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list Aug 14 2017 Written by

15 Great Hip Hop Albums: A List Of Personal Favorites

hip hop albums

At HHGA we love lists. Although most lists are largely subjective, and it can be argued compiling lists is a futile exercise, we still love ’em – if only because lists can serve as a perfect starting point for discussions to help keep classic Hip Hop alive.

Now this list is a strictly personal one. These are the albums I actually listen to most, then and now. No consideration is given to popularity, sales figures, historical significance or whatever. 2Pac, Biggie, Jay Z and Dr Dre are the names you see top most Golden Age Hip Hop lists. Even though I’ve enjoyed enough of their music and I recognize and respect their significance in Hip Hop, I’ve never been a big fan of most of these artists respective albums. Consequently, they have never been on heavy rotation on my sound systems.

Another album that deservedly tops every list is Nas’ Illmatic, one of the most important albums in Hip Hop, an undisputable classic without a doubt and an album I really do love – but it’s not one I listen to regularly. The Hip Hop albums that are my true favorites are listed here – in no particular order.

Let’s get into it – there’s no disagreeing and no need to get mad, because these are MY personal favorites. Feel free to share YOUR personal Top 10 or 15 – so albums you actually listen to all the time – in the comments!

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)

A Tribe Called Quest "The Low End Theory" (1991)

The Low End Theory definitely is one of my all-time favorites. This album provides the definitive statement about what creativity, innovation, artistry, fun and raw talent can produce. Building on the quality work of their debut, Tribe perfected the fusion of jazzy influences and bass heavy Hip Hop beats. The Low End Theory is so coherent and consistent, it almost feels like one long song – in this case a good thing.

Eric B & Rakim - Follow The Leader (1988)

Eric B & Rakim "Follow The Leader" 1988

Probably my favorite Eric B & Rakim album, although that’s a hard call to make. For me, Follow The Leader edges the others because of the three opening tracks – I think there is NO album in existence with a stronger opening trio of songs than “Follow The Leader”, “Microphone Fiend” and “Lyrics Of Fury”. If you can think of such an album I sure would love to hear the title.

OutKast - ATLiens (1996)

outkast-atliens

Southern Hip Hop has never really been my thing. I love some of Scarface’s and the Geto Boys’ work (still listen to that 1990 Geto Boys / Rick Rubin remix album a lot) and have UGK, Eightball & MJG and some others in my collection. Despite not being a Southern Hip Hop fan, OutKast is one of my go-to acts – especially their first four albums are always on hand.

ATLiens is my all-time OutKast favorite and always on rotation. Quality straight through, no skits, no frills – just straight up Hip Hop with that unique OutKast twist. How can you not love this album?

Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush The Show (1987)

public enemy album cover 1987

By 1987 I’d been listening to Hip Hop for about four years, buying or taping anything I could get my hands on. It was this album that turned me from a casual fan to a Hip Hop fanatic. I distinctly remember finding Yo! Bum Rush The Show as a new release in the (small) Hip Hop section of my local record store and giving it to the girl behind the counter so she could set me up for a listen. When I heard the opening tunes of “You Gonna Get Yours” I was blown away.

Public Enemy’s sophomore album would turn out to be THE ultimate defining Hip Hop classic – a perfect album – but their rough-around-the-edges debut may just be my favorite P.E. album. There is probably not an album in the world I’ve listened to more often than Yo! Bum Rush The Show.

Paris - The Devil Made Me Do it (1990)

paris_the_devil-1024x1024

This album is underrated as hell. This is what Hip Hop is all about – intelligent, thought-provoking – sometimes controversial –  lyrics over dope beats. The Devil Made Me Do It is a forgotten classic, but one I keep going back to.

Ultramagnetic MCs - Critical Beatdown (1988)

critical beatdown

Critically acclaimed, but at the same time slept on and somehow underappreciated – not by me though. One of my favorites ever since it came out, this album was way ahead of its time in terms of originality and innovativeness. Very consistent too – no weak tracks on Critical Beatdown.

Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca And The Soul Brother (1992)

mecca-soul-brother

For me, the mark of a true classic is if it sounds as fresh today as it did the day it was released. This is one of those albums, an album that has aged like a fine wine. Smooth and irresistible, Mecca And The Soul Brother is a timeless masterpiece that can be played on any occasion and that can fit any mood. Certainly one of my favorites.

Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded (1987)

boogie down productions 1987 criminal minded

Critically important, Criminal Minded (along with other groundbreaking 1987 debuts of Eric B & Rakim (Paid In Full) and Public Enemy (Yo! Bum Rush The Show) is one of the albums that would set the standard for Golden Age of Hip Hop and that provided the foundation for 1988, Hip Hop’s real break-out year.

