Ranking the Best AZ Albums

One of Hip-Hop Twitter’s never-ending debates revolves around who should be considered rap’s most underrated talent.

The usual names pop up – Big K.R.I.T., Black Thought, Lupe Fiasco, Phonte and countless others artists whose incredible talent is deserving of much more hype and praise.

But what about a rapper who is so underrated he rarely even makes the underrated debates?

For my money, AZ is rap’s most underrated talent. By far.

Top-tier lyricism, classic guest spots, an incredible (yet overlooked) catalog, a member of the celebrated Firm clique and one of the guiding forces of rap’s mafioso obsession in the mid 90s – AZ’s resume is impeccable and worthy of celebration.

So that’s what exactly we’re doing today.

While we patiently await his LONG promised Doe or Die 2 album later this year (hopefully), let’s revisit AZ Sosa’s discography, ranking his LPs from bottom to top. As always, I’m skipping compilations, mixtapes and greatest hits, but as a treat I’ll throw in his own version of The Lost Tapes just to see where it stands along his proper albums.

9. Final Call (The Lost Tapes) (2008)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 3 stars out of 5

Edd said: Here’s the story behind this one – Final Call was set to release in 2004 but after a bunch of delays and leaks, AZ left it on the shelf. It finally saw the light of day four years later, although a few tracks wound up on later releases. Of course, those tracks were among the album’s best. The rest? Well, like the album’s name suggests, they just feel like a loose collection of random party cuts and mixtape joints. Some work, some don’t and very few stand out.

Forgotten favorites: “Live Wire,” “Magic Hour,” “Let Me Know”

8. 9 Lives (2001)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 3.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: The only proper AZ album I’d consider “just OK,” 9 Lives still has a lot going for it. Fans who were turned off by the more radio-friendly fare of the previous release Pieces of a Man might appreciate 9 Lives‘ more back-to-basics approach. But there’s a surprisingly lack of consistency throughout the set, holding it back from greater heights.

Forgotten favorites: “I Don’t Give a F***,” “Quiet Money,” “Love Me”

7. Undeniable (2008)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: I was a huge fan of this one back in 08, and it’s largely due to the production. Undeniable has an almost a blaxploitation feel, thanks to the upbeat soul samples and AZ spitting copious game. He’s letting his mink drag on this one. Some of the hooks aren’t as strong as the better efforts on this list but AZ’s bars rarely disappoint. Fans of AZ’s grittier tracks might not dig it, but it’s a fun time.

Forgotten favorites: “What Would You Do,” “The Hardest,” “Life on the Line”

6. Pieces of a Man (1998)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: Following a monumental debut is never an easy task but a few seconds into this album’s intro and you’re reassured that AZ won’t be letting us down. Pieces of a Man has gotten a mixed reaction over the years – some fans revere it, others were turned off by all the radio-friendly fare. Admittedly, some of the radio-ready joints aren’t the best fit but I appreciated the attempt at evolution. Overall, it’s a solid follow-up to a stellar debut.

Forgotten favorites: “How Ya Livin,” “What’s the Deal,” “The Pay Back”

5. Legendary (2009)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said: AZ is best known for his mid-90s run but I think he truly found his stride in the ’00s, as the next few albums on this list will prove. AZ’s final LP to date was overlooked during the upheaval of hip-hop’s sound in 2009 but it proved to be a potent release. “This ain’t radio ready, this is mixtape heavy,” he proclaims on “Poli with Villains” and Sosa lives up to that claim. Impeccable wordplay, intriguing concepts and solid production make this one a sleeper.

Forgotten favorites: “Before It’s All Said and Done,” “Livin the Life,” “Poli with Villains”

4. The Format (2006)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said:  AZ solidified his rep as Mr. Consistency with The Format. Guests like Little Brother and MOP might seem like strange bedfellows on paper but the chemistry is pretty undeniable. With major names like DJ Premier, Lil’ Fame of MOP and Statik Selektah behind the boards, AZ has all the sonic superiority he needed to knock out another strong but highly underrated release.

Forgotten favorites: “The Format,” “Games,” “Rise and Fall”

3. A.W.O.L. (2005)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4 stars out of 5

Edd said:  I guess A.W.O.L. was a bit of a blessing in disguise. The album that would replace the shelved Final Call wound up much stronger than its predecessor – in fact, it’s one of the best outings in AZ’s catalog. Starting with this release, AZ mostly abandons the more flashy aspects of his persona that shined in previous albums, giving this album, and those that followed, an air of maturity and authority as an elder rap statesman. But never fear, the swag is still intact, and with the help of some of the hottest producers of the day (The Heatmakerz, Vinny Idol) and seasoned veterans (DJ Premier, Buckwild) he effortlessly dropped an air-tight release.

Forgotten favorites: “Can’t Stop,” “Street Life,” “The Come Up”

2. Aziatic (2002)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 4.5 stars out of 5

Edd said: Nas and AZ’s careers often have mirrored each other. Just as Nas found new life in 2001 with Stillmatic, AZ likewise caught fire a year later with Aziatic, the perfect evolution of his intricate bars and soulful production. AZ put the mixed reactions to his second and third albums in the rear view here, rekindling the spark that made him one of rap’s most promising young stars seven years earlier. Any doubts about AZ’s potential were quickly put to rest – it still stands as a must-listen today.

Forgotten favorites: “The Essence,” “I’m Back,” “Wanna Be There”

1. Doe or Die (1995)

Soul In Stereo ranking: 5 stars out of 5

Edd said: My friends and I used to jokingly call this album Illmatic 2 back in the 90s – trust me, that’s very lofty praise. Breaking ground as one of the era’s first mafioso-themed releases, Doe or Die takes the gritty coming-of-age tales of Illmatic and drops them into a gangster flick, giving this one a vividly cinematic feel. Its storytelling is compelling and, though it’s not often mentioned today, its influence is unquestionable. Twenty-six years later Doe or Die still reigns as one of rap’s greatest debut albums and easily one of the most unsung hip-hop LPs of all time.

Forgotten favorites: “Rather Unique,” “Mo Money, Mo Murder (Homicide),” “I Feel For You”

Which AZ albums are your favorites? Where do you stand on 9 Lives and Pieces of a Man? Let us know below.


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