meta-scriptOn This Day In Music: 2 Live Crew's 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be' Becomes First Album Declared Legally Obscene, Anticipates First Amendment Cases | GRAMMY.com
2 Live Crew
DJ Mr. Mixx, Fresh Kid Ice, Brother Marquis, Luke Skyywalker of 2 Live Crew in 1989

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On This Day In Music: 2 Live Crew's 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be' Becomes First Album Declared Legally Obscene, Anticipates First Amendment Cases

Known for their raunchy take on hip-hop, 2 Live Crew made history when 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be' was declared legally obscene. Thirty-four years later, here's how they fought back and turned their battle into a landmark First Amendment case.

GRAMMYs/Jun 6, 2024 - 07:56 pm

When 2 Live Crew released their third studio album, they never imagined it would lead to a mammoth of legal entanglements. In 1989, the Miami-based hip-hop group dropped As Nasty As They Wanna Be, a title that held true throughout the ensuing legal battle.

In an effort to put their music on the map and distinguish themselves in the rap game, amidst one of hip-hops finest eras, the album featured sexually explicit themes and graphic content, leading to extreme popularity within pop culture. However, this widespread attention wasn’t all in a good light.

In Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Nick Navarro took a stand against the group, endeavoring to prevent local record store owners from selling the provocative album. In defiance of this censorship, 2 Live Crew filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking legal recourse to halt the sheriff’s crackdown, prevent restrictions on album sales and legally defend their work as non-obscene.

Through the court's ruling, they deemed the work legally obscene and prohibited retailers from selling the album in Florida’s Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach counties.

Following the ruling, Florida record store owner Charles Freeman was arrested for selling As Nasty As They Wanna Be and three 2 Live Crew members were also arrested for performing their explicit music live at a nightclub in Hollywood, Florida. 

Challenging the initial ruling with tenacity, the group’s record label, Luke Records, founded by 2 Live Crew member Luther Campbell, brought the case in front of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

In this legal battle, the Eleventh Circuit Court applied the Miller Test, a benchmark for obscenity set by the United States Supreme Court’s test in the 1973 Miller v. California case. To meet the standards of the test, the work being challenged must appeal to a prurient, or shameful interest in sex, depict sexual materials in a patently offensive way, and lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Luke Records called four experts in their fields to the stand, while Navarro failed to provide concrete evidence that the album met the standards outlined by the Miller Test.

In the Court of Appeals, it was found that the album did not meet the standards of obscenity that were set forth in the Miller Test. Since As Nasty As They Wanna Be was a creative work of music, the court ruled that the album had artistic value and thus did not meet all the standards to be deemed as obscene. 

"I’ve been listening to the album by 2 Live Crew. It’s not the best album that’s ever been made, but when I heard they banned it, I went out and bought it," said David Bowie during his 1990 tour in Philadelphia, stopping in the middle of his performance to defend the group. "Freedom of thought, freedom of speech — it’s one of the most important things we have."

Last week, 2 Live Crew member Brother Marquis passed away, prompting Campbell to take to Twitter and honor his friend and fellow member, stating, "We took on so many fights for the culture, made great music together, something I will never forget."

To this day, the case against 2 Live Crew serves as a legal standard for First Amendment Rights, upholding the boundaries between censorship and freedom of speech within music.

"They really set a legal precedent for hip-hop artists today to be able to create in the way that they choose to," says Kiana Fitzgerald in her book "Ode to Hip-Hop." In the book, she also cites contemporary examples of hip-hop artists who openly speak about sex in their discography, like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Lil Wayne, and others.

Through 2 Live Crew’s legal fight, they paved the way as trailblazers for hip-hop artists to be As Nasty As They Wanna Be — without facing speech-smothering legal repercussions.

50 Artists Who Changed Rap: Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem & More

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Blxst

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5 Rising L.A. Rappers To Know: Jayson Cash, 310babii & More

From San Diego to the Bay Area, Seattle and beyond, the West Coast bursts with talent. Los Angeles is at the heart of this expanse, and these five rappers are just a few who are showcasing the vibrant sounds of West Coast hip-hop.

GRAMMYs/Jul 15, 2024 - 01:36 pm

GRAMMY winners Kendrick Lamar and Mustard have long repped their California roots. Earlier this summer, their powerhouse anthem "Not Like Us"  brought West Coast rap back to its roots and shone a global spotlight on the scene. 