The sparse production by Scott La Rock (with the at the time uncredited Ced Gee of the Ultramagnetic MCs) combined with KRS One’s lyrical content and distinctive delivery make this album a definitive Hip Hop classic, that without a doubt is up there with the greatest Hip Hop albums of all time.

Ice T - Original Gangster (1991)

ice t o g

Ice T’s best album Original Gangster is a long album, but it is put together PERFECTLY. It feels and flows JUST RIGHT. You can just feel the love and the energy that went into the making of Original Gangster. It is one of those albums that feels as fresh today as it did when it was released, an album I keep on constant rotation because it never gets old.

Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

nationofmillions

This is THE ultimate classic. In my opinion, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is the best album ever made – in any genre. EVERYTHING about this album is just perfect. It transcends the genre of Hip Hop, any self-respecting lover of music in general needs to have Public Enemy’s absolute masterpiece in their collection.

Stetsasonic - On Fire (1986)

On_Fire

This one will forever hold a special place in my heart, as it was one of the first albums I bought with my own money. It is also one of the first Hip Hop albums I ever owned, along with LL Cool J’s Radio, Run DMC’s Raising Hell and Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill. All classic albums that I love to this day, but out of these four, Stetsasonic’s debut is the one I always have ready to go.

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)

BeastieBoysPaulsBoutique

This musical masterpiece took some getting used to (because it was so different from the juvenile fun that was Licensed To Ill), but Paul’s Boutique is another one of those albums that gets better with each passing year – the mark of a true classic.

Gang Starr - Step In The Arena (1991)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

Step In The Arena is my favorite Gang Starr album and that’s saying a lot because the three albums that would follow this one are all pretty flawless too. Step In The Arena is a long album but there are no filler tracks. You can listen to the whole album without having to skip a song. After an OK debut album, this was the beginning of Gang Starr’s flawless discography and an album I always have close by.

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)

A Tribe Called Quest "Midnight Marauders" (1993)

The second Tribe album on this list, because it is nearly impossible to choose which one I love more. Faced with the impossible task of following up on the flawless masterpiece that is The Low End Theory, with Midnight Marauders Tribe delivered an album that is every bit as awesome as its predecessor was. There can be no greater praise.

Dr Octagon - Dr Octagonecologist (1996)

octagonecolygist

Together with Critical Beatdown, his debut as part of Ultramagnetic MCs, this is the second absolute classic in Kool Keith’s vast discography. Like Critical Beatdown, this album was so far ahead of its time, I’m not sure if the world has caught up yet. The production by Dan The Automater is absolutely phenomenal. Innovative, eery, spaced-out: the instrumentals provide the perfect backdrop for Kool Keith’s trademark bizarre lyrics. I never leave home without Dr. Octagonecologist ready to play

Others...

Limiting this list to only 15 albums was HARD. Here are some more albums that would make my personal Top 100, albums that still find their way to my playlists or CD-players regularly:

