The Best 250 Hip Hop Albums Of All Time? 250? Yes, that’s a long-a** list, and absolutely gratuitous – you might not have asked for it, but here it is anyway. Over the years we compiled ‘best of the year’ lists for each and every year in Hip Hop history, the list you’re about to get into here is based on these lists – a culmination of sorts. ‘Only’ albums released between 1980 and 2019 were considered for the list, projects released in 2020 need a year or two to marinate – no doubt a couple of 2020 releases will end up on this list a little further down the road. Also, no mixtapes, compilations, or EP’s were considered.
This list is based on personal preferences first, and on factors like hype, cultural impact, and general popularity second – that’s why slept-on gems such as Grip Grand’s Brokelore (2008), Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up (2001), and billy woods’ History Will Absolve Me (2012) can be found higher on the list than classic but generally overrated albums like 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me (1996), Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death (1997), and 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Dy Trying (2003).
And remember: Hip Hop has given us THOUSANDS of dope albums over the decades, which means the 250 projects listed here are ALL excellent. So need to get upset if your particular favorites are ranked too low for your tastes – if it’s on this list it’s a ‘4-mic’ album at least. Don’t get too hung up on the rankings either, this list is intended for nothing more than to have you and others think and talk about the music we all love, to keep the classics alive, and to celebrate those classic as well as the excellent Hip Hop music released in more recent years.
So here you have it, this is our list of what we consider to be the best 250 Hip Hop albums of all time. Let us know if you feel we erroneously omitted albums (and also which albums you’d drop from the list if you’d add others). Let’s get into it!
250. 2Pac (Makaveli) - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
Released just a few months after 2Pac’s death (and the last album completed during his lifetime), The Don Killuminati The Seven Day Theory turned out to be extremely prophetic with so many references to (his own) death it’s chilling. The album features some of the best instrumentals Pac ever got to work with and lyrically it’s 2Pac at his most angry and harsh, yet emotional and poetic best. Too many feature appearances from The Outlawz and others on a few filler tracks prevent a higher ranking – but because of 2Pac’s iconic status, this is a classic album nonetheless.
249. The Roots - How I Got Over (2010)
The legendary Roots crew can boast one of the most consistent and most impressive catalogs in Hip Hop, ever. Their only disappointing effort is their eleventh album And Then You Shoot Your Cousin (2014), their previous ten albums are all simply excellent. At least five of their albums are near-flawless – Illadelph Halflife (1996), Things Fall Apart (1999), Game Theory (2006), Rising Down (2008) and Undun (2011) – and How I Got Over definitely belongs up there with the Roots’ best as well. Black Thought is good as ever, bringing out his deepest thoughts and observations. The featured artists deliver to – it’s especially nice to hear the likes of Blu and Phonte on a Roots album, also good to see an appearance by Dice Raw. Standout tracks include “Now or Never” (featuring Phonte and Dice Raw), “Dear God 2.0” (featuring Monsters of Folk), the title track “How I Got Over” (featuring Dice Raw). Eclectically musical as always, How I Got Over is another Roots winner.
248. Del The Funky Homosapien - I Wish My Brother George Was Here (1991)
Co-produced by DJ Pooh and Del‘s cousin Ice Cube, this is not your typical early 1990s West Coast album. Quirky, humorous, and fun – Del always had his own style. Much like a West Coast version of Masta Ace, he was always able to constantly reinvent himself and turn his talent into a decade-spanning career full of creative highlights. This album was a great start to that career.
247. Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons To Die (2013)
Twelve Reasons To Die is a concept album with the following central theme/narrative: the album serves as the score to a fictive vintage Italian horror film. The album’s story is set in 1960s Italy featuring an alter ego character of Ghostface Killah, Tony Starks. He is an enforcer for the DeLuca crime family, who is murdered by his former employers after striking out on his own and falling in love with the kingpin’s daughter. His remains are melted in vinyl and pressed into a dozen LPs that, when played, resurrect him as the Ghostface Killah, a force for revenge incarnate.
Sounds crazy right? But it works – producer Adrain Younge goes all out here, integrating a wall of different soundscapes as the musical backdrop, merging iconic spaghetti Western film music from the likes of Ennio Morricone with haunting opera singing and 70’s soul & blaxploitation vibes featuring thick bass lines and organs. Thanks to the narrative thread, the album flows with great cohesion. Cuts like “I Declare War”, “The Catastrophe” and “Beware of the Stare” are exemplary of the dopeness of this album, Appearances from the likes of Cappadonna, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck, and U-God on tracks like “Blood On The Cobblestones”, “Revenge Is Sweet”, “Murder Spree”, and “The Center Of Attraction” help make this album one of 2013’s best.
Twelve Reasons To Die is different and weird, but interesting and ultimately satisfying, up there with Ghostface Killah’s best work, on par with Fishscale (2006) and in his catalog third only after Ironman (1996) and Supreme Clientele (2000).
246. DJ Quik - Quik Is the Name (1991)
Quik Is The Name is a West Coast classic. It establishes DJ Quik as one of the game’s top producers and as one of the godfathers of the P-Funk / G-Funk sound. His production work is always incredibly smooth and funky. He may not be the best emcee ever, but he more than holds his own on the mic. An important album, one of the cornerstones of the rise to dominance of West Coast Hip Hop in the early 90s.
245. Jeru The Damaja - Wrath Of The Math (1996)
In an era when consciousness in Hip Hop was on its way out in favor of tales of violence and materialism, Jeru kept doing his thing. Wrath Of The Math may not be quite the classic Jeru’s debut The Sun Rises In The East was, but it is an excellent album in its own right. Insightful and profound, Jeru is relentless in his condemnation of gangsta posturing and the pimping out of Hip Hop by the big money suits, a condemnation which turned out to be highly prophetic.
244. Dälek – From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots (2002)
Dälek is an experimental Hip Hop crew from Newark, New Jersey – comprised of MC Dälek, Oktopus, and DJ Still ( who passed away in 2018). From Filthy Tongue Of Gods And Griots is their second album and their best alongside the masterful Absence (2005). Dälek’s music is never easy or straightforward and no doubt this album is an acquired taste, with its boom bap-driven beats backed up by noisy and industrial soundscapes and unorthodox instrumentation. This album was way ahead of its time, and an indisputable classic in the industrial Hip Hop subgenre.
243. Mantronix - Mantronix (1985)
Producer Kurtis Mantronik did some classic work in the 1980s, producing for the likes of Just-Ice and T la Rock. He also dropped a few dope ‘electronic’ Hip Hop albums as a duo with MC Tee, with this 1985 debut album being their best.
242. Busdriver – Temporary Forever (2002)
Weird, but wonderful. Los Angeles’ Busdriver has never made a straightforward or accessible album, and like all of Busdriver’s work, Temporary Forever is an acquired taste without a doubt. Busdriver’s unorthodox and wild flows and his general abstract and experimental style will leave many heads spinning, but those who allow themselves to be swept away by Busdriver’s eccentricity and by the beats that perfectly gel with his lyrical antics will soon count this underground classic as one of their favorite albums.
Temporary Forever is Busdriver’s second album, and although he would go on to release a couple more great projects (especially Fear of a Black Tangent (2005) and Perfect Hair (2014) are must-haves too), this one stands as his absolute masterpiece.
241. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
An album that sometimes goes unnoticed or slept on by many in the genre, this album is truly the greatest thing that Pusha and Malice created. They would receive the lushest instrumentals from the Neptunes, which worked wonders for them on the album. The 2006 release featured some solid tracks like “Mr. Me Too” and “Nightmares”, but overall what makes it so special is the cohesion and the lyricism.
240. The Game – The Documentary (2005)
Though there’s always been a debate about whether or not 50 wrote the album (he did write about 60% of the hooks), there is no denying the power behind this album and what Game brought back to the game for the West. With aggressive lyrics, booming production that ranged from murderous to upbeat to soulful to despondent at times, Game gives us an album that is beyond what any of us expected. Singles like “How We Do”, “Dreams”, and “Hate It Or Love It” really made the album what it is today: one of the best-selling Hip Hop albums of the decade, with over 5 million units sold worldwide.
239. Quelle Chris - Being You Is Great… I Wish I Could Be You More Often (2017)
Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is another excellent album by prolific Detroit artist Quelle Chris, with guest input by regular collaborators like Jean Grae (Quelle Chris’ wife), Homeboy Sandman, Denmark Vessey, Chris Keys, and others like Elzhi and Roc Marciano, among others.
Like all of Quelle Chris’s work Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is neither an easy or straightforward listen. Sure, musically it’s more accessible than some of his other works (but still plenty left-field), but lyrically it’s typical Quelle Chris: challenging, often dense, but always compelling. Quelle Chris’s introspective musings on existentialism are both poignant and hilarious, and an hour of Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often reveals much of who Quelle Chris is as a human being.
As for the near-flawless production, most of the beats were done by Quelle Chris himself, with some assistance from The Alchemist, MNDSGN, and Iman Omari. All in all, Being You Is Great! I Wish I Could Be You More Often is an awesome project.
238. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony - E. 1999 Eternal (1995)
The debut full-length album from this Cleveland crew under the name Bone Thugs N Harmony. This group of talented Eazy E protegees pioneered their own style of harmonized sing-song rapping, and with this album they really delivered on the promise made by the BNTH’s EP of the year previous. Because of their unique style, their undeniable chemistry and the eery vibe of the album, E.1999 Eternal has been universally recognized as a Hip Hop classic – influencing many later rappers’ styles.
237. Killah Priest - Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) (2009)
Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) is Killah Priest’s 8th solo album and the most generally underrated album in his vast discography – for us, Elizabeth is Priest’s very best album, just edging out the equally excellent The Psychic World Of Walter Reed (2013). Killah Priest’s metaphysical deep and thought-provoking lyrics are not for everybody, but those who are in tune with Killah Priest’s particular style will LOVE this album. With 23 songs on Elizabeth and at over 77 minutes of playing time, this is another LONG Killah Priest album but it holds no filler material. There are no features and all production is handled by DJ Woool, which makes for a super consistent presentation that is able to keep attention despite its length – the production really stands out. Priest’s pen game is as good as it ever was too – “Drama”, “Sword Clan”, “The 7 Crowns Of God”, “Rise”, “Diagnose”, “Murdah Murdah At Dawn”, and especially “Jacob Never Died” and “Street Matrix” are some of the best tracks he has ever crafted. Elizabeth is a top-quality listen – an experience with a lot of replay value that will have you coming back to it again and again – even if it’s not streaming and you have to listen to it on Youtube.
236. MF DOOM – Mm.. Food (2004)
Mm… Food is kind of a concept album, as every track is compiled primarily of food-related subject matter. The food-related concept works better than you might expect, particularly when DOOM uses it as a means to cleverly diss other emcees. This album holds some of DOOM’s best beats and bars, as a listening experience Mm.. Food can be a challenge though – mostly because of the overabundance of skits (most notably in the middle of the tracklist) that are meant to thematically tie together the actual songs on the album, but that actually break its flow (especially because they are sometimes stuck to the songs, so not-skippable). Sure, the skits on any MF DOOM album are an essential part of the listening experience, but on this one, it’s a bit over the top.
Despite the skits, this is one of MF DOOM’s best albums. “Beef Rap”, “Hoe Cakes”, “Rapp Snitch Knishes”, “Poo-Putt Platter”, and “Vomitspit” are some of the classic MF DOOM cuts on this Mm.. Food. Production (mostly done by DOOM himself) is awesome, and DOOM’s complex flows and abstract lyrical imagery, make for a dope album that is aging really well.
235. Sean Price - Mic Tyson (2012)
Mic Tyson is the third studio album from Brooklyn-native Sean Price, it was the last album to be released in Price’s lifetime before his death on August 8, 2015. Mic Tyson is on par with Sean Price’s best releases Monkey Barz (2005) and Jesus Price Superstar (2007), featuring his signature brand of hard-as-nails in-your-face rhymes over production provided by renown boom-bap crafters such as Stu Bangas, The Alchemist, Evidence and 9th Wonder. This album is straight gutter, street bully rap – few have ever done this better than Sean Price did.
234. 3rd Bass - The Cactus Album (1989)
A long, but excellent album. It could have done without the skits, but it is pretty much dope from start to finish. MC Serch & Pete Nice are competent emcees and the production & beats are excellent. Essential Golden Age material. Also notable for the first appearance of MF DOOM (as KMD’s Zev Love X).
233. Murs & 9th Wonder – Murs 3:16: The 9th Edition (2004)
In his two decades in the Hip Hop game, Murs has released a whole bunch of excellent albums – solo as well as collaborative efforts. This may very well be one of his best, the first collaboration album he did with producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder.
Murs is another one of those rare personalities in Hip Hop who is always completely real. No fronting, no posing – just honesty and real emotion. The collaboration with 9th Wonder works perfectly – the soundscapes 9th Wonder provides all serve to enhance the strength of Murs’ intelligent lyrics.
Standouts include the Phonte-featuring “The Animal”, “Bad Man”, “And This Is For…”, “The Pain”, and especially the genius “Walk Like A Man”, which has three different beats to match the mood of the deep and insightful story told. But it is all good – at 10 tracks the album is short but sweet and there are no weak spots.
232. Vince Staples - Summertime '06 (2015)
After winning acclaim with a series of mixtapes and his Hell Can Wait EP (2014), and gaining some notoriety by being dismissive about 90s Hip Hop in a high profile interview, Compton rapper Vince Staples made a big splash with Summertime 06, his official full-length debut. Summertime 06 is one of the most impressive debuts of the decade, the kind of album that needs a few playthroughs to fully appreciate. The production (mostly by Chicago’s No ID) is brilliant, and every track is original – a great feat on an hour-long, 20-track album. Summertime 06 was a big step ahead for Vince Staples since his mixtape days, and it remains his best project to date.
231. DMX - It's Dark And Hell Is Hot (1998)
It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot is DMX‘s debut studio album and a gigantic commercial success – going quadruple platinum eventually. With DMX’s grimy rap style and the album’s gritty production, the massive mainstream success it garnered wasn’t a given – DMX’s charisma and star power surely had a lot to with that, as well as excellent marketing efforts by the Ruff Ryders label.
This is DMX at the top of his game: introspective, hardcore, and emotional at the same time. It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot is the album responsible for starting the Ruff Ryders’ reign of dominance, for reshaping the sound of Hip Hop in the early 00s, and for making DMX a superstar, filling the void left by 2Pac and Biggie. Similar to other Hip Hop superstars like Eminem and 2Pac, one of DMX’s strengths was that he was able to put his vulnerable persona and his volatile emotions at the forefront of his music, and his troubling criminal record served to prove that it wasn’t just an act.
DMX would never top or even equal this album, even though the follow-up Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood, which came out later in the same year, comes close. Lots of bangers on It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, “How’s It Goin’ Down”, “Damien”, “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, “Let Me Fly”, “ATF”, and “I Can Feel It” are just a few of the classic DMX joints on what will forever be his best album – and the unforgettable introduction of DMX to the world.
230. Too Short - Life Is… (1988)
Our favorite Too Short album from his extensive discography. Already a Hip Hop veteran by 1988, Too Short came into his own on this album. Trademark explicit lyrics, with his typical laid-back flow and music to ride to. This album is one of his most consistent ones and it contains a few classic Too Short tracks.
229. 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.
228. Biz Markie - Goin Off (1988)
A Marley Marl production from the Juice Crew golden era. Biz Markie always was the joker character from that group of artists – originally a beatboxer, but a pretty decent emcee as well. Nothing deep here, just funny rhymes and Biz’s antics over Marley’s dope beats – lots of classic joints on this LP, like “Vapors“, “Nobody Beats The Biz, “Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz“, “Biz is Goin’ Off”, and “Albee Square Mall”.
227. Ol' Dirty Bastard - Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995)
One of the 4 classic Wu-Tang solo-albums following the crew’s monumental 1993 debut Enter The Wu-Tang. Ol’ Dirty Bastard: there’s no father to his style.
226. Brand Nubian - One For All (1990)
Original, both lyrically and musically. Sadat X, Lord Jamar, and Grand Puba’s lyrics are alternately thought-provoking and fun; and sonically the album is dope as well. Brand Nubian‘s One for All is a must-have.
225. Kanye West – Graduation (2007)
Completing the trilogy subjecting around a school theme, Kanye dropped another dope album with Graduation. Combining the best of The College Dropout (2004) and Late Registration (2005), Graduation saw him reaching back into his backpack and bringing good old soulful Hip Hop. With excellent cuts such as “Stronger”, “Champion”, and “Everything I Am”, Kanye knocked it out the park once again, making his classic record streak three-for-three.
224. People Under the Stairs - The Next Step (1998)
The Next Step is the independently released full-length debut by Los Angeles duo People Under the Stairs, the first in a string of excellent albums. PUTS always comes with that authentic, real boom-bap Hip Hop and this first effort is a slept-on treasure.
223. Zion I – True & Livin’ (2005)
True & Livin is the third album from Oakland’s duo Zion I, the first album on their own label LiveUp Records. Zion and Amp Live expand their creative and experimental sounds on the album, featuring a wide range of musical styles, laced with intelligent, socially conscious lyrics. Amp Live’s head nodding beats are laced with jazzy and elegant musical backdrops, and Zion’s thoughtful and expressive lyrics complement the soundscapes beautifully. Guests like Talib Kweli, Aesop Rock, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Gift of Gab only add to the quality of the album.
The singles “Soo Tall”, the Talib Kweli featuring “Temperature” and especially the excellent “Bird’s Eye View” are immediate standouts, and cuts like the abstract “Poems 4 Post Modern Decay” (with Aesop Rock), “The Bay”, “Stranger In My Home” (with Gift Of Gab) and the jazzy “Doin’ My Thang” also bang – but there are no weak tracks on this album. True & Livin’ flew way under the radar in 2005 – if you missed it somehow it definitely deserves your attention.