Lamar and Mustard are at the forefront of a renaissance in West Coast rap. Their shared roots in Southern California cities — Mustard from Los Angeles and Kendrick from Compton — adds authenticity and resonance to their partnership. Their undeniable chemistry was on display in the video for "Not Like Us," which received a million views less than an hour after its release.

Mustard's signature beats and Lamar's profound lyricism has resurfaced the sound and culture that makes West Coast rap so unique and paved the way for a new generation of artists. All signs suggest that another impactful collaboration may appear on Mustard's upcoming album, Faith of A Mustard Seed.

Learn more: A Guide To Southern California Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From L.A. & Beyond

Kendrick Lamar headlined the electrifying Pop Out concert on Juneteenth, which also featured sets from Mustard and DJ Hed. The event saw a handful of L.A. rappers, opening for Lamar in a showcase of  the vibrant talent that defines the region's rap scene.

The West Coast is a vast reservoir of talent, stretching from the Bay Area to Seattle. At the heart of this creative expanse is Los Angeles, which brings fresh perspectives, innovative styles, and renewed energy to hip-hop, ensuring the genre thrives. With the stage set for these newcomers to shine, it's the perfect time to take a closer look at some of the rising talents poised to impact the rap scene. While this list only scratches the surface, it offers a glimpse into the diverse and exciting talent from SoCal, the epicenter of the West.

Blxst

Arising from Los Angeles, Blxst initially played the background as a producer but soon demonstrated his ability to excel across all facets of music creation. Blxst's breakout moment came with his platinum-certified single "Chosen," which solidified his place in the music industry. His collaboration on Kendrick Lamar's "Die Hard" from Mr. Morale And The Big Steppers further showcased his skill for crafting hooks that elevate tracks, resulting in two GRAMMY nominations.

As he prepares to release his debut album, I'll Always Come Find You on July 19, Blxst stands at a pivotal point in his career. With a great resume already to his name, his forthcoming album promises to showcase his undeniable talent and leave a lasting impact on the West Coast music scene.

Bino Rideaux

Bino Rideaux is a South Central native and frequent collaborator with the GRAMMY-winning rapper Nipsey Hussle. He is the only artist to have a joint project with Hussle, No Pressure, released before the prolific rapper's untimely death. Rideaux has hinted at having a treasure of unreleased music with Hussle, saved for the perfect moment and album.

Rideaux  is known for creating tracks that get the city outside and dancing. He has made three beloved projects with Blxst, titled Sixtape, Sixtape 2, and Sixtape 3 resulting in sold-out shows and a special place in West Coast Rap fans' hearts. Endorsed by industry heavyweights like Young Thug, Rideaux continues to carve his path at his own pace. His journey is nothing short of a marathon, echoing the enduring legacy of his mentor.

Read more: Nipsey Hussle's Entrepreneurial Legacy: How The Rapper Supported His Community & Inspired Rap's Next Generation

Kalan.FrFr

Kalan.FrFr, whose name stands for "For Real For Real," is an artist whose music is as genuine as his name suggests. Growing up in Compton and Carson, Kalan.FrFr has always stayed true to his roots, and exudes the unyielding confidence essential to making it in the City of Angels.

His breakthrough mixtape, TwoFr, showcased his ability to shine without major features, delivering verses with catchy hooks and melodic rap. He's shown he's not confined to one sound, delivering vulnerable tracks like "Going Through Things'' and "Never Lose You." His EP Make the West Great Again, Kalan.FrFr both proves his loyalty to his origins and highlights his versatility. Kalan.FrFr's signature punch-in, no-writing-lyrics-down style keeps his fans on their toes, ensuring that whatever comes next is unpredictable but authentic.

Jayson Cash

Jayson Cash, a rapper hailing from Carson — the same city as TDE artist Ab-Soul — stays true to West Coast rap, from his lyrics to his beat selection. Listening to Jayson Cash's music is like diving into a vivid life narrative. His prowess as a lyricist and storyteller shines through in every verse. He gives his fans an insight into his journey, making it a relatable music experience.

Cash made waves with his debut mixtape, Read The Room, and scored a Mustard beat on the song "Top Down." Two years later, their collaboration continues, with Cash writing on Mustard's upcoming album. Though often seen as an underdog, Cash is not to be underestimated, earning cosigns from West Coast legends like Suga Free and Snoop Dogg. His latest project, Alright Bet, includes a notable feature from Dom Kennedy.

