125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years
SPIN's editors rank the top releases since the magazine's beginning in 1985.
50 Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt
“A full-throated response to ‘too much West Coast dick licking,’ Jay-Z’s debut posited young Shawn as the East Coast alpha male,” wrote SPIN in a May 2004 guide to the best of gangsta rap. “Jigga gave his days as a mover and shaker on the Brooklyn streets the Joel Silver multiplex treatment — midnight drug deals with Peruvian drug kings and Cristal-popping parties that go till six in the morning.” It was only the beginning for Hova, a larger-than-life hip-hop star who had the audacity to nickname himself after God.
49 D’Angelo Voodoo
“Between every staccato, breathy, slack-jaw-smooth lyric on this genius’ masterpiece was an implied syllable of psychedelic soul sex,” SPIN remembered in 2005. “D’Angelo out-suaved that other sexy motherfucker, the newly Prince-again Prince, lighting a fire under the burgeoning neo-soul movement.” A 2000 profile examined his long struggle to record Voodoo — not to mention its creator’s aphrodisiac influence on female fans. Said D’Angelo collaborator George Clinton: “He’s definitely got that legend quality as a musician. The route he’s taking could definitely be a strange one — a lot of people might not understand.”
48 Elliott Smith Either/Or
This tortured singer-songwriter’s legend-making album was released on indie label Kill Rock Stars, but he wouldn’t be an underground secret for long. When a handful of tracks — notably “Say Yes” and “Between the Bars” — ended up on the soundtrack for Good Will Hunting, Smith ended up performing at the Oscars, famously out of place on the same stage as Celine Dion. Smith was characteristically humble when describing his songwriting to SPIN in 1998. “I don’t usually know what I’m trying to do,” he said. “Eventually you look at your songs and go, ‘Oh, this is how it goes.’ But first you just sort of dream it.”
47 Portishead Dummy
All trip-hop traffics in drama, but few acts in the genre’s heyday did drama better than Portishead. With their striking debut, the ghostly, spectral group from Bristol, England, introduced what SPIN called an “innovative mix of low-rider beats, creepy ambience, and lovelorn lamentation.” It was sensuous but haunting, to say the least — so much so that SPIN described Dummy simply as “the sound of something horrible about to happen.”
46 N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton
…and into the bedrooms of countless impressionable kids who would subsequently grow up in a musical world scarred, in ways good and bad, by N.W.A’s debut. It’s hard to overstate the shock that greeted Straight Outta Compton in 1988. The album “is just about killing ourselves off,” said Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid in a SPIN roundtable on hip-hop and violence. But then, just as many rallied to the group’s fearless storytelling and verite street-reporting. “N.W.A are relevant because they are speaking a truth”: the speaker this time? You guessed it — Sinead O’Connor.