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15 Truly Underrated Hip-Hop Albums

Since I had to conceal the “Parental Advisory” sticker to convince my mama to purchase my very first compact disc – Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s E. 1999 Eternal – from Blockbuster Music back in 1995, I’ve accumulated somewhere just south of 1,000 retail CDs.

After 21 years of collecting so much music, I’ve forgotten about certain albums that were significant to me in a space and time, especially when most other people don’t bring them up. The best part of this, of course, is digging through the crates from time to time and pulling out a disc I haven’t bumped since I was trying to kill my Jergens habit and actually lose my virginity.

As much as I love nerding out on hip-hop, it’s pretty boring at this point to discuss the musical and cultural impact of Illmatic. I no longer gain anything from the Reasonable Doubt versus The Blueprint debate. I don’t even care much about the best-solo-Wu-Tang-album discussion anymore. (The answer is Liquid Swords)

But I get truly excited when I’m building with my man Ed – one of maybe three people I know with a mutual deep knowledge of hip-hop – and he brings up an obscure, truly dope album like The Essence of J. Rawls or some other shit that no one with a “2” in front of their age would know or care about. Those rare discussions about underrated, under-discussed, underappreciated albums motivated this list.

These are hip-hop albums that you forgot, or never knew, are really fucking good. Not all are perfect, but each brought something to the fabric of the genre and are often forgotten even by my fellow nerds. Camouflage pants, backpacks and unkempt afros are essential apparel for reading this list.


1. Onyx – All We Got Iz Us (1995)

onyx

Onyx will always be best known for their 1993 Timb-stomping anthem “Slam” from Bacdafucup. But their ink-black sophomore album is vintage, mid-90s, shank-a-nigga New York hip-hop. The whole album is fire, but the classic “Last Dayz” – used to great effect in 8 Mile – alone merits it a spot on this list.

2. The Great White Hype Soundtrack (1996)

greatjpg

Just because I’ll stop and watch this movie whenever it comes on TBS doesn’t make it a good movie. The soundtrack, however, is a hip-hop centerpiece, thanks largely to two elements that mattered in the mid-90s: Wu-Tang and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. “Shoot ‘Em Up”? Classic. “Bring the Pain”? Classic. Even Camp Lo and Insane Clown Posse each have one of the best songs each group ever made on here. Shout out to the “Ghostface Killer” joint as well.

3. The Roots – Organix (1993)

organix.tif

The Roots is one of the best bands of all time in any genre, and 1999’s Things Fall Apart is one of the best albums of all time in any genre. But Organix deserves attention as the smoky-coffee-house debut of the Square Roots, a young, scatting Philly band that included a pre-hedonistic Scott Storch. It’s also proof that Black Thought has been elite for decades.

4. The Foreign Exchange – Connected (2004)

conn

I include this because I’ve been arguing for yearsthat Connected is better than Little Brother’s debut, The Listening. Bonds have been tested, mamas have been talked about and niggas have almost been slapped stupid over this debate. I maintain my position: Nicolay is one of the (if not the) baddest white boys to ever bless the boards, and Connected is his magnum opus.

5. Bumpy Knuckles – Industry Shakedown (2000)

bump

I’ve always appreciated Freddie Foxx because he’s the best emcee on every Gangstarr track he ever blessed and because I’m pretty sure he could genuinely fuck someone up with his two paws. His second album has damn near the same producer line-up I would’ve wanted if I cut a major-label rap album at the turn of the century (Primo, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Diamond D). A breath of fresh air during the commercial ascendancy of Cash Money Records.

6. Pete Rock – Soul Survivor (1998)

pete

Pete Rock is a top-fiveG.O.A.T.producer, and his jazz-driven aesthetic was at its peak for this “solo” album – basically a compilation since Pete knows he can’t carry an album rapping on his own. Fortunately, he had the majority of Wu-Tang Clan on here, along with Black Thought, MC Eiht, Big Pun and other heavy hitters who bodied his production. Unlike several albums on this list, Soul Survivor has aged remarkably.