310babii

310babii has achieved platinum-selling status at just 18 years old, while successfully graduating high school.  Yet 310babii's career began in seventh grade, when he recording songs on his phone showing early signs of motivation and creativity. His 2023 breakout hit "Soak City (Do It)" quickly gained traction on TikTok — and caught the ears of Travis Scott and NFL player CJ Stroud.

As the song grew in popularity, it led to a remix produced by Mustard, who invited the Inglewood native to join him onstage during his set at The Pop Out. 310babii's innovative spirit shines through in his distinctive visuals, exemplified by the captivating video for his song "Back It Up." His recent debut album, Nights and Weekends, released in February, underscores his evolving talent and promise within the music industry.

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The Spice Girls - Melanie B, Melanie C, Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams And Emma Bunton, The Spice Girls - Melanie B, Melanie C, Geri Halliwell, Victoria Adams And Emma Bunton
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On This Day In Music: Spice Girls Release "Wannabe," Their Iconic Debut Single

In 1996, the Spice Girls' spirited anthem not only dominated the charts and airwaves, but also put girl groups on the map. If you want to uncover the magic behind their meteoric rise, "you gotta listen carefully…"

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2024 - 08:44 pm

Who could have guessed that a track recorded in under an hour would become an iconic celebratory anthem of female empowerment and friendship? It seems like the Spice Girls did.

The music industry was ripe for a bouncy pop hit in 1996, and "Wannabe" entered the arena with undeniable power. With an infectious blend of dance-pop and hip-hop, as well as catchy lyrics promoting female empowerment, "Wannabe" carried on the spirit of the early '90s riot grrrl movement while delivering a radio-friendly bop.

The Spice Girls' debut single proved that the girl group wouldn't be wannabe stars for long. The song spent four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and was certified platinum multiple times in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, and several other countries.

Producer Richard Stannard told BBC that the now-canonical British quintet battled Virgin Records to release "Wannabe" as their debut single (executives pushed for "Love Thing"). While both songs would appear on Spice, the Spice Girls' 1996 debut album, the group's instinct and confidence paid off. Twenty-eight years later, "Wannabe" remains an iconic pop song and one of the Spice Girls' most enduring tracks.

While the Spice Girls may have seemed like an overnight success in America, its members had been working their way through the British music scene for years. In March 1994, hundreds of aspiring stars crammed into Dancework Studios in London after an advertisement was posted in The Stage magazine looking for the next girl band.

The groups were randomly split up, taught a dance routine, and then had to perform the song for talent managers and father-son duo, Bob and Chris Herbert. One month later, with 10 girls left, the initial final four — Melanie "Scary Spice" Brown, Melanie "Sporty Spice" Chisholm, Victoria "Posh Spice" Adams, and Geri "Ginger Spice" Halliwell — were all chosen to form the final group with a then-17-year-old Michelle Stephenson. The group moved into a home together, where they received additional dance training and vocal coaching. However, Michelle was soon replaced by Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton, completing the lineup of Spice Girls that as we know them today.

"Of course I regret I'm not a multi-millionaire like them. But at the time I left the group I knew I was doing the right thing and I still think it was the right thing," Stephenson told The Mirror in 2001. "It wasn't my kind of music and they were not living the lifestyle I wanted." 

Read More: The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression

The group's charisma and corresponding archetypal personalities were put on display in the music video for "Wannabe." The iconic, single-take music video shot in London’s Midland Grand Hotel (now St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel), became as legendary as the track itself. In 2015, Billboard included the video for "Wannabe" in a list of 10 iconic girl group videos, solidifying the video's lasting impression.

Directed by Johan Camitz, the video was the perfect visual introduction to the group: Ginger Spice unapologetically dances through the hotel in a sparkly Union Jack leotard alongside Scary Spice, whose bold persona is conveyed through carefree dances that included whipping her hair around. The group's distinct, playful personalities remained a key selling point used throughout their career.

"Wannabe" producers Matt Rowe and Stannard first saw the Spice Girls at a showcase, and the duo instantly knew that they had the next group of superstars. Soon after, Rowe and Stannard worked with the group to produce "Wannabe," and the chemistry was undeniable.

In her 2002 book, Catch a Fire: The Autobiography, Brown recalls that the producer duo understood the group's vision and automatically knew how to blend "the spirit of five loud girls into great pop music."

