100 Essential Southern Rap Albums: [Southern Hip Hop is a blanket term for a regional genre of American Hip Hop music that emerged in the Southern United States, especially in Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, Memphis, and Miami—five cities that constitute the “Southern Network” in rap music.
The music was a reaction to the 1980s flow of Hip Hop culture from New York City and the Los Angeles area and can be considered the third major American Hip Hop scene, alongside East Coast Hip Hop and West Coast Hip Hop. By the early 2000s, many Southern artists had attained national success, and as the decade went on, both mainstream and underground varieties of Southern Hip Hop became among the most popular and influential of the entire genre.]
Music from artists from cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston, and Memphis will make up most of this list, but since it’s also considered part of the Southern United States a number of albums of artists hailing from states such as Kentucky, North Carolina, and even Virginia will have a place on this list.
Let’s get into it – in this piece, you will find 100 rap albums – no mixtapes, no EPs – we consider to be essential works to come out of the South, not ranked but presented in release year order. Also, check the honorable mentions section at the end – it was hard to limit this list to ‘just’ 100 albums. What do YOU think? Are your favorite Southern rap albums here? Do you think any essential records are missing? Share your thoughts in the comments!
2 Live Crew - As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1989)
2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be is one of the first widely appreciated Southern Hip Hop albums, and a trailblazing album in many ways. Luke Skyywalker and his crew were frontrunners in the freedom of speech struggle, which in rap music was under threat from conservatives in the late 1980s. Admittedly, the subject matter of 2 Live Crew’s music was controversial, to say the least – the album is almost exclusively made up of juvenile sexual explicitness. Good fun for some, apparently unbearable for people like free-speech abolitionists. As Nasty As They Wanna Be was the first album in history to be deemed legally obscene – all the controversy didn’t hurt the album’s popularity none of course: it eventually reached double-platinum status. Whether you like the album or not, there’s no denying the significance nor the classic status of As Nasty As They Wanna Be.
Geto Boys - Grip It! On That Other Level (1989)
Grip It! On That Other Level (1989) was Geto Boys‘ second album, but the first one with the ‘realest’ line-up: Scarface, Willie D & Bushwick Bill (plus DJ Ready Red). Grip It! On That Other Level was as groundbreaking as NWA’s Straight Outta Compton (1988) was in many ways – a trailblazing classic.
Geto Boys - Geto Boys (1990)
Those of you who are actually going to count if there are really 100 albums on this list, will find that in actuality there are 101 albums here – that’s because we count this album as the same entry as Geto Boys’ Grip It! On That Other Level. Geto Boys is a revamped version of Grip It! On That Other Level with a couple of extra tracks added. Rick Rubin’s involvement on the production side makes Geto Boys the best album in an overall strong catalog. So: Grip It! On That Other Level is the original groundbreaking Geto Boys album, but Geto Boys is even better – that is why they both need to be here.
Scarface - Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991)
A great start to an epic solo career by one of the game’s most respected emcees. With the experience of a few Geto Boys albums under his belt, Scarface hammers out his solid debut, much in the same vein as what he did with the Geto Boys. Dark, brooding, hardcore – this plays like a violent movie.
Arrested Development - 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... (1992)
Arrested Development is rather a unique act, with its blend of spirituality, political content, black awareness, intelligence, respect, and positivity. 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of… is great and highly original album with a few classic tracks (“People Everyday”, “Tennessee” and “Mr. Wendal”) on it.
Ganksta NIP - The South Park Psycho (1992)
Rap-A-Lot is a label that has never been afraid of releasing controversial albums. This album released on the legendary Houston label contains even more psychotic, deranged and outrageous subject matter than anything labelmates Geto Boys have ever thought up on their darkest days. Deep bass and lyrics that are like screenplays for horror movies, this is an early horrorcore classic. Dissociate, take what you hear with a grain of salt and enjoy the craziness of the south park psycho. Guest artists on The South Park Psycho include future routine collaborators, Dope-E, K-Rino, and Seagram. Willie D and Scarface of the Geto Boys appear on the track “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”. Even though Ganksta NIP would go on and release a lot more insanity on wax in a career still going strong, his debut The South Park Psycho will forever be his most notable effort.
UGK - Too Hard To Swallow (1992)
Bun B and Pimp C (RIP) are pioneers of Southern Hip Hop. Lots of people think Ridin’ Dirty is UGK’s debut album when in actuality this one is. This album can be seen as one of the cornerstones of the unfortunate trap trend we are experiencing now, but in 1992 it still was somewhat original – and UGK really had a dope sound. The lyrics are mostly about criminal enterprises (before that subject matter got really tired), the difference between UGK and most acts that would follow/clone them is that UGK makes it sound GOOD. “Pocket Full Of Stones”, “Cocaine In The Back Of The Ride”, “Something Good”, “Use Me Up” – plenty of UGK classics on Too Hard To Swallow.
Geto Boys - We Can't Be Stopped (1992)
We Can’t Be Stopped contains the monster track “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” – one of Hip Hop’s biggest tracks, ever. The album has more to offer, though. Besides the Geto Boys trademark psychotic (“Chuckie”) and sexual lyrics (“Quickie”, “The Other Level”), the album also offers some political and social commentaries (“F*** A War”, “Trophy”). On top of that Willie D, Bushwick Bill, and Scarface are all dope rappers, with their own, distinct voices.
K-Rino - Stories From The Black Book (1993)
K-Rino is a still active Houston legend and long-time regional favorite. He dropped A LOT of albums over the years, Stories From The Black Book – his official debut – arguably his best in an all-around impressive discography. Praised for his lyrical abilities and variety in his subject matter (he was never just another gangsta rapper), K Rino delivered a slept-on gem with this album, with lots of dope songs – especially “Ultimate Flow” is a lyrical masterpiece.
Eightball & MJG - Comin' Out Hard (1993)
Memphis legends Eightball & MJG played an important part in the rise of Southern Hip Hop, together with groups like UGK and Geto Boys in Houston and Outkast and Goodie Mobb in Atlanta. Deep, bass-heavy beats and tales of pimping and gangsta antics, these cats cover that played out subject matter better than most.
Geto Boys - Till Death Do Us Part (1993)
For Geto Boys‘ fourth album, Rap-A-Lot rapper Big Mike was brought in to replace Willie D, who had left the group after We Can’t Be Stopped. Although missing the chemistry Willie D had with Scarface and Bushwick, Big Mike is more than a competent emcee, who carries a lot of this album with his input. The lyrical content might not please everyone – as per usual with the Geto Boys – but musically this album is very accessible and enjoyable. Another solid entry in the Geto Boys discography and a Southern classic, with classic cuts on it such as “Six Feet Deep”, “G.E.T.O.”, “Straight Gangstaism”, “Raise It Up”, and “Crooked Officer”.
OutKast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)
After quality releases from groups like Geto Boys, UGK, Eightball & MJG, and others in years previous, OutKast‘s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was THE album that put Southern Hip Hop on the map as a major part of Hip Hop, which after this album could no longer be divided simply in East- and West Coast. Not immediately recognized as such upon its release, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik gained more and more recognition over the years and is now universally recognized as a staple of (Southern) Hip Hop.
Odd Squad - Fadanuf Fa Erybody (1994)
A forgotten record out of the Rap-A-Lot catalog, Devin The Dude’s Odd Squad dropped a fun album with Fadanuf Fa Erybody. Instead of rapping about guns and violence, their subject matter is weed and sex. It’s done with humor though, which makes the goofy rhymes more fun to listen to than you would expect. Production by N.O. Joe (and others ) is tight and the album flows really well. A must-have for Devin The Dude fans at least.
Eightball & MJG - On The Outside Looking In (1994)
Eightball & MJG were nothing if not consistent in their output. This album may not be the Southern classic their debut album was and not as strong as the next one would be, it is a solid entry in their body of work nonetheless. It does what you’d expect: pimp- and gangsta stories over fat and syrupy Memphis beats. The difference between Eightball & MJG and most of the countless other acts that came/come out with the played-out gangsta fantasies is that Eightball & MJG make it sound GOOD.
Scarface - The Diary (1994)
Raw and haunting, the cinematic The Diary arguably is Scarface‘s magnum opus and certainly our personal favorite from his overall outstanding discography. The Diary – his third solo album – is short and tight (10 full songs) with only one guest (Ice Cube), which makes it all the stronger. “I Seen A Man Die”, “Hand Of The Dead Body”, “The White Sheet”, “No Tears”, “Goin’ Down”, “Mind Playin’ Tricks ’94” – all classic Scarface cuts, there is no filler material on this album.
