MADONNA, MADONNA, 1983
Full of the energy of her early years scuffling around New York dance clubs, this is the album where she invents modern dance-pop while staying cool enough to inspire a Sonic Youth cover.
RAMMELZEE VS. K-ROB, BEAT BOP, 1983
The invention of indie hip-hop, ten years before the fact. With a cover and contributions from Jean-Michel Basquiat, this ten-minute twelve-inch treated hip-hop as abstract art, dropping surreal battle rhymes over psychedelic beats.
RUN D.M.C., RUN D.M.C., 1984
The pivotal record that took rap out of the neighborhoods where it was born and spread it into popular culture. Rejecting the flamboyancy of the early rap legends, Run D.M.C. pioneered the street-tough aesthetic that became hip-hop’s signature style.
ARTHUR RUSSELL, WORLD OF ECHO, 1986
Russell was the human embodiment of the mixed-up culture of late-seventies New York, releasing soundtracks for Studio 54 and avant-garde theater productions alike. World of Echo, a set of introverted songscapes scored to cello and dubbed-out electronics, sounds like disco turned inside out.
SONIC YOUTH, DAYDREAM NATION, 1988
Harnessing the arty dissonance of their early work, Sonic Youth made an album with just enough rock convention to lift themselves out of the New York underground and into the realm of alternative rock.
BEASTIE BOYS, PAUL’S BOUTIQUE, 1989
In which they proved that they were real New Yorkers, not frat boys. From the cover photo shot at the corner of Ludlow and Rivington to the 4 a.m. subway ride to Coney Island in “Stop That Train,” their greatest album is also their most local.
PUBLIC ENEMY, FEAR OF A BLACK PLANET, 1990
The hip-hop album as movie thriller, with Chuck D playing revolutionary hero, Flavor Flav as reality-TV star in waiting, and countless sonic plot twists. “Fight the Power” still irresistibly evokes the hot summer of ’89.
WU-TANG CLAN, ENTER THE WU-TANG (36 CHAMBERS), 1993
While PE promised a black revolution, Wu-Tang created their own nihilistic code. Of the half-dozen classic albums that group members created over the years, their debut catches the crew at their most exotic: Staten Island enigmas spouting a combination of kung fu mysticism and Five Percenter doctrine. Grimy reworks of Memphis soul provide the sonic backdrop for the group’s bleak parables of Samurai-inspired ghetto honor.
NAS, ILLMATIC, 1994
Illmatic is rife with closely observed street narratives: “N.Y. State of Mind” is told from the perspective of a child drug dealer. But what distinguishes the album most of all is its jazziness, a product of New York’s cultural melting pot.
THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G., READY TO DIE, 1994
They’re making a biopic about Biggie, but there’s no way any movie could tell the life story of the conscience-plagued Bed-Stuy criminal turned superstar turned martyr any more entertainingly or movingly.
MAGNETIC FIELDS, 69 LOVE SONGS 1999
Stephin Merritt began his ascent to Lincoln Center headliner with this opus. Every tune finds him experimenting with a different style, and though he fails as often as he succeeds, his obsessiveness marks this as a distinctly New York masterpiece.
THE ARGUMENT STARTER
MOBY, PLAY, 1999
Though some dismissed Moby’s integration of antique blues and gospel snippets into modern, electronic songs as mere novelty—and others castigated him for licensing every last bar of them for commercials and movies—Play was a legitimately innovative work that also happened to prefigure the emerging values of the new downtown: the obsession with “nobody else has it” vintage and the seamless fusion of culture and money.
THE STROKES, IS THIS IT, 2001
In an era addicted to rock revivalism, the Strokes were its most skilled and disciplined practitioners, riling purists and thrilling the kids with a pitch-perfect distillation of mid-to-late-seventies New York rock.
JAY-Z, THE BLUEPRINT, 2001
Purists might pick Reasonable Doubt, but his late-period commercial peak is more adventurous. Trademark New York braggadocio has never sounded quite so self-assured.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, 2005
Rejecting guitar-centric noise, ex–rock dude James Murphy made it fun to dance in New York again, with sophisticated beats that effortlessly cruise across the musical landscape, while still delivering essential shake-your-booty appeal.