy, Diddy brings the album in with that funk-heavy bassline, formidable jazz trumpets and crescendo of strings, speaking about New York, the ‘big city of dreams’, for a minute and a half over the top, setting the tone superbly and flowing brilliantly into track 2, Do You Wana Get Money, one of the biggest hip hop jams of the 90s. Classic Diddy.
13) Eminem – Infinite (Infinite, 1996)
Before signing with Dre Infinite was the first studio album for the Detroit rapper, released on Web Entertainment in 1996 with only around 1,000 copies made at the time. By no means a classic album of his, the opening track Infinite still showcased his lyrical skill and creativity formidably. When the snare hits and song proceeds into full gear, Eminem flows hard with intelligent lyricism and multi-syllabic rhymes, the stylistic characteristics that defined his artistry for the following years.
“Obviously, I was young and influenced by other artists, and I got a lot of feedback saying that I sounded like AZ. Infinite was me trying to figure out how I wanted my rap style to be, how I wanted to sound on the mic and present myself. It was a growing stage. I felt like Infinite was like a demo that just got pressed up.”
12) Drake – Tuscan Leather (Nothing Was The Same, 2013)
Noted for its unique song structure devoid of any choruses, Tuscan Leather influences of R&B and ambient are prevalent throughout its composition, a track which heavily samples Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing throughout. The Woozy synths, heavy-hitting drums and chopped up, distorted Houston vocals form the fore of track, but it shifts fluidly before becoming a more sinuous and personal beat, with Drake kinetic spitting for 6 minutes. It’s a powerful album intro and serves as a timely reminder of how well Drake can rap when a track demands it.
11) Slum Village – Intro (Fantastic Vol 2, 2000)
Notorious for his short productions, seemingly Jay Dee only needs a minute/minute half to create a classic beat. A funk-fuelled bassline, crisp head-nodding drums and melodic key sequences over Slum’s ‘It’s Fantastic’ vocals set the vibe for the rest of the album, which is one of the most under-appreciated hip hop albums ever made. The record is full of subtle grooves and soul claps, a blueprint for the direction that neo soul would take in the coming years, and serving as a further reminder of the brilliance of Jay Dee.
10) Dr.Dre – The Chronic Intro (The Chronic, 1991)
The first shot fired in the G-Funk hip-hop revolution, The Chronic withstands the test of time as one of the best and most iconic hip hop albums ever made. The whole album is powerful, deeply introspective and so tellingly artistic, and plays out the alluring gangster experiences of a young black man in LA circa 92′. Dre immediately slaps his symbolic G-Funk all over the opening 2 minutes of the album on The Chronic Intro, with his protege Snoop Dogg snarling over a slew of samples – Ohio Players, Parliament, Solomon Burke, The Honey Drippers, Gylan Kain and Jim Dandy – while praising Dre and Death Row.
The production on The Chronic was seen as innovative and ground-breaking, and received universal acclaim from critics, with one commenting: “Dre established his patented G-funk sound: fat, blunted Parliament-Funkadelic beats, soulful backing vocals, and live instruments in the rolling basslines and whiny synths”. If you want a true education in Hip Hop 101, this is one of several masterpieces to start with.
9) J Cole – Villuminati (Born Sinner, 2013)
J Cole knows how to make an entrance. Given the success of his previous records, Cole released Born Sinner in 2013 with a lot to live up to; needless to say, he delivered one of the standout albums of 2013, and one of the strongest hip hop albums of the past decade that is both reverential as well as incredibly tight musically. The opening track is a well-aimed warning shot, combining a backdrop of dramatic, rising strings, Biggie’s Juicy samples and a live choir to great sonic effect, with Cole flowing coherently and intrinsically with his witty and astute lyricism.
8) 2Pac – Ambitionz Az A Ridah (All Eyez on Me, 1996)
In 1995 Suge Knight paid $1.4 million to bail 2Pac out of jail in exchange for the rapper’s undying loyalty to Death Row. After serving his sentence Ambitionz az a Ridah was the first song Pac recorded upon his release: “The song has all the paranoia and excitement and psychosis of that moment, in which Pac’s creative juices were finally uncorked and left to mingle with the rage that had simmered during his time in prison.” Daz Dillinger provided that classy LA-inspired beat, with powerful pianos, unerring strings and female vocals coursing beneath Pacs impeccable rhymes.