7. Shaquille O’Neal – You Can’t Stop the Reign (1996)

shaq

Most Millennials were fortunate to miss the trend of athletes shitting on wax and calling it rap. But while no one would put Shaq in their top anything, dude had a few 90s bangers thanks to a great rap network. (RZA must’ve gotten paid.) His third album is full of better hip-hop than most albums that have dropped in the last decade and a half; it made this list for four reasons: “Still Can’t Stop the Reign”, with its dope Loose Ends sample and Biggie verse; “No Love Lost” with its still-hungry Jay-Z verse; “Legal Money” with Mobb Deep; and Rakim bodying “Game of Death.”

8. Xzibit – At the Speed of Life (1996)

xz

Most people know Xzibit as the dude who hosted that show that ”put together” shitbox cars. But X has always been an above-average emcee, and his debut album is a west coast masterpiece. “Paparazzi” and “The Foundation” are classics in their own right, but this is one of few no-skip albums in my expansive collection. It also gets a shout-out for being one of the first Enhanced CDs. You aren’t an 80s baby if you didn’t struggle to get an Enhanced CD working on a machine running Windows 3.1.

9. Prince Paul – A Prince Among Thieves (1999)

PP

If not hip-hop’s first concept album, certainly the only one in the genre that really matters outside of Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. Well-respected at the time it dropped, people don’t talk about this seminal hip-hop opera anymore.

10. Busta Rhymes – The Coming (1996)

busta

Busta Rhymes is arguably the most underrated rapper of all time, and his debut album remains his Reasonable Doubt. Sure “Woo Hah!! Got You all in Check” had mainstream success, but the entire album featured some of Easy Moe Bee and The Ummah’s best production. It also has “Flipmode Squad Meets Def Squad”, one of my favorite posse cuts ever.

11. The Game – Jesus Piece (2012)

game

Hear me out. Game will never be mistaken for atop-tier emcee, but the reason he’s still putting out relevant albums on a regular basis after 11 years is because he has a nonpareil industry Rolodex and a ridiculous ear for beats. Jesus Piece is one of the best-produced rap albums of this decade. Cool & Dre, Boi 1-da and Black Metaphor created a sublime soundscape for a hilariously blasphemous album. They had me when they flipped Florence + The Machine’s “Seven Devils” for “Ali Bomaye.”

12. Big Punisher – Capital Punishment (1998)

pun

Pun’s only full-length contribution to hip-hop while still living is one of the last great albums of the genre’s Renaissance era. However, it’s shamefully almost never included in conversations about classics. The modern Puerto Rican anthem “Still Not a Player” is actually one of the worst tracks on an album that showcased Pun’s crazy wordplay over fire production from the Beatnuts, Rockwilder, RZA and others. Jay-Z was in his prime when Capital Punishment dropped, but this album got more burn from me than any of his at the time.

13. Bahamadia – Kollage (1996)

bahama

The best hip-hop album from a female rapper of all time. Period. It’s not even close. I’ve never heard a woman’s flow sound anything like Bahamadia’s, and DJ Premier and Da Beatminerz laced the fuck out of the whole damn record. If The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill had been a full rap album, that might have been the only real competition Kollage ever had.

14. Slum Village – Slum Village (2005)

slum

Everyone rightfully loves Fantastic, Vol. 1 and 2. The fifth SV album, however, served as the perfect vehicle for the era of Elzhi, the lyrically strongest member the group ever had. Similar to what Kanye West and Just Blaze did with Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, this album was made great by B.R. Gunna, the now-defunct production duo of Black Milk and Young R.J. Whatever the hell Slum Village is now, I’m pretty certain that this will be the last great album to come from the group.