Big Mike - Somethin' Serious (1994)
Big Mike has always been one of the solid members of the Rap-A-Lot family. As part of the Convicts and in his role as a stand-in for Willie D on Geto Boys’ Till Death Do Us Part, he showed the world that he was more than a competent emcee. Something Serious is a strong solo album. It has that typical smooth and funky Southern sound (with the likes of N.O. Joe, Pimp C, and others on the production). While it may have no real stand-out tracks, it doesn’t have any filler tracks either. The album is extremely consistent, focused, and cohesive – another quality early/mid-90s Rap-A-Lot release.
UGK - Super Tight (1994)
UGK‘s second record flew a little bit under the radar upon its release, in a big year for Southern Hip Hop with classic releases from OutKast and Scarface. While UGK’s first album was well-received, this short and tight album was more acclaimed, even if it never achieved really big sales. The lyrics are nothing special – mostly the typical pimp and gangsta cliches – but it is the late Pimp C’s funky and bass-heavy production that makes this album shine. No doubt about it: Super Tight is an important Southern Hip Hop album and a solid stepping stone to UGK’s real break-out album: 1996’s classic Ridin’ Dirty.
Goodie Mob - Soul Food (1995)
This is Southern Hip Hop at its finest. Real and raw, Soul Food has that genre-bending musicality reminiscent of OutKast with true lyrical depth. It is one of those albums that age like fine wine and only get better as time goes by. Cee-Lo, T-Mo, Big Gipp, and Khujo dropped a real gem with this album.
K-Rino - Danger Zone (1995)
Danger Zone is the second in a long string of albums from Houston legend K-Rino may not be as good as his debut but features the same lyrical prowess. K-Rino always was a way above average emcee, with extravagant wordplay and an extensive vocabulary. Punchlines and thought-provoking, intelligent lyrics as always, K-Rino deserves his props as a top emcee. He could have benefitted from better cover art for his albums though…
Three 6 Mafia - Mystic Stylez (1995)
Legendary Memphis crew Three 6 Mafia’s haunting debut Mystic Stylez is an underground classic. Filled with dark and violent graphic imagery over menacing beats crafted by DJ Paul & Juicy J this unpolished debut is their most horrorcore-flavored album. Mystic Stylez would turn out to be an incredibly influential album – every dark trap album is directly influenced by this one.
Eightball & MJG - On Top Of The World (1995)
Another early Dirty South classic – with a distinct West Coast/Bay Area feel – from Memphis duo Eightball & MJG. Pimp and crime stories over smooth bass-heavy beats, that’s what you expect and that’s what you get. On Top Of The World is one of their best albums.
OutKast - ATLiens (1996)
A step up from their already awesome Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik debut album. On ATLiens OutKast shows real growth and newfound maturity, resulting in an album that is simply amazing – lyrically as well as musically. No skits, no filler, no bullsh** – just straight up dope Hip Hop with that unique OutKast twist.
Master P - Ice Cream Man (1996)
New Orleans-based Master P is and will forever be one of the most significant figures in Southern Hip Hop. Ice Cream Man is his fifth studio album and one of the best in his massive catalog. This was the project that put him on nationally, and it was the perfect stepping stone to his absolute best album Ghetto D that would drop in 1997.
UGK - Ridin' Dirty (1996)
After two more than solid albums, UGK dropped Ridin’ Dirty – arguably their best album. Flawless production, dope rhymes, and superb flows – Pimp C & Bun B really bring their A-game on this album. UGK will always be one of the greatest acts to come from the South and Ridin’ Dirty is an album that needs to be part of any Hip Hop head’s collection.
Geto Boys - The Resurrection (1996)
Another solid Geto Boys album, reunited in their strongest line-up: Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill. Typical Geto Boys fare: hard-edged lyrics sprinkled with social commentaries. The album contains a few forgettable tracks and some unnecessary guest rappers – but overall it is totally enjoyable and a worthy addition to the Geto Boys catalog, with dope cuts such as “Still”, “The World Is A Ghetto”, “Blind Leading The Blind”, “First Light Of The Day”, and “Point Of No Return”.
Master P - Ghetto D (1997)
Ghetto D is the sixth studio album by New Orleans’ mogul Master P – his best album and one of the flagship albums of his No Limit Records empire. This is an 80-minute masterpiece and a landmark album for Southern Hip Hop. Guests appear on every song, and mostly they are the New Orleans No Limit Soldiers, such as his brothers C-Murder and Silkk the Shocker, Mia X, Mystikal, Fiend, Mr. Serv-On, Kane & Abel, Mo B. Dick, and O’Dell among others. The subject matter is kind of generic, but Master P and guests make it sound good, also thanks to energetic production provided by the Beats By the Pound crew, who did most No Limit production.
No Limit Records (together with Cash Money Records) opted for a quantity-over-quality business model that had them spamming the world with an endless stream of the same generic albums over and over again, but that doesn’t mean there were some defining albums among them – this album is one of those. Ghetto D is the jewel in Master P’s No Limit crown.
Missy Elliott - Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
Very much a crossover album with a lot of pop/R&B influences, but Supa Dupa Fly deserves to be on this list nonetheless. The revolutionary and eminently recognizable production by Timbaland combined with Missy‘s extravagant talent make for a dope album – admittedly with some filler tracks, but with some unforgettable classics on it too, “Sock It 2 Me” and “The Rain” most prominent among them.
Mystikal - Unpredictable (1997)
New Orleans-based rapper Mystikal’s second full-length studio album and No Limit debut is his best LP. Mystikal’s ‘energetic’ lyrical style is an acquired taste and can get exhausting after a full hour, but thankfully there are plenty of guests on Unpredictable to add variety. The main strength of the albums is the banging production from No Limits’ in-house production team Beats By The Pound – the atmospheric beats on this album are straight FIRE from beginning to end. Unpredictable is not only Mystikal’s best album but also one of the best albums to come out of the No Limit camp.
Scarface - The Untouchable (1997)
Scarface‘s 1994 classic The Diary would always be a tough album to follow up on. With The Untouchable, his fourth solo album, Face does an admirable job and mostly succeeds. Arguably the beats are a bit weaker on this one than on The Diary, and the overall feel of the album is not as cohesive – but lyrically Scarface is as strong as ever, bringing his trademark street- and gangsta raps infused with authentic emotion and consciousness. Few rappers in the game – ever – are able to convey emotion as strongly and convincingly as Scarface is able to do. The album is also noteworthy because it contains one of 2Pac’s last guest appearances before he was killed, on the classic “Smile”. Even if The Untouchable is not his best effort, it was Scarface’s second platinum-selling album and a more than solid part of his catalog.
Three 6 Mafia - Chapter. 2: World Domination (1997)
The breakout album from Three 6 Mafia. The Memphis crew made a mainstream buzz with this album, which builds on their earlier releases, reprising four hits previously released on Mystic Stylez (1995) and Chapter 1: The End (1996): “Late Nite Tip”, “N 2 Deep”, “Body Parts” and “Tear Da Club Up”. Chapter. 2: World Domination is filled with top-tier dark and hypnotic beats crafted by DJ Paul and Juicy J, and with cutthroat lyrical content – at 80+ minutes this is a monster of an album, but it never overstays its welcome. Chapter. 2: World Domination is a BANGER from start to finish – Three 6 Mafia’s best.
Eightball - Lost (1998)
This is a unique album in the sense that it mostly succeeds in staying consistent despite its playing time: 2 full-length CDs (plus one bonus CD). Inevitably there are some filler tracks, but on the whole, this is an excellent collection of Dirty South Hip Hop. A lot of bangers, with a lot of great guest spots (MJG is present of course, along with Busta Rhymes, Redman, Bun B, E-40, and many more). The production is excellent, and even though he’s not the greatest rapper alive Eightball drops dope rhymes – admittedly a lot about that played-out ‘street’ lifestyle topic, but also with some spirituality and social commentary sprinkled in. You can’t go wrong with this album.
Soulja Slim - Give It 2 'Em Raw (1998)
In the middle of No Limit’s mass-production era, New Orleans rapper Soulja Slim’s debut album stood out – Give It 2 ‘Em Raw is one of the best albums released on the No Limit label. Soulja Slim was an unpolished but talented rapper and his unfiltered hood stories hit home – especially when familiar with his troubled life story and the way he was killed at age 26. This is some ‘real’ sh, an album that should not be forgotten.