222. Westside Gunn - FLYGOD (2016)
FLYGOD is Griselda head-honcho Westside Gunn’s debut studio album. Production by the likes of Daringer, The Alchemist, Apollo Brown, Camouflage Monk, Tha God Fahim, Statik Selektah on this project is simply awesome. The gritty stripped-down 90s throwback aesthetic that would become Griselda’s forte, is done to perfection on FLYGOD. This is the project that started getting Griselda its proper buzz, FLYGOD is the epitome of what the label is about. A hard as nails release filled with uncompromising rhymes and a street essence, arguably re-pioneered by Roc Marciano with albums like Marcberg (2010) and Reloaded (2012).
Westside Gunn is an emcee who you either like or you don’t like – his high-pitched voice is an acquired taste. Fortunately, on FLYGOD he doesn’t go crazy yet with his gimmicky gun-sounds adlibs (on later WSG releases these adlibs start to get really irritating), and the guest rappers on this project make sure there’s enough variation. His fellow Griseldians Conway The Machine (WSG’s brother) and Benny The Butcher (their cousin) make appearances, along with the likes of Keisha Plum, Your Old Droog, Meyhem Lauren, Danny Brown, Mach Hommy, Skyzoo, and Action Bronson. FLYGOD is an important and hugely influential release, and one of 2016’s best.
221. Digable Planets Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)
Smooth and jazzy, Digable Planets’ debut album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and The Roots albums of that era. All about positivity and empowerment, Digable Planets sadly flew a bit under the radar in a time when gun-toting gangsta posers started to get more and more of the spotlight. Reachin’ was and is a flawless listen from start to finish though, and it has definitely stood the test of time.
220. People Under The Stairs – Stepfather (2006)
People Under The Stairs have put together a truly excellent catalog over the years, starting in 1998 with The Next Step and ending in 2019 with their final album Sincerely, the P. Stepfather is the fifth album by the Los Angeles duo – and one their best. Stepfather is a long but totally cohesive album filled with dope beats and rhymes – a testament to the fact that culturally positive Hip Hop will prove to have longevity, much more than the dumbed-down crap that was (and is) dominating the mainstream. An album like Stepfather will still be listened to decades from now, whereas the bubble-gum rap that may peak for a moment will soon be forgotten.
219. Schoolly D - Schoolly D (1985)
Often recognized as the first ‘gangster rapper’, Schoolly D dropped an underground classic with this debut. Hard-ass beats & lyrics: vintage Schoolly D.
218. Atmosphere – You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having (2005)
Rhymesayers co-founders Sean Daley (Slug) and Anthony Davis (Ant) are one of the label’s flagship acts, releasing music as Atmosphere since 1999. You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having, is their fifth album, a release as beautifully crafted and put together as any other album in that entire decade – Ant has rarely been better behind the boards, and Slug is just fantastic on the mic. You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having has dope beats and intelligent rhymes all the way through, stand-out tracks like “Say Hey There”, the fascinating “Pour Me Another” and the touching standout “Little Man” help to make this album Atmosphere’s absolute magnum opus and one of 2005’s best releases.
217. Common - One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997)
Another great Common album, the one that made the Chicago emcee a Hip Hop A-lister. Consistent high level of quality throughout, creative and thoughtful lyrics combined with excellent, soulful production: One Day It’ll All Make Sense is part of the top-half of Common’s excellent catalog, an album that is aging like a fine wine.
216. Above The Law - Livin' Like Hustlers (1990)
One of the earliest N.W.A./Dr. Dre ‘sponsored’ acts, Above The Law debuts with a straight-up (West Coast) Hip Hop classic. Slammin’ west coast gangsta funk beats, produced by ATL themselves, Laylaw, and Dr. Dre. This is one of those rare albums where you don’t have to skip a track, and stand-outs like “Murder Rap”, “Ballin’”, “The Last Song”, and “Livin’ Like Hustlers”.
215. 50 Cent – Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (2003)
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ is one of the most significant albums of the 2000s decade – in terms of sales, impact, and popularity. For these reasons alone this album is a super classic, but at 19 tracks just a little bit too long and lacking in variety to be ranked higher here: 50 Cent’s gangsta-pop subject matter can get tiring, and of course he has never been a very good rapper. That being said, he certainly was on the top of his game here – and having Dr. Dre and Eminem in his corner surely didn’t hurt. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ contains a bunch of classic cuts and featured near-flawless production throughout, and will forever be seen as one of Hip Hop’s biggest albums.
214. Big L - Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous (1995)
The classic debut of one of the most naturally gifted and best punch-line emcees ever. Big L, rest in peace.
213. Common - Black America Again (2016)
Common has dropped quite a few excellent albums in his long career, and this one is up there with the best of them. Meaningful, profound, captivating, intelligent, soulful, and lyrical – Black America Again has everything a Hip Hop album needs to have. Truly great from start to finish, there are no skippable tracks. Production is excellent throughout and Common’s flow and lyrics are as good as they ever were.
212. Blackalicious - Nia (1999)
The Sacramento-based duo of producer/DJ Chief Xcel and lyricist The Gift of Gab drop an excellent (full-length) debut album with Nia. Progressive, soulful, stylistic and inventive production and exceptional lyricism by Gift Of Gab, truly one of the most underrated and poetic emcees in the Hip Hop game. Nia is a gem.
211. Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)
Whatever you think about later-Kanye, his seminal debut album is a true classic. Having already earned stripes producing for others (most notably on Jay-Z’s magnum opus The Blueprint), he exploded on the scene in 2004 with his first album.
The College Dropout is unique and musically diverse, and very listenable – even if Kanye isn’t the best emcee ever and even if the album has too many skits and a few filler songs: always a risk on a 75-minute album. Songs like “Spaceship”, “All Falls Down”, “Jesus Walks”, “Two Words”, “Last Call”, and “Never Let Me Down” all are classics though, and there are plenty more to enjoy besides.
210. Open Mike Eagle - Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (2017)
On the heels of 2016’s strong collaboration album with Paul White Hella Personal Film Festival, Open Mike Eagle continues his streak of consistency with Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. The ambient and psychedelic production on Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is more subdued than on past OME efforts, which complements his low-key delivery. The smooth instrumentals and Open Mike Eagle’s vocals sound deceptively loose and laid-back, but the lyrical content is clever, thoughtful, relevant, and emotionally potent. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream almost rivals Dark Comedy (2014) for the title of Open Mike Eagle’s best album to date.
209. De La Soul – The Grind Date (2004)
Everybody will recognize the fact that De La Soul dropped more than one classic album, but strangely enough De La’s 2004 release The Grind Date (their 7th album) is rarely mentioned when discussing their best records. It should be, though.
The Grind Date is tighter and leaner than other De La releases (no skits, the absence of which is something a lot of people can appreciate) and it boasts production of Madlib, J Dilla, 9th Wonder, with guest spots of MF DOOM (with an epic verse on “Rock Co.Kane Flow”), Common, Ghostface Killah, and others. If you somehow missed The Grind Date – now’s the time to check it out.
208. Danny Brown - X X X (2011)
Danny Brown’s second studio album X X X is another intriguing project from one of Detroit’s most fascinating artists of the past decade, reminiscent of someone like ODB with his out of this world personality, his energy, and his off-the-wall craziness level. X X X is experimental and dark, but funny and lighthearted at the same time, with Danny Brown’s unique sound and some of the craziest but also some of the funniest lines ever.
Drugs and the role it plays in Danny Brown’s life is the main theme of the album. During the first half of the album, Danny Brown is on an incredible high talking about the most outlandish things, on the second half the album transitions into a less intense and more serious tone, telling more serious stories about Danny Brown’s life experiences where drugs and violence take over his world. X X X is a great album that solidifies Danny Brown’s status as one of the Hip Hop game’s most exciting newcomers of the 2010s.
207. The Roots – Rising Down (2008)
Much like its predecessor Game Theory, Rising Down gives us a slightly darker sound than we were used to on earlier Roots albums. Stripped down sonically, with intelligent socio-conscious lyrics throughout – Rising Down is a great album, perhaps the most under-appreciated within The Roots’ discography.
206. UGK - Ridin' Dirty (1996)
After two more than solid albums, UGK drops 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.
205. Big Daddy Kane - It's A Big Daddy Thing (1989)
Not as groundbreaking as his debut Long Live The Kane, still this album showed Big Daddy Kane in top form. Nobody (with the exception of Rakim) was able to touch the mic skills of Big Daddy Kane. This album is just a little bit too long (with a few filler tracks) to be considered a true classic, but BDK’s persona and lyrical ability throughout make this an essential Golden Age album.
204. Oddisee - The Good Fight (2015)
The Good Fight is Oddisee’s tenth studio album (also counting the two excellent albums he did as Diamond District with yU and Uptown XO), and it showcases his continuing growth as a producer and as an emcee. Soulful and eclectic, this album almost transcends genre boundaries in its musicality. Lyrics-wise The Good Fight is more than a worthwhile listen as well – with Oddisee telling us about his experiences as an artist in the music business and life in general. The Good Fight is put together meticulously from start to finish resulting in a remarkable blend of lyrical depth, complexity, beauty, and soul. “Counter-Clockwise”, “First Choice”, “Contradiction’s Maze”, “Want Something Done” and “Book Covers” are a few of the stand-out tracks, but this album has no filler tracks at all. The Good Fight is one of those albums that gets better with each spin.
203. Souls of Mischief - 93 'til Infinity (1993)
Together with Hieroglyphics‘ 1998 group album 3rd Eye Vision, this album is the crown jewel in Hieroglyphics’ all-around excellent catalog. Souls Of Mischief – part of the Hieroglyphics collective – succeeded in dropping a West Coast album without the gangsta cliches, and that is what makes it a classic Hip Hop album that sounds as fresh today as it did when it came out. Amazing, rapid-fire wordplay by Opio, Phesto, A-Plus, and Tajai, who flow together really well with intelligent, funny, and clever lyrics. Dope beats, dope rhymes – dope album.
202. Masta Ace – A Long Hot Summer (2004)
Following the monumental Disposable Arts, A Long Hot Summer is another concept album by Masta Ace, and just as brilliant as its predecessor. A Long Hot Summer serves as sort of a prequel to Disposable Arts. The story follows Ace, an underground rapper through his “Long Hot Summer” in Brooklyn, accompanied by buddy Fats Belvedere. Ace ventures through the Brooklyn streets and goes out on tour with Fats as his unofficial manager.
With guest appearances by Jean Grae, The Beatnuts, Big Noyd, Edo G., Punch & Words, Apocalypse, Leschea, and Rahzel, A Long Hot Summer confidently manages to navigate its riveting storyline, resulting in another masterpiece for the unsung Masta Ace. Universally praised, but underappreciated anyhow on account of poor sales figures. Make no mistake though, this is one of 2004’s best albums.
201. 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 / horror movie.
200. Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Deep (1994)
Gravediggaz was a supergroup consisting of Prince Paul (The Undertaker), Frukwan (The Gatekeeper), Poetic (The Grym Reaper), and RZA (The RZArector). Two superproducers working together, that has to result in something special, right? This pioneering album is perhaps the best and best-known album of the ‘horrorcore’ sub-genre. Taken as the fantasy it is, it is a fun album with a wonderfully dark sense of humor. Excellent production and top-notch emceeing – this is a classic, strangely enough with underground as well as mainstream appeal.
199. Brother Ali - All The Beauty In This Whole Life (2017)
All The Beauty In This Whole Life signified Brother Ali’s return to recording after a five-year hiatus. At this point in his career, it was clear what to expect from Brother Ali – lyrical precision, honest emotion, social commentaries, and intelligent observations. Where his last album Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color was filled with socio-political insights reflecting the state of American affairs mixed with Ali’s personal stories, All The Beauty In This Whole Life is all about inner transformation. Ant provided Ali with perfect lush boom-bap instrumentals to accompany his soulful collection of personal stories about the ups and downs of life, highlights include “Own Light,” “Can’t Take That Away”, “The Bitten Apple”, “Before They Called You White”, “Out Of Here”, “Dear Black Son”, and “Pray For Me”. All The Beauty In This Whole Life is another amazing album by Brother Ali – powerful and meaningful grown-up music, a breath of fresh air in a rap year filled with face-tatted mumblers dominating the mainstream.
198. Ice T - The Iceberg (1989)
Ice-T‘s grittiest album, but one with great variation lyrically as well as sonically. From the epic, ominous intro “Shut Up, Be Happy” (featuring Jello Biafra and brilliantly interpolating Black Sabbath’s classic “Black Sabbath”) to the all-out fun “My Word Is Bond” – this album has something for everybody.
The chilled-out album opener “The Iceberg”, the dope 9-minute posse cut “What Ya Wanna Do”, the personal “This One’s For Me”, the gangster tale “Peel Their Caps Back”, the thought-provoking “You Played Yourself”, the multi-layered noise on “The Hunted Child” and “Lethal Weapon” – this album is packed with dope tracks.
The album’s most important theme – as evidenced in the album’s subtitle and the song “Freedom Of Speech” – is the PMRC censorship that was being imposed on Hip Hop artists at the time. The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say! is a tight album, one of Ice-T’s best and the one that established Ice-T as one of Hip Hop’s most prominent and authentic personalities.
197. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - The Main Ingredient (1994)
Lacking a monster hit-single like “T.R.O.Y.” from their classic full-length debut album Mecca And The Soul Brother, The Main Ingredient is often overlooked when it comes to considering Hip Hop’s best albums. That is wrong because this one is just about as flawless as its predecessor is. True enough: CL Smooth isn’t the greatest emcee or lyricist ever, but these albums are all about Pete Rock’s production, which is as good as ever on this top-notch feel-good album.
196. Open Mike Eagle - Dark Comedy (2014)
Open Mike Eagle is a Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based artist who dropped some of the most interesting albums in abstract underground Hip Hop in the 2010s – with his soft spoken-word style, poetic lyrics, and experimental production. Dark Comedy is Open Mike Eagle’s fourth solo album and arguably his best album to date. Belying the at times breezy production, Open Mike Eagle’s subject matter never is lightweight. He approaches a variety of serious topics with dark and deliciously sarcastic humor – hence the title of the album. Open Mike Eagle’s lyrical performance on Dark Comedy is as good as we’ve heard from him, and the ambient production is fantastic throughout. The lyrical and instrumental intricacies give Dark Comedy more layers than anything else out this year, as always with an Open Mike Eagle release there’s a lot to unpack – Dark Comedy is an album with endless replay value.
195. Lupe Fiasco - DROGAS Wave (2018)
Coming off the distinctly underwhelming Drogas Light (2017), Drogas Waves is another one of those Lupe Fiasco projects that show insane scope and ambition. A 100-minute concept album dealing with the overall theme resurrection, this could have been a bloated mess – but fortunately, it isn’t. In fact, this is a brilliant album. The thing is that it probably is too clever, it needs to be ‘studied’ in order to be able to appreciate its deepness. With just casual listens, the whole thing will go over your head. It’s like with a serious 100-minute movie – you just don’t watch a couple of few-minute snippets at a time – you watch the whole thing from beginning to end, paying attention all the time. Drogas Wave has to be approached in the same way.
In a 2018 Billboard interview, Fiasco revealed the main idea of the project:
“It’s about a group of slaves on a slave ship on their way to Africa to the West Indies and they are thrown off the boat. But they didn’t die. They stayed alive and they lived under the sea. And they dedicated their lives to sinking slave ships — so they became this super, underwater force against slavery. It’s like a super-deep story that I am building on different fronts. But that’s the main idea and the source material for the album.”
Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth (2015) is a near-classic and Lupe’s best album of the decade, Drogas Wave comes close though.
194. Elzhi – The Preface (2008)
Elzhi is one of the most underrated emcees in the game. The Detroit lyrical giant dropped an instant classic with The Preface. Bangin beats – mostly provided by equally underrated Detroit producer Black Milk – and excellent wordplay by Elzhi himself and guests like Guilty Simpson, Royce da 5’9″ and Black Milk, make this one of 2008’s best albums. “Guessing Game”, “Motown 25”, “Colors”, “Transitional Joint”, “What I Write”, “Talking In My Sleep” – just a few standout tracks on an album with not a bad song on it. “Show these motherf***ers what a classic is…” In the intro of the album Elzhi sets himself up for a tall order, but boy does he deliver.
193. O.C. - Jewelz (1997)
It can be argued that the labels ‘slept on’ and ‘underrated’ are overused and applied to far too many emcees – who are either not very good or not slept on at all. O.C. is an underrated emcee who well deserves the label. After his perfect (and yes – slept on) debut Word… Life in 1994, he returns with another outstanding (and slightly more accessible) album. Production is tight and comes from renown producers like DJ Premier, Lord Finesse, Showbiz, Buckwild, Da Beatminerz. Guest appearances from Big L, Organized Konfusion and Freddie Foxxx are the icing on the cake.
192. ANKHLEJOHN & Big Ghost Ltd - Van Ghost (2018)
Following the neo-boom-bap/noir-rap aesthetic established by niche-leaders Roc Marciano and Griselda, with Van Ghost prolific emcee ANKHLEJOHN and producer Big Ghost have created an album that’s better than anything that ever came out of the Roc Marci and Griselda camps.
Van Ghost is a true work of art. Every track on Van Ghost is named after a Van Gogh painting, ANKLEJOHN’s lyrics touch upon some aspect of each particular painting, and the cover art created by Big Ghost is done in the artistic style of the famous Dutch painter. Similar to looking at a fine painting, there’s a lot of to unpack listening to Van Ghost, and every single listener may take away something different from the experience. ‘Atmospheric’ and ‘haunting’ are overused adjectives in describing albums like this one, but in the case of Van Ghost, they are as apt as can be. Big Ghost’ cinematic instrumentals – some of the best you’ll hear this year – and ANKLEJOHN’s grimy lyrics gell into a truly intense listening experience.
