With the recent announcement that Bun B’s brand new album, Trill O.G. received a perfect 5-Mic rating from The Source, it’s only fitting that we take a look at all of the albums that have received the coveted rating.
44 albums in the magazine’s history have been given a perfect rating. 29 of them have been given retroactively. The other 14 were received at the time of release. It’s those 14 that we’ll be focusing on here.
The Source was dogged in the early 2000s amidst accusations that a good rating, which had become as important as a Grammy Award, was bought by the artist. While many of their ratings were valid, there were more than a few head scratchers in the magazine’s later years.
A Tribe Called Quest
People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
I remembered two Tribe albums getting five mics, but I always thought it was The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders that got a perfect score. But lo-and-behold, research proves that Marauders only got four mics. While it’s very difficult to listen to an album 20 years after its release and get back to the mindset of the hip-hop fan in 1990, I honestly can say that I never viewed Tribe’s first album as a classic. Does it have classic songs? Most definitely. “Bonita Applebum,” “Can I Kick It?” “Footprints,” “Luck Of Lucien” are all hands down some of the best that hip-hop has ever seen, but the album feels a bit uneven and scattered.
Eric B. & Rakim
Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em
This is another album that I never realized received a perfect rating. Why? Because Eric B & Rakim’s albums got progressively worse as their four album career went on. Rhythm being their third album was not as good as Follow The Leader, and definitely not as good as their debut, Paid In Full (which was awarded 5-mics long after it’s release… a rating I highly contest due to the inclusion of songs like “Chinese Arithmetic,” “Extended Beat,” and, depending on the day you ask, “Eric B Is On The Cut.”) Rhythm‘s title track is classic status, as is “Mahogany,” but once again, I never saw this album as being five-mic material.
AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
Ice Cube’s split from N.W.A. was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to the rapper, who penned most of the group’s lyrics. His defection from the group led him to leave the west coast for the east where he linked up with the legendary Bomb Squad production crew, who produced all of Public Enemy’s classic albums. The switch in production crews wasn’t as different, as a lot of N.W.A.’s sound had that Bomb Squad-esque, chaotic collage feel. The result of Cube’s collaboration with the Squad resulted in an album that built upon N.W.A.’s penchant for shock factor and married it with Public Enemy’s politics. This album was very unique at the time of it’s release and deserved it’s five-mic rating.
One For All
Brand Nubian were almost like a 1990s Miami Heat with three legit soloists-Lord Jamar, Sadat X and Grand Puba-creating a hip-hop rarity: a group with no weak link. Puba’s salacious wordplay was balanced by Jamar’s rugged baritone and Sadat’s nasaled tales from the hood. Hailing from the outer reaches of the New Rochelle they extended the hoods borders a little further north incorporating the 5 Percent teachings with break beats funky enough for the radio and the clubs. One For All spawned two classics “Wake Up” and “Slow Down” along with the title track of this undisputed masterpiece.
De La Soul
De La Soul Is Dead
The Long Island, NY trio one-upped their instant classic debut, 3 Feet High & Rising, on the follow-up. De La Soul Is Dead was a conscious effort to abandon the D.A.I.S.Y. Age/pseudo-hippie image that people associated with them based on their debut. The result was one of the most engaging and interesting hip-hop albums ever released. They toughened up their sound and lyrics without sounding like they were fakin’ the funk yet still kept the sense of humor and quirkiness that made fans and critics alike fall head over heels for 3 Feet High & Rising. Is De La Soul Is Dead perfect? Far from it, but its imperfections are what made the album, as well as De La themselves, endearing and an album that still sounds fresh and fun 19 years later. This one deserved its five mics.
A Tribe Called Quest
The Low End Theory
The difference between Tribe’s debut album and their second, The Low End Theory, is like night and day. They may sound similar, but for the first time, Tribe put together a focused album. Though it starts to lag a little towards the end (when’s the last time you listened to “Skypager?”), all is forgotten once one of hip-hop’s greatest posse cuts, “Scenario,” closes out the album. Five mic worthy? One could make a case for giving it four-and-a-half, but anything less than that would be absolutely criminal.
The album that really sparked the whole craze behind The Source’s mic rating system was Illmatic. Miss Info’s five-mic review of Nas’ debut was both a blessing and a curse for the Queensbridge rapper. His subsequent albums would always be compared to this one and each one seemed more and more disappointing. Illmatic was pure NYC hip-hop — raw, intelligent, rewind-worthy, quotable, and it knocked in the whip. The Source got it right on this one.
The Notorious B.I.G.
Life After Death
With Biggie dying shortly before this album’s release, it’s easy to peg The Source’s five-mic review of his second album as just a nod to an MC that died far too soon. And you’d be right. While Life After Death has no shortage of great songs, it’s length as a double album was it’s biggest flaw. If cut down to a single disc, Life After Death probably could have been better than Ready To Die. But the beauty in this album is that most people probably would not be able to agree on what songs to keep and what songs to trash. However, since we are stuck with all twenty four songs, this album probably should’ve been knocked down to a four-and-a-half, at best.
Outkast’s finest moment, hands down, and worthy of about six more mics. We’ll even let “Mamacita” slide.
I will be totally honest. I was not checking for Jay-Z until The Blueprint dropped. Jay had singles that I liked, but I didn’t consider myself a fan until The Blueprint. The production was fresh. Jay probably hadn’t been this inspired in the studio since Reasonable Doubt. He captured lightning in a bottle on this album. He’s been chasing this album ever since, and hasn’t come close, with the exception of The Black Album. The Source hit the nail on the head.
And here is where The Source’s mic ratings all went downhill. After a string of disappointing albums (hello Nastradamus!), Nas probably sounded better on Stillmatic than on any album since his debut, but this album was nowhere near five-mic worthy. Nas’ album of outtakes and leftovers, The Lost Tapes, was way better than this.
Scarface is one of hip-hop’s most underrated emcees. When The Fix was released, most of us were expecting a monster album, and based on songs like “Guess Who’s Back” and “My Block” it seemed like that’s what we were going to get. But after listening to the album, it’s hard to understand why the album got a perfect score. Perhaps it was just Scarface’s lifetime achievement award?
The Naked Truth
By this point in the Source’s life cycle, the mic rating system ceased to have any sort of meaning. When it was announced that Lil’ Kim had received a five-mic rating for this album, which featured the song “Lighters Up,” most people agreed that The Source had no authority or credibility left in hip-hop.
The Source had the internet all abuzz in the days before it was announced that Bun B’s Trill O.G. had received a five-mic rating. The mag released a list of great albums released in 2010 saying that one of them would receive instant classic status in its upcoming issue. While we have yet to hear the album, Bun B definitely has it in him to release an album worthy of five mics, but is it another situation like The Fix? Is this just a lifetime achievement award, or a consolation for the loss of his partner in UGK, Pimp C?