  • Mantronix – Mantronix
  • Run DMC – Raising Hell
  • Beastie Boys – Licensed To Ill
  • Schoolly D – Schoolly D
  • Schoolly D – Saturday Nigth The Album
  • Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full
  • Eric B & Rakim – Let The Rhythm Hit Em
  • Eric B & Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique
  • EPMD – Strictly Business
  • EPMD – Unfinished Business
  • MC Lyte – Lyte As A Rock
  • Big Daddy Kane – Long Live The Kane
  • Big Daddy Kane – It’s A Big Daddy Thing
  • Slick Rick – The Great Adventures…
  • Chill Rob G – Ride The Rhythm
  • Young MC – Stone Cold Rhymin
  • Kool G Rap – Road To The Riches
  • Kool G Rap – Wanted Dead Or Alive
  • Master Ace – Take A Look Around
  • Boogie Down Productions – By All Means Necessary
  • Boogie Down Productions – Sex & Violence
  • KRS One – Return Of The Boom Bap
  • Ice T – Rhyme Pays
  • Ice T – Power
  • Ice T – The Iceberg
  • LL Cool J – Radio
  • LL Cool J – Bigger And Deffer
  • LL Cool J – Walking With A Panther
  • LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out
  • 3rd Bass- The Cactus Album
  • Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet
  • Public Enemy – Apocalypse ’91
  • Eazy E – Eazy Duz It
  • N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton
  • The D.O.C. – No One Can Do It Better
  • Too Short – Life Is…
  • Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted
  • Ice Cube – Death Certificate
  • Above The Law – Livin’ Like Hustlers
  • Dr Dre – The Chronic
  • Brand Nubian – One For All
  • A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels…
  • De La Soul – 3 Feet High & Rising
  • De La Soul – De La Soul Is Dead
  • De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate
  • De La Soul – Stakes Is High
  • Jungle Brothers – Straight Out The Jungle
  • Jungle Brothers – Done By The Forces Of Nature
  • Main Source – Breaking Atoms
  • Black Sheep – A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
  • Intelligent Hoodlum – Intelligent Hoodlum
  • O.C. – Word… Life
  • Nas – Illmatic
  • Nas – The Lost Tapes
  • Gang Starr – Daily Operation
  • Gang Starr – Hard To Earn
  • Gang Starr – Moment Of Truth
  • Jeru The Damaja – The Sun Rises In The East
  • Geto Boys – Geto Boys
  • Scarface – Mr Scarface Is Back
  • Scarface – The Diary
  • Lord Finesse – Funky Technician
  • Lord Finesse – Return Of The Funky Man
  • Showbiz & AG – Runaway Slave
  • Diamond D – Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop
  • Queen Latifah – Black Reign
  • Black Moon – Enta Da Stage
  • Hardknocks – School Of Hardknocks
  • Organized Konfusion – Organized Konfusion
  • Organized Konfusion – Stress…
  • Digable Planets – Reachin’
  • Digable Planets – Blowout Comb
  • Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die
  • Pete Rock & CL Smooth – The Main Ingredient
  • Wu Tang Clan – Return To The Wu Tang (36 Chambers)
  • Wu Tang Clan – Wu Tang Forever
  • Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
  • GZA – Liquid Swords
  • Ghostface Killah – Ironman
  • Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg – Doggystyle
  • Souls of Mischief – 93 Til Infinity
  • The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde
  • The Pharcyde – Lacabincalifornia
  • Goodie Mob – Soul Food
  • Big L – The Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous
  • 2Pac- Me Against The World
  • Mobb Deep – The Infamous
  • Show & AG – Goodfellas
  • AZ – Doe Or Die
  • Ras Kass – Soul On Ice
  • Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night
  • Mood – Doom
  • Redman – Muddy Waters
  • Poor Righteous Teachers – The New World Order
  • Bahamadia – Kollage
  • Common – Resurrection
  • Common – One Day It’ll All Make Sense
  • Common – Like Water For Chocolate
  • Common – BE
  • The Fugees – The Score
  • The Roots – Illadelph Halflife
  • The Roots – Things Fall Apart
  • Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5
  • Jurassic 5 – Quality Control
  • Black Star – Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
  • Mos Def – Black On Both Sides
  • Reflection Eternal – Train Of Thought
  • dead prez – Lets Get Free
  • Slum Village – Fantastic Vol 2
  • Big Pun – Capital Punishment
  • The Coup – Steal This Album
  • Hieroglyphics – 3rd Eye Vision
  • Aceyalone – A Book Of Human Language
  • Styles Of Beyond – 2000 Fold
  • Pharoahe Monch – Internal Affairs
  • Talib Kweli – Quality
  • Kool Keith – Sex Style
  • Dr. Dooom – First Come First Served
  • MF DOOM – Operation Doomsday
  • MF DOOM – Mm Food
  • Binary Star – Masters Of The Universe
  • Zion I – Mind Over Matter
  • Jedi Mind Tricks – Violent By Design
  • Jedi Mind Tricks – Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell
  • Dilated Peoples – The Platform
  • People Under The Stairs – The Next Step
  • People Under The Stairs – Question In The Form Of An Answer
  • Jay Z – The Blueprint
  • OutKast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
  • OutKast – Aquemini
  • OutKast – Stankonia
  • Eminem – The SS LP
  • Eminem – The MM LP
  • Eminem – The Eminem Show
  • Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030
  • Blackalicious – Nia
  • Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus
  • Canibal Ox – The Cold Vein
  • Masta Ace – Disposable Arts
  • Madvillain – Madvillainy
  • Cunninlynguists – A Piece Of Strange
  • Blu & Exile – Under The Heavens
  • Blueprint – 1988
  • Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol 1
  • Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol 2
  • Aesop Rock – Labor Days
  • Mr Lif – I Phantom
  • Brother Ali – Shadows On The Sun
  • Atmosphere – God Loves Ugly
  • Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine…
  • J-Live – All Of The Above
  • J- Live – The Best Part
  • Little Brother – The Listening
  • Little Brother – The Minstrel Show
  • R.A. The Rugged Man – Die Rugged Man Die
  • Murs & 9th Wonder – Murs 3:16 The 9th Edition
  • Canibus – Rip The Jacker
  • Elzhi – The Preface
  • Lyricist Lounge Vol 1
  • Soundbombing Vol 2

Written by

HHGA founder. Hip Hop historian. Avid reader. Proud dad. Marketing guy. Top 5 Golden Age MCs: Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS One, Chuck D, Nas…

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