15. Keith Murray – Enigma (1996)

keith

One of the albums that made me really fall in love with hip-hop. As is the case with Redman’s earlier works, your opinion on how this album aged will depend largely on how tightly you hang on to mid-90s rap and Erick Sermon’s somewhat dated production. I think very few people under the age of 30 would appreciate Enigma now, but it still bangs in the whip and Murray will remain one of those historically unsung emcees, despite what happened here.

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Dustin Seibert

Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavy weights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. He writes like the English language is going outta style because the steaks in his freezer are dependent on it.

  • Small axe

    The prince Paul joint was a classic concept album. Honorable mention hoes to Sticky Fingas, Kirk jones, handsome boy modeling school and 88-keys , Death of Adam

    • Death of Adam is SO good…and I always feel like I”m the only one who listens to it. I also LOVE Chiddy Bang…like…ALL of it…and I feel alone in that as well.

      • Brandon Allen

        HAVE YOU HEARD THE STORY? ABOUT A MAN. WHO HAD A PLAN, A PLAN. OHHHH. TO KEEP IT MOVIN!

      • Trill Mickelson

        I listen to The Death of Adam every couple months.

    • DBoySlim

      That Kirk Jones joint was so ill. It kinda drew you in.

  • miss t-lee

    Capital Punishment was underrated?
    Oh.

    • I know right.

      • miss t-lee

        Maybe we remember 1998 incorrectly?

        • Nah, I remember it rather fondly. That fat f**k put out a solid disc.

      • Epsilonicus

        I know people who know who Pun is and his singles, but dont know the album

    • Brandon Allen

      I think it’s underrated in the sense that Pun is dead. So when you make a list like this you gotta bring it up like that street basketball legend that didn’t make it.

      • Question

        And since when is Platinum status a sign of anything? I think Dustin was speaking in terms of lyrical respect rather than popular appeal. No one ever mentions Big Pun in their list of top 5/10/20/234,987,345,987 rappers, but based on his output, there’s no reason for the exclusion…

        • miss t-lee

          Anyone who listened to Pun, knows that he would be included on anyone’s top list. That is, if you’re really listening to the music for the lyricism.

          • panamajackson

            I’m not sure I agree. As you can imagine (and I’m sure you do too), I have 50-11 greatest rapper of all time debates per year. Pun rarely cracks that list. That one album was big, and it went platinum cuz of the remix, but I do think that universally, you’d be hard pressed to find a majority of folks who have pun on any top list.

            • miss t-lee

              Yes PJack we have these discussions often…lol
              The majority of fans are not the ones having these top whatever rappers, and you know it. It’s mostly the die hards, and I believe that they do know the level of talent.

            • RewindingtonMaximus

              That’s because Pun was more in the vein of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, but to a large community of hip-hop lovers, he is a G.O.A.T.

            • because he shouldn’t be on any unless we’re talking about Puerto Rican superheroes.

          • Question

            Maybe you’re right – I’ve never heard anyone mention them in their lists…and its not for lack of respect. I think he just get overlooked. I live on the West Coast – that may have something to do with it.

            • miss t-lee

              Overlooked, yes maybe.
              However, I just can’t get with the fact that a platinum selling album was underrated.

              • Epsilonicus

                Back then you could go plat but not have the kind of exposure.

                I know lots of people from different regions who know fo Big Pun but never listened to his album outside the singles

                • miss t-lee

                  I know y’all wanna debate in circles, but my point remains…lol

                  • Epsilonicus

                    Underrated albums can go platinum the same way trash albums can (Lauryn Hill Unplugged album)

          • That track he did with Black Thought is a masterpiece. Speaking of another slept on artist (who likely has the dopest name in hiphopdom)

            • miss t-lee

              Love Black Thought, and yes…one of the best monikers in hip hop.

            • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

              Thought is always in my top five.

      • DBoySlim

        I’d put Big L in the PeeWee Kirkland category.

        • Julian Green

          He’s only known in New York?

          • DBoySlim

            Not only in New York. I meant he never made the league(major releases).

            • kid video

              (RIP) Half A Mil, Stack Bundles, Chinx Drugz

        • Big Los CD was hot shyt.