Z-Ro - Look What You Did To Me (1998)
Houston rapper Z-Ro has released an endless string of projects since this 1998 debut, but Look What You Did To Me still stands as his best album, with Let the Truth Be Told (2005) coming very close. Like many of his Houston brethren, Z-Ro raps about poverty, crime, and struggle – but Z-Ro stands out because you can feel his emotion here, he is able to touch the listener in a way 2Pac was able to. Also, he is an incredibly talented vocalist, effortlessly switching from rapping the verses to singing the hooks. Z-Ro can go from thoughtful passionate 2Pac-like slow-flows to furious Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony type of triple-time rhymes – showing great versatility constantly. Generic production is what often lets Z-Ro albums down, and the beats on Look What You Did To Me are not as strong as the lyricism is either, but the beats serve – it’s all melodic and easy-listening enough. Don’t sleep on Z-Ro, this album is an essential listen.
Goodie Mob – Still Standing (1998)
Always a little bit in the shadow of their fellow Atlantians OutKast, Goodie Mob released one of 1995’s best albums with their debut Soul Food, and this sophomore effort is almost as strong. Very much comparable to 1998’s top album Aquemini, Still Standing shines with intelligence, originality, creativity, and musicality.
OutKast - Aquemini (1998)
It’s hard to agree on which album is OutKast’s best. They are all classics in their own right, with this one arguably being their magnum opus, where everything that makes OutKast part of Hip Hop’s elite comes together. The beats, the lyrics – both are truly excellent, but it is the overall vibe of the album that makes Aquemini so special. A stylistic and musical experience that transcends Hip Hop – Aquemini is a creative masterpiece that belongs in every music lover’s collection.
Juvenile – 400 Degreez (1998)
This album is all about the excellence of Mannie Fresh’s production that provides perfect backdrops for Juvenile’s authentic stories. It is the best album to come out of the Cash Money rap factory, and a hugely influential one. Juvenile’s best record.
Hot Boys - Guerrilla Warfare (1999)
A continuation of the sounds of Juvenile’s 400 Degreez, this second Hot Boys album is included in this list on the strength of the dopeness of Mannie Fresh’s production. The lyrics are forgettable, but the beats are FIRE. Guerrilla Warfare is a Dirty South classic.
Eightball & M.J.G. - In Our Lifetime (1999)
In Our Lifetime is the fourth studio album from Memphis legends Eightball & M.J.G. Not even their best, but dope as f anyway. Full of laid-back Dirty South beats, with guest appearances from the likes of OutKast and Cee-Lo Green – so you know all ingredients are there for another solid Eightball & M.J.G. record.
B.G. - Chopper City In The Ghetto (1999)
New Orleans-based Cash Money rapper B.G.’s fourth and best album Chopper City In The Ghetto was also his most commercially successful, selling close to two million units. The album features trunk-rattling production by Mannie Fresh at the peak of his powers, and appearances by Cash Money artists Baby, The Big Tymers, Lil Wayne, and Juvenile. Chopper City In The Ghetto is one of Cash Money’s flagship records, released during the label’s heyday.
OutKast - Stankonia (2000)
OutKast‘s fourth album was yet another excellent effort from the Southern giants. Stankonia is a musical masterpiece, as was Aquemini, as was ATLiens, and as was their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and it cemented OutKast’s status as one of Hip Hop biggest and best-selling acts ever.
Scarface – The Fix (2002)
For many, this is Scarface’s best album and it’s easy to see why. Production is excellent – with some of the beats provided by a young Kanye West in top form – and lyrically Scarface is at his best, deftly balancing his trademark street tales with conscious commentaries. “Guess Who’s Back” ft Jay-Z & Beanie Sigel, “In Between Us” ft Nas, “In Cold Blood”. “Safe”, “Keep Me Down” and of course the monumental “On My Block” are all unforgettable Scarface tracks.
Ludacris - Word Of Mouf (2002)
Word Of Mouf, Ludacris’ third studio album, is his best – a triple-platinum mega-success too. Word Of Mouf is energetic and fun, with lots of bangers such as “Area Codes”, “Saturday (Oooh! Oooh!)”, “Stand Up”, “Rollout (My Business)”, “Growing Pains”, and of course the iconic super-hit “Move B*tch”.
Clipse – Lord Willin’ (2002)
This Virginia duo, comprised of brothers Terrence LeVarr (Pusha T) Thornton and Gene Elliott (Malice) Thornton Jr, are Clipse. The Neptunes’ production on their debut album is incomparable – exuberant and infectious. Pusha T and Malice are excellent too, playing well off each other with their coke raps. Lord Willin’ signified a brilliant stepping stone to Clipse’s masterpiece Hell Hath No Fury (2006).
Devin The Dude - Just Tryin' Ta Live (2002)
An improvement on his likable solo debut album The Dude (1998), this sophomore album is an underrated but undisputable Southern classic. Fun rhymes in Devin The Dude’s characteristic rap-singing style complemented with laidback, funky beats – Just Tryin’ Ta Live is a dope album by one of the most slept-on artists from the Rap-A-Lot roster. The follow-ups To Tha X-Treme (2004) and Waiting To Inhale (2007) deserve a nod as well.
Lil' Jon & The East Side Boyz - Kings Of Crunk (2002)
So bad it’s good? Or just good? Lil’ Jon of course is something of a caricatural figure, and ‘crunk’ as an off-shoot of Southern Hip hop proved to be kind of unfortunate. This album is an indisputable staple of the subgenre though, whether you like it or not. The layered synths, the drum patterns, the deep bass, and the shouted call-and-response vocals – it all amounts to an infectious (and at times a bit exhausting) album with in-your-face party jams made for the clubs. Kind of a guilty pleasure, this one.
T.I. – Trap Muzik (2003)
Trap Muzik is the second studio album by the Atlanta-based rapper T.I., a vast improvement on his disappointing debut I’m Serious (2001). Trap Muzik is a Southern classic, a totally satisfying front-to-back listen with lots of energy and personality. This landmark album offers trap music in one of its earliest forms, serving as a reminder of how long the sub-genre was bubbling before it blew up in the early to mid-2010s. Trap Muzik helped birth trap as a genre, it’s an absolutely essential record in the context of trap and Southern rap.
Killer Mike – Monster (2003)
Monster is the debut studio album by Atlanta-based rapper Killer Mike. After getting noticed for the first time because of a feature on OutKast’s mega-successful fourth album Stankonia, Killer Mike dropped this solid debut record. The beats could have been better here and there, but Killer Mike’s lyrical power is already in evidence here. He would really blow up ten years later with the first R.A.P. Music and the first Run The Jewels album, but this debut was strong too – kind of underappreciated now (even if it did fairly well commercially upon its release).
Nappy Roots – Wooden Leather (2003)
Wooden Leather is the second studio album by Kentucky crew Nappy Roots, following Chicken, Watermelon, And Gritz (2002). Some may prefer their debut album – which is excellent too btw – but we think Wooden Leather is even better. Nappy Roots is an underrated crew that deserves to mentioned in the same breath with acts like OutKast en Goodie Mob and that needs to be applauded for consistently dropping dope Hip Hop with that typical Southern vibe.
CunninLynguists – Southernunderground (2003)
SouthernUnderground is CunninLynguists’ second album. For SouthernUnderground the trio employed Mr. SOS to accompany them on vocals for much of the album. SouthernUnderground is best known for its single “Seasons” – which features Masta Ace – a classic cut that details the history of Hip Hop comparing different eras to seasons of a year. Other stand-outs include “Old School”, “Dying Nation,” “War,” and “Appreciation,” (about 9/11), and especially “Falling Down” – a creative musical masterpiece by Kno. Kno definitely is the key to CunninLynguists’ creative success, his work on the boards is all-around awesome, and with SouthernUnderground he delivers one of the best-produced albums of 2003. Even if SouthernUnderground was generally critically acclaimed it was commercially not nearly as successful as it should have been, making it one of 2003’s under-appreciated masterpieces.
Little Brother – The Listening (2003)
One of the most celebrated indie Hip Hop releases of the early 2000s, The Listening by North Carolina crew Little Brother is an album that needs to be in your record collection. The Listening is near-flawless, perfectly encapturing the spirit and vibes of classic early & mid 90’s Hip Hop, similar to the soulful sounds of De La Soul, ATCQ, The Fugees, and The Roots, but unique enough to stand on its own.
“For You”, “Whatever You Say”, “The Way You Do It”, “Away From Me”, “The Listening” – all tracks featuring clever rhymes by Phonte and Big Pooh and exceptional production by 9th Wonder. Even though The Listening was much-lauded it went relatively unnoticed. If YOU missed out it on for some reason, it’s never too late to pick it up.