Van Ghost is tight and focused: 12 tracks, no useless interludes or other fillers, and guest artists on just 2 of the 12 tracks – Hus Kingpin makes an appearance on “Almond Blossoms”, Fly Anakin, Eto, and Crimeapple on “At Eternity’s Gate”. All in all, Van Ghost is a unique and intriguing piece of work, the benchmark against which all other albums in this rap-noir niche should be measured.
191. Stetsasonic - On Fire (1986)
The first Hip Hop band Stetsasonic came out with a bang with this album in 1986. Fine work from a young Prince Paul on the boards and great synergy between Stet’s emcees – this is an essential 80’s Hip Hop album.
190. Lupe Fiasco – The Cool (2007)
Lupe Fiasco’s debut, Food & Liquor (2006), was among the most revered debuts in any era of Hip Hop. Could he redo that acclaim with his sophomore album, The Cool? Damn sure. This album practically served as an unofficial sequel to Food & Liquor (the official sequel, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album (2012), didn’t quite meet those expectations). Powerful cuts like “The Coolest”, “Gold Watch” and “Hip Hop Saved My Life” are exhibits of how intelligent and well-read Lupe Fiasco is. Easily comparable to his classic debut in terms of quality, this album was one of 2007’s best releases.
189. dead prez - Lets Get Free (2000)
In an era where conscious Hip Hop had long lost the spotlight to dumb materialism and violence, dead prez was one of the crews who kept the tradition started by Public Enemy and KRS-One alive: bringing intelligent, socially and politically charged messages over some kick-ass beats. Whether you agree with all of dead prez’s points of view or not, you can’t deny the power of their messages. Amidst all the bling-bling, materialistic, candy-coated ‘wanna be a gangsta’ pop-rap especially pumped out by No Limit and Cash Money Records at that time, this Hip Hop album for the thinking man was an undeniable breath of fresh air.
188. Eazy E - Eazy Duz It (1988)
Eazy E‘s debut album really is a veiled N.W.A. album. The lyrics are written by Ice Cube, The D.O.C., and MC Ren, who also makes a few appearances. The production is handled by Dr. Dre & DJ Yella– this clearly is a group effort. A little less consistent than N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton – released in the same year – this album still is a bonafide (West Coast) Hip Hop classic.
187. 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.
186. Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth - Funky Technician (1990)
Founder of the legendary Diggin’ In The Crates Crew, Lord Finesse is one of the sickest punchline emcees in Hip Hop history, together with fellow DITC member Big L. Funky Technician can be seen as the first DITC album, and a dope album it is, start to finish. Finesse’s braggadocious rhymes are second to none and the production is typical early 90s NYC style. Funky Technician is slept-on by many, as is Lord Finesse himself. True Hip Hop heads will know what’s up though and will surely have this one in their collection.
185. Pharoahe Monch – Desire (2007)
Desire is the second solo album from Pharoahe Monch, released eight years (!) after his critically acclaimed solo debut, Internal Affairs. Where some artists seem to favor quantity over quality when it comes to their output (we’re looking at you Kool Keith), in the case of Pharoahe Monch it clearly is the other way around. Eight years is a long wait for a follow-up, but Desire was worth the wait. The album offers hard-hitting boom-bap beats with Pharoahe Monch exercising his insane flow with extreme precision and style.
184. Dälek – Absence (2005)
Frontrunners in industrial Hip Hop, Dälek debuted in 1998 with the captivating Negro Necro Nekros and developed their sound with their first proper full-length From Filthy Tongues of Gods and Griots (2002). Dälek’s music is always dark, noisy, and atmospheric – but no album in their catalog is darker than Absence. Producer Oktopus is one of the most interesting avant-garde producers of all time, and his instrumentals on this album are unique and progressive. Emcee Dälek comes with his characteristic apocalyptic bars, but it’s Oktopus whose talents truly shine on Absence – his nightmarish industrial soundscapes provide a thick atmosphere full of menace and terror.
“A Beast Caged”, “Culture for Dollars”, “Distorted Prose”, “Asylum (Permanent Underclass)”, “Ever Somber”, “Opiate The Masses”, “Eyes to Form Shadows” nothing but highlights on what is one of the most underrated Hip Hop albums released in 2005.
183. Jurassic 5 – Power In Numbers (2002)
Hip Hop in its purest form. The beats and scratches by Cut Chemist & Nu-Mark are dope and the lyrics by Akil, Chali 2na, Marc 7, and Zaakir are on point. As always, Jurassic 5 brings Hip Hop with a great nostalgic throw-back vibe to it: fresh, fun and positive – much needed in the early millennium when emptyheaded gangsta-pop materialism had taken over the mainstream. “Freedom”, “If You Only Knew”, “Break” , “A Day At The Races” (featuring Percee P & Big Daddy Kane) and the single “What’s Golden” are easy favorites, but the whole album vibes.
182. Mood - Doom (1997)
This crew from Cincinnati, Ohio dropped an underground sleeper classic with Doom. Atmospheric and melodic production complemented with clever lyrics – this is real Hip Hop at its finest. The album features production by Hi-Tek and guest appearances by Talib Kweli and Wu-Tang-affiliated group Sunz of Man, and this album can be seen as a springboard for all their careers. Mood emcees Main Flow and Donte do an excellent job over Hi-Tek’s beats, the result is a slept-on masterpiece. It’s hard to single out standout tracks from this album because its strength is its consistency: one hour of excellence.
181. Rapsody - Eve (2019)
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 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 easily ranks 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.
180. Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass (2007)
A frontrunner in the ‘alternative’ Hip Hop wave instrumental in saving Hip Hop around the turn of the millennium, Aesop Rock may be best known to most because of his left-field kind of production. People often overlook his lyrical abilities, though. Aesop Rock is underrated as an emcee – each track on this album is a carefully created gem of lyrical genius. None Shall Pass is the epitome of Aesop Rock’s creativity and progressiveness – and a true Hip Hop gem.
179. Add-2 - Prey For The Poor (2015)
Prey For The Poor is Chicago emcee Add-2’s debut solo LP since signing to 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records. It’s his official debut album after a string of excellent mixtapes – an album that went sadly unnoticed upon its release in 2015. Make no mistake though – this is one of the best Hip Hop releases of 2015. Add-2 is a spectacular lyricist, who combines supreme technical skill as an emcee with the ability to write intelligent, socially conscious lyrics. The smooth jazzy beats are produced by the likes of Nottz, AMP, 9th Wonder and mainly Khrysis, and the album’s guest features include A-listers like Rapsody, Jamila Woods, Sam Trump, and Raheem DeVaughn. Add-2 touches on a myriad of important societal issues in a thought-provoking manner, this is an important album more people should have picked up on. Don’t sleep on Add-2.
178. Mobb Deep - Hell On Earth (1996)
Mobb Deep’s third album continues in the vein of their second one, the classic The Infamous. Relentlessly dark and gritty, with especially Prodigy at his lyrical prime, Hell On Earth is another flawlessly produced Mobb Deep hit – although the extreme tough-guy lyrics and dark thematics will not appeal to everyone (even if you are willing to take it all with a grain of salt). It lacks a super classic single, like “Shook Ones” from The Infamous, but Hell On Earth is no doubt one of the two best Mobb Deep albums, with classic cuts on it such as “Drop A Gem On ‘Em”, “Nighttime Vulture”, “Hell On Earth (Front Lines)¨ , and “Animal Instinct”.
177. Percee P – Perseverance (2007)
Percee P is a criminally underrated emcee. One of the best lyricists in the game, ever. Active in the Hip Hop game since the 1980s – and always stealing the show as a guest emcee on other peoples albums – Perseverance, his official solo debut album came out as late as 2007. If he could have gotten himself released in the early 90s, no doubt he would be widely recognized now as one of the all-time greats. As it is, this album may have come too late – in a time when Hip Hop was being watered down and dumbed down for near on a decade already and quality Hip Hop like this was not promoted anymore by the big money people.
This is a real Hip Hop album, that should have a place in any real heads collection. Superior lyrical skill, astute lyrics and produced by one of the best producers in the game: Madlib. It has Madlib’s signature sound; a bit modern & experimental at times, but still with enough of an ‘old-school’ feel to them to match Percee P’s lyrics.
The album has a couple of guest spots – Guilty Simpson, Vinnie Paz, Diamond D, Prince Po, Aesop Rock – all quality emcees, but Percee P outshines them all effortlessly.
176. CunninLynguists - Rose Azura Njano (2017)
Mayby 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.
175. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (2006)
Ghostface Killah is the most prolific and consistent artist out of the Wu-Tang camp. Starting with his dope solo-debut Ironman in 1996, over the decades he has put together an amazingly high-quality catalog, stocked with gems and containing very few duds (in contrast to most of his Wu-Tang colleagues). Fishscale is one of Ghostface’s best four albums, competing with Ironman and Twelve Reasons To Die (2013) for the second-place spot, after his magnum opus Supreme Clientele (2000).
174. Dr. Dooom - First Come, First Served (1999)
First Come, First Served is up there with Dr. Octagonecologyst and Sex Style as one of Kool Keith’s best solo albums. The album begins with Kool Keith’s new alter-ego Dr. Dooom killing the Dr. Octagon persona. Lyrically he is in top form here: flow and delivery are excellent and the lyrics are wonderfully and characteristically bizarre. Gotta love that No Limit parody cover too.
173. Jurassic 5 - Quality Control (2000)
Perfectly capturing that throwback Hip Hop vibe, this Californian crew are all about flawless emceeing over dope instrumentals. Chali 2na, Mark 7even, Zaakir, and Akil can flow and harmonize with the best of them. while DJ Nu-Mark and the legendary DJ CutChemist add value with the beats and cuts they provide. Much needed upbeat Hip Hop in times when materialism and violence of gangsta wannabes dominated the mainstream.
172. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 1 (2001)
The first installment of the series bangs out with harder subjects, and angst that’s even more pronounced than on his second volume. Compared to Public Enemy classics like Fear Of A Black Planet and It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, on this incredible debut Immortal Technique spares no expense sounding off on anybody and anything deserving of his wrath. This is an album that is among the most important of the aughts.
171. Dr. Dre - 2001 (1999)
The excellent follow-up to Dr. Dre’s epic classic The Chronic. Not quite as revolutionary as The Chronic was – but a definitive reaffirmation that Dre still was the West’s top-producer, even after a seven-year hiatus between albums (under his own name that is – of course he produced a whole lot of classic music for others in the meantime).
Whereas The Chronic changed the face of (West Coast) Hip Hop, with 2001 Dr. Dre just holds it down. Superior production from start to finish – the only criticism could be that the album contains a few misses (“Let’s Get High” most notably) and that it could have done without the pointless, irritating skits. Other than that: 2001 simply is another Dr. Dre classic.
170. Aesop Rock – Labor Days (2001)
Labor Days is Aesop Rock’s third studio album and one of his best. As always with Aesop Rock, the soundscapes are innovative and exciting, and you need to really close to his next-level wordplay to get his meaning – this is another one of those artists who make music for thinking people. “Daylight,” with its epic bass-line, clever lyrics, is a stand-out, as is “Save Yourself,” which addresses Hip Hop traditionalists who’d rather talk about their skills and diss the bubblegum rappers than say anything meaningful. But there’s much more to enjoy on Labor Days, one of Def Jux’s flagship albums.
169. Organized Konfusion - Organized Konfusion (1991)
With this album, Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch redefined lyricism. This album has it all: consciousness, politically juiced tracks, party anthems, story-telling – there are socio-political songs such as “Prisoners of War”, “Releasing Hypnotical Gases” (with a truly brilliant Pharoahe Monch verse), and “Open Your Eyes”, street commentaries like on “Rough Side of Town” and “Roosevelt Franklin”, some straight fun tracks like “Who Stole My Last Piece of Chicken?”, and displays of pure lyrical dexterity, such as “Walk Into The Sun”, “Organized Konfusion”, and “Audience Pleasers” – Prince Poetry and Pharoahe Monch pull off a perfect display of clever lyricism and dope wordplay while keeping things varied and captivating throughout. Organized Konfusion is a cult classic that is a must-have not just for Pharoahe Monch fans, but for anyone who likes clever, layered Hip Hop.
168. Reflection Eternal - Train Of Thought (2000)
Sometimes seen as part three in an unofficial trilogy, with part 1 and 2 being Black Star’s Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star and Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides, Talib Kweli’s and Hi-Tek’s Train Of Thought album is every bit as brilliant as the other two. Hi-Tek comes with excellent production throughout and Talib Kweli once again proves he is a gifted emcee who can write meaningful lyrics and has the emcee skills to deliver them. No skippable tracks on this album – quality all the way. Intelligent, conscious, positive – Train Of Thought is an all-time Hip Hop classic.
167. OutKast - Stankonia (2000)
OutKast‘s fourth album is 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.
166. Nas - Stillmatic (2001)
This comeback album was a career highlight for Nasir Jones. From the blistering Jay-Z dis “Ether” to the dope L.E.S.- produced “Every Ghetto”, with classic cuts like “One Mic”, “Rewind”, “You’re Da Man”, “2nd Childhood” and “Got Ur Self A Gun” in between – this album is almost as tight and cohesive as Nas’ magnum opus Illmatic. Not counting The Lost Tapes (2002), Stillmatic is Nas’ best album of the 2000s.
165. Pharoahe Monch - Internal Affairs (1999)
Internal Affairs is Pharoahe Monch’s solo debut. After three acclaimed albums with Prince Po as Organized Konfusion, Pharoahe went for a harder sound on his first solo outing – and it works. Pharaohe Monch’s lyrical dexterity and his techniques are inhuman. Songs like “Behind Closed Doors”, Rape, “The Truth”, “The Light” and of course the anthemic “Simon Says” are PM classics of course, but this whole album bangs. Some good features too, especially Canibus kills it on “Hell”. Internal Affairs signified an excellent start of Pharoahe Monch’s solo career, and it’s one of the best Hip Hop albums released in 1999.
164. Geto Boys - Geto Boys (1990)
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 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.
163. Roc Marciano - Reloaded (2012)
Reloaded is the second studio album from former U.N. and Flipmode Squad member Roc Marciano. Marciano produced most of the album himself and was assisted on a couple of tracks by The Alchemist, Ray West, Q-Tip, and The Arch Druids. The album features guest contributions by rappers KA and Knowledge Pirate. In addition to Reloaded, Roc Marciano has released an impressively consistent set of albums this decade – Marcberg (2010), Marci Beaucou (2013), Rosebudd’s Revenge (2017), RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018), Behold A Dark Horse (2018), Kaos (with DJ Muggs, 2018), and Marcielago (2019) – all great, but Reloaded is the best of them all.
Reloaded is this decades’ epitome of the mafioso sun-genre pioneered in the mid-90s by legends such as Kool G Rap, Raekwon, Mobb Deep, AZ, and Nas. Ever since the advent of gangsta rap, there have been tons of Hip Hop albums filled with crime talk, but Roc Marciano rises far above all the genericness. Immersive, cinematic storytelling, complemented by atmospheric boom-bap instrumentals – Reloaded is a staple of the subgenre.
162. 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.
161. Big Pun - Capital Punishment (1998)
Big Pun’s only album released during his lifetime, Capital Punishment is regarded as a classic if only because of Pun’s technical efficiency and incredible wordplay. Great production and plain awesome lyricism by one of the best emcees ever. Too many skits and a couple of filler songs stand in the way of a higher ranking on this list, but this a classic nonetheless.
160. Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002)
Three-in-a-row for Eminem. The Eminem Show – his fourth album – is another classic, just like its predecessors The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Marschall Matters LP (2000). Not completely flawless, but near enough – The Eminem Show was Eminem’s last truly great album, released when he was at the peak of his power and fame.
159. Diamond District – In The Ruff (2009)
Diamond District is the truth. This is real, raw & pure Hip Hop done right. In The Ruff is that perfect example of an album with a Golden Age sound but with one leg firmly in the present as well. Oddisee is a talented producer and emcee, and together with emcees X.O. and YU he delivers an excellent record, filled with hard AND smooth boom bap beats and dope flows.
A breath of fresh air in 2009; and an album that should have a place in any Hip Hop fan’s collection – easily one of the best Hip Hop albums released in that year. Don’t sleep and go get Diamond District’s In The Ruff if you didn’t before.
158. The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death (1997)
The Notorious B.I.G.’s sophomore album Life After Death is plagued by some of the same faults as the ones that marred 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me. Life After The Death is overlong at 1 hour & 47 minutes, and there’s too much filler material: there are too many Puff Daddy pop songs (and a couple of annoying skits). Biggie’s lyrical skill and story-telling abilities are second to none, but the quality of the songs on this LP is hit-and-miss.
Of the 24 tracks, at least 5 should have been left off the album to be able to consider Life After Death on par with Biggie’s monumental debut Ready To Die. Songs like “Somebody’s Gotta Die”, “Hypnotize”, “Kick In The Door”, “What’s Beef?”, “N*****s Bleed”, “I Got A Story To Tell”, “Ten Crack Commandments”, “Long Kiss Goodnight” and “You’re Nobody (Till Somebody Kills You) are all excellent, but “F**k You Tonight”, “I Love The Dough”, “Another”, “Playa Hater”, “Nasty Boy” are weak songs that bring the album down. Another problem is the skits that are used to set the tone for tracks, the skits on LAD are all quite long and stuck to the beginning of most songs, severely reducing the replay-ability of those tracks. “Kick In The Door” is a great track, but practically a must-skip because of the useless one-minute skit preceding it.
As it is, Life After Death still is an awesome album packed with classic tracks – but because of the inclusion of that handful of throwaway tracks, it’s just isn’t the masterpiece it could and should have been. Life After Death is labeled top 5 OAT by many, but it just isn’t THAT good.