      • miss t-lee

        Thing is…he made it though.
        Just because he’s died, didn’t mean his career wasn’t huge. Heyll, til this day, I love Pun. Own both albums.

        Underrated to me, means it didn’t get it’s props because nobody really heard it, and it didn’t get it’s due outside of critical acclaim.
        That would not be the case here.

        • Brandon Allen

          I mean that’s fair reasoning, but, as time goes on only certain names are going to stand out. The top 10 rappers of 1998 matter in 98 but only the top 2 or 3 are gonna matter in 2020.

          • miss t-lee

            Nah. I don’t agree.
            Then again, I don’t really need it explained to me either…lol

            • Julian Green

              It might be a regional thing; down South, I never heard much about Big Pun- or really any NY rappers that weren’t what you could consider “top-tier”.

              • miss t-lee

                I live in Texas, born and raised. We loved Pun.
                Now Jay is another story. I know I didn’t start listening to him until Big Pimpin. And…that was only because of UGK.

                • DBoySlim

                  Wow. My story was almost opposite. If it wasn’t for my roommate freshman year, I would not love UGK the way I do.

                  • miss t-lee

                    *daps*

              • Really? Pun got radio burn while I was in college. NY rappers who weren’t top-tier probably didn’t burn on NY radio in 98 but Pun was top tier during that time.

                • RewindingtonMaximus

                  See NY radio stations never gave way to letting us know how NY rappers got burn in other states, nor did we really hear South rap until 99. outside of Outkast.

                  • Quirlygirly

                    Yup, I didn’t know what rappers was doing around the country but if they got spin in NY they were doing big things. Then I went to college and my love for other non NY artists blosomed

                    • RewindingtonMaximus

                      Exactly. DC & MD radio stations helped me realize NY radio stations were never really helpful.

                • Question

                  Not out here on the West Coast either. Hip hop was uber regional in the 90s….so even Nor Cal hip hop might not be widely circulated/known down South and vv.

                  • A lot of the stations that we listened to would play anything if it was dope so that’s how I heard a lot of stuff.

                  • Kas

                    Pun died in 2000. And I definitely knew of him. I’m from SoCal. Honestly, I think I was more likely to hear artists from the East Coast over those from NorCal. No shade or shots intended.

    • TheCollinB

      #iwaspackinthamacinthabackoftheac

      • Mrs_diabolique

        My daughter was born in ’98 and her father taught her this line two years later.

        • TheCollinB

          Your child’s father, is THAT n*gga. Clap for that man.

          • Anitalmaroney4

            “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ce336ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ce336n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsSpinGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!ce336n….,

        • Sheilarbold

          “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ce139ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ce139n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsGiftGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!ce139n….,….

      • Beat Doctor

        “Dead in the middle of little Italy/Little did we know that we riddled some middlemen/Who didn’t do diddly.” — Maaaan now I gotta go listen to this again.

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      Yea…most conversations of top hip-hop albums have Capital Punishment in it, so I don’t know how it is underrated.

      Is it always in the same conversation as Reasonable Doubt or Illmatic? No but that’s because that conversation takes a different turn. If you just want to speak on pure, raw hip-hop that cleared a benchmark, then Capital Punishment been there, done that.

      • miss t-lee

        Bingo.

      • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

        It can still be underrated, but yeah….True story. Most lyrical hip hops heads I’ve spoken with (both knowledgeable and in the streets) mention it in that same grouping. But these are predominantly NY based hip hop dudes, and I’ve always known Pun is certainly a home town favorite, so I’m not sure as to what extent this album is heralded outside of the tri-state area.

    • legitimate_soul

      Absolutely right. That album was big and meaningful for Pun.

      • miss t-lee

        Was hoping you’d chime in chica!

    • Dude low-key loved trains too.

      • miss t-lee

        Ha! So many questions.