Young Jeezy - Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (2005)
trap was established by the likes of T.I., Yo Gotti, and Gucci Mane in the early 2000s, an artist that helped develop the genre and take it to the next level was Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy. His Def Jam debut Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 offered close to 80 minutes of early trap music at its finest. As a rapper Young Jeezy is nothing special, but he has the energy to carry the album, and the bounce- and crunk-flavored beats he got to work with are what makes this album a (pre)trap classic. Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 is a landmark album, and it still stands as Young Jeezy’s best work.
Three 6 Mafia – Most Known Unknown (2005)
Mystic Stylez (1995) and Chapter. 2: World Domination (1997) are our favorite Three 6 Mafia albums, but Most Known Unknown – the group’s eight studio album – comes very close. Some of the group’s biggest hits on this one, but the whole 73 minutes are totally solid Three 6 Mafia – this time around without Lord Infamous (reportedly due to a stint in jail at the time of recording of the album), leaving Crunchy Black, DJ Paul, and Juicy J the only Three 6 Mafia members to be included on Most Known Unknown.
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter II (2005)
Lil Wayne’s best work is Tha Carter II, his fifth studio album. Tha Carter II is a monster at 77 minutes, but it is consistently good. ALL Lil Wayne albums have filler, but on this one, the filler is limited to two or three tracks in the middle of the tracklist – most of the songs on Tha Carter II are top-tier Lil Wayne, with some of his best lyricism and with dope production throughout. Tha Carter II is one of the best mainstream Hip Hop albums of the aughts, a staple in Southern Hip Hop, and an album that would help change the genre’s direction towards trap as we know it today.
Little Brother – The Minstrel Show (2005)
After their incredible debut The Listening, 9th Wonder, Phonte, and Big Pooh dropped another masterpiece on us with The Minstrel Show. Another one of those albums that received widespread critical acclaim, but no radio play – as it was not about guns, money, and bitches but rather about intelligence and upliftment. Clever rhymes, dope beats, and HEART, this is Hip Hop as it is supposed to be.
Paul Wall - The Peoples Champ (2005)
This second studio album from Houston-based rapper Paul Wall is his absolute best, one of the albums best representing the chopped and screwed sounds to come out of this area in the mid-2000s. The Peoples Champ is Southern Hip Hop at its finest, if you are not looking for deep lyrical content but go into it for its slick beats and its smooth flows. By recruiting Kanye West, T.I., Bun B, B.G., Lil’ Wayne, Freeway, Three 6 Mafia, and a bunch of others, Paul Wall made sure he covered for his own so-so mic skills – the high profile guests prevent this long 17-track from becoming monotonous. There are a couple of filler songs, but there’s plenty of heat to make up for them including but not limited to cuts like “Sittin’ Sidewayz”, “March n Step”, “They Don’t Know, and “Trill”.
Geto Boys – The Foundation (2005)
This late in their career it was a nice surprise to see Geto Boys were still able to come with heat. Scarface sounds as nice as ever, especially on his solo, “G-Code”, and Bushwick Bill and Willie D do not disappoint either on other highlights such as “I Tried”, “Leaning On You”, the banging single “Yes Yes, Y’all” and “1, 2, the 3”. Even the requisite club track “We Boogie” is pretty good. With The Foundation Geto Boys went out on a high note.
Slim Thug- Already Platinum (2005)
Houston rapper Slim Thug’s debut studio album Already Platinum is a trill-classic. Production by The Neptunes (among others) and guest spots by Bun B, T.I., Pusha T, and Pharrell (among others) elevate this album to the next level. Slim Thug is not the best rapper you’ve ever heard, but there’s a charm to his guttural drawl, and the syrupy beats here are custom-made for his voice. Plenty of highlights, most notably “Like A Boss”, “3 Kingz” featuring Bun B and T.I., “Diamonds”, and “Click-Clack” with Pusha T.
Bun B – Trill (2005)
Bernard Freeman, better known as Bun B, released this album just after his late UGK partner-in-rhyme, Pimp C, was incarcerated. With Pimp C in his heart and mind, Bun B dropped one of the dopest Southern Hip Hop albums of the aughts with this solo debut. Trill is a more than solid album by one of the most important figures in Southern Hip Hop ever.
CunninLynguists – A Piece Of Strange (2006)
This third CunninLynguists album is a masterpiece from start to finish. Much darker and denser than their more light-hearted and fun first two albums, A Piece Of Strange takes us on a journey following the story of a man and those closest to him in their struggles with right and wrong, love and hate, while at the same time exploring the religion and racism that were (and are) so prevalent in the south. The 16 songs contain loose connections with certain defined Biblical numerics and their interpretations. In Kno’s own words:
“This album is not meant to be overtly Christian in theme or presentation, but more so delivering an amoral slant to a storyline communicated through Hip Hop. Deacon’s life growing up as the son of a preacher definitely led us to some of the insights and story molding that went on when we were making and recording the album, but as most moderate Christians will tell you…you have to relate the material as generally as possible without preaching and talking down to people. APOS wasn’t meant to teach faith-infused lessons necessarily, but simply to deliver a story.”
A Piece Of Strange offers excellent production and clever lyrics – the whole album is as good as it gets. Standouts tracks aplenty, but cuts like Brain Cell and Nothing To Give especially shine. Don’t sleep folks, this truly is a landmark album.
T.I. - King (2006)
King, his fourth studio album, is T.I.’s best and most consistent project to date, with a good blend of radio club, and street songs. Celebratory production and T.I. on the top of his game make this album the centerpiece of his catalog. King almost lives up to its own hyperbole and would have if a few filler-tracks in the middle of the overlong 70-minute tracklist had been left off. But even if King is about 15 minutes too long, this is a Southern classic without a doubt.
Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
An album that still is somewhat underappreciated, Hell Hath No Fury is truly the greatest thing that Pusha T and Malice created together. They got the lushest instrumentals imaginable to work with from the Neptunes – which resulted in a tight album with standout joints such as “Mr. Me Too” and “Nightmares”, taking nothing away from the rest of the tracklist because the whole album is FIRE.
UGK – Underground Kingz (2007)
Known for being one of the pioneering acts to emerge from Texas, UGK saw their biggest commercial success with this album – their last one released during Pimp C’s lifetime, just a couple of months before his untimely death. Maybe not quite the classic UGK’s third album Ridin’ Dirty (1996) was, but Underground Kingz is almost right up there with it – a major final chapter to the much-respected story of one of the greatest duos to ever do it.
Cunninlynguists – Dirty Acres (2007)
Stylistically different from their previous albums – Dirty Acres is the album that musically and lyrically showcases Cunninlynguists’ Southern heritage most of all their albums – and while it is not a classic like its predecessor A Piece Of Strange (2006) is, Dirty Acres is dope as f nevertheless.
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III (2008)
Tha Carter III is Lil Wayne’s sixth studio album, it follows Tha Carter II as well as a long string of mixtape releases and guest appearances on other Hip Hop and R&B artists’ records, helping to maximize Lil Wayne’s exposure in the mainstream, which was further aided by features appearances on this album from high-profile artists such as Jay-Z, T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, and Kanye West, among others.
Lil Wayne is an icon, one of the most influential rappers of the last two decades. Even if he is not exactly a trap-rapper himself, it’s not a stretch to say he helped father the mumble trap genre, spawning an army of face-tatted Lil Clones who have been flooding the mainstream with an endless stream of generic braindead music. For this reason, and because he released a lot of terrible music himself (in the 2010s, mostly), we have often dismissed Lil Wayne. Not all his releases are bad though. Especially among his early Cash Money work (either solo or as part of the Hot Boys) and his 2000s mixtapes plenty of solid music can be found, not to mention Tha Carter II, which is his absolute best album.
Tha Carter III is one of the major albums of the aughts, one we didn’t much care for when it dropped but which has undeniably grown on us. The album is frontloaded, with a much weaker back half – but classic Lil Wayne bangers such as “A Milli”, “Dr. Carter”, and “Let The Beat Build” make up for the weaknesses. Tha Carter II is Lil Wayne’s best and most consistent album, but Tha Carter III is not far behind.
T.I. - Paper Trail (2008)
Paper Trail is T.I.’s sixth studio album, from when he was at the top of his career. Paper Trail is T.I.’s biggest commercial success and his third-best album. Lots of mainstream appeal and pre-trap sensibilities.
