Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded
(B-Boy / Traffic)

If I had to own only one rap record, then Boogie Down Production's 1987 debut Criminal Minded would be it.  No fuckin' contest.
And it's just not my opinion.  In any list of the greatest albums in Hip Hop history, Criminal Minded never seems to stray from the upper echelons, no matter how many years pass.  Vibe Magazine, The Source and Rolling Stone are just a few of those who agree that this is one of the most important albums of all time (regardless of genre).  An undisputed classic, it captures the excitement, urgency and raw power that embodies Hip Hop culture as we know it.
Criminal Minded is widely considered the foundation of hardcore rap.  It unashamedly announces its intentions with a cover photo of KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock posing with weapons (including grenades!).  This was an entirely unheard-of gesture in 1987, and while BDP weren't the first to rap about inner-city violence and drugs, they greatly expanded the range of subject matter that could be put on a rap record, and its grittiest moments are still unsettling today.  One seminal hardcore moment here is "Remix for P Is Free," which details an encounter with a crack whore (for perhaps the first time on record) while another, the influential, oft-sampled "9mm Goes Bang" is startlingly violent, made all the more unsettling by KRS-One's singsong ragga delivery (another groundbreaking moment). Elsewhere there are showcases for KRS-One's pure rhyming skill (most notably "Poetry" and the title track) but it's important to note that he hadn't yet adopted his role as 'the Teacher', and while there are a few hints of an emerging social consciousness, Criminal Minded doesn't try to deliver messages, make judgements, or offer solutions.  That's clear on "South Bronx" and "The Bridge Is Over," two of the most cutting - even threatening - diss records of the '80s (products of a beef with Queens-based MC Shan and Mr. Magic).  These two cuts really set the tone for the album, while "9mm Goes Bang" represents its apex.  Overall, Criminal Minded makes its impact through consistent sheer force: not only KRS-One's unvarnished depictions of his harsh urban environment, but also his booming delivery of aggressive yet intelligent lyrics backed by La Rock's lean, hard-hitting, stripped-down beats.  The raw talent on display is what cements the album's status as an all-time classic.
A footnote: Four months after the release of Criminal Minded DJ Scott La Rock was killed at a party.  KRS-One continued his work as BDP devoting himself to socially and politically conscious material that earned him the nickname 'the Teacher'.  In the process, he helped pave the way for both gangsta rap and the positive, Afrocentric, Native Tongues movement - a legacy that no other rapper can claim.  He remains, to this day, one of Hip Hop's most outspoken and respected intellectuals.  But that's another story...
"Fresh for '86, suckers!" (Lee)
Check out a track here