    • Cleojonz

      That record was dope. It’s one of few you can play front to back. I couldn’t even believe he could rhyme that fast and clearly as big as he was. I’m out breathe just thinking about trying to rap like that.

      • miss t-lee

        Front to back, it jammed.

    • Beat Doctor

      I was thinking the same thing. This album got a lot of acclaim when it came out, as I recall.

      • miss t-lee

        Yes, indeed.

  • Julian Green

    Wow. The cover art on 90’s albums was atrocious!

    • Quirlygirly

      LOL!! It was the 90s, there are a lot of regrettable things from back then

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      Dude have you seen Cross Colours & Karl Kani?

      The 90s built the word atrocious

      • Quirlygirly

        So many regrettable fashions..I did not have Cross Colours & Karl Kani cause broke but I had some other things that I shake my head at now..ie those shiny quilt jackets..smdh!!

        • miss t-lee

          We all unfortunately had those jackets…lol
          Walking around looking like construction workers.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            With shoulder pads

            • miss t-lee

              Dark time in fashion.

    • Those no limit covers look like 5th grade photoshop,

  • Question

    I struggle with The Game. Lyrically he is legitimate. But something about him seems so inauthentic to me that I struggle to even give him his due.

    And Shaq? I refuse. Or rather, I’ll take your word for it (or I won’t and just pretend like it was never said)…

    • I always thought Game was corny. I saw number seven and started looking out the window for Feds #pleasecheckemforawireoraearpiece

      • Question

        He’s too Try Hard for me. He reminds me of the kids I grew up with trying to way too hard to “identify” with 90s Gangsta/5% culture despite driving Mom’s Volvo station wagon to and from school…

        It just doesn’t work.

    • Brandon Allen

      Did you see the Magic Moment documentary?
      Sometimes I forget how big Shaq was/is.

    • TheCollinB

      Jesus Piece shoulda been “Ingleworld: The Prequel” because Skeme wrote a lot of that album. He’s featured on a few songs I think.

      Skeme legit tho

  • 4. This was the Foreign Exchange album that I actually liked.
    9, 14, and 13 were solid

    Pharoahe Monch’s Desire is one of my underrated favorites.

    • miss t-lee

      yeah Connected is my fave from them also. I liked LIAB, but everything after that? *yawn*

      • The music on the other FE albums isn’t bad but I listen and think “What are we doing here?”

        • miss t-lee

          Valid…lol

          • It’s like a the white keyboard player and a cat from your choir who people told “You can sang!” his whole life decided to make music together.

            • miss t-lee

              If you could have heard the ugly sniggle I just let out.

              • …but am I wrong?

                • RewindingtonMaximus

                  lmao yes…damn Wu crushing dreams

                  • If you don’t learn it from me you’ll learn it in the streets.

                    • RewindingtonMaximus

                      I get that FE is a special taste mostly because a lot of neo-soul is the same.

                      I got interested once I heard the second album. I admit their later stuff hasn’t pulled me in, but I will go to their concert next month and still be lit.

                    • I get that. I feel that way about neo-soul. It was cool at first then I just couldn’t see myself getting swept up in waves of earth tones although there are some dope artists in that sub genre.

                    • RewindingtonMaximus

                      Yea I’m with you on that. It almost is a parody of itself at times, that’s why I can barely touch it outside of FE

                • miss t-lee

                  Of course you aren’t…lol

    • miss t-lee

      I saw Pharaohe in concert some years back. Great, great show.

      • Beat Doctor

        Agree. Caught him on the Spitkicker tour w/Common, Talib, De La & Biz. Best hip-hop show I’ve ever been to (although seeing Can Ox & J-Live was damn close)

        • miss t-lee

          This is a great line-up!

          • Beat Doctor

            It really was — Common and Talib both in their prime. Pharoahe Monch too, right after the release of the “Internal Affairs” record. Plus I met Biz after the show at a gas station near the venue!

            • miss t-lee

              Awesome.