Nappy Roots - The Humdinger (2008)
The Humdinger is Nappy Roots’ third studio album, and it is another great piece of music. Production may be unremarkable in itself, but like most Nappy Roots albums this is all about good vibes.
Bun B - II Trill (2008)
II Trill is the second solo studio album by UGK member Bun B and the follow-up to his highly successful solo debut album Trill. On II Trill Bun B deftly balances political and worldly issues with fun party tracks repping his home turf, and he of course has time to honor the memory of his late UGK partner Pimp C. II Trill is on par with the excellent Trill, with stand-out tracks including “Angel In The Sky “(featuring Lil’ Razah), “Swang On ‘Em” (featuring Lupe Fiasco), “Be Good II Me” (featuring Mya), “That’s Gangsta” (featuring Sean Kingston), and “Undeground Thang” (featuring Pimp C and Chamillionaire).
Kno - Death Is Silent (2010)
On the four CunninLynguists albums preceding this project, Kno already amply proved that he can put a big stamp on an album in terms of production. In 2010 the CunninLynguists producer released Death Is Silent: a solo album on which he also accounts for a large part of the lyrics.
The production on this album is nothing short of spectacular, and the beats and the stories blend together like gears on a machine. “Loneliness”, “Rhythm Of The Rain”, “Spread Your Wings”, “Graveyard”, “I Wish I Was Dead”, “They Told Me” and “The New Day” are all highlights, but this album’s strength is its consistency. The whole album has the same feel, without ever sounding monotonous. This is an album to zone out on, to press play, and let it run from start to finish – no need to skip anything, there are no fillers tracks and no stupid skits. Of course CunninLynguists colleagues Natti and Deacon The Villain make appearances, as do regular collaborators like Tonedeff and Substantial. But even if Kno will always be a producer before he is an emcee, he can carry an album on the microphone as well. He calls himself the Emo Premo on one of the tracks, providing lyrics that should shame most full-time rappers.
Death Is Silent is one of our favorite albums released in 2010, a true musical gem in a world full of fake thugging, bling-bling, dumb-ass b.s. From start to finish, this is a masterpiece of music (not just Hip Hop). Anyone with an interest in quality music with substance will love this melancholic masterpiece.
Waka Flocka Flame - Flockavelli (2010)
Flockavelli is a pivotal album – everything released before Flockavelli can be seen as pre-trap, everything released since as post-trap. Perhaps this is overstating the significance of Flockavelli, but a fact is that this turned out to be a hugely influential album – a game-changer that set the groundworks for the next generation of trappers. Waka Flocka Flame is not the best songwriter nor the best lyricist to ever pick up a pen and a mic, but it’s his infectious energy and charisma that elevates Flockavelli to that next level. Bombastic bass-heavy beats, sharp synths, and aggressive rapping – this trap classic is a fun album full of bangers that are aging really well.
Rick Ross - Teflon Don (2010)
Not our favorite artist, but there’s no denying Rick Ross’s impact on the game. Teflon Don is the Miami-based rapper’s best album.
Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)
Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is the debut solo album by OutKast’ Big Boi (if you don’t count his half of OutKast’ Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003) as a solo album). Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was much delayed due to label-woes, and finally saw its release in 2010. Rooted in Southern Hip Hop, the album contains a bass-heavy sound with dense TR 808-driven basslines, live instrumentation, incorporating genres such as funk, soul, rock, dubstep, and electro music. and employing vocalists backing Big Boi’s playful and clever wordplay. Nothing new or revolutionary about the album’s lyrical content, but it doesn’t need to be. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is a musical extravaganza, and at just over an hour not a minute too long thanks to the pure energy and swag that the album carries.
The opening song “Daddy Fat Sax” is one of the album’s finest tracks, but the rest of the album is great too. Even if there are some moments where the album’s pop sensibilities seem blatantly intended for mainstream appeal, it doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the album. Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty is Big Boi’s best solo work to date, and one of the best albums released in 2010.
CunninLynguists - Oneirology (2011)
Oneirology is the study of dreams – listen carefully to tracks like “Darkness (Dream On)” and “Shattered Dreams” and you’ll understand where the album’s title is coming from. The lyrics and flows on Oneirology are dope as hell and the soundscapes are even better – once again it’s Kno’s production that’s stealing the show. Oneirology is fantastic in every way – an exceptional follow-up to Kno’s Death is Silent and another jewel in the CunninLynguists crown.
Killer Mike – PL3DGE (2011)
Atlanta’s Killer Mike’s fourth album Pl3dge is the third installment in his Pledge Allegiance 2 The Grind series and the best of the three. This album turned out to be a great precursor to Killer Mike’s masterpiece R.A.P. Music and his legendary Run The Jewels collab with producer extraordinaire El-P. The beats on PL3DGE are more run-off-the-mill and Atlanta-style generic than the ones El-P would provide him with later on, but Killer Mike’s fiery social consciousness is already in evidence on parts of this album – an aspect of his persona that would come to full bloom on R.A.P. Music and the RTJ albums.
Phonte - Charity Starts At Home (2011)
As one-third of Little Brother (along with Rapper Big Pooh and 9th Wonder), Phonte was responsible for two of the best albums of the 2000s – The Listening (2003), and The Minstrel Show (2005). In 2004 he dropped Connected, one of the 2000s sleeper classics as half of Foreign Exchange. After these three near-flawless albums in the 2000s, in 2011 he released Charity Starts At Home, his long-awaited solo debut. Charity Starts At Home has none of that fake hustler rap about money, guns, and b*tches we heard too much from the face-tatted circus clowns this past decade, but it offers grown man Hip Hop at its finest – smooth instrumentals and intelligent lyrics by one of the finest emcees in the game.
Lil Ugly Mane – Mista Thug Isolation (2012)
Lil Ugly Mane is one of the many aliases of Richmond, Virginia’s producer/rapper Travis Miller. The surface has to be scratched to see what’s going on and what Travis Miller set out to do here. The cover art obviously is a play on the terrible aesthetics used to market the bland rap drivel that used to come out of the No Limit and Cash Money rap factories, as is the album’s title. The Lil Ugly Mane stage name can be seen as a stab at all the other ‘Lil’ rappers and other gangsta rap/trap artists – who all drop the same kind of generic dumbass projects, talking about the exact same things time and time again: bitches, hoes, money, cars, drugs, guns, murder, etc. Lil Ugly Mane does the same here, but he makes a caricature of it – so to think Lil Ugly Mane is just one of the many trap clones definitely would be wrong, even if first glances would suggest him to be exactly that.
What Lil Ugly Mane does is taking the gangsta rap and trap trappings and turn them on their head. There is a thin line between silliness and dark comedy, but Lil Ugly Mane nails staying on the right side of that line throughout this album. Through Lil Ugly Mane’s over-the-top lyrical imagery it’s clear he doesn’t take himself all too seriously, cleverly mocking all those empty boastful rappers who do and who start to believe they are the persona they invented.
Mista Thug Isolation is produced by Shawn Kemp, another Travis Miller alias, and the instrumentals he crafted are great – a flawlessly executed blend of fat 90s-centric Memphis beats, horror-core eeriness, and psychedelic and jazzy vibes. The beats serve as the perfect backdrop for Miller’s lyrical tongue-in-cheek humor and biting irony. Mista Thug Isolation is a defining underground cult classic, an album that will undoubtedly stand the test the time.
Big K.R.I.T. – Live From The Underground (2012)
Big K.R.I.T.’s official debut album Live From The Underground was a highly anticipated release after his mixtapes had created a big buzz surrounding his name. It can be argued that some of his mixtapes were better than this album, and K.R.I.T.’s next two albums would improve on Live From The Underground (let’s forget about 2019’s disappointing K.R.I.T. Iz Here) – but Live… is a more than a solid album. K.R.I.T. stayed true to the sound of his mixtape days and didn’t overly pander to the mainstream. Big K.R.I.T. is one of this generation’s heavy hitters, and this album marked the start of an epic three-album run for Big K.R.I.T. and Southern Hip Hop.
Rapsody - The Idea Of Beautiful (2012)
The Idea Of Beautiful is the debut studio album by North Carolina’s Rapsody. The album was released after the critical acclaim of her mixtapes such as Return of the B-Girl (2010), Thank H.E.R. Now (2011) and For Everything (2011); as well as her The Black Mamba EP (2012). The Idea Of Beautiful album includes the production by the members of The Soul Council (9th Wonder, Khrysis, E. Jones, AMP, Eric G., and Ka$h). The album features guest appearances from Big Rube, Raheem DeVaughn, Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, The Cool Kids, Buckshot, Childish Gambino, GQ, Big Remo, Heather Victoria, Rocki Evans, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Nomsa Mazwai.