157. The Roots - Undun (2011)
Undun is a dark and poetic masterpiece, different but intriguing. Short but (bitter)sweet, it chronicles the life and death of Redford Stephens, a fictional character who makes some bad choices in his life and ends up paying the ultimate price for it, and it tells this story in reverse – it begins with his death and works it’s way back to the beginning of the story, which is the end of the album.
Few acts in Hip Hop can boast the same longevity and number of superior albums as The Roots can, and Undun certainly is up there with their best efforts – and that’s saying something.
156. PRhyme - PRhyme (2014)
What can go wrong when one of the top-lyricists of the last two decades hooks up with one of the most important producers ever? Not much – as PRhyme, the epic first album from collaborative duo Royce Da 5’9″ and DJ Premier proves. DJ Premier’s beats and signature scratches sound as good as ever, and Royce brings his A-game too. Guest appearances from Killer Mike, Jay Electronica, Common, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, Slaughterhouse, Mac Miller and soul singer Dwele add some extra flavor – resulting in a fantastic album. Only complaint: at 34 minutes PRhyme just is too short, barely over EP-length. It could have done with three or four more songs upon its original release (as the expanded Deluxe version would prove in 2015).
155. Nas – The Lost Tapes (2002)
More so a collection of songs than an official album, this flawless project from Nas is too great to NOT include on this list. It stands as one of the greatest projects in the Nas catalog and with songs like “No Idea’s Original”, “Purple”, and “Blaze A 50”, Nas really does what he does best here to the highest power.
154. Masta Ace – Disposable Arts (2001)
Masta Ace is one of those few artists who are able to keep reinventing themselves while turning out consistent quality. This album is no exception. Ever since his 1990 debut album Take A Look Around, Masta Ace has been one of Hip Hop’s greatest talents, who was always able to capture the true essence of Hip Hop in all his work. Coming six years after Sittin’ On Chrome, Disposable Arts is often seen as Masta Ace’s comeback album – and what an album it is.
Disposable Arts is a clever concept album that follows a young Brooklyn man’s release from prison, his return home, and his life at “The Institute of Disposable Arts”, a school in which Ace enrolls after realizing how bad the situation in Brooklyn is. The album offers excellent production and dope wordplay throughout; from Masta Ace himself and guests like Rah Digga, Jean Grae, Greg Nice, Punchline, Wordsworth, and more. Disposable Arts is universally acclaimed by Hip Hop connoisseurs, but the album sold poorly and is definitely underappreciated in that regard. This is Masta Ace’s magnum opus.
153. Lupe Fiasco - Tetsuo & Youth (2015)
Lupe Fiasco’s catalog is kind of a mixed bag. A few true classics (Food & Liquor (2006) and The Cool (2007) deserve the classic label), but a few duds as well. After the terrible Lasers (2011) and the disappointing Food & Liquor 2 (2012), Lupe Fiasco came back strong in 2015 with Tetsuo & Youth – his best album of the decade, an album that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as F&L and The Cool.
Tetsuo & Youth is another ambitious and daring effort by Lupe Fiasco, who is never afraid to take creative risks. So this is not an easy listen, but for those willing to invest attention and time in it, it is a totally rewarding experience. Like the cover of the album (which he painted himself), Lupe created a true work of art with the music on this album. And not to forget: with the 8-minute tour-de-force “Mural” Tetsuo & Youth contains a song-of-the-decade contender.
152. Nas - Life Is Good (2012)
Few discographies in Hip Hop are as polarizing as Nas’ is. No one will dispute the fact he has one of the biggest classics in the game ever on his name – Illmatic (1994) – and a couple more that come close to classic status, like It Was Written (1996) and Stillmatic (2001). All of his other albums have been talked down on to some extent. But looking at his catalog there have been only one or two real duds: Nastradamus (1999) and Nasir (2018). Albums like I Am (1999), Street’s Disciple (2004), Hip Hop Is Dead (2006), and even Untitled (2008) are much better than a lot of detractors would have you believe. The remaining two of his albums may not be considered classics, but usually receive universal acclaim: God’s Son (2002) and Life Is Good (2012).
Life Is Good is Nas’s eleventh studio album, and it’s a winner – we rank it fifth in Nas’ body of work. This a gem of an album, especially for those of us who grew up with Nas and now share his grown-up perspective of the world and life’s experiences. Life Is Good is a top-quality album by one of Hip Hop’s elite players.
151. Mr. Lif – I Phantom (2002)
The cover of the album adequately sums up the lyrical content – I Phantom deals with media, government, food, religion, law, sex, violence, drugs, and money – and how these things control and run people’s lives and how they are used to wipe out a person’s individuality. I Phantom is filled with excellent tracks – if you somehow missed out on this album and you want to have a taste of the album, check out the 8-minute epic “Return Of The B-Boy” (in which Mr. Lif is resurrected as a Hip Hop messiah), and you’ll know what you’re in for.
The thematic and narrative scope of I Phantom is incredible, and even it is heavy stuff at times, this is a brilliant album. Lyrically astute and the production to back up the poignancy of the narrative – this is an important album and one that has to be remembered. In a year where an album like Nellyville sold over 6 million units, this Mr. Lif masterpiece went largely unnoticed. Fluf over substance – that’s the world we live in and that’s one of the points this album so cleverly makes.
150. Blu & Exile – Below The Heavens (2007)
Record sales don’t make an album a classic. A classic album is timeless, one that will still sound good decades from the date of its release. A classic album can be played again and again, without having to skip tracks. Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens is such an album. Consistent quality throughout – Exile’s soulful production is perfectly complemented by Blu’s introspective and intelligent lyrics. The album was well received by real Hip Hop heads and critically acclaimed, but it never got the sales or mainstream attention it deserved. This is real Hip Hop and a true underground classic.
149. CunninLynguists – A Piece Of Strange (2006)
The third album from the underrated CunninLynguists 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 Celland Nothing To Give especially shine. Don’t sleep folks, this truly is a landmark album.
148. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)
Energized by a one-off performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on November 13, 2015, the ATCQ group members decided to record a new album in secrecy – their first since 1998’s The Love Movement. Despite Phife’s untimely death, the album was completed, with Phife’s recorded bars flawlessly integrated into what turned out to be a near-perfect final album.
The album features all four of the group’s members (Jarobi makes a comeback and even spits some bars) plus a host of guests — André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John, Jack White, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, and Consequence and Busta Rhymes, two longtime Tribe collaborators.
The result is a phenomenal album with that classic Tribe vibe but set firmly in this era at the same time. We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service certainly is one of the highlights of 2016 and a more than worthy addition to Tribe’s monumental catalog.
147. El-P - Cancer 4 Cure (2012)
El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, his third solo studio album is bold and powerful, filled with hard beats laced with gloomy synth and electronic elements. El-P has always been a class-A producer, an essential presence in underground Hip Hop in the late 90s, instrumental in keeping real Hip Hop alive when Puffy, Jay-Z and the mass-production rap factories from Cash Money and No Limit were flooding the market with generic rap fare. El-P has always been pushing creative boundaries and on Cancer 4 Cure its evident he keeps evolving. 2012 was an important year for El-P and Hip Hop: he was responsible for the production of Killer Mike’s modern classic R.A.P. Music, and of course for this gem – both albums would prove to be perfect stepping stones to the monumental projects he would go on to create with Killer Mike as Run The Jewels.
Cancer 4 Cure not only showcases El-P ever-evolving production chops but also his refined delivery – his emceeing sounds better than ever, with a good mix of fairly straightforward and denser lyrical content. A few well-placed guest spots from Killer Mike, Mr. Muthaf*ckin’ eXquire, Danny Brown (among others) help to round off this triumph. Quality headphones are mandatory for optimal enjoyment.
146. Brother Ali – The Undisputed Truth (2007)
The Undisputed Truth is the best Hip Hop album released in 2007. Powerful, political, and personal: activist Brother Ali shows himself in a song like “Truth Is”, the biting political commentator in the classic “Uncle Sam Goddamn” and “Letter From The Government”, and the vulnerable family man comes out in the bitter letter to his ex-wife “Walking Away” and one to his son “Faheem”. Great messaging, intricate lyricism, beautiful guitar-driven bluesy rhythms crafted by Ant – and not one miss in the tracklist: The Undisputed Truth is a classic.
145. 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 (even if his 2019 effort K.R.I.T. Iz Here was kind of disappointing).
144. Redman - Whut? Thee Album (1992)
Redman is one of the most underappreciated emcees ever. Rarely mentioned in ‘best ever’ lists, but one the best to ever do it nonetheless, especially live. With this debut album, he immediately sets a high standard for himself. No weak tracks and filled with bangers, Redman never takes himself too seriously and drops a fun party album with tight production all around.
143. Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
In an overall excellent discography, Like Water For Chocolate certainly is up there as one of Common’s best, together with Resurrection, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, Black America Again, and the monumental Be – Common’s very best.
Like Water For Chocolate is just about as good as Be is though, and it is one of those rare albums that musically transcends the genre of Hip Hop but at the same time is pure Hip Hop to the core. With jazzy and soulful production work from the likes of Questlove, J Dilla, and DJ Premier, and with Common in top form on the mic – this truly is a masterpiece that is aging like a fine wine.
142. Redman - Muddy Waters (1996)
The third album in an incredible three-album run. Just edging out the classics Whut Thee Album and Dare Iz A Darkside, Muddy Waters is Redman‘s absolute best album. Red’s lyrical ability is second to none. Bizarre and humorous lyrics delivered in that typical crazy Redman flow – Muddy Waters is an essential album.
141. billy woods - Known Unknowns (2017)
Known Unknowns is one of HHGA’s favorite albums of 2017 and one of the best Hip Hop albums of the decade, but it was totally overlooked by most Hip Hop fans and noticed only by those heads who dig deep or those who have always been following billy woods.
billy woods’ debut album Camouflage (2003) and the albums that followed in the 2000s were all fine enough, but it was the excellent History Will Absolve Me (2012) that started a new level of excellence in woods’ career. Dour Candy (2013), Today, I Wrote Nothing (2015), Hiding Places (2019) (with Kenny Segal) and Terror Management (2019) are all top quality Hip Hop albums. Together with the projects he dropped as Armand Hammer (a collaboration with rapper/producer ELUCID) – Race Music (2013), Rome (2017) and Paraffin (2018) – and Known Unknows, that’s nine straight very dope projects in the 2010s that should appeal to all Hip Hop fans who had enough of generic empty-headed mainstream rap.
Substance over fluff, creativity over genericness, intelligence over materialism – that’s what characterizes billy woods, and knowing that dumb sh** dominates the mainstream means little chance on mainstream exposure for woods’ music. Admittedly woods’ music may be an acquired taste and not be easy to get into for everybody, but it’s clear that he likes to make his music to have more meaning and substance than that of your typical Hip Hop artist. Known Unknowns is one of billy woods’ most easy-to-get-into albums, mainly because of Blockhead’s consistently dope and reasonably accessible production (with also a couple of beats from his longtime collaborator Aesop Rock).
140. J Dilla – Donuts (2006)
Released just three days before his untimely death on Feb. 10, 2006, Donuts turned out to be J Dilla’s magnum opus. Donuts is a fitting reflection of Dilla’s creativity and musicality, and an apt tribute to his career. Together with DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing (1996), Donuts has become THE landmark album when it comes to instrumental Hip Hop. It serves as the perfect example and as a great inspiration for countless aspiring beatmakers and DJs, showing where talent and dedication can lead to Donuts is the defining masterpiece from an amazingly talented musician who died much too young.
139. Eric B. & Rakim - Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em (1990)
On the heels of the super classics Paid In Full (1987) and Follow The Leader (1988) Eric B and Rakim drop their third album Let The Rhythm Hit Em. Maybe because of the epicness of their first two albums, this one is often overlooked in best-of Hip Hop album lists. It should not be though. Let The Rhythm Hit Em is a super tight album, a bit ‘darker’ sounding than the previous two, with Rakim as good as ever. Lyrically NO ONE can touch the R. The production is excellent as well (although the question is how much Eric B should be credited for that – look it up); the whole album is consistently dope, with a few stand out tracks, the title track, “In The Ghetto” and “Mahagony” first and foremost.
138. 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.
137. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2 (2003)
Revolutionary Vol. 2 is a follow-up to Immortal Technique’s debut album, Revolutionary Vol. 1, which is just as excellent and important. Revolutionary Vol. 2 attacks the United States government, especially the Bush Administration. Issues repeatedly discussed on the album include poverty, drug trade, slave labor, censorship, corporate control over the media (including Hip Hop), 9/11, racism, the prison industrial complex, and class struggle. This is Hip Hop for thinking people – you don’t even have to agree with everything Immortal Technique says, but you have to LISTEN to him, so you can think for yourself and make up your own mind.
136. Rashad & Confidence - The Element Of Surprise (2011)
Too quickly we label albums as ‘classic’ these days, but this album deserves it – everything about Rashad & Confidence’s The Element Of Surprise feels CLASSIC. The golden age-esque album cover, clearly inspired by Lord Finesse’s debut album Funky Technician (1990), serves as a perfect primer for what you can expect. This album is boom bap Hip Hop at is very best. In the era of ringtone bubblegum rap, Rashad & Confidence stayed true to Hip Hop’s roots and bring the heat. The Element Of Surprise is produced to perfection with that early 90’s feeling – echoing the best work of legends like DJ Premier and Pete Rock – and Rashad’s great rhyming skills and storytelling matches Confidence’s top-notch production.
As you may know, here at HHGA we hate it that mainstream rap gets labeled as Hip Hop. Artists like Drake, Migos, Travis Scott, Lil This-or-that, and their like have very little to do with Hip Hop if you ask us. They do pop-rap or something and have found a very lucrative niche in the music biz – their sh** gets promoted by the media companies with the power and the kids eat it up. But Hip Hop it is NOT. The Element Of Surprise IS Hip Hop. Golden Age Hip Hop fans who turned away from Hip Hop around the turn of the millennium because all the mainstream offered up was watered-down dumbed-down rap music, should check out albums like The Element Of Surprise and have their faith in and enthusiasm about Hip Hop restored.
We said The Element Of Surprise is a true classic and we will stick to that claim, even though there is one aspect that doesn’t fit classic status: recognition and commercial success. It’s a crying shame that a beautiful album like this has never reached a large audience. Wack albums released in the same year from Lil Wayne (Tha Carter IV) and Drake (Take Care) went multiplatinum, while The Element Of Surprise – superior in every aspect but sales – sold next to nothing. If you like albums like Gang Starr’s Hard To Earn and Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s Mecca And The Soul Brother from the early 1990s or Little Brother’s The Minstrel Show and Ohmega Watts’ The Find from the early 2000s, you will also love The Element Of Surprise – one of the best albums of 2011, and even of the entire 2010s.
135. Boogie Down Productions - Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop (1989)
134. Eminem - The Slim Shady LP (1999)
Eminem‘s sophomore album – and his major-label debut – was a game-changer. The real start of an epic career that would make Em a worldwide phenomenon and one of the best-selling artists in music ever. A few weaker songs aside, The Slim Shady LP is a great album and a unique talent’s perfect introduction to the world.
133. 2Pac - All Eyez On Me (1996)
2Pac is one of the most iconic artists in the history of Hip Hop. He is one of the highest-selling artists too, with more monumental songs than anyone in the game. The reason 2Pac is widely considered one of the GOATs has everything to do with his personality, his charisma, his star power, his poetic flair, his unique voice, the strength of his singles, and the manner and time of his death; and less with his lyrical skill or the quality of his albums. Of the five albums completed during his life, not one is flawless. Me Against The World (1995) comes closest, but All Eyez On Me – his most successful and most celebrated album – is far from perfect.
Because of its impact and success, AEOM is seen as one of the biggest classics in Hip Hop ever, but at 27 tracks and 2 hours & 12 minutes, the album simply is way too long. Way. Too. Long. Especially the second part of the album just goes on and on with what seems to be the same track over and over again, a ridiculous amount of filler really. 2Pac’s subject matter on this album is limited (too much thuggery, not enough of the soul and intelligence still in evidence on his first three albums), and the endless list of guest vocalists don’t help things either (especially 2Pac’s Outlawz buddies are mediocre rappers at best), it makes the whole album feel more like a compilation album than a 2Pac solo album.
Except for “Whatz Ya Phone #” there are no really terrible songs on All Eyez On Me (although the remix of the classic “California Love” is far inferior to the original), but half of the tracklist is kind of generic and forgettable. That half should have been left on the cutting room floor. AEOM could have been excellent if 2Pac had released the best half as a single album.
Keep “Ambitionz As A Ridah”, “Got My Mind Made Up”, “How Do You Want It”, “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted”, “No More Pain”, “Heartz Of Men”, “Life Goes On”, “Only God Can Judge Me”, “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”, “Can’t C Me”, “Picture Me Rollin’”, “All Eyez On Me”, and maybe one or two more tracks – and that’s a tight album. All Eyez On Me as it is is not.
Lots of people get butthurt when 2Pac isn’t religiously praised, acting as if not blindly celebrating everything he has ever done is disrespectful. That’s bullsh*t, of course. You could turn that around and say it’s disrespectful to the dozens of artists in Hip Hop history to ignore the fact they had better albums than 2Pac had. Make no mistake: we love 2Pac and his music – we just contend that this album, while good, is not as good as is often said.
132. El-P – Fantastic Damage (2002)
The first solo album by Definitive Jux head-honcho El-P builds on the lyrically and sonically dense sound he pioneered with Company Flow, with Fun Crusher Plus (released via Rawkus Records in 1997) as the benchmark album that was instrumental in keeping real Hip Hop alive. On Fantastic Damage, he produces avant-garde digital beats and drops ill lyrics designed to make you listen carefully and to make you think. With his drive to experiment and innovate, El-P’s (and Def Jux’s) influence on keeping Hip Hop fresh and exciting cannot be overstated.
131. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor (2006)
This debut from Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco is one of the best of the 2000s. In an age of simplistic rhymes and lack of meaningful concepts, Lupe Fiasco brought intelligence and consciousness back to mainstream Hip Hop. He would drop more excellent projects later on (and some misses as well), but Food & Liquor still remains his best album.
130. Jay Z – The Black Album (2003)
Jay-Z’s third best album, after The Blueprint (2000) and Reasonable Doubt (1996). The Black Album was supposed to be Jay-Z’s last album, but we all know how that turned out. It would be his last truly great album though – even if some of the albums that would follow this one are really good, The Black Album is Jay-Z’s last true classic.
129. Jedi Mind Tricks – Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell (2006)
Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell is the fifth studio album by legendary Philly crew Jedi Mind Tricks and arguably their best, in a series of mostly excellent albums. It is also their best-performing album commercially but still went criminally unnoticed (especially when compared to 2006 highest selling and wack rap albums from the likes of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and others like them).
Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell is worth the price of admission alone for the masterpiece that is “Uncommon Valor”, with an epic verse by guest emcee R.A. The Rugged Man. But the rest of the album bangs too. Stoupe’s unique and cinematic soundscapes and Vinnie Paz’s vicious lyrics get equal shine, every track works. With some dope additional rhyming from guest like regular JMT collaborator Chief Kamachi, Sean Price and especially the aforementioned R.A. The Rugged Man, this album truly is a worthy addition to anyone’s music collection.
128. LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
LL Cool J came back HARD with Mama Said Knock You Out. Produced entirely by Marley Marl and LL himself, it has a consistent feel to it and is a tighter effort than LL’s much-maligned third album Walking With A Panther (although there was plenty to enjoy there as well). Having a ‘come-back’ record – his fourth album already – as early in the Hip Hop game as 1990, shows LL is a bonafide Hip Hop pioneer and truly one of the GOATS.
127. Schoolly D - Saturday Night The Album (1987)
Attitude. Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D was all about attitude. Though not the best rapper ever to spit rhymes, he dropped some important albums in the mid-’80s which he carried with his personality. This second album shows Schoolly D in top form – hardcore lyrics over minimalist, hard-hitting beats.
126. Noname - Room 25 (2018)
Room 25 is the official debut studio album by Chicago poet and rapper Noname, dropping two years after her excellent mixtape Telefone and five years after her standout feature on Chance the Rapper’s classic Acid Rap mixtape. Room 25 is a self-released project chronicling the two years since the release of Telefone, most notably Noname’s move from Chicago to Los Angeles and an intense, short-lived romantic relationship. The album’s title is in reference to Noname’s lifestyle while in Los Angeles, living out of different hotel rooms, and that she was 25 years old at the time.
Room 25 is an understated poetic gem. Noname expertly mixes jazzy neo-soul vibes with her conversational rap style. The result is a mellow sounding journey – overseen by fellow Chicagoan and multi-instrumentalist producer Phoelix – where Noname guides the listener through her light and dark thoughts, being consistently compelling all the while.
125. Naughty By Nature - Naughty By Nature (1991)
Restyling themselves Naughty By Nature after a not bad but unsuccessful debut album under the name “The New Style”, NBN became a major commercial success. This album contains their well-known first hit singles and is solid through and through, no filler tracks here. Completely carried by Treach’s excellent skills as an emcee, this is an album that sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released.
124. Nas & Damian Marley - Distant Relatives (2010)
Distant Relatives is a collaborative studio album by Nas and Jamaican Reggae vocalist Damian Marley, the legendary Bob Marley’s youngest son. Distant Relatives is a seamless fusion of Hip Hop, Reggae, Dancehall, and African musical elements, with uplifting afro-centric vocals about freedom, family, spirituality, and ancestry.
At 65 minutes, Distant Relatives offers both quantity and quality – all killer, no filler. Distant Relatives is aging really well and sounds as timely and timeless today as it did the day it was released. Maybe because this is a collaboration or because it’s a fusion of musical styles and not 100% Hip Hop, this genre-blending gem is often forgotten when Nas’ work is discussed. Unfortunate, because Distant Relatives is much too good to be ignored. The chemistry between Nas and Damian Marley is palpable, and they complement each other perfectly. Lots of stand-outs on Distant Relatives, but cuts like “Patience”, “Tribes At War”, and “Africa Must Wake Up” – the last two featuring the always great Somalian Canadian K’Naan – are prime examples of the overall quality of the project.
More than a Hip Hop album – all fans of music in general need to have this one in their collections.
123. billy woods - History Will Absolve Me (2012)
What do you know about billy woods? billy woods was born in Washington, D.C., to a Jamaican mother and a father from Zimbabwe. In 1981, the family moved to Africa, to return to the States after the death of woods’ father in 1995. woods’ African perspective is evident in his music – giving his music a special edge, sonically and content-wise. The cover of this album has a close-up picture of controversial former Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe paired with one of Cuba’s Fidel Castro’s most infamous quotes – an album cover that clearly indicates this is not a bubblegum rap album.
History Will Absolve Me is billy woods’ 3rd full-length solo album, and his best. Musically this album could have been part of the Def Jux realm with its dusty and experimental sounding musical backdrops. The beats set the perfect stage for woods’ staccato flow and thought-provoking lyrics; with his views on subjects as politics, race, sex, and class. History Will Absolve Me is a challenging and intense listening experience, but ultimately extremely rewarding. One of the best albums in 2012, which was sadly ignored upon its release. It is standing the test of time though, so it is never too late to check it out.
122. Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid (2016)
The Impossible Kid is the seventh studio album by Aesop Rock. It’s hard to point out one album in Aesop Rock’s impressive catalog and label it his best, but The Impossible Kid has to be in that conversation, with Labor Days (2001) and None Shall Pass (2007). Aesop Rock is a master of intelligent, poetic lyricism and on this album his flow perfectly blends with the highly original beats he crafted himself. The Impossible Kid is lyrically profound and musically empowering, an album with endless replay value – and one of Aesop Rock’s most accessible too. 15 tracks, no skips needed – the mark of an excellent album.
121. Public Enemy - Apocalypse - 91... The Enemy Strikes Black (1991)
Public Enemy‘s fourth effort continues the trend set by their previous outings: excellent, hard-hitting beats that perfectly complement Chuck D’s powerful voice and intelligent, thought-provoking messages. After the utter brilliance of It Takes A Nation… and Fear Of A Black Planet it was always going to be hard to come with a follow-up. Overall Apocalypse 91… may lack the special spark of its two predecessors, but there are enough strokes of brilliance here as well.
120. Apollo Brown & O.C. - Trophies (2012)
Apollo Brown is one of the best producers in the game today. The number of top-quality projects he has put his stamp on in this decade is amazing. His best work of the 2010s include Gas Mask (with DJ Soko & Journalist 103 as The Left) and Brown Study (with Boog Brown) in 2010, Clouds and Daily Bread (with Hassaan Mackey) in 2011, Dice Game (with Guilty Simpson) in 2012, Ugly Heroes (with Red Pill & Verbal Kent as Ugly Heroes) in 2013, Blasphemy (with Ras Kass) in 2014, Words Paint Pictures (with Rapper Big Pooh) and Grandeur in 2015, Everything in Between (as Ugly Heroes) and The Easy Truth (with Skyzoo) in 2016, Anchovies (with Planet Asia) in 2017, No Question (with Locksmith) and Mona Lisa (with Joell Ortiz) in 2018, and Sincerely, Detroit in 2019.
With Sincerely, Detroit the best Apollo Brown project of the decade is Trophies, his 2012 collaboration with D.I.T.C. legend O.C. O.C. is one of the most slept-on emcees in Hip Hop ever: he had two near-perfect albums in the 1990s with Word… Life (1994) and Jewelz (1997) and he is still going strong as his latest projects Same Moon Same Sun (2017) and A New Dawn (2018) prove. Like on those two massively slept-on albums, on Trophies shows he is an emcee that can easily hold down an album by himself – he doesn’t need guests to add flavor or variety. Trophies is 16 tracks of straight to the point Hip Hop; no frills, no gimmicks. There are no guest emcee appearances, no hook singers, no skits, no wasted moments – and despite the album is about one hour long, it never gets boring. The album’s entire focus is on beats and rhymes, the result is one of the best neo-boom-bap albums of the decade.
119. Ice T - Rhyme Pays (1987)
Even with a sometimes uneven production and an Ice T who hasn’t quite reached the peaks of his lyrical skills yet this album is an undeniable classic. Very influential (for good or for bad), it was one of the very first albums with ‘gangsta rap’ themes (although with limited profanity). In 1987 the gangsta theme still had originality and authenticity, which makes Ice T a true O.G. & a bonafide Hip Hop icon. Rhyme Pays deserves its spot on this list on the strength of epic tracks like “Squeeze The Trigger”, “Pain”, and of course “6 N The Morning” alone.
118. Freestyle Fellowship - Innercity Griots (1993)
The follow-up to their dope but somewhat rough around the edges debut To Whom It May Concern. With this sophomore effort, Freestyle Fellowship really deliver the goods. The jazzy production provides the atypical backdrop for a West Coast album, but perfectly complements the lyricism – and that’s what this album is all about. Conscious, humorous, clever, versatile: emcees Mikah 9, P.E.A.C.E., Self Jupiter and Aceyalone bring it all. This highly original album is a slept-on lyrical masterpiece.
117. Gang Starr - Daily Operation (1992)
Another Gang Starr album, another classic. Deep lyrics and deep beats – a testament to Guru‘s hypnotizing and intelligent emceeing and DJ Premier‘s superiority on the boards. If Step In The Arena was their breakthrough album, Daily Operation is the one that firmly secured Gang Starr’s place among Hip Hop’s elite.
After discovering their signature sound on Step In The Arena, Premier and Guru perfected it here, dropping another gem that can be played from beginning to end without having to skip any tracks. “Take It Personal”, “Soliloquy Of Chaos” and “Ex Girl To Next Girl” alone are enough to ensure the classic status of this album, but knowing the rest of the tracklist is completely up to par, makes Daily Operation a flawless part of Gang Starr’s impressive catalog.
116. Oddisee - Tangible Dream (2013)
Washington DC’s Oddisee really is something else. He is an incredible producer AND a great lyricist. He is responsible for two near-flawless albums as one-third of the Diamond District trio, and he has released a string of great solo-projects. Tangible Dream is his best solo-effort of the 2010s, along with The Good Fight (2015). This album is full of great songs. “Tomorrow Today”, “Back Of My Mind”, “Killin’ Time”, “Be There” “Tangible Dream” – just a few of the stand-out tracks on this awesome project. Tangible Dream offers smooth and intelligent Hip Hop of the highest quality – this album should be a part of any serious Hip Hop collection.
115. Black Sheep - A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing (1991)
This album is FUN. It’s also hugely underrated and rarely mentioned when classic Hip Hop albums are considered. It should be, though. Over 70 minutes in length, but not a minute too long – it’s filled with dope, humorous, clever tracks. Mr. Lawnge’s production is tight and Dres is an excellent emcee with a unique voice and flow.
114. Jungle Brothers - Straight Out The Jungle (1988)
The debut album of the Jungle Brothers, and the first album of a group affiliated with The Native Tongues collective. An influential album – it marked the beginning of a series of albums by groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Black Sheep. Dope production, dope rhymes – this is one of the many 1988 classics, arguably the greatest year in the history of Hip Hop.
113. Compton's Most Wanted - Music To Driveby (1992)
Compton’s Most Wanted’s third and best album. Also one of the best-produced albums of 1992. MC Eiht’s signature style and lyricism complement the beats perfectly. It never achieved the same legendary status that the seminal release of the year – Dr. Dre’s The Chronic – reached, but Music To Driveby is one of the best West Coast ‘gangsta rap’ albums of the era, and perhaps all-time, nevertheless.
112. Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)
Kanye West’s second album, and his best after MBDTF (2010). One of the biggest albums of the aughts.
111. Canibus – Rip The Jacker (2003)
Nobody ever disputed Canibus’ superior lyrical skills. The fact he made a bunch of not-so-good albums had more to do with subpar production than his work on the mic. On Rip The Jacker, his fifth studio album, everything finally comes together for Canibus – resulting in what arguably is his best album.
Production is done completely by Jedi Mind Tricks’ production genius Stoupe The Enemy Of Mankind, ensuring a totally cohesive sound throughout the whole album. The intricate soundscapes laid down by Stoupe mesh well with Canibus’ complex and sharp rhymes. “Indibisible”, “Showtime At The Gallow”, “Genabis”, “Levitibus”, “No Return” and the 8-minute epic “Poet Laurette II” (in which Canibus spits 200 bars over 3 different beats) are standouts, but all eleven tracks on this album are fire. Forget 50 Cent, this is one of the best albums of 2003.
110. Black Moon - Enta Da Stage (1993)
What’s the definition of a classic album? It has to be ‘timeless’, contain no filler tracks, have endless replay value and it has to be groundbreaking and influential. Enta Da Stage is such an album. Rough, rugged & raw, the epitome of the early 90s NYC street sound – a must-have.
109. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana (2019)
Bandana is 2019’s best album. The first full-length collaboration album from Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, 2014‘s Pinata, is a modern classic. The question was if they could do it again – and the answer is a resounding yes. Bandana is cut from the same cloth as its seminal predecessor and is just about as good. With Pinata they showed that their apparent differences only served to create a result that was bigger than the sum of the two parts; with Bandana they prove it was not a fluke.
108. CunninLynguists - Oneirology (2011)
Before dropping Oneirology in 2011, Deacon The Villain, Natti & Kno had already established their names with four straight dope albums: Will Rap for Food (2001), SouthernUnderground (2003), A Piece of Strange (2006) and Dirty Acres (2007).
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.
107. Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Jay-Z’s debut, and second-best album (after 2001’s The Blueprint). Because of a string of mediocre later releases and probably also because of his mega-successful business dealings, Jay Z has become a love-him or hate-him kind of figure. There’s no denying the excellence of this album, though. A young, hungry and ambitious Jay Z paints a compelling picture of his life as a hustler. With masterful production, brilliant lyricism, Reasonable Doubt shows us Jay Z at his musical peak.
106. Gang Starr - Hard To Earn (1994)
Markedly darker – both sonically and lyrically – than their previous albums, Guru is great and especially DJ Premier is in top form as always, cementing their combined status of one the most consistent acts in Hip Hop ever. 1994 may just have been Premo’s very best year in terms of quality output (also think of his work for Jeru, Nas, and others). With cuts like “Code Of The Streets”, ”Suckas Need Bodyguards”, “DWYCK”, “Tonz ‘O’ Gunz” and especially the uber-classic “Mass Appeal”, Hard To Earn is one of the four timeless Gang Starr records.
105. Ghostface Killah - Ironman (1996)
Ghostface Killah‘s solo debut and one of the strongest albums in an all-around strong catalog from Wu-Tang Clan’s most prolific and most consistent member. Also part of the epic run of classic Wu-Tang solo debuts.
104. Grip Grand – Brokelore (2008)
Six years after a distinctly mediocre debut, Bay Area producer/emcee Grip Grand returns with this truly excellent sophomore album. Brokelore is the most surprising album of the year. Excellent rhyming – lyrics and flow – and smooth, infectious beats from beginning to end. The album has a couple of great, well-placed guest appearances too, especially NYC legends Percee P and A.G. steal the show with their features. This is a near-perfect album, expertly blending traditional West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop sounds and adding a unique contemporary vibe. The mark of a classic? Endless replay value and no skips – Brokelore is such an album.
103. Diamond D - Stunts Blunts & Hip Hop (1992)
Another DITC classic. Diamond D always was a producer first and an emcee second and it shows. The beats on this joint are flawless from start to finish, no need to skip tracks on this album. Nothing wrong with the rhymes either, this is an underrated Golden Age treasure, 1992’s ‘best kept secret’.
102. Common - Ressurection (1994)
Clever and conscious wordplay over excellent production – on his second album Common is maturing into what he would eventually become: one of Hip Hop’s most revered emcees and personalities. In one of Hip Hop’s biggest years, this album measures up to any of the other releases with ease.
101. Jeru The Damaja - The Sun Rises In The East (1994)
In a year when Premier dropped another excellent Gang Starr album with Hard To Earn, he reserved his very best beats for Brooklyn emcee Jeru The Damaja. Jeru’s intellectual street flows combined with Premier’s best instrumentals result in a tight 10- song album with no filler tracks.
100. Ab-Soul - Control System (2012)
This is a fantastic album, one of the best released in 2012. Control System does everything well: it has style, versatility, great beat selection, and worthwhile lyrical content – if you can decipher Ab-Soul’s often dense and abstract wording. “Track Two”, “Bohemian Grove”, “Terrorist Threats”, “Pineal Gland”, “Double Standards”, “Mixed Emotions”, “Showin’ Love”, “Beautiful Death” – no shortage of great songs on Control System – but this album is worth the price of admission alone because of the absolute stand-out “The Book Of Soul” – one of the deepest and most emotional Hip Hop songs ever, and one of the best songs of the decade.
Control System is Ab-Soul’s best album to date and a modern classic.
99. Saba - Care For Me (2018)
After having made a big enough impression with two mixtapes and his excellent debut project Bucket List Project in 2016, 23-year-old Chicago rapper Saba dropped a modern classic with his sophomore album Care For Me. In February 2017, Saba’s cousin and fellow Pivot Gang member, Walter E. “John Walt” Long was stabbed to death in Chicago. In an interview, Saba spoke about the mental process and how writing the songs on the album were therapeutic saying:
“Care For Me is the first time I delve into talking about depression and anxiety, and then all of these factors as to why I am the way I am. A lot of it had to do with losing my best friend and older cousin, [John] Walt, which is throughout the album. I think why Care For Me is so important is because it talks about mental health in a lot of ways that are simple but I just haven’t heard it done in Hip Hop music that way.”