7) A Tribe Called Quest – Excursions (The Low End Theory, 1991)
The Low End Theory helped shape the musical, cultural and historical link between hip hop and jazz, an instantly classic record that received widespread acclaim for being a consummate link between generations, taking the essence of jazz and hip hop at its core to connect the dots of black music. Excursions sets the tone perfectly for the proceeding themes of the album, with Q Tip providing the only vocals on the track over a rolling bassline and a crisp-hitting drum loop, rapping about how his dad is reminded of jazz and “bebop” music when listening to a young Q-Tip’s music.
6) Kendrick Lamar – Sherane A.K.A Master Splinters Daughter (good kid, m.A.A.d city, 2012)
Good Kid m.A.A.d city was the major debut release of Kendrick Lamar, and featured heavyweight producers like Dre, Pharrell and Just Blaze. Its low-key, downbeat productions, atmospheric soundscapes, light pianos and subtle hooks make this one of the freshest hip-hop albums of recent years. Both complexly arranged and sonically lifting, it highlights Lamars’s artistic richness in a superlative manner, while documenting his journey through life growing up in Compton. The albums intro, Sherane A.K.A Master Splinters Daughter, foregrounds his vivid lyricism meticulously, with a heavy funk bassline, melodic drum sequences and woozy female cries elevating his unique rhyming talent.
5) Common – Be (intro) (Be, 2005)
One of the most under-appreciated hip hop albums ever made? Not only was this some of Common’s best work, it was also a masterclass in production from Kanye West, who duly proved he is up there as one of the greatest hip hop producers ever. Dusty, authentic and carefully plucked 70’s R&B/Jazz samples accumulate with an an album that has a great atmosphere and vibe to it, perfectly executed in Be (Intro). A somber, funk bassline riff and a electro synth paves rolls out until the sampled, uplifting strings of Albert Jones’ Mother Nature are introduced. Elevated by the melodic burst of the quintessential West beat, Common rip roars into his flow, establishing a theme of restrained optimism.
4) Nas – The Genesis (Illmatic, 1994)
There’s nothing that can be said about this album that hasn’t already been said. Largely considered the greatest hip hop album of all time, in addition to its culturally significant lyrical content, the sampling choices within Illmatic reflect those of an individual with a deep appreciation and knowledge of many forms of music. The emotive composition of Genesis creates a mazy authentic surrealism to what Nas is trying to depict with this record. According to music writer Mickey Hess, in the intro, “Nas tells us everything he wants us to know about him. The train is shorthand for New York; the barely discernible rap is, in fact, his “Live at the Barbeque” verse; and the dialogue comes from Wild Style, one of the earliest movies to focus on hip hop culture. Each of these is a point of genesis. New York for Nas as a person, ‘Live at the Barbeque’ for Nas the rapper, and Wild Style, symbolically at least, for hip hop itself.”
3) Gang Starr – You Know My Steez (Moment of Truth, 1998)
The combination of Guru and DJ Premier is a recipe that has dished up some of the best hip-hop beats ever made. Guru’s self-acknowledged, laid back story telling flow over the unrivaled production and DJing skills of Premier amalgamate in classics almost every time. Sampling Method Man’s Shadowboxing, Premier showcased his jazz-orientated, sample-heavy sound with Guru nonchalantly kicking street knowledge flow like only he knows how on You Know My Steez.
2) Common – Time Travelling (A Tribute to Fela) (Like Water for Chocolate, 2000)
Like Water For Chocolate is a distinctly different record from Be, and presents a more socially conscious album that draws heavily from Afrocentric elements. J Dilla was the prominent producer on Common’s album, and the combination of the formers indistinguishable production prowess with the latters lyrical mastery equates to another exceptional piece of work from the Chicago-born artist. Time Travelling (A Tribute to Fela) discusses the ills of modern society, as a tribute to Fela Kuti, a pioneer of Afrobeat music and a prominent human rights activist. The Jazzy trumpet solo opening, African choir-like chants, rumbling bassline and skipping handclaps create a masterful opening track, beneath the lyrical dexterity of Common, who takes the track to far out hip hop terrain.
1) Jay Z – Can’t knock the Hustle (Reasonable Doubt, 1996)
Reasonable Doubt is not only the definitive album of Jay Z, it’s also up there with Nas’ Illmatic as arguably the greatest hip hop album ever made. Every track is a classic and no matter how many times you listen to this album, you can always instinctively head-bop along to the jazzy-inflected beats and free flowing, clever phrasing lyricism of Jay Z; the depth and poetry of what he has to say make this the record of an ambitious genius. On Cant Knock the Hustle, producer Knobody put together an incredibly smooth opening track that became the mantra for his career. That bouncy, swinging beat, the smooth vocals of Mary J Blige on the hook and Jay Z’s Mafioso lyrical flow make it our number 1 hip-hop album intro.