Rapsody is one of the MVPs of the 2010s – with three near-classic albums and a couple of top-quality EPs on her name. The Idea Of Beautiful sonically continues in the vein of her mixtapes, with the Soul Councils’ smooth instrumentals gelling perfectly with Rapsody’s clever lyrics. As always, Rapsody puts her mind, heart, and soul into her music – and it makes for a timeless gem of an album.
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music (2012)
We love it when everything we value in Hip Hop comes together in one project. Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music (Rebellious African People Music) is such a project, one that fires on all cylinders. Hard-hitting, kick-ass beats for Killer Mike to spit his uncompromising and thought-provoking lyrics over, this is what Hip Hop is all about. R.A.P. Music was an instant classic, reminiscent of the fire and fury early Ice Cube and Public Enemy albums brought – this album has that same sense of intensity and urgency.
Killer Mike was already able to boast a strong discography before the release of R.A.P. Music, but this album is on another level. His synergy with DefJux head-honcho El-P is awesome – something they would continue to prove with the three excellent Run The Jewels albums that would follow this collaboration. Killer Mike’s lyrics are raw and unapologetic yet intelligent and socially conscious at the same time – and the ingenious soundscapes provided by El-P only serve to strengthen Killer Mike’s diverse lyrical content.
R.A.P. Music was too real to attract big-time mainstream media attention, but it is an important album and a modern classic.
Natti – Still Motion (2013)
Still Motion is the first solo album Natti, best-known for being a part of the unsung CunninLynguists. CunninLynguists is one of the most underappreciated crews in Hip Hop, with a couple of sleeper classics on their name – especially A Piece Of Strange (2006) and Oneirology (2011) are masterpieces. In 2010, CunninLynguists producer dropped his own solo-album Death Is Silent, which is among this decades best. In 2014 it was Natti’s turn to try his hand at a solo project.
Guest appearances on Still Motion include Deacon the Villain, Freddie Gibbs, Sha Stimuli, and Substantial, among others, and the album is produced mostly by CunninLynguist buddies Deacon the Villain and Kno. This means this is a project which has that CunninLynguist mark of quality all over it. While not quite as brilliant the other CunninLynguist projects mentioned, Still Motion is a top-quality project anyway. Supersmooth Hip Hop, sonically true to Natti’s Southern roots and with lyrics worth listening to. You just can’t go wrong with a CunninLynguist release.
J Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
J. Cole is a polarizing figure. He is one of the big names in modern-day Hip Hop, with a large army of fans/stans. There’s also a lot of people out there who consider him average and overrated. After a few pretty good mixtapes and two just OK albums, he dropped 2014 Forest Hills Drive in 2014 – which turned out to be his best album to date, better than his previous projects and better than what he would release after 2014. J. Cole himself declared this album a classic, and there’s some merit to that claim – 2014 Forest Hills Drive performed really well commercially and it established J. Cole as of the game’s top-dogs. The album is not flawless, but it is mostly enjoyable, with a bunch of really strong songs such as “Fire Squad”, “Apparently’, “No Role Modelz”, “03′ Adolescence” and “Love Yourz”. There are also throw-away tracks like “G.O.M.D.” and the endless “Note To Self” outro that detract from the overall quality of the album. All in all: good, but not quite the super classic a lot of people say it is.
Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica (2014)
Cadillactica is the second studio album by Big K.R.I.T. By 2014, Big K.R.I.T. had already firmly established his name with his series of mostly excellent mixtapes and a solid official debut album with Live From The Underground (2012).
With Cadillactica he arrived in Hip Hop’s Major League for real. Big K.R.I.T. has always been on point with his beats and on this album, he even steps up his production game, with help on the boards from the likes of Raphael Saadiq, DJ Dahi, Jim Johnson, Rico Love, DJ Toomp, Terrace Martin, and others. The album features guest appearances from Raphael Saadiq, E-40, Wiz Khalifa, Kenneth Whalum III, Mara Hruby, Rico Love, Bun B, Devin the Dude, Big Sant, Jamie N Commons, Lupe Fiasco and ASAP Ferg.
Cadillactica is an excellent album, one of the best to come out of the South in the first half of the decade. It was a step ahead from Live From The Underground, and would prove to be the perfect stepping stone to KRIT’s magnum opus 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (2017).
Rapper Big Pooh & Nottz – Home Sweet Home (2015)
Rapper Big Pooh’s solo-work has received the same kind of praise he got as part of Little Brother, and his solo albums have always kind of stood in the shadow of the more acclaimed albums of his LB colleague Phonte. Home Sweet Home is a pretty strong project though, arguably Big Pooh’s best, and one that deserved more attention than it got. The chemistry between Big Pooh’s thoughtful real-life rhymes and Grammy-award-winning producer Nottz’s soulful boom-bap beats is impeccable. At 33 minutes, Home Sweet Home is much too short, but that’s the biggest complaint.
Travis Scott - Rodeo (2015)
Rodeo is Houston rapper Travis Scott’s long-awaited debut album following his first two mixtapes, Owl Pharaoh and Days Before Rodeo. The album features guest appearances from Quavo, Future, 2 Chainz, Juicy J, Kacy Hill, The Weeknd, Swae Lee, Chief Keef, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Toro y Moi, and Schoolboy Q, while the production was provided by Travis Scott himself, alongside several high-profile producers such as WondaGurl, Allen Ritter, Mike Dean, Metro Boomin, Frank Dukes, and Sonny Digital, among others.
Rodeo is something special, bold in experimentation and unlike anything else heard before (or since) in the trap genre, which is often plagued by genericness. Rodeo‘s futuristic and psychedelic vibes are captivating, the dark and artsy production is phenomenal, and most of the vocal contributions go well with the musical backdrops. Also, Travis Scott is one of the rare artists who manages to utilize autotune as an instrument, not as a tool to hide the lack of skill.
Rodeo paved the way for Travis Scott to become one of the biggest names in rap and it is one of our favorite albums on this list – one of those rare albums that get better and better as time goes by. This is the go-to album for anti-trap biased old heads and other Hip Hop traditionalists who are ready to step over their shadows and give trap a chance.
Pusha T - King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015)
A step up from the merely OK My Name Is My Name (2013). This short and tight 10-track album fires on all cylinders. Pusha T is a great rapper, but it’s the beats that steal the show on this album. King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude manages to sound entirely cohesive, even if there was a busload of different producers involved, some big names too: Puff Daddy, Steven Victor, Baauer, Deafh Beats, Boi-1da, Donald Davidson, Frank Dukes, G Koop, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Hudson Mohawke, J. Cole, Kanye West, Mario Winans, Metro Boomin, Milli Beatz, Nashiem Myrick, Q-Tip, Sean C & LV, The-Dream, Timbaland, Yung Dev, and Pusha T himself.
This album served as kind of a prelude for Pusha’s third solo album, Daytona (originally titled King Push), which was released in 2018, but it is much more than just a ‘prelude’. The production is stellar, and lyrically Pusha T is om point. The only disappointment would be the fact that it is too short at 33 minutes. But short as King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude may be: all 10 tracks hit – this is one of the best Hip Hop releases of 2015.
Future - DS2 (2015)
DS2 is Future’s third studio album and his best overall project. His lyrics are forgettable, but it’s his swagger that carries this album – along with the dark production which is the true strength of this album. The psychedelic beats on DS2 are mostly crafted by Metro Boomin, who always manages to put his instantly recognizable mark on any beat he creates – something like a trap DJ Premier.
DS2 is a long album and it overstays its welcome a bit, but there’s plenty of strong Future tracks on this one, such as “Thought It Was A Drought”, “I Serve The Base”, “Where Ya At”, “Slave Master”, “Colossal”, “Stick Talk”, “Blood On The Money”, “The Percocet & Stripper Joint”, and “F**k Up Some Commas”. This is a trap classic.
Scarface - Deeply Rooted (2015)
Seven years after Emeritus (2008), which was supposed to be his retirement album, Scarface comes back strong with Deeply Rooted. Where he arguably lost some of his hunger and power on Emeritus, on Deeply Rooted Scarface is as good as he ever was. More mature, reflective and spiritual this time around, Deeply Rooted turned out to be the album that perfectly matched Scarface’s status as one of the game’s top dogs. “Steer”, “God”, “All Bad” – no shortage of top-quality cuts on this one. If this is his last album, he definitely ended his recording career on a high note, and in a better and more befitting way than if Emeritus would have been his last album. Deeply Rooted is one of 2015’s best releases and an album that is part of the better half of Scarface’s catalog.