"Wannabe" was an inescapable radio hit in the '90s — for all the right reasons. From the punchy beat and distinctive vocal inflections, to the shouts of "if you wanna be my lover," the song remains as a persistent earworm.

Even science backs that claim up. According to a 2014 study conducted by the University of Amsterdam and Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, researchers found that study participants were able to identify and name "Wannabe" in an average of 2.29 seconds, making it the quickest recognized song in the study. This was ahead of Lou Bega’s "Mambo No 5" and Survivor’s "Eye of The Tiger," and underscores "Wannabe’s" celebrated and timeless status.

While the song itself is a lively, carefree summer anthem perfect for blasting in the car with the windows down, its lyrics resonate with a powerful message of female empowerment and friendship, standing tall above conventional romantic themes.

Read more: 'Spiceworld' At 25: How The Spice Girls' Feminine Enthusiasm & Camp Became A Beacon For Queer Youth 

"Girl Power embodies much more than a gender," Gerri Horner, formerly Halliwell, told BBC in 2017. "It's about everybody. Everybody deserves the same treatment, whatever race you are, gender you are, age you are. Everybody deserves a voice." 

With such a strong debut as "Wannabe," it's clear why the Spice Girls weren't just a one-hit wonder. The British girl group went on to deliver dozens of other pop hits like "Say You'll Be There" and "2 Become 1," which defined the late '90s and early '00s. Released months after "Wannabe," Spice would spend 15 weeks at No. 1 on the Official Charts U.K. Album Chart and also topped the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. The album sold more than 23 million copies worldwide. 

Even after 28 years, the meaning of "zig-a-zig-ah" remains a mystery, but it's a small price to pay for the beloved dance-pop song we cherish today.

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Michael Jackson performing in 1996

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On This Day In Music: Michael Jackson Passes Away In Los Angeles At Age 50

The music world suffered a catastrophic blow on June 25, 2009, when the King of Pop died in Los Angeles at just 50 years old. Fifteen years later, reflect on this momentous day.

GRAMMYs/Jun 25, 2024 - 01:20 pm

Nearly 15 years since its release, it’s still wrenching to watch the documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It — a glimpse of one of the greatest concerts that never happened.

Revisiting behind-the-scenes footage of the planned residency at London’s O2 Arena, it’s clear Michael Jackson was at the top of his game. The Kenny Ortega-directed film takes us through rehearsals, dancer auditions, costume design, and more, as the run of 50 shows loomed.

Despite any personal or medical issues the embattled King of Pop faced, he danced and sang terrifically. All 50 dates had sold out; after more than a decade off the road, This Is It was bound to be a momentous pop event.

But the residency would never happen, for the most tragic reason possible: on June 25, 2009, after returning home from a past-midnight rehearsal, Jackson passed away from acute propofol intoxication, administered by his personal physician, Conrad Murray. Jackson was 50.

The news rattled the world, causing major internet platforms including Google, AOL Instant Messenger, Twitter, and Wikipedia to be pushed to the breaking point with significant traffic spikes. The following year, Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and sentenced to four years in prison. (He was released after serving nearly two years, due in part to good behavior.)

“Our beloved son, brother, uncle and father of three children has gone so unexpectedly, in such a tragic way and much too soon,” read a statement from the Jackson family. “It leaves us, his family, speechless and devastated to a point, where communication with the outside world seems almost impossible at times.”

As Jackson's music sales spiked, Jackson’s memorial service was held on July 7, 2009, at the Staples Center. Berry Gordy, Brooke Shields, and Smokey Robinson offered eulogies, and an all-star lineup — including Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, and others — performed Jackson’s iconic songs.

Of course, true legends never die — but a world without the King of Pop has been a little dimmer. On this day in music, crank up Thriller or Bad, and remember one of the greatest entertainers who ever lived.

Remembering Michael Jackson's Record-Setting Music Career

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Celebrate 40 Years Of Def Jam With 15 Albums That Show Its Influence & Legacy

From the Beastie Boys' seminal 'License To Ill' and Jay-Z's 'Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life,' celebrate Def Jam with 15 of the label's essential albums.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2024 - 01:31 pm

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Def Jam Recordings, the New York label that made history in hip-hop, R&B, pop, and even thrash metal since its founding, and continues to do so today.

A label that began out of an NYU dorm room in 1984 quickly became an artistic (and business) powerhouse. Early acts like LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy were raw, adventurous, and risk-taking. Def Jam's roster opened new pathways in a still-young genre, seemingly every few months. 

