— Almost 2 decades ago, DJ Clue? made his leap from the streets to the record label with the release of his star-studded debut album, The Professional.

Many of us can still remember a time when music wasn’t so accessible and musical products themselves were much more tangible. While today you can instantly stream or download just about any music that you want, things weren’t always like this. Artists found themselves creating projects on an incredibly tight budget, often over the course of months. Crews hit the corners to distribute mixtapes like the Sunday newspaper. And, Hip-Hop connoisseurs were in the streets sniffing out the hottest new product like shameless dope fiends. So, during the ‘90s, when Hip-Hop was receiving more admiration that it ever had before, DJ Clue? mastered a formula that made him one of the first and few DJs to take his talents to the record label.

DJ Clue Presents ‘The Professional’

On December 15, 1998, DJ Clue? released The Professional through his newly founded label, Desert Storm Records (a subsidiary of Roc-a-Fella and Def Jam). Prior to this release, DJ Clue? had become one of NYC’s top DJs due to his prominent street-level mixtapes featuring exclusive tracks from Hip-Hop’s biggest names like Mobb Deep and even Notorious B.I.G. However, once given the opportunity to deliver a studio album, DJ Clue? significantly stepped his game up while still providing quality exclusives that folks on the block can appreciate.

The list of featured acts on The Professional is absolutely insane. In some cases, you get hit with excessive firepower on tracks like “Fantastic 4” featuring Cam’ron, N.O.R.E, Big Pun, and Canibus. A young Fabolous continues making a name for himself on “That’s the Way” and “If They Want It”. Missy Elliot, Nicole Wray, and Mocha set things off with “I Like Control”. Jay Z and Ja Rule join forces for the smooth cut “Gangsta Shit”. Mariah Carey even got a skit. The remaining roster includes DMX, Drag-On, Eve, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Jadakiss, Styles P, Nas, Nature, Boot Camp Clik, M.O.P, Memphis Bleek, EPMD, Lord Tariq, Made Men, Redman, Flipmode Squad, Foxy Brown, Mase, Keith Murray, Raekwon, Big Noyd, and Mobb Deep.

As of 2001, The Professional has been certified platinum by the RIAA with over 1,000,000 records sold in the United States. Still, those numbers alone can’t sum up this project. This album is a piece of history – as all albums are. However, this is one where you can see where so many different artists were at a particular time in history as well as their chemistry with each other – all in one place.

Check out the full project above.

Written by DJ Robinson

– 25 years ago, a star was officially born when the MC formerly known as Nasty Nas released his debut single “Halftime” to critical acclaim.

There isn’t much to be said about Nas that most legitimate hip-hop fans don’t already know. He’s undoubtedly amongst the top tier of hip-hop’s greatest acts, although even then, he may be in a class of his own. That being said, today is an especially special day in hip-hop history as we look back on the single that originally put Nas on the map.

“Halftime”, produced by the also legendary Large Professor, was released on October 13, 1992 as the leading single for the soundtrack of the 1992 film, Zebrahead. The production was carried by a gritty bassline and booming drums with sections of velvety trumpet play for added pizzazz. Nas used this vibrant instrumental to introduce himself to the world in a way that only he could and, in the process, showed the world that there was a gaping hole in hip-hop that only he could fill.

With “Halftime” being released in late 1992 and Nas being labeled as the “new Rakim”, it is generally agreed upon that the 1994 release of Illmatic was long overdue. Still, Nas didn’t disappoint – in fact, he released what is commonly referred to as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.

So, while you’re out and about today, be sure to bump Illmatic for old time’s sake.

Written by DJ Robinson

– On August 1st, 1995, Mafioso themed artistry was forever ingrained into hip-hop culture with the release of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx A.K.A The Purple Tape; Wu-Tang member Raekwon’s debut solo album.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is fueled by a heavy dosage of gritty street-inspired tales, a sequential movie-like vibe including Kung Fu and Mafia film clips (courtesy of RZA of course), and countless allusions to organized crime – particularly that of American Mafia culture. And, while Kool G Rap is generally credited as the official originator of Mafioso rap, Raekwon and The Wu’s formula allowed that subculture to truly permeate the streets, dubbing it an instant classic. So much so, it inspired themes, characters, and personas of many other legendary hip-hop albums including Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt (1996) and Notorious B.I.G’s Life After Death (1997). Wu-tang Clan found themselves trendsetting at every turn in tracks like “Wu Gambinos” where you’ll find the entire collective giving themselves alter egos just like the mobsters they’re emulating – a tactic later used by Tupac Shakur (Makaveli), Notorious B.I.G (Frank White), and Nas (Escobar) to name a few.

Other factors that led to the incredible reception of this album included the beginning of the Raekwon-Ghostface Killah duo, the introduction of Cristal as a staple drink in Black culture, an unexpected feature from Nas, and even slang terms deriving from the Supreme Alphabet and Supreme Mathematics of the Five Percent Nation.

Very few people outside of the great Raekwon and his fellow Wu-Tang Clan group members/affiliates can shift an entire culture the way that Only Built 4 Cuban Linx did. Although Wu-Tang Clan has left a trail of greatness everywhere that they’ve stepped, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, is often regarded as one of the two best solo projects ever created by a Wu-Tang member, alongside GZA’s Liquid Swords.

According to RZA, “The only two albums I did with nobody fucking with me was Linx and Liquid Swords. I was on a mission.” Well…that explains a lot.

Make sure you take the time to get a few listens out of this project. It’s well worth it as you may even find some hidden gems, such as material sampled in Jay Z’s 4:44 album.