Care For Me is a subtle and intimate concept album dedicated to the memory of his cousin. The emotion involved can be felt throughout the 10 tracks on Care For Me, and this is one of those albums where the instrumentals and the lyrics complement each other perfectly, the minimalist but tasteful soundscapes Saba cooked up himself serving only to enhance the poignant emotions reflected in his lyrics.
Besides his obvious musical talent, Saba’s biggest strength on Care For Me is his ability to vividly tell his stories, all the while being completely open and honest, which really helps to make feel listeners right there with him. In that regard, Care For Me is very comparable to Kendrick Lamar’s monumental good kid, m.A.A.d city – and Care For Me deserves to mentioned in the same breath, it’s that good.
98. MC Lyte - Lyte As A Rock (1988)
MC Lyte‘s debut album still is a classic piece of work, that belongs in any Hip Hop fan’s collection. “Paper Thin”, “10% Diss”, “I Cram To Understand U” – some iconic tracks on this album.
97. Wu Tang Clan - Wu Tang Forever (1997)
Wu-Tang Clan‘s second album had A LOT to live up to. In addition to their monumental debut, the classic Enter The Wu-Tang, there were 5 outstanding solo projects by Wu-Tang Clan members released prior to this sophomore effort. Wu-Tang Forever is a double album, which is always tricky. The risk is that the album loses focus and cohesiveness, that there are some tracks that will be seen as filler material and that the album simply is too long(winded).
Not the case here. Sure, it could have done with fewer tracks (and certainly with fewer skits), but overall this is an excellent album and great addition to the Wu-Tang catalog. Sadly, Ol’ Dirty Bastards’ input is very limited, but the others are lyrically on point, with RZA producing some of his most captivating soundscapes ever.
96. Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain (2003)
MF DOOM was a genius. 2003 saw two releases from the man, under two new aliases. Where the King Geedorah album had its focus on the beats – which at times overpowered the lyrics by mostly guest emcees – Vaudeville Villain focuses more on DOOM’s lyrics. For production duties, DOOM enlisted Sound-Ink record label members Heat Sensor, King Honey, and Max Bill, with the exception of “Saliva”, which was produced by RJD2.
Nothing wrong with the musical backdrops by the way – a lot of dirty, dusty drums and snares, just as can be expected on an MF DOOM record – but the lyrics steal the show here. The album is filled with crazy creative imagery, humor, and dope punchlines, DOOM once again proves lyrically he is in a lane of his own. The opening track “Vaudeville Villain” starts off the album brilliantly, and the quality doesn’t let up all the way through. More accessible than King Geedorah’s Take Me To Your Leader, Vaudeville Villain is one of 2003’s best albums.
95. Nas - It Was Written (1996)
Although Nas‘ debut album Illmatic initially sold underwhelmingly, it was an overwhelming critical success. So, how to top or even equal a classic like Illmatic? An impossible task, even if It Was Written turned out to be another excellent Nas album. Going for a more commercial-friendly sound here and there, and trying out the mafioso subgenre on some tracks, It Was Written just feels a little less tight and coherent than Illmatic does. Nas’ lyrical brilliance is still on full display, though. With It Was Written Nas cemented his status as one of the most talented, all-around skilled emcees in the game.
94. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels (2013)
El-P and Killer Mike exhibit a great deal of synergy and potential across this first release as Run The Jewels. Coming after their successful collaboration on Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, forming a duo was nothing but a logical step. Although not even their strongest outing, Run The Jewels still is one of the better projects of the decade, laying the groundwork for even better things to come. Like RTJ2 and RTJ3, this project is aging very well, and with three straight near-perfect albums under their belts, there can be little discussion about the fact Run The Jewels is one of the greatest duos in Hip Hop history.
93. KRS One - Return Of The Boom Bap (1993)
After 5 albums as (part of) Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One decided to start releasing albums under his own name. In his 30-year career, KRS dropped many classic albums – this is one of his best. Lyrics, flow, delivery, message, beats, diversity – this album has everything. “Sound Of Police”, “Outta Here”, “Mad Crew”, “Return Of The Boom Bap”, “Uh Oh”, “I Can’t Wake Up” – you know you can’t go wrong with KRS-One. On later albums KRS’ lyricism would occasionally be let down by weaker beats, but not here. With the likes of DJ Premier, Showbiz, Kid Capri and KRS himself behind the boards the result had to be a classic.
92. Jungle Brothers - Done By the Forces Of Nature (1989)
The Jungle Brothers never really received the same recognition their fellow Native Tongues crews De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest did, but their first two albums are straight up Native Tongue classics as well. Their 1988 debut Straight Out Of The Jungle is a classic, this one is more than a worthy follow-up. Conscious, positive, and funky – what’s not to like?
91. 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. 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.
90. A Tribe Called Quest - Peoples Instinctive Travels On The Paths Of Rhythm (1990)
The third part of the Native Tongues triple classic album introduction to the world (the first two being the Jungle Brothers‘ Straight Out The Jungle and De La Soul‘s 3 Feet High And Rising) – People’s Instinctive Travels On The Paths Of Rhythm introduces us to A Tribe Called Quest.
People’s… is a musical masterpiece. An innovative fusion of hard beats and jazzy samples, combined with fun, clever and positive lyrics – mainly from Q-Tip (Phife was still finding his voice here and his lyrical skills would improve significantly on Tribe’s follow up The Low End Theory). This one – along with Tribe’s 2nd and 3rd album, should have a place in any music (not just Hip Hop) lovers record collection.
89. Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele (2000)
Where most of his Wu-Tang colleagues struggled (and failed…) to follow-up their classic solo debuts with worthy follow-ups, Ghostface even surpassed his already awesome debut Ironman with Supreme Clientele. If not for the little lag – with a few skits too many – in the middle of the album, Supreme Clientele would have been an absolute Hip Hop classic. As it is, it’s still a monumental album, and for us, Ghostface’s very best.
88. Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030 (2000)
Simply brilliant. One of the best concept albums ever created, this collaboration between producer Dan the Automator (as The Cantankerous Captain Aptos), rapper Del the Funky Homosapien (as Deltron Zero/Deltron Osiris), and DJ Kid Koala (as Skiznod the Boy Wonder) is as timeless a piece of music as it gets. A challenging listen maybe, but ultimately extremely rewarding – a milestone not just for Hip Hop, but for music in general.
87. Mos Def – The Ecstatic (2009)
The Ecstatic is Mos Def’s fourth solo-album, after his magnum opus Black On Both Sides (1999), the misunderstood The New Danger (2004) and the disappointing True Magic (2006). While Black On Both Sides will forever be seen as Mos Def’s best and most defining work, The Ecstatic is just about as excellent – without a doubt the best album released in 2009. Sonically creative and diverse and lyrically astute – this album is standing the test of time and will always have a place among the best 100 Hip Hop albums of all-time.
86. Little Brother – The Listening (2003)
One of the most celebrated indie Hip Hop releases of the early 2000’s, 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.
85. Q-Tip – The Renaissance (2008)
There was a lot riding on this album, released 9 years after Q-Tip’s last (solo)album Amplified – which wasn’t all that well-received. While not a bad album at all, Amplified was considered too ‘lightweight’ and insubstantial for someone with Q-Tip’s stature.
The Rennaissance obliterated all doubters and Q-Tip critics. The album is consistent as hell, 13 tracks with no filler material. “Gettin Up”, “We Fight/We Love”, “Official” and “Believe” are highlights, but there really are no weak tracks here. With The Rennaissance, Q-Tip succeeds perfectly in blending the ATCQ vibe we all love with his own distinct style.
84. Paris The Devil Made Me Do It (1990)
Why this album is hardly ever mentioned when discussing best ever Hip Hop albums is a mystery. Everything about this album is DOPE. Production is great, Paris is a fine emcee with a dark, menacing tone of voice and the subject matter is thought-provoking. Powerful and intelligent, controversial and political – Paris’ debut is a straight-up Hip Hop classic.
83. 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.
82. EPMD - Unfinished Business (1989)
No sophomore slump for EPMD. One year after their brilliant debut album Strictly Business they turned out another classic. A tight album from start to finish, Unfinished Business proved EPMD’s consistency.
81. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
Danny Brown hit a home run with Atrocity Exhibition. This album feels like a feverish nightmare that gives us a glimpse of the insanity, depression, and hedonism of the Danny Brown psyche. This album is deep and dark and at times over the top, both sonically and lyrically. Production is superb though, and even those who gravitate towards more traditional styles will find a lot to like here. Danny Brown’s crazy flows range in style from hype and energetic to somber and reflective – but the content always is thought-provoking. You can call it experimental, or crazy, or weird – but be sure to call it a classic too: Atrocity Exhibition is Danny Brown’s best album.
80. Ice T - Power (1988)
Power, Ice-T’s second studio album, is an excellent follow-up to his 1987 debut Rhyme Pays. Dope beats & lyrics, and carried by Ice-T’s personality – this is a classic album that definitely has stood the test of time. One of the best album covers (front and back) in Hip Hop history too.
79. De La Soul - Buhloone Mindstate (1993)
De La Soul‘s third album, De La Soul’s third classic. Few groups in Hip Hop, if any, can boast both the longevity and consistency De La Soul has shown over the years. Buhloone Mind State arguably is the most underappreciated album of De La Soul’s first four. The reason for that probably is that it has less commercial appeal than the others. Artistically it is every bit as strong, though – cohesive and consistent throughout – an artistic peak for both De La Soul and producer Prince Paul. De La Soul’s first four albums are all classics, this one is definitely up there with the others.
78. LL Cool J - Bigger And Deffer (1987)
One of the first mega-sellers in Hip Hop (together with 1986 albums Raising Hell from Run DMC and Licensed To Ill from the Beastie Boys). LL Cool J at the top of his game.
77. Showbiz & AG - Runaway Slave (1992)
This is a flawless album: top-notch production from Showbiz (and Diamond D), dope rhymes from AG, and guest appearances from Lord Finesse and Big L (among others) – along with O.C.’s Word… Life this is the best DITC album in a series of excellent albums. Amazingly consistent and entertaining throughout. The album flew well under the mainstream radar but was quickly recognized as a classic by true heads. Quintessential NYC early 90’s Hip Hop.
76. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road To The Riches (1989)
Kool G Rap is generally considered one of the greatest emcees ever, a pioneer of multi-syllabic & internal rhymes and complex rhyme schemes. And he could spit too. Later he would go on to become one of the pioneers of the ‘mafioso’ rap subgenre, but here he was a straight-up emcee with mostly braggadocio, battle-ready rhymes over Marley Marl’s hard beats. Kool G Rap is often named your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, and this album shows why.
75. Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill (1991)
Cypress Hill’s highly original debut record. DJ Muggs’ funk-laced and bass-heavy production filled with creative sampling, combined with the typical voices of emcees Sen Dog and especially B-Real, created Cypress Hill’s instantly recognizable, signature sound. “Hand On The Pump”, “The Phuncky Feel One”, “Pigs” and especially “How I Can Just Kill A Man” are the obvious centerpieces, but the whole album is fire.
74. Run DMC - Run DMC (1984)
This album would be the one to change the direction of Hip Hop. Going for rock-infused, stripped-down, hard beats, and a new kind of emceeing, it was game-changing in more ways than one. A great prelude to even greater things to come. The album sounds a bit dated now, but Run DMC set the new standard when it came out.
73. O.C. - Word…Life (1994)
O.C.‘s Word… Life is very similar to Nas’ Illmatic in many ways (excellent beats, clever lyricism, overall cohesiveness), but undeservedly much less revered. Maybe due to bad promotion by O.C.’s Wild Pitch label, maybe because the competition in 1994 was so awesome – whatever the reason: Word… Life flew so far under the radar it’s ridiculous. This easily is one of the best Hip Hop albums of 1994. Don’t sleep on Word… Life.
72. J-Live – All Of The Above (2002)
A year after his official debut, the brilliant The Best Part, slept on emcee J-Live drops another near-perfect project with All Of The Above.
All Of The Above is the best Hip Hop album released in 2002, even edging out albums like Eminem’s The Eminem Show, Nas’ The Lost Tapes, and The Roots’ Phrenology. This album is pure Hip Hop. J-Live is way above most of his peers, another emcee who truly deserves the overused label ‘underrated’. Intelligent and confident, the whole album shines, there’s no need to skip any tracks and it has endless replay value – the mark of a true classic.
“Satisfied?”, “MCee”, “Traveling Music”, “A Charmed Life”, “Like This Anna”, “One For The Griot”, “The Lyricist” – just a few of the highlights of this long but awesome album.
71. The Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)
With gangsta rap becoming the dominant thing on the West Coast in the early 90s, these guys were a breath of fresh air. Highly original, humorous, fun, and not afraid to show their vulnerable sides – The Pharcyde was never concerned with gangster posing and tough-guy-posturing but was more like a West Coast version of ATCQ or De La Soul.
70. 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.
69. 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.
68. Brother Ali – Shadows On The Sun (2003)
While all of Brother Ali’s albums are great, Shadows Of The Sun is his absolute best. Over some of the most engaging beats Ant ever crafted, Ali paints honest, poignant, and compelling pictures all over the album. While every track is exceptional in its own right, perhaps it’s the painfully open “Forest Whitiker” – where Ali bravely points out all his physical imperfections while embracing them at the same time – showing the importance of self-love in one of the most empowering cuts ever. Other stand-outs include “Room With A View”, “Shadows On The Sun”, “Blah Blah Blah”, “Champion”, “When the Beat Comes In”, “Win Some Lose Some”, and the heartbreaking “Picket Fence”. With Shadows Of The Sun Brother Ali delivered a landmark album – the best Hip Hop album released in 2003, and one of the best Hip Hop albums of the 2000s.
67. 2Pac - Me Against The World (1995)
2Pac’s best album. Although the follow-up All Eyez On Me may be the more popular album, Me Against The World is much more cohesive, balanced and tight. Me Against The World is 2Pac’s third album and the one on which he reaches real maturity. He has not adopted the all-out thug persona yet and the album is better for it. On this album, he is able to show us all aspects of his tormented being, better than on any of his other albums.
66. The Fugees - The Score (1996)
A great commercial as well as a critical success, The Score was a massive improvement on The Fugees‘ enjoyable but uneven Blunted On Reality debut album. The Score is a timeless piece of music and it paved the way for Lauryn Hill‘s monumental genre-bending solo debut The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill.
65. 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.
64. MF Doom - Operation: Doomsday (1999)
After a long hiatus following his brother’s death and the end of KMD, Zev Lov X reinvented himself and came back on the Hip Hop scene as MF DOOM. He would go on to release a myriad of excellent albums and collaborations – and Operation: Doomsday is up there with the best of his work.
63. Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein (2001)
Cannibal Ox really delivered something special with The Cold Vein. With invaluable work on the boards of El-P during the heyday of the unsung DefJux label, this album is nothing less than a masterpiece. The lyrical prowess displayed by Cannibal Ox’s two emcees Vast Aire and Vordul Mega is outstanding, they succeed in painting a grim picture of modern NYC life with imagery that’s highly creative. El-P’s innovative and layered production is what sets the atmosphere for the album though – this one of those albums where the beats perfectly complement the lyrics and vice versa, creating a musical tableau that is atmospheric and hypnotic at the same time – complex but ultimately eminently rewarding. The Cold Vein was years ahead of its time and is only getting better as time goes by.
62. Little Brother – The Minstrel Show (2005)
After their incredible debut The Listening, 9th Wonder, Phonte, and Big Pooh dropped another gem 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.
61. Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (1986)
This is a timeless classic. Licensed To Ill offers pure energy and great fun. The Beastie Boys were the first white act in Hip Hop to make it big, and maintain credibility and respect in the Hip Hop world throughout their career. This album is one of the big, early successes of Def Jam – the dominating and most innovating record label at the time, extremely important for the exposure of Hip Hop to larger audiences worldwide.
60. The Roots – Game Theory (2006)
The Roots is one of the most consistent acts in the game. Practically their whole catalog is excellent – but for us, Game Theory is one of their stand-out albums – right up there with the very best Roots albums Illadelph Halflife (1996) and Things Fall Apart (1999). Cuts like “False Media”, “Clock With No Hands” and the elegant Dilla tribute “Can’t Stop This” help make this album a definite Roots classic, but there are no skippable tracks on Game Theory.
59. Camp Lo - Uptown Saturday Night (1997)
Camp Lo‘s Sonny Cheba and Geechi Suede come off as sort of hybrid of OutKast, The Pharcyde, and De La Soul. Their insanely smooth flows and outstanding creativity and originality make for an atypical late nineties NYC Hip Hop album. Even though it contained the smash hit “Luchini (This Is It)”, Uptown Saturday Night never really got the recognition it deserved, certainly not at the time of its release. It has aged really well though and is deservedly recognized now by many as the masterpiece it is.
58. EPMD - Strictly Business (1988)
Consistent quality. Two words that describe the work of EPMD. EPMD’s first album immediately delivered the goods: funky beats and dope rhymes – it established EPMD as one of the powerhouse acts in Hip Hop.
57. Organized Konfusion - Stress: The Extinction Agenda (1994)
Following their eponymous debut LP, Pharoahe Monch and Prince Po had a lot to live up to. They admirably succeeded in creating an album with similarities to the first album, while doing something completely different at the same time. Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch come with unparalleled lyricism on this dark, dense, complicated, and intellectual album. This album was way ahead of its time in vision and execution. Some albums from this era sound dated now but Stress: The Extinction Agenda sounds as fresh today as it did on the day it was released – the mark of a true classic.
In terms of wordplay, flow, delivery, AND content – this is the gold standard. Pharoahe Monch is and has always been the better rapper of the two, but Prince Po is perfectly able to hold his own – which is incredible enough. Both emcees manage to step up their already considerable game from their debut, they come with phenomenal rhymes and complex flows – bar for bar lyrical Hip Hop doesn’t get much better than this. Whether they are storytelling, philosophizing, joking, bragging, being conscious, or simply throwing out battle raps – their lyrical performances are top-tier in every aspect – there is NOTHING cliche or run-of-the-mill about the lyricism on Stress: The Extinction Agenda. Some of the tightest and most inventive rhymes you’ll ever hear are on this album, with the conceptual gem “Stray Bullet” being a particular lyrical highlight.