After that initial explosion, the label experienced a brief lull in the early 1990s when one label founder departed and the other expanded into fashion and comedy. Def Jam came roaring back beginning in 1994, and by 1998 the label was home to some of the most popular and influential artists in the game — including burgeoning megastars DMX and Jay-Z. To this day, Def Jam maintains a roster of both commercially successful and critically beloved artists in hip-hop, R&B, and pop.

To commemorate the anniversary of the label that gave us, well, pretty much everyone, here’s a list of 15 of Def Jam’s essential releases. While Def Jam brought audiences plenty of singles, EPs and remixes, this list primarily focuses on albums. Each project has a mix of artistic merit, popularity, influence and longevity, originality, and played a key role in the story of Def Jam as a whole. Think of it as a chronological run through the key albums that built one of the most lasting labels in modern music. 

And finally: it must be said that in recent years, a dark shadow has begun to loom over Def Jam’s legacy. Label co-founder Russell Simmons been accused over the past seven years of numerous instances of sexual assault, dating back decades. In spite of these accusations, the label (in which Simmons hasn’t been involved for a quarter-century) remains on top, safeguarding its valuable archive while looking forward to another four decade run as fruitful as the first one.

T La Rock & Jazzy Jay - "It’s Yours" (1984)

The one single on this list is also the first piece of music ever released with the now-famous Def Jam logo. "It’s Yours" was a single produced by Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin — his very first hip-hop production. Instrumentally, it was perhaps only comparable to Larry Smith and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons’ contemporaneous work with Run-D.M.C. Both "It’s Yours" and D.M.C.’s early work were severely stripped-down, consisting of a few drum sounds, an instrumental stab, and some scratches. 

Lyrically, though, "It’s Yours" is worlds apart from "Sucker M.C.’s" — or pretty much anything else going on in hip-hop at the time. T La Rock, the brother of Treacherous Three member Special K, came from a family of educators, and he put every ounce of his erudition into the track. It begins, "Commentating, illustrating/ Description giving, adjective expert" and goes from there.

LL Cool J - 'Radio' (1985)

In the early 1980s, the state of the hip-hop album was very grim. Only a few existed, and they almost exclusively consisted of a few singles mixed with often-confusing filler. Two things changed that. First, Run-D.M.C.’s 1984 self-titled debut, which GRAMMY.com examined in depth a few months ago. Second was LL Cool J’s debut album Radio, the very first full-length album Def Jam ever released.

In many ways, Radio kicked off hip-hop’s Golden Age. The record shows LL, then still in his teens, as a versatile artist who can be boastful, funny, aggressive, lyrical. The album shows many different sides of his personality, and helped set the template for what a rap album could be.

Read more: 20 Iconic Hip-Hop Style Moments: From Run-D.M.C. To Runways

Beastie Boys - 'Licensed to Ill' (1986)

The Beasties would release more complex and enlightened albums than Licensed to Ill, and one of the members would eventually apologize for some of its lyrics. But there’s no denying that it was a smash hit. It was the first rap album to ever top the Billboard 200, got the group onstage with Madonna, and would eventually sell over 10 million copies

Was some of that success due to their race? Sure. They were a credible group, signed to a hot rap label, at a time when it was still novel for white people to be performers in hip-hop. And yet, that’s not the whole story.

Licensed to Ill is a catchy, unique, energetic album, and the group members show undeniable chemistry. To this day, shout-filled, guitar-heavy anthems like "No Sleep till Brooklyn" and the ubiquitous "Fight for Your Right" can still get the party started.

Read more: The Beastie Boys Provide A License To Party

Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back' (1988)

There’s not too much you can say about this album that hasn’t already been said in the years of books, conferences, academic papers, and deluxe re-issues. It has ended up at or near the top of many all-time best lists. Its abrasive, collage-like approach to composition was never equalled (and, in light of current laws and practices around sampling, can never even be approached). The comic stylings of Flavor Flav bring just the right amount of levity to balance Chuck D’s takes on life-and-death issues. 

Decades after its release, the album still sounds urgent. And sadly, in an America still roiled with tensions over race, incarceration, drugs, and the media, its concerns remain as relevant as ever.