    • Trill Mickelson

      I think Monch is underrated in general, but yeah, Desire is dope. “They research my stem cells, clone ten of me / Send one of ’em back in time just to get rid of me / Stop Pharoahe Monch from having verbal epiphanies / Now that’s new definition to your own worst enemy”

  • andrewkam

    At the Speed of Life, Capital Punishment, The Coming, Prince Among Thieves, and All We Got Iz Us were all rated pretty well at the time (and probably still are). All of them had strong sales (except maybe Thieves), positive critical reception, and are regarded well but most of the people around when they came out.

  • QueenRaven23

    I like Jesus Piece and I feel bad for liking it.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-LUnRROQz1Ac/UbasUsCef5I/AAAAAAAAArE/jWD5svDH9gw/s1600/lb+minstrel.jpg

    I will continue to stan for this album. It’s in my top 5 of all time. There’s just something about the concept, the lyrics, and the message it is trying to convey that just makes me feel like hip-hop should have taken it more seriously.

    • DBoySlim

      Having Chris Hardwick as the host made it so interesting. I felt like I was at a show. And don’t get me started on the parody songs.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I’m literally a fan of Chris Hardwick to this day just because he did the hosting skit.

        Yo, 5th & Fashion…on my Blackplanet page, I put that up as the song to play on a loop. Do you know how many private messages I used to get asking me where that store was?

        • DBoySlim

          At 5th and Fashion. Betta call your nigaaaas!

        • Zo Williams

          Baby momma Tameka and daughters Faith and Abstinence

    • I dated a guy in college who was a Little Brother stan… I never listened to them because I think that year I was all Blaze a blaze, galang galang galang. He talked about them so much whenever music came up my face was constantly:

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Well technically….as much as I heart you buddy…you’d talk the same way about Childish Gambino if nobody interrupts you.

        • Nah, you have to respect that other people aren’t going to “get it” like you do and shhh… I’d quietly slip some Childish Gambino under your pillow at night, but I wouldn’t talk you to death about him. That bond is between he (my bew) and I.

    • cakes_and_pies

      I wore this CD out so much, I had to buy it twice.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        To this day, I have to play it at least once a month.

        Especially my favorite song, Not Good Enough. That chorus just calls to me everyday.

        • Percy muphuggin Miracles

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            You was cheatin/to the window/to the wall/skeet skeetin!

        • cakes_and_pies

          Zo!, Phonte, and the Foreign Exchange collective can capture your soul and spit you out raw.

          • Ari

            “Zo!, Phonte, and the Foreign Exchange collective can capture your soul and spit you out raw.”

            I just let out a deep happy sigh from that quote.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            lmao that is so random and so true at the same time

    • Ari

      Yeeeessssss. Edit: This album is still played like it just came out yesterday. 9th Wonder beats for life.

      • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

        Just spent all weekend bumping 9th Wonder beats to avoid listening to lyrics and think about the Purple One.

    • Julian Green

      When I was in the 10th grade, my best friend’s older brother burned me a copy of this album and said, “you need to listen to this”. This was the greatest album I had ever heard; it had everything! Dope beats! Dope concepts! Skits that were actually funny! “I got your head still bobbin’ and my verse didn’t rhyme”! I seriously tried to get everyone I knew to listen to this CD; nobody else was fuc*ing with it. I quickly decided I needed new friends.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        hahaha listen man, I had the same problem. Trying to get all my Howard friends to bounce to some eye-opening rap instead of rocking with TI & Jeezy at that moment wasn’t happening.

        But still I really feel like it is one of the best hip-hop albums ever created, and definitely my favorite album outside of Reasonable Doubt.

    • Zo Williams

      Im from Nc and this album was big here to the real hip hop heads..

    • kid video

      “Hiding Place” is my joint.

  • 14… that is all. RIP Baatin.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Oh yea…Onyx – Last Dayz…yo if the apocalypse comes and I got 4 minutes to myself before I die…THIS WILL BE MY LAST SONG.

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