Isaiah Rashad - The Sun's Tirade (2016)
In 2016 TDE was on fire with great albums from Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Isaiah Rashad – who is from Chattanooga, Tennessee originally. Like the projects of his labelmates, Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade had opinions divided. Detractors said it’s a snoozefest because of a supposed lack of sonic variety, fans applaud the album’s cohesiveness. The Sun’s Tirade may not be the classic that everybody expected after Rashad’s awesome debut EP/mixtape Cilvia Demo (2014), but it is a damn fine Hip Hop album. Mellow lyrical and sonic vibes, albeit with a dark edge – this is an album that needs multiple listens to be fully appreciated.
Rapsody - Laila's Wisdom (2017)
On Laila’s Wisdom, Rapsody tackles a wide array of topics personal to her, over lush jazzy soundscapes mostly produced by Jamla-chief 9th wonder. Rapsody is a tier-A emcee with diverse delivery skills and she’s lyrically potent enough to carry an hour-long album with ease, even if there are some great guest appearances by heavyweights such as Black Thought, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, and Busta Rhymes to spice things up some. The album does lose some steam toward the end of the playlist, but no matter: Laila’s Wisdom is an essential modern Hip Hop album that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Kendrick Lamar’s good Kid M.A.A.D. City and To Pimp A Butterfly.
2 Chainz - Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (2017)
Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is 2 Chainz’s strongest and most significant LP to date. Production on the album was handled by FKi, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., Mike Dean, Mike Will Made-It, and Murda Beatz, among others. The album features guest appearances from Gucci Mane, Quavo, Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, Swae Lee, Drake, Ty Dolla Sign, Trey Songz, Jhené Aiko, Pharrell, and Monica. The features are all solid, as is the production. The album’s singles “Good Drank”, “It’s A Vibe”, and “4 AM” are the obvious highlights, but the strength of Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is its consistency. One of the rare trap albums with staying power.
Big K.R.I.T. - 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time (2017)
Creating a double album that offers consistent quality throughout is a hard thing to pull off – just look at 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me or Biggie’s Life After Death, two famous double albums that are far from flawless because of their bloated tracklists. With 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time Big K.R.I.T. succeeded where a lot of others failed. This is without a doubt one of the best double albums in Hip Hop history. The key to its success is the smart decision to divide the album into two distinctly different parts. The first side is called “Big K.R.I.T.” and the second “Justin Scott”, and each side sounds different. The “Big K.R.I.T.” side offers trunk-rattling bangers in the best Southern tradition, the “Justin Scott” side is more introspective and personal with more understated instrumentals to fit the lyrical content.
Even if KRIT’s two previous albums – Live from the Underground (2012) and Cadillactica (2014) – were more than fine, they never quite reached the level of greatness earlier mixtapes like K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010) and Return Of 4 Eva (2011) did. With 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time KRIT created his best project date, proving he could still replicate the creativity and quality of his mixtape days. With this album, Big K.R.I.T. cemented his status as one of the most important artists of the 2010s.
CunninLynguists - Rose Azura Njano (2017)
Arguably not as ambitious and memorable as their earlier conceptual efforts A Piece of Strange (2006) and Oneirology (2011), Rose Azura Njano is an excellent album in its right – Hip Hop for grown folk. The album tells the story of a character named Rose, who is afflicted by chromesthesia and personifies “Black music in America and its history in pain, loss, hardships, and socio-political movements.” Kno is in a league of his own as far as production goes, and the lyrics from Deacon The Villian and Natti are on point as usual. CunninLynguists have one of the strongest bodies of work in Hip Hop, present and past, and Rose Azura Njano is an important piece of their discography.
J.I.D - The Never Story (2017)
Atlanta’s J.I.D is a fresh voice to Hip Hop, arguably the most interesting artist and biggest talent to come out of J. Cole’s Dreamville camp. With his flow and musical choices, J.I.D has all the characteristics to appeal to fans of mainstream rap but unlike a lot of mainstream rappers he doesn’t sound generic and he actually has bars worth listening to – so fans of more traditional Hip Hop should be able to get into The Never Story too despite its pop-appeal. This is a great debut album, one that met – or even exceeded – the high expectations preceding it.
Travis Scott - ASTROWORLD (2018)
While not as good or groundbreaking as Rodeo was, ASTROWORLD is another Travis Scott winner – a step up from his somewhat disappointing second album Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight (2016). On ASTROWORLD Travis Scott sounds fresh again, and proves once more he is one of the few artists who can get away with autotune crooning – a lot of artists seem to use autotune as a tool to cover up the fact they can’t rap, but Travis Scott obviously is a talented rapper who doesn’t need it, but whose use of vocal effects is surprisingly beautiful, even chilling to a degree. ASTROWORLD = psychedelic trap at its finest.
K-Rino - Mightier Than The Sword (2018)
Houston legend has more than 40 full-length albums on his name, most of them pretty strong. The biggest problem he has is that he’s often let down by the production on his albums, but unlike with a lot of other Southern Hip Hop acts his music is more about the lyrics than it is about the music. To underscore K-Rino’s significance in Southern Hip Hop – or Hip Hop in general – we included some of his earlier albums on this list. To show he’s been consistently dropping heat over the decades, we also included Mightier Than The Sword – an album we consider to be his best recent release. Production is solid, and as always K-Rino KILLS it with his bars. His flow and delivery are great, and his rhyme schemes are inventive and his lyrics are worth listening to – we said it before and we’ll say it again: K-Rino is one of the most criminally underrated emcees out there.
21 Savage - I Am > I Was (2018)
I Am > I Was (pronounced “I am greater than I was”) is the second solo studio album by 21 Savage, following Issa Album (2017) and the strong Without Warning collaboration with Offset and Metro Boomin – a project that would have made this list if it were a little longer than the EP-like 33 minutes it runs for. This album delivers on its title: I Am > I Was easily is 21 Savage’s strongest and best-rounded album to date, even if his 2020 collabo Savage Mode II with Metro Boomin comes close.
I Am > I Was is a mature project full of great hooks and strong production – the tracks on this album have plenty of variety to keep things interesting and to avoid it from sounding just like any other bland, typical trap album. I Am > I Was features vocals by J. Cole, Offset, Gunna, Lil Baby, Schoolboy Q, and Childish Gambino (among others), and while most of these features do the job, 21 Savage actually doesn’t need a lot of features to help spice up his albums – his flow is dope enough to carry an album by itself. There are a couple of filler tracks, but not a lot – overall this is an impressive project from one of trap’s most promising figures.
Phonte - No News Is Good News (2018)
As always, Phonte delivers. His work has always been of a consistent quality, be it as part of Little Brother or The Foreign Exchange, or as a solo artist. His solo debut Charity Starts At Home was one of the best albums of 2011, and No News Is Good News is up there with 2018’s best. Clearly a very cathartic release for Phonte, this album is filled with lyrical gold that will resonate with all that share some of Phonte’s life experiences. Production by the likes of Zo!, Nottz, Tall Black Guy, and DJ Harrison, is the kind of soulful boom-bap that perfectly fits the moods Phonte’s lyrics reflect. No News Is Good News is a dose of Hip Hop for grown-ups, by one of the most underrated emcees in the game.
Playboi Carti - Die Lit (2018)
Now, this is an album we should really really dislike. Playboi Carti is the worst kind of mumble rapper, and the lyrical content of Die Lit is just f**king dumb. But this album has an undefinable appeal, for some reason this album is FUN – despite (or maybe thanks to) its stupidity. The deep-bass beats on Die Lit do the job and Playboi Carti’s lyrics do not irritate but somehow add the right flavor to the instrumentals – it must have something to do with charisma and style. Not easy to admit: but this project is a guilty pleasure. Sometimes it’s good to turn off your brain, Die Lit is an album to do it to.
Denzel Curry - TA13OO (2018)
TA13OO is Denzel Curry’s magnum opus and one of our favorite albums on this list. This album is full of psychedelic bangers, with atmospheric production that is hard-hitting and unpredictable – providing the chaos needed to match Denzel Curry’s energy and to harness his ruthless flows. It’s questionable if the three-act concept about the album getting “darker” as the tracks progress really comes off, but it doesn’t really matter – TA1300 is an a-typical trap masterpiece whichever way you look at it.