Read more: 5 Things We Learned At "An Evening With Chuck D" At The GRAMMY Museum

Slick Rick - 'The Great Adventures of Slick Rick' (1988)

Slick Rick is the ultimate rap storyteller, and his debut album is the best example of his artistry. "I wrote them like an essay," Rick once said of creating the batch of songs that make up Great Adventures. He also compared it to doing stand-up. So you have exactly what those two reference points imply: stories that are well-constructed, and also frequently riotously funny.

Rick is the master of the telling detail (remember "Dave, the dope fiend shooting dope/ Who don’t know the meaning of water nor soap" from "Children’s Story"?), the humorous twist, the morality tale, the bedtime story, the character voice. His influence lives on in perhaps his most devoted protege, Ghostface Killah, as well as in any rapper who has tried to craft a song with a beginning, middle, and end.

Learn more: Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1980s: Slick Rick, RUN-D.M.C., De La Soul & More

Warren G - 'Regulate… G Funk Era'(1994)

A bit of an edge case here, as technically the record was put out by Violator Records and Rush Associated Labels, the latter of which was a sort of umbrella organization Def Jam ran in the mid-1990s. Many albums that could have made this list, including projects by Redman, Onyx, Domino, and Nice & Smooth, were released under the RAL banner. But Warren G’s debut, a giant hit in an era where Def Jam really needed it, became inextricably associated with the label, to the point where an article about the album on Universal Music’s website mentions Def Jam five times in the first two paragraphs.

Regulate is a pop-savvy take on the G-funk sound that was then ascendant. It was a huge success in a year that saw the introduction of tons of amazing rappers into the game. And Warren G being associated with Def Jam meant that the East Coast-centric label had expanded its geographic footprint. 

Read more: Warren G Revisits 'Regulate: The G-Funk Era': How The 1994 Album Paved The Way For West Coast Hip-Hop's Dominance

Foxy Brown - 'Ill Na Na' (1996)

Def Jam wasn’t always a friendly place for female artists (despite many of the most important employees being women, including one-time president Nana Ashhurst). In fact, the label didn’t release a rap album by a woman until Nikki D’s Daddy’s Little Girl in 1991. So Foxy Brown’s impact — on Def Jam and on the rap world as a whole — cannot be overstated. Ill Na Na was an album that changed everything for female rappers. It had songs for the clubs, the block, and the radio. Foxy’s sexuality, versatility, and first-class rhyming would have an influence on countless rappers, most famously her number one fan Nicki Minaj, who has been effusively praising Foxy for more than a decade.

Read more: Ladies First: 10 Essential Albums By Female Rappers

DMX - 'It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot' (1998)

No less an authority than Nas referred to 1998 as "The year DMX took over the world." It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot is how he did it. The album set fire to Bad Boy’s so-called "shiny suit era" by embodying its polar opposite: a dark, grimy vision full of gothic synths; raspy, full-throated lyrics; and, sometimes, actual barks. Without DMX, there’s no NYC street rap return: no G-Unit mixtape run, no Diplomats.

The record is consistent and captivating from start to finish, and its thematic centerpiece comes, appropriately, about halfway through with "Damien," which reminds all of us that the most difficult battles we fight are the ones with ourselves.

Jay-Z - 'Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life' (1998)

Jay-Z has made more critically beloved albums than Vol. 2 (Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint both fall in that category). He has made albums with bigger hits (The Blueprint 3 had a No. 1 hit with "Empire State of Mind"). But he has never made a more important LP.

Vol. 2 was the album that made Jay a superstar. Its Annie-sampling title track (produced by the late 45 King) sent him to the stratosphere — a process he actually documented on his follow-up album. But the record wasn’t just a commercial novelty. It showed Jay at the absolute top of his game: cocky, funny, and brilliant. Case in point: his novel approach to storytelling in "Coming of Age (Da Sequel)," where all the important action takes place in just a few seconds, inside the characters’ heads.

Read more: Songbook: How Jay-Z Created The 'Blueprint' For Rap's Greatest Of All Time

Ludacris - 'Word of Mouf' (2001)

Around the turn of the millennium, Def Jam had its sights set on conquering new territory. Specifically, the South. So they set up Def Jam South and hired Scarface to head it up. The entity’s biggest success came from an Atlanta DJ who went by Chris Luva Luva on the air, but began rapping as Ludacris.

Word of Mouf was Luda’s second album, but it was the one that really cemented his stardom with songs like "Rollout (My Business)," "Area Codes," and the immortal "Move Bitch" (the last of which has had an artist-approved second life as a protest chant). The album proved that the South was here to stay, and that Def Jam would have a role in determining its hip-hop future.

