When I think about the Mafioso Rap genre, I think of New York. My hometown. Today, I’m going to talk about four of my favorite Mafia albums: Reasonable Doubt, Doe or Die, It Was Written, and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
Before I get into the four albums, I have to mention one talented rapper who pioneered mafioso rap/street content. He was part of the Juice Crew in the late 1980s. His name is Kool G Rap.
Kool G Rap paved the way and influenced artists such as The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, and many more. His album 4,5,6 is a prime example of a mafioso theme and sets the bar for many future mafioso albums going forward.
Reasonable Doubt! Jay-Z’s debut studio album. It’s arguably the best album of his career. I believe it’s his second-best album (after The Blueprint). It’s no doubt that it’s one of the greatest rap albums ever. This album is about the “hustler” lifestyle and gritty realism. One of Jay’s best songs of his career is “Dead Presidents.” Its instrumental, nice flow, good lyrics, and love the Nas sample. However, I think Dead Presidents Part 2 is better. Jay had better lyrics and hooks. His rhyming is more smooth than the first part.
“Can’t Knock The Hustle” is my favorite track from Reasonable Doubt. Great collaboration with Mary J. Blige. The movie Scarface influenced hip hop music, including on this track. “Ah shit, okay, okay, alright. Big Man! You wanna make some big bucks, huh? Let’s see how tough you are. You know something about cocaine? Digame!” etc.
The music video feels like a movie. It doesn’t come to a surprise when you have Hype Williams directing it. Hype Williams is probably the best music video director I’ve ever seen. He had videos on lock in the 90s. His style is so distinctive, innovative, and creative. Jay’s lyrics are just phenomenal. He set the bar very high on his debut.
AZ is one of the most underrated rappers/lyricists ever. I love his debut Doe or Die album. AZ’s lyrical ability is just impressive. In this album, AZ talks about the lifestyle of organized crime. A mobster’s life of fame and wealth. AZ had many good tracks that were well-produced, such as “Rather Unique,” produced by Pete Rock, “Uncut Raw,” “Gimme Yours,” featuring his rhyming partner, Nas, “Ho Happy Jackie,” “Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide.”
For the intro of the song, “Mo Money, Mo Murder, Mo Homicide,” AZ used a quote from the 1991 movie, Mobsters. “We bigger than the Jews. Bigger than the Irish. You can run the whole fuckin country! YOU could be the next John D. Rockefeller.”
Doe or Die achieves the purpose of Mafia rap. Without a doubt, AZ’s best album. To all Hip Hop fans, if you haven’t heard Doe or Die, I highly recommend you should. This album is very underrated. It should’ve been an all-time classic album. From a Mafia album standpoint, Doe or Die deserves to be in the same class as Reasonable Doubt, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and It Was Written.
After Illmatic, Nas, my favorite rapper, followed with It Was Written. Debates are going on about which album is the best: Illmatic or It Was Written. Both albums had three great things that were equal to me: lyricism, great production, and definition of rap bible. Illmatic and It Was Written are great rap bibles. I believe that Illmatic is slightly better, but my favorite one is It Was Written. In this album, Nas started calling himself “Nas Escobar,” inspired by the Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Some of my favorite Nas’ tracks are “If I Ruled The World,” featuring Lauryn Hill, “The Message,” and “Take It In The Blood.” Other honorable mentions are “Street Dreams” and “Affirmative Action.” The song “Nas is Coming” is a collaboration between Nas and Dr. Dre. It was interesting because this was during the height of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry. Dre represents the West, and Nas represents the East. However, in this album, they worked great together.
Nas’ production team includes The Trackmasters, Havoc from Mobb Deep, Dr. Dre, and DJ Premier. The Trackmasters produced 8 out of 14 tracks for It Was Written.
It Was Written is sharp, energetic, and sends the message straight home: amazing storytelling and extremely mafioso.
Last but not least, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. The epitome of Mafioso rap. This album influenced Reasonable Doubt, It Was Written, and the sound of New York rap. RZA’s extraordinary beats had a lot to do with the greatness of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. I also love the duo between Raekwon and Ghostface. They connected so well in this album. Raekwon’s lyrics were consistent, focused, and gritty. Out of all mafia rap albums, this one stands out the most for me.
The album begins with a nice cinematic intro skit, “Striving For Perfection,” which gets the mood and theme for the album. “Verbal Intercourse” is a great song featuring Nas and Ghostface. Nas delivers an excellent verse. The verse is so great that you can replay it over and over again. This album was stacked. Many other good songs are “Knuckleheadz,” “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” “Rainy Dayz,” “Criminology,” and, of course, “Ice Cream.”
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is one of the best hip hop albums of the 90s—a fantastic album with a cinematic feel.
This year will mark the 25th anniversary for two albums: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (August 1st) and Doe or Die (October 10th).
Mafioso rap revived somewhat in the 2000s with Jay-Z’s American Gangster, Ghostface’s Fishscale, but it didn’t have the same impact as those albums in the 90s. I don’t like violence. I don’t think being part of the Mafia is cool, but I think it’s important to listen to the stories that these artists are trying to tell us.