125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years
SPIN's editors rank the top releases since the magazine's beginning in 1985.
25 Nas Illmatic
Illmatic is one the best three or four best hip-hop albums of all time, period. It was, as SPIN wrote in 1999, “A word-drunk masterpiece of ghetto reportage [that] describes baseheads, task force raids, and other facts of life in the projects in such quickly unfolding narratives that it defined a new genre: the book on DAT.” It also introduced a new rapper, some kid named Nas, who — in the words of SPIN’s Chris Ryan — got over big by “undercutting bloated gangsta mythologizing with ‘life’s a bitch’ existentialism.”
24 Metallica Master of Puppets
How do you feel about “corporate-deathburger-influenced creative direction”? That’s what steered Metallica’s third album in the mind of SPIN writer Judge I-Rankin’, and he didn’t much like it. (“A nice sort of ballad for Chrissakes…execrable guitar noodling…confusing,” etc.) Others, of course, liked it a lot, especially since Master of Puppets marked an important shift where Metallica moved away from speed and stretched out. “Very few heavy-metal bands that play as intensely as Metallica are as open-minded,” Sue Cummings wrote in that year’s SPIN profile. A young Lars Ulrich agreed: “As long as you have some sort of intensity, it’s fuckin’ Metallica.”
23 Daft Punk Discovery
This is the sonic document that so many later acts would borrow from (and gleefully rip off) — Justice or Soulwax would be lost without it. Simultaneously cartoonish and dead serious, Daft Punk bred repetition, technology, and melodic stickiness into a sci-fi dance party. But as SPIN determined after meeting the reclusive band in 2001, all the costuming has a point: “It’s a B-movie-style shout-out to man-machine boogie pioneers Kraftwerk, and, like the rest of Discovery, a kitschy but superbly funky history lesson.” Who says that two robots spinning records in a pyramid can’t be rock stars?
22 Eric B. & Rakim Paid in Full
On his 1987 debut with DJ Eric Barrier, Long Island-native MC Rakim Allah set a new artistic benchmark in hip-hop, pushing the budding genre forward with his ferocious vocal presence and lyrical scope, eclipsing rap’s simple word-by-word rhyming patterns with involuted verses, eight-and-a-half to the bar. “I’m not a rapper; I’m a lyricist,” Rakim told SPIN in 1987. “I take this more serious than just a poem…[I’m] tryin’ to make this art.”
21 Oasis (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
If Oasis wanted to claim they were bigger than the Beatles, then this was what stomped all over the “White Album”. In 2003 SPIN pegged the record as essential britpop, singling out the track “Morning Glory” and its “sneering delirium worthy of Johnny Rotten, borne aloft on a towering inferno of guitar.” The wild success of the album would later have Noel Gallagher wishing they’d taken some R&R before recording again. “We were fueled by youth and cocaine,” he told the magazine in 2008. “We were surrounded by people telling us it was the greatest thing they’d ever heard.”