Little Brother - May The Lord Watch (2019)
The North Carolina rap duo of Big Pooh and Phonte make a triumphant comeback with May the Lord Watch – their first project together since 2010’s Leftback and their subsequent split. May the Lord Watch doesn’t have any production by original Little Brother member 9th Wonder but it has the great lyrical synergy of Big Pooh and Phonte we know from previous Little Brother albums. Truthfully, 9th Wonder’s input isn’t really missed, as the album sonically sounds exactly as we would have wished: soulful boom-bap from beginning to end, with most soundscapes provided by longtime collaborator Khrysis. While Big Pooh and (especially) Phonte both dropped a bunch of dope projects individually in the last decade and a half, it’s clear they bring out the best in each other collaborating. Lyrically confident and astute, this album shows what experience and maturity can do for an album in terms of quality and execution.
Little Brother’s first two albums – The Listening and The Minstrel Show – are almost universally recognized as being among the best Hip Hop albums of the 2000s decade, or even ever. May The Lord Watch, deserves to mentioned in the same breath, it’s that good. The only quibble might be the album is too short at ten songs: 5 of the 15 tracks are skits. Skits are usually nothing but useless filler and an annoyance, but on this album, the skits even serve a purpose (referring back to the UBN theme of The Minstrel Show). With some more tracks of the same quality and some fewer skits, May The Lord Watch could have been even better – as it is this is one of the best albums of 2019 anyway.
Young Thug - So Much Fun (2019)
So Much Fun is the debut studio album from Young Thug, following a long series of mixtapes that established him as the most prominent trap-rapper of the 2010s. The album features guest appearances from Future, Machine Gun Kelly, Gunna, Lil Baby, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Duke, 21 Savage, Doe Boy, Lil Keed, Quavo, Juice Wrld, Nav, J. Cole, and Travis Scott – a star-studded affair without a doubt. So Much Fun is not as edgy or intriguing as some of his mixtapes (especially Jeffrey) are, but it is a solid album – fun and entertaining.
Rapsody - Eve (2019)
Rapsody’s third full-length was yet another step ahead for the North Carolina emcee. Both The Idea of Beautiful (2012) and Laila’s Wisdom (2017) were among the best albums of the years in which they were released, so it was hard to imagine how Rapsody could equal the standard of quality she set for herself with her previous releases. With Eve she did just that though. The word (instant) classic gets thrown around much too much, and it remains to be seen how an album that seems to be something special upon its release holds up as the months and years pass – but it looks unlikely Eve is misjudged when the instant classic label is put on it – everything about Rapsody’s masterful ode to black women screams MASTERPIECE.
Class, confidence, style, intelligence, attitude, skill, power – Rapsody has it all and on Eve it all comes together to result in an album that will be sure to rank among the decade’s best. On Eve Rapsody continues her exploration of black empowerment and female strength, cleverly conceptualized by naming all 16 tracks after strong and inspiring black women. Rapsody’s lyrics are compelling throughout the whole album and the smooth and classy soundscapes (with some excellent sampling) are on point too. Holding momentum throughout a 16-track album is not a given, but Eve is sequenced perfectly – not a second is wasted and there is no filler. Outstanding and resonant – Eve is one of 2019’s best albums.
- 2 Live Crew – 2 Live Is What We Are (1986)
- MC. A.D.E. and Posse – Just Sumthin to Do (1987)
- MC Shy-D – Got To Be Tough (1987)
- Gigolo Tony – Ice Cold (1987)
- 2 Live Crew – Move Somthin’ (1988)
- MC Shy-D – Comin’ Correct In 88 (1988)
- Poison Clan- 2 Low Life Muthas (1990)
- 2 Live Crew – Banned In The U.S.A. (1990)
- Willie Dee – Controversy (1990)
- OG Style – I Know How To Play Em (1991)
- Convicts – Convicts (1991)
- Bushwick Bill – Little Big Man (1992)
- Willie D – I’m Goin’ Out Lika Soldier (1992)
- Yall So Stupid – Van Full Of Pakistans (1993)
- Scarface – The World Is Yours (1993)
- 5th Ward Boyz – Ghetto Dope (1993)
- Master P – The Ghettos Tryin to Kill Me! (1994)
- Mystikal – Mystikal (1994)
- Trinity Garden Cartel – Don’t Blame It On Da Music (1994)
- Willie D – Play Witcha Mama (1994)
- 5th Ward Boyz – Rated G (1995)
- Bushwick Bill – Phantom Of The Rapra (1995)
- Three 6 Mafia – Chapter 1: The End (1996)
- Facemob – The Other Side Of The Law (1996)
- TRU – TRU 2 Da Game (1997)
- Juvenile – Solja Rags (1997)
- Mia X – Unlady Like (1997)
- MJG – No More Glory (1997)
- Hot Boy$ – Get It How U Live!! (1997)
- Devin The Dude – The Dude (1998)
- Mac – Shell Shocked (1998)
- Young Bleed – My Balls And My Word (1998)
- Master P – MP Da Last Don (1998)
- C-Murder – Life Or Death (1998)
- Guerilla Maab – Rise (1999)
- K-Rino – No Mercy (1999)
- Juvenile – Tha G Code (1999)
- Mac – World War III (1999)
- Lil Wayne – Tha Block Is Hot (1999)
- Koopsta Knicca – Da Devil’s Playground (1999)
- Three 6 Mafia – When The Smoke Clears: Sixty 6, Sixty 1 (2000)
- Big Tymers – I Got That Work (2000)
- Scarface – The Last Of A Dying Breed (2000)
- Mystikal – Let’s Get Ready (2000)
- Trina - Da Baddest Bitch (2000)
- David Banner – Mississippi: The Album (2000)
- Ludacris – Back for the First Time (2000)
- Trick Daddy – Book Of Thugs: Chapter AK, Verse 47 (2000)
- Mystikal – Tarantula (2001)
- Dungeon Family – Even In Darkness (2001)
- Bubba Sparxxx – Dark Days, Bright Nights (2001)
- Deepspace 5 – The Night We Called It A Day (2002)
- Big Moe – Purple World (2002)
- Field Mob – From Tha Roota To Tha Toota (2002)
- Count Bass D – Dwight Spitz (2002)
- Nappy Roots – Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz (2002)
- Ludacris – Chicken-n-Beer (2003)
- Juvenile – Juve The Great (2003)
- Bubba Sparxxx – Deliverance (2003)
- Three 6 Mafia – Da Unbreakables (2003)
- Cyne – Time Being (2003)
- Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)
- Devin The Dude – To Tha X-Treme (2004)
- Lil Wayne – Tha Carter (2004)
- T.I. – Urban Legend (2004)
- Young Buck – Straight Outta Ca$hville (2004)
- Rapper Big Pooh – Sleepers (2005)
- Cyne – Evolution Fight (2005)
- Chamillionaire – The Sound Of Revenge (2005)
- Pimp C – The Sweet James Jones Stories (2005)
- K-Rino – Worst Rapper Alive (2005)
- Mike Jones – Who Is Mike Jones? (2005)
- Pimp C – Pimpalation (2006)
- Strange Fruit Project – The Healing (2006)
- Rick Ross – Port Of Miami (2006)
- Devin The Dude – Waiting To Inhale (2007)
- Scarface – M.A.D.E. (2007)
- Chamillionaire – Ultimate Victory (2007)
- Little Brother – Getback (2007)
- Rich Boy - Rich Boy (2007)
- K-Rino – Book Number 7 (2007)
- Young Jeezy – The Recession (2008)
- Ludacris – Theater of the Mind (2008)
- Killer Mike – I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II (2008)
- Gucci Mane – The State vs. Radric Davis (2009)
- Rick Ross – Deeper Than Rap (2009)
- Bun B- Trill OG (2010)
- K-Rino – Annihilation Of The Evil Machine (2010)
- Curren$y – Pilot Talk (2010)
- Curren$y – Pilot Talk II (2010)
- Pimp C – The Naked Soul Of Sweet Jones (2010)
- Young Jeezy – Thug Motivation 103: Hustlerz Ambition (2011)
- K-Rino – 80 Minute Eternity (2012)
- Pusha T – My Name Is My Name (2013)
- Denzel Curry – Imperial (2016)
- Gucci Mane – Everybody Looking (2016)
- Dope KNife – NineteenEightyFour (2017)
- Migos – Culture (2017)
- Devin The Dude – Acoustic Levitation (2017)
- Bun B – Return Of The Trill (2018)
- K-Rino – Mind Vision (2019)
- Denzel Curry – Zuu (2019)
- Maxo Kream – Brandon Banks (2019)
- 2 Chainz – Rap Or Go To The League (2019)
- Spillage Village – Spilligion (2020)
- 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II (2020)