Learn more: A Guide To Southern Hip-Hop: Definitive Releases, Artists & Subgenres From The Dirty South

Scarface - 'The Fix' (2002)

Speaking of Scarface and Def Jam South, Face had no intention of dropping music while running the label. But, in his telling, Def Jam exec Lyor Cohen insisted on it, paying handsomely for the privilege.

"There were so many things working in my favor on that album," Scarface wrote in his memoir Diary of a Madman. "For the first time, I was working on an album for a label that believed in me 100 percent and didn’t want anything from me except for me to make the dopest album I could possibly make. And they went out of their way to make that possible."

Def Jam’s history of putting out classics inspired Face on The Fix, he writes in that book. And in the end, the album stands up there with any of them. It is one of only a small handful of rap records to earn a perfect five-mic rating from The Source, and it belongs in that rarified air with projects like Illmatic and Aquemini

Kanye West - 'The College Dropout' (2004)

Yes, today Kanye West is the worst: a Hitler-loving, Trump-supporting, paranoid, antichoice, antisemite who stands accused of sexual harrassment. But two decades ago, the world met a Mr. West who at least seemed very different. 

The College Dropout presented an artist who was already extremely well-known as a beatmaker. But Kanye’s carefully crafted persona as the bridge between mainstream rap and the underground — "First n— with a Benz and a backpack," as he put it — meant that he appealed to pretty much everyone. The College Dropout wasn't West at the top of his rap game, but it did show his skill at developing song concepts, at beats, and at creating an artistic vision so powerful, and so relatable, that it captivated an entire generation.

Cam’ron - 'Purple Haze' (2004)

It’s impossible to talk about Def Jam without discussing Roc-A-Fella. Jay-Z’s label hooked up with Def Jam in 1997, and had a years-long hot streak with artists like Kanye, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, the Young Gunz, and of course Cam’ron’s Diplomats crew — Cam, Juelz Santana, and the overall group all released projects there.

Purple Haze came at the very tail end of Roc-a-fella’s golden age. It has Cam at the absolute peak of his absurdist rhyming powers, keeping computers ‘puting and knocking out eight-syllable multis about Paris Hilton like it was nothing. During the Purple Haze era, it was Cam’s world, and we were all just lucky to be living in it.

Rihanna - 'Good Girl Gone Bad' (2007)

Rihanna’s first two projects were full of Caribbean sounds and ballads. But when her third album came along, she needed a change. Riri wanted to go "uptempo," and history shows that was the right choice. Good Girl Gone Bad began the singer’s transformation into the megastar we know today. It spawned five singles and two separate quickie tie-in albums (Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded and Good Girl Gone Bad: The Remixes).

"Umbrella" was the way forward. Rihanna had a No. 1 record prior, but she’d never made a sensation like this. The song (with a guest verse by then-Def Jam president Jay-Z) not only made it to the top slot, it also won a GRAMMY and was undeniably the song of the summer. The album also contained the sensation "Don’t Stop the Music," a track that kickstarted the EDM/pop hybrid that dominated the late aughts. Without Good Girl Gone Bad, it’s safe to say we’d be living in a very different, Fenty-less world.

Read more: Songbook: The Ultimate Guide To Rihanna's Reign, From Her Record-Breaking Hits To Unforgettable Collabs

Frank Ocean - 'Channel Orange' (2012)

One could fill a whole blurb about Channel Orange simply by quoting the extreme praise it received. "A singular achievement in popular culture." "Landed with the crash and curiousness of a meteor." Two days after its release, Pitchfork was already saying that it "feels like a classic."

And yet, somehow even that kind of acclaim doesn’t do the album justice. You really had to be there when it came out, when Frank looked into his soul and, in doing so, connected deeply with so many listeners

Read more: Frank Ocean Essentials: 10 Songs That Embody The Elusive Icon's R&B Genius

"Channel Orange is the most concentrated version of 2012 in 2012 so far," wrote Sasha Frere-Jones at the time, in one of the most dead-on statements about the album. It expressed the contradictions we all lived in. Its fragmentation mirrored the social media that was beginning to take over all of our lives. Ocean left bits of his biography scattered throughout the album, but they almost didn’t matter. He was speaking for all of us, in the way only great artists can. 

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