The mostly self-produced beats on Stress: The Extinction Agenda are dope as f too – dark and menacing, but jazzy at the same time: musically this album comes off as a hybrid of the sounds of A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang Clan – combining the best of both worlds.
Stress: The Extinction Agenda is one of the most underrated albums released in the 1990s – this truly is a one-of-a-kind kind of album. If you’ve ever wondered why many consider Pharoahe Monch a GOAT emcee – study this album and you will know. Stress: The Extinction Agenda is an all-around brilliant album that should not be overlooked.
56. Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush The Show (1987)
The classic debut of one of Hip Hop’s greatest and most important groups of all time. This album truly was a game-changer, production- and content-wise. Rough, hard-hitting beats and turntablism, complemented by Chuck D’s booming voice and Flavor Flav’s antics – Yo! Bum Rush The Show was revolutionary in many ways. Hugely influential and the stepping stone to Public Enemy‘s follow up and Hip Hop’s ultimate classic album: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.
55. Gang Starr - Moment of Truth (1998)
Few artists can boast a catalog as consistent as Gang Starr‘s. Ask four fans about their favorite Gang Starr album and they may all pick a different one. That says enough about the overall excellence of their work. Moment Of Truth is Gang Starr’s fifth and arguably most cohesive of all their albums. Lyrical genius from Guru and musical genius from DJ Premier – Hip Hop doesn’t get much better than this.
54. The Roots - Things Fall Apart (1999)
With Questlove laying down the perfect instrumentals and Black Thought’s thoughtful, socially-conscious rhymes (not to mentions his exceptional emcee skills), Things Fall Apart is yet another excellent The Roots album, their fourth. With additional rhyming from Malik B, Dice Raw and guests like Common and Mos Def, you know you can’t go wrong with this Roots crew album.
53. Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)
Arguably the highest profile release of 2012, Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album – and major-label debut – deserves to be heralded as a modern classic. Billed as a “short film by Kendrick Lamar” on the album cover, GKMC is a concept album that follows the story of Lamar’s teenage experiences in the gang- and drug-infested streets of his native Compton.
GKMC is a total experience and not just a collection of songs. A perfect example of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not to say the individual songs on the album are lacking in anything – in fact, there are plenty of classic cuts on this one. The singles “Backseat Freestyle” and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” are easy favorites of course, but tracks like “Money Trees”, “m.a.a.d. City” (with MC Eith), “Compton” (with Dr. Dre), and the 12-minute epic “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst” are awesome too – as is the production of the album from start to finish.
The album cover and the inside sleeve work in harmony with the narrative of the album, which is a great touch. GKMC is a balanced and cohesive piece of work, that needs multiple listens to fully appreciate its intricacies and Kendrick’s talent and skill.
52. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Because he is such an
idiot excentric it’s not difficult to dislike Kanye West, but whether you like him or not it’s impossible to deny the excellence of this album. We have never been big fans of Kanye West, but we’re not haters either. We think his first three albums are all pretty great (even if they all have flaws), but we don’t care at all about his work after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (although The Life Of Pablo is growing on us). My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sits in the middle of Kanye West’s career as an artist, and it is his absolute best work if you ask us – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is bombastic, overblown, ridiculous, AND brilliant – just like Kanye himself.
51. Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary (1988)
Not even one year after Boogie Down Productions‘ classic debut album Criminal Minded, and shortly after the murder of Scott La Rock, KRS One dropped another classic with By All Means Necessary. KRS One quickly established himself as the conscious voice of Hip Hop, together with Public Enemy – a role both acts would continue to fill in the decades to follow.
50. Dr. Octagon Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)
Is this Kool Keith’s best album (outside Ultramagnetic’s monumental debut Critical Beatdown)? In a catalog as deep and diverse as Kool Keith’s, it may be hard to choose – but Dr. Octagonecologyst definitely is our Kool Keith solo favorite. An all-time underground favorite, Dr. Octagonecologyst simply is a near-perfect album. 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.
49. Mobb Deep - The Infamous (1995)
An album that will forever polarize opinions. Considered an absolute classic and a top 10 album by many, there are also those who find it inaccessible because of the extremely gritty and dark nature of the album. Wherever you stand, there can be no denying this is a landmark album, both production-wise and lyrically. Mobb Deep brought their A-game on their second album and The Infamous will always be seen as one of the most important mid-90s East Coast albums.
48. Ice Cube - AmeriKKKas Most Wanted (1990)
Young, hungry, and angry. Ice Cube hit his peak after leaving N.W.A with this album. Creatively it is truly outstanding. Recruiting the Bomb Squad for an East Coast sound on the production resulted in a sonically epic album. Lyrically Cube murders every track on the album. Raw, hard, and unapologetic, Ice Cube dropped a bomb on the (Hip Hop) nation when it was released. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is a unique blend of political, socially conscious, and gangsta rap, Ice Cube at his best, and a true Hip Hop classic.
47. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Eminem in his prime, lyrically unbeatable. Released after his breakthrough The Slim Shady LP (1999) and before the equally excellent The Eminem Show (2002), The Marshall Mathers LP still stands as Eminem’s magnum opus – the middle of an impressive three-album run and one of the best as well as best-selling Hip Hop albums ever.
46. Big Daddy Kane - Long Live The Kane (1988)
Big Daddy Kane‘s debut album established him as one of Hip Hop’s top lyricists. Marley Marl produced this album at the peak of his powers, and it is a definitive Hip Hop classic.
45. De La Soul - Stakes Is High (1996)
Another De La Soul masterpiece. All of their first four albums are classics in their own right, this one is the album that was their most mature and confident effort up till then. No gimmicks, just straight-up Hip Hop. De La Soul easily is one of the most consistent acts in Hip Hop ever and they are truly Hip Hop’s elite.
44. The Pharcyde - Labcabincalifornia (1995)
With their 1992 debut album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde this 4-men crew dropped a left-field West Coast classic. This follow-up is more mature and possibly even better (J Dilla was involved on the production side, so there you go).
43. Public Enemy - Fear of A Black Planet (1990)
How do you follow up on the best Hip Hop album ever made? The answer is: with Fear Of A Black Planet. Building on the perfection of It Takes A Nation…, Fear Of A Black Planet consolidated Public Enemy‘s status of the most important Hip Hop group of the time. Fear Of A Black Planet is fiercely political, intelligent, unrelenting, uncompromising, profound, powerful, intense, boundary-pushing – a landmark album in (Hip Hop) music history. Perhaps a little less accessible than It Takes A Nation… but equally important.
42. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 3 (2016)
The best record of 2016, Run The Jewels’ third album is another hard-hitting winner – it’s crazy to think how consistent their projects have been. El-P and Killer Mike’s chemistry remains as great as it has always been, on this album they once again do pretty much everything right. El-P’s production is amazing (of course), the lyrics are deep and thought-provoking, the flows are as good as ever, and the features all work. Even if RTJ2 is the best Run The Jewels album, RTJ3 is not far behind.
41. OutKast - Aquemini (1998)
Always creative and innovative, 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.
40. Company Flow - Funcrusher Plus (1997)
Underground Hip Hop at its finest. A hate-or-love-it kind of album for many due to its innovative and experimental nature, but doubtless a classic. Company Flow, consisting of El-P (beats & rhymes), Big Juss (rhymes) & DJ Mr. Len (beats & scratches), dropped this gem to bless Hip Hop in a time period where shiny suit rappers and gangsta posers were starting to get most of the spotlight. Ahead of its time and very influential, Funcrusher Plus paved the way for countless left-field Hip Hop acts, who were and are instrumental in keeping the genre fresh.
39. Jay-Z - The Blueprint (2001)
In his long career, Jay-Z dropped a bunch of fantastic albums (along with a couple of duds as well), but he released the album of his career in 2001 with The Blueprint. Jay-Z’s most complete album since his debut Reasonable Doubt and one he would not be able to top with later releases. The Blueprint should be rightfully regarded as one of Hip Hop’s greatest albums.
38. J-Live - The Best Part (2001)
This is one of the most slept-on Hip Hop albums ever, and it easily is one of the best of the 2000’s decade. The Best Part was recorded between 1996 to 1999, featuring production by Prince Paul, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock. Due to label problems, it was not before 2001 when the album was finally released. There’s no doubt it was worth the wait, though.
J-Live is an incredible emcee, with a great flow and delivery and lyrics worth listening to. “Yes,” “Don’t Play”, “True School Anthem”, “Got What It Takes” and the classic cuts “Braggin Writes” and “Can I Get It” are just six of the awesome songs you have to check out on this album. Critically acclaimed by those in the know, but sadly ignored by the larger audiences, The Best Part simply is a must-have for any self-respecting Hip Hop head.
37. Common – Be (2005)
Common’s second, third and fourth album – Ressurection (1994), One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997) and Like Water For Chocolate (2000) were all classics in their own right, but many thought Common was over and done with after he released the bizarrely experimental Electric Circus in 2002. Disenchantment with Hip Hop at that time lead Common to drop that strange (though not necessarily bad) album, many doubted if Common would ever be able to come back from that. However, what happened was Common got up with Kanye West and J-Dilla to deliver the album of his career.
On Be Common found his fire and his love for the game again. Stellar tracks like “Testify”, “The Food”, “The Corner”, and “Go” are classic Common – in fact, the whole album is tight and consistent as can be. Common would go on to drop a whole bunch of other excellent albums but Be will forever be his magnum opus.
36. Main Source - Breaking Atoms (1991)
Large Professor, one of Hip Hop’s most respected producers, exploded on the scene with this classic album – showing his extraordinary talents on the boards as well as on the mic. Breaking Atoms is an important and hugely influential album and a testament to the brilliance of Large Pro. And not to forget: this album contained the official debut on wax from young Queensbridge emcee Nasty Nas, with a brilliant opening verse on the dope posse cut “Live At The BBQ”.
35. The Roots - Illadelph Halflife (1996)
The Roots’ best album? Hard to pick a favorite in a discography of such outstanding overall quality, but on Illadelph Halflife everything works. This is a LONG album, but there are few, if any, wasted moments. This is smooth, jazzy Hip Hop at its finest, with live instrumentation and exceptional lyricism – true brilliance from Philly’s legendary Roots crew.
34. The DOC - No One Can Do It Better (1989)
On the heels of the explosive success of N.W.A‘s Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre turned out another flawlessly produced album. The D.O.C. proved to be a talented emcee who was able to complement Dre’s beats perfectly. The D.O.C. didn’t need gangster posturing to show and prove he was the man – he had the skills and the confidence to carry this album and to make it an all-time Hip Hop classic.
33. GZA - Liquid Swords (1995)
Liquid Swords is another highlight in the Wu-Tang (solo) catalog. The album would have been even higher on this list if GZA & RZA hadn’t overdone it a bit on the skits/intro’s, but the actual songs on this one are all true bangers. Elite production by RZA as per usual in that era, and the trademark dope Wu-Tang lyricism. Classic Wu-Tang.
32. Eric B & Rakim - Follow The Leader (1988)
Faced with the impossible task to follow up the game-changing classic Paid In Full, Eric B & Rakim delivered anyway. Rakim raised the bar of emceeing to a level few ever approached. This album contains the best opening trio of songs ever, with “Follow The Leader”, “Microphone Fiend”, and “Lyrics Of Fury”.
31. Ice Cube - Death Certificate (1991)
Still angry, still hungry. Ice Cube picks up where he left things with his classic debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and even takes things a bit further. Raw and uncompromising, Death Certificate was highly controversial in its subject matter. Ice Cube pulls no punches and spares no one in his examinations of early 90s American society, which can make it an ‘uncomfortable’ listen at times.
Sonically, there is nothing wrong with Ice Cube’s and Sir Jinx’s production – although the funk induced beats on Death Certificate may be a little less appealing than the Bomb Squad’s stand-out work on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted – but this album is all about the lyrical content. Widely considered Ice Cube’s best work (together with AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted), Death Certificate is an important album in Hip Hop history.
30. Mos Def - Black On Both Sides (1999)
Mos Def’s masterpiece. Mos Def is one of the most underrated emcees out there – but he has a unique voice and his flow is tight. He’s intelligent, humorous, passionate, creative, and socially conscious. Black On Both Sides is a must-have for any and all Hip Hop fans.
29. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata (2014)
Typically we don’t much care for gangsta rap or coke rap or whatever label is attached to tough-guy crime rhymes, but the fruits of the out-of-the-box collaboration between Gary, Indiana-based gangsta rapper Freddie Gibbs and the Oxnard, California native, left-field production-genius Madlib are a firm exception. As with Madlib’s collaboration with MF DOOM, which resulted in the best Hip Hop album of the 2000s, his partnership with Freddie Gibbs leads to a product that is bigger than the sum of its parts. On Piñata Gibbs’ coarse flow works perfectly with Madlib’s soulful and funky soundscapes – arguably Madlib’s best work since 2004’s Madvillainy. Guest spots by the likes of Scarface, Raekwon, Danny Brown, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt (among others) add extra flavor, which results in 2014’s second-best album (just after RTJ2). The album could have done without some of the skits, but all-in-all this powerhouse of an album truly is a masterpiece.
28. Gang Starr - Step In The Arena (1991)
On their second album, Gang Starr found their sound. Guru‘s supremely recognizable monotone voice and DJ Premier‘s signature style of DJing and producing really come together here. This is a long album but there are no filler tracks, you can listen to the whole album without having to skip a song. The start of a near-flawless 4-album-run.
27. Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)
This album truly is sampling heaven. Paul’s Boutique was completely different from Beastie Boys‘ much easier accessible and commercially super successful debut album Licensed To Ill, and not what a lot of fans of that album were expecting. Initially a commercial failure, Paul’s Boutique aged like fine wine and with it the appreciation for it. Now considered a landmark album in Hip Hop, it’s the ultimate example of what the Beastie Boys always stood for: creativity and innovation. They were never afraid to reinvent themselves and stretch (and cross) genre boundaries, while at the same time keeping it real. A timeless masterpiece, Paul’s Boutique will forever be remembered as a classic album, in music, not just in Hip Hop.
26. LL Cool J - Radio (1985)
LL Cool J‘s debut album is one of the most influential Hip Hop albums of all time. Together with Run DMC’s debut album from the year before, Radio was the second album that would set the tone for how Hip Hop was going to sound. Rick Rubin’s stripped-down, minimalistic production complements LL Cool J B-Boy attitude and revolutionary lyricism perfectly. This is one of the greatest and most important debuts in the history of Hip Hop and LL Cool J is one of the all-time greats.
25. Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998)
Both Mos Def and Talib Kweli planned to release their solo albums around the same time, but they postponed their individual projects and decided instead to collaborate on a full-length LP – and what a collaboration it is. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is a timeless piece of music that gets better with every passing year.
24. Ice T - Original Gangster (1991)
Ice-T’s masterpiece. 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 you can keep on constant rotation because it never gets old.
23. Shabazz Palaces - Black Up (2011)
Black Up is the debut studio album by Shabazz Palaces, the duo consisting of Palaceer Lazaro (formerly known as Butterfly of Digable Planets) and multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. This album is pretty much amazing, unlike anything you have ever heard before. Experimental Hip Hop, Progressive Hip Hop, Abstract Hip Hop – call it what you want, just know no label can do this project justice. And it doesn’t need a label either, other than ‘classic’. At ten songs, Black Up is a tight presentation, but not a second is wasted. Throughout the 10 songs, deep beats highlighted by electronic flourishes complement the idiosyncratic flows and intricate lyrics filled with abstract metaphors and intelligent observations – there’s a lot to unpack here.
Even though Shabazz Palaces’ follow-up efforts were interesting enough – especially Lese Majesty (2014) is good – up to now they have never reached Black Up‘s level of outstanding excellence again, and it is hard to see how they could. This album is something special, unique like It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is unique, or like Madvillainy is.
To really do justice to this musical treasure you need to listen to it on a quality system or with really good headphones or earbuds – otherwise, you might miss the deepness of the bass and other sonic intricacies. Black Up certainly isn’t for everyone, but for those open for a challenging listen or just for something different from 13-in-a-dozen rap, this album really is pure gold. Black Up is one of the most (if not THE most) creative, innovative, and captivating Hip Hop albums of the 2010s.
22. De La Soul - De La Soul Is Dead (1991)
De La Soul more or less invented the rap-skit and to this day, they remain one of the very few acts who know how to use it. Where in 95% of the cases skits do not add anything, except annoying breaks in the flow of albums, De La actually know how to use a skit in the right way – to give a thematic and coherent feel to an album.
De La Soul Is Dead is a long album, but packed with brilliance, musically and lyrically. A marked change in style and feel to their equally brilliant debut 3 Feet High & Rising, De La Soul Is Dead showed a darker and more contemplative side of De La Soul. Gone is the happy-go-lucky positivity of their debut, instead we get De La’s disillusioned vision on the state of Hip Hop, which would turn out to be highly prophetic. This album was so ahead of its time, Hip Hop still hasn’t caught up yet.
21. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die (1994)
Another landmark album and an all-time classic. The Notorious B.I.G. made a big splash on the scene with his classic debut single “Party & Bullsh*t”. Expectations were high for his full-length debut album and boy did he deliver with Ready To Die. One of the most naturally gifted emcees and storytellers in the Hip Hop game ever, everything came together for him on this album. Excellent production throughout with Biggie’s simultaneously brash and vulnerable lyrics to top off the banging instrumentals. Few others were ever able to express their thoughts and feelings the way Biggie was.
20. Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle (1993)
In the pre-internet and Social Media days, when music promotion was a whole different ballgame, there have been few albums that were as hyped and anticipated as Snoop Doggy Dogg‘s solo debut. Having made an incredible impression with his unique style on Dr. Dre‘s “Deep Cover” single and later as the top emcee on Dre’s monumental The Chronic, Snoop was hailed as Hip Hop’s next superstar.
With mentor Dr. Dre on the boards, Doggystyle managed to meet the crazy high expectations. An all-around Hip Hop classic, on the West Coast arguably only surpassed in ‘classic-ness’ by N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and Dre’s The Chronic, Doggystyle is and always will be Snoop Dogg’s magnum opus.
19. Run DMC - Raising Hell (1986)
One of the first mega-sellers in Hip Hop and the album that would cement the status of Run DMC as the top Hip Hop act of the time. A brilliant album, with perfect interplay between Jam Master Jay – one of the first great all-round DJ’s in the game – and the back-and-forth rhyming of DMC and Run. This album, together with Beastie Boys‘ debut Licensed To Ill that was released in the same year, was responsible for opening Hip Hop to all kinds of audiences all over the world. Run DMC “took the beat from the street and put it on TV”.
18. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (1988)
This album was a game-changer; for better or for worse. One of the first real ‘gangsta rap’ albums, and one of the most successful, going multi-platinum without any radio play. It influenced and changed the direction of Hip Hop, producing countless clones for decades to come. The difference between all the clones and this album is the originality and authenticity of Straight Outta Compton; combined with the revolutionary & flawless production by Dr. Dre and the raw energy and at the time shocking lyrical imagery of Ice Cube, MC Ren & Eazy E.
17. Slick Rick - The Great Adventures Of… (1988)
It doesn’t get much better than this. A flawless album from start to finish, filled with dope tracks. Slick Rick‘s superior storytelling abilities, combined with his humor and unique rapping style, make this album an unforgettable classic.
16. Dr Dre - The Chronic (1992)
The Chronic is one of the most influential Hip Hop albums of all-time. A 1990’s masterpiece that is about the production first and the lyrical content second. Dr. Dre‘s production on this album is just INCREDIBLE. Often imitated, never duplicated. It also showed us the full potential of Hip Hop’s next superstar – a young Snoop Dogg. Along with lyrics from a host of other talented rappers and Dr. Dre himself, The Chronic is filled with the ‘standard’ gangsta themes (violence, sex, drugs, parties) – difference from most of the copy cat others is that on this album it sounds GOOD instead of played out.
15. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2 (2014)
Wow – who would have thought El-P and Killer Mike could outdo their collaborative debut Run The Jewels (2013)? That record was epic and unstoppable enough, but this one is even better – more layered and even darker. The out-of-the-box combination of El-P and Killer Mike has proven to be unbeatable – this album is lyrically intelligent and hard-hitting as well as sonically brilliant, RTJ2 easily is one of the best and most important Hip Hop albums of the 2010s.
14. Raekwon - Only Built For Cuban Linx... (1995)
The best Wu-Tang solo album? We think so. It’s not even a ‘real’ solo album – every Wu-Tang Clan member appears on one or more tracks and production is in the more than capable hands of RZA. That makes this album even more of a group effort than most other Wu-Tang solo releases.
After Kool G Rap, Raekwon can be seen as one of the pioneers of the mafioso sub-genre and this album is one of the best, if not the best of its sort. Only Built For Cuban Linx… was loosely composed to play like a film with Raekwon as the “star,” fellow Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah as the “guest-star,” and producer RZA as the “director.” The cinematic feel of the album, along with the top-notch production and emceeing, make this one an all-time classic.
13. 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.
12. Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca And The Soul Brother (1992)
A timeless musical masterpiece, tasteful and irresistible. After the excellent All Souled Out EP they dropped the year previous, Pete Rock & CL Smooth followed up with this brilliant album. Pete Rock’s multi-layered, horns-filled, bass-heavy boom-bap production is simply masterful. CL Smooth delivery serves as another instrument to complete the musical feast this album is from start to finish. Incredibly consistent throughout, Mecca And The Soul Brother is one of Hip Hop’s all-time greatest albums.
11. De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising (1989)
Experimental, innovative, and hugely influential – this cooperation between De La Soul and producer Prince Paul is a landmark album. This album introduced the skit to Hip Hop albums; and although skits more often irritate than add value, on this album they work. Clever wordplay, deft rhymes, playful production, positivity, and fun: 3 Feet High And Rising represented a new direction for Hip Hop, clearly a reaction to cliches already emerging in Hip Hop, even in its early years. De La Soul’s debut album was unlike anything Hip Hop had seen up to then, and while arguably all Hip Hop in the 1980s can be called ‘experimental’ because the genre was still in its infancy, 3 Feet High And Rising deserves to labeled thus for sure. This was the album (along with Jungle Brothers’ Straight Out The Jungle) that paved the way for acts like A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship, Digable Planets, and many others.
10. Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded (1987)
After making a name for themselves in the NYC Hip Hop underground, former social worker Scott La Rock and one of his clients, KRS One, formed Boogie Down Productions and came out in 1987 with Criminal Minded. The bare-bones production by Scott Las Rock – and 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. Together with other groundbreaking 1987 debuts of Eric B & Rakim (Paid In Full) and Public Enemy (Yo! Bum Rush The Show), this album set the standard for the Golden Age of Hip Hop.
9. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
This album is special, in a once in a generation kind of way. To Pimp A Butterfly is like this generation’s version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (1971), or Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988).
With good kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick Lamar (2012) had already released a near-flawless project, but this follow-up turned out to be even bigger and better. To Pimp a Butterfly is a grandiose achievement: both a soul-bearing confessional and a compelling state of the nation address – this album’s cultural significance can not be overstated. There’s nothing easy or straightforward about the instrumentals either: TPAB features a potent blend of live instrumentation, neo-soul, stripped-down jazz fusion, occasional funk, and Hip Hop to give the album a vast historical musical appeal – it’s an amalgamation of 70 years of Black music. Kendrick Lamar’s narrative thread and the vast cast of guests appearing on the album only underline its expansive scope and ambitions.
This is not an easy, straight-forward listen, but it is an important one. To Pimp A Butterfly is a timeless genre-blending masterpiece that will forever reside in the highest echelons of the Hip Hop pantheon.
8. A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)
Faced with the impossible task of following up on the flawless masterpiece that is The Low End Theory, Tribe delivered an album that is every bit as awesome as its predecessor. There can be no greater praise. As fresh today as it was on the day it was released: the mark of a true classic.
7. Ultramagnetic MCs - Critical Beatdown (1988)
Ultramagnetic MCs’ Critical Beatdown is a classic and hugely influential album that has stood the test of time – Kool Keith‘s unique style & lyrics along with the excellent overall production ensure this is one for the ages. Highly original & innovative and very consistent – no weak tracks on this album. Critically acclaimed, but at the same time slept on and somehow underappreciated – this is one of HHGA’s all-time favorite albums.
6. Wu Tang Clan - Enter The Wu Tang (1993)
What can be said about this seminal album that hasn’t been said a thousand times over already? One of the most innovative, groundbreaking, influential and important Hip Hop albums EVER. New York’s answer to Dr. Dre’s worldshaking The Chronic of the year previous. RZA’s incredible innovative production resulting in that trademark dirty and gritty Wu-Tang sound, complemented by 9 emcees who all bring their A-game and show crazy versatility and never-seen-before lyrical creativity: unbeatable.
5. Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004)
This album is ART, pure and simple. Madvilliany redefined the underground and is a perfect example of what can happen if two left-field geniuses combine powers. The late MF DOOM and Madlib have both produced many pieces of brilliant music, but this epic album is the crowning achievement of both their careers. The album of the 2000s decade and a top 10 Hip Hop album of all-time.
4. Eric B & Rakim - Paid In Full (1987)
In a music genre still in its infancy, this Eric B & Rakim masterpiece was a game-changer after its release in 1987. Seductive, smooth yet hard beats laced with Rakim’s innovative and intricate rhyme style, make for this groundbreaking and seminal work. This is one of the albums that can be seen as a precursor to 1988, Hip Hop’s break-out year. An album that established Hip Hop as a musical genre that was there to stay. Paid In Full will forever be recognized as one of Hip Hop’s ultimate classics. Filled with unforgettable tracks and Hip Hop anthems this album is a must-have. If you don’t own this album, your Hip Hop collection is incomplete.
3. A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)
The Low End Theory is 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 album is so coherent and consistent, it almost feels like one long song – in this case, a good thing. Phife, who only played a small part on the first album, really increased his skills as an emcee and establishes a perfect interplay with the always exceptional Q-Tip. Clever lyrics and smooth and warm music – this album is nothing short of perfect.
2. Nas - Illmatic (1994)
One of the very best Hip Hop albums in history. A young and hungry, insanely talented emcee comes together with some of the finest producers in the game, who all bring their best work. No skits, no fillers – just nine 5-star tracks that combine into a seminal work that will forever be revered as one of the most important releases in Hip Hop. Illmatic is a monumental masterpiece.
1. Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is one of the best albums ever made, in any genre. The best and one of the most important Hip Hop albums ever.
Lots of great Hip Hop albums (sometimes barely) missed the cut, the albums in this section would have been included in a top 500.
- Run DMC – King Of Rock (1985)
- Just Ice – Back To The Old School (1986)
- Run DMC – Tougher Than Leather (1988)
- DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper (1988)
- Stetsasonic – In Full Gear (1988)
- King Tee – Act A Fool (1988)
- LL Cool J – Walking With A Panther (1989)
- Nice & Smooth – Nice & Smooth (1989)
- Biz Markie – The Biz Never Sleeps (1989)
- Chill Rob G – Ride The Rhythm (1989)
- Kool G Rap – Wanted Dead Or Alive (1990)
- Boogie Down Productions – Edutainment (1990)
- EPMD – Business As Usual (1990)
- Master Ace – Take A Look Around (1990)
- Poor Righteous Teachers – Holy Intellect (1990)
- Digital Underground – Sex Packets (1990)
- Too Short – Short Dog’s In The House (1990)
- Intelligent Hoodlum – Intelligent Hoodlum (1990)
- Geto Boys – We Can’t Be Stopped (1991)
- NWA – Efil4zaggin (1991)
- Leaders Of The New School – A Future Without A Past (1991)
- 2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
- Ed OG & Da Bulldoggs – Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto (1991)
- Hijack – The Horns Of Jericho (1991)
- Eric B & Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique (1992)
- Hard Knocks – School Of Hard Knocks (1992)
- Boogie Down Productions – Sex And Violence (1992)
- Ice Cube – The Predator (1992)
- Beastie Boys – Check Your Head (1992)
- Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Live And Let Die (1992)
- Paris – Sleeping With The Enemy (1992)
- Lord Finesse – Return Of The Funky Man (1992)
- EPMD – Business, Never Personal (1992)
- Das EFX- Dead Serious (1992)
- Ultramagnetic MCs – The Four Horsemen (1993)
- 2Pac – Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993)
- Lords Of The Underground – Here Come The Lords (1993)
- Queen Latifah – Black Reign (1993)
- Del – No Need For Alarm (1993)
- Cypress Hill – Black Sunday (1993)
- Onyx – Bacdafucup (1993)
- Digable Planets – Blowout Comb (1994)
- UGK – Super Tight (1994)
- The Beatnuts – Street Level (1994)
- Method Man – Tical (1994)
- The Coup – Genocide & Juice (1994)
- Warren G – Regulate… G Funk Era (1994)
- Redman – Dare Iz A Darkside (1994)
- Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (1994)
- Smif N Wessun – Dah Shinin (1995)
- KRS One – KRS One (1995)
- DJ Quik – Safe + Sound (1995)
- Aceyalone – All Balls Don’t Bounce (1995)
- AZ – Doe Or Die (1995)
- Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food (1995)
- The Roots – Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995)
- Show & AG – Goodfellas (1995)
- E-40 – In A Major Way (1995)
- Eightball & MJG – On Top Of The World (1995)
- Cypress Hill – III (1995)
- Tha Alkoholiks – Coast II Coast (1995)
- Ras Kass – Soul On Ice (1996)
- A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes & Life (1996)
- Heltah Skeltah – Nocturnal (1996)
- Busta Rhymes – The Coming (1996)
- Cru – Da Dirty 30 (1997)
- Capone-N-Noreaga – The War Report (1997)
- Jedi Mind Tricks – The Psycho-Social […] (1997)
- Scarface – The Untouchable (1997)
- Kool Keith – Sex Style (1997)
- Jay Z – In My Lifetime Vol. 1 (1997)
- Busta Rymes – When Disaster Strikes (1997)
- Organized Konfusion – Equinox (1997)
- Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
- KRS One – I Got Next (1997)
- All Natural – No Additives, No Preservatives (1998)
- Styles Of Beyond – 2000 Fold (1998)
- Aceyalone – A Book Of Human Language (1998)
- Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty (1998)
- Hieroglyphics – 3rd Eye Vision (1998)
- Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5 (1998)
- Goodie Mob – Still Standing (1998)
- Xzibit – 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz (1998)
- The Coup – Steal This Album (1998)
- Killah Priest – Heavy Mental (1998)
- Jay Z- Vol 2… Hard Knock Life (1998)
- Prince Paul – A Prince Among Thieves (1999)
- Lootpack – Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999)
- Method Man & Redman – Blackout! (1999)
- Slum Village – Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000)
- Binary Star – Masters Of The Universe (2000)
- Zion I – Mind Over Matter (2000)
- Jedi Mind Tricks – Violent By Design (2000)
- Quasimoto – The Unseen (2000)
- Ugly Duckling – Journey To Anywhere (2001)
- CunninLynguists – Will Rap For Food (2001)
- Blackalicious – Blazing Arrow (2002)
- Nas – God’s Son (2002)
- Non Phixion – The Future Is Now (2002)
- Sage Francis – Personal Journals (2002)
- Talib Kweli – Quality (2002)
- Atmosphere – God Loves Ugly (2002)
- The Roots – Phrenology (2002)
- People Under The Stairs – O.S.T. (2002)
- Cormega – The True Meaning (2002)
- Non Prophets – Hope (2003)
- 50 Cent – Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (2003)
- CunninLynguists – Southernunderground (2003)
- Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner (2003)
- The Last Emperor – Music, Magic, Myth (2003)
- Aesop Rock – Bazooka Tooth (2003)
- Gang Starr – The Ownerz (2003)
- King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader (2003)
- OutKast – Speakerboxxx / The Love Below (2003)
- Jaylib – Champion Sound (2003)
- Eyedea & Abilities – E&A (2004)
- P.O.S – Ipecac Neat (2004)
- Foreign Exchange – Connected (2004)
- Jean Grae – This Week (2004)
- Beanie Sigel – The B. Coming (2005)
- Ohmega Watts – The Find (2005)
- Danger Doom – The Mouse And The Mask (2005)
- Jazz Addixx – Oxygen (2005)
- One Be Lo – S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. (2005)
- Sean Price – Monkey Barz (2005)
- Bun B – Trill (2005)
- Nas – Hip Hop Is Dead (2006)
- MF Grimm – American Hunger (2006)
- Cunninlynguists – Dirty Acres (2007)
- Talib Kweli – Eardrum (2007)
- Senim Silla – The Name The Motto The Outcome (2007)
- Y Society – Travel At Your Own Pace (2007)
- El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2007)
- Common – Finding Forever (2007)
- Evidence – The Weatherman LP (2007)
- UGK – Underground Kingz (2007)
- Jay-Z – American Gangster (2007)
- Sage Francis – Human The Death Dance (2007)
- Doomtree – Doomtree (2008)
- Immortal Technique – 3rd World (2008)
- P.O.S – Never Better (2009)
- Felt – Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez (2009)
- Fashawn – Boy Meets World (2009)
- Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II (2009)
- Skyzoo – The Salvation (2009)
- Brother Ali – Us (2009)
- Killah Priest – Elizabeth (Introduction To The Psychic) (2009)
- Boog Brown & Apollo Brown – Brown Study (2010)
- Celph Titled & Buckwild – Nineteen Ninety-Now (2010)
- Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010)
- Roc Marciano – Marcberg (2010)
- Phonte – Charity Starts at Home (2011)
- Doomtree – No Kings (2011)
- Kendrick Lamar – Section.80 (2011)
- Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) (2011)
- Common – The Dreamer / The Believer (2011)
- Evidence – Cats & Dogs (2011)
- Murs – Love & Rockets Vol. 1: The Transformation (2011)
- Aesop Rock – Skelethon (2012)
- Death Grips – The Money Store (2012)
- Brother Ali – Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color (2012)
- Big K.R.I.T. – Live From The Underground (2012)
- Awon & Phoniks – Return To The Golden Era (2013)
- Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (2013)
- R.A. The Rugged Man – Legends Never Die (2013)
- Qwel & Maker – Beautiful Raw (2013)
- Demigodz – KILLmatic (2013)
- Armand Hammer – Race Music (2013)
- Danny Brown – Old (2013)
- Ugly Heroes – Ugly Heroes (2013)
- Ka – The Night’s Gambit (2013)
- A$ap Rocky – LONG LIVE A$AP (2013)
- Killah Priest – The Psychic World Of Walter Reed (2013)
- Damani Nkosi – Thoughtful King (2014)
- Hail Mary Mallon – Bestiary (2014)
- Dilated Peoples – Directors Of Photography (2014)
- Pharoahe Monch – PTSD (2014)
- Diamond District – March On Washington (2014)
- Sage Francis – Copper Gone (2014)
- Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron (2014)
- People Under The Stairs – 12 Step Program (2014)
- Big K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica (2014)
- Skyzoo & Torae – Barrel Brothers (2014)
- J Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive (2014)
- Awon & Phoniks – Knowledge Of Self (2015)
- Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (2015)
- Scarface – Deeply Rooted (2015)
- Czarface – Every Hero Needs A Villain (2015)
- Pusha T – King Push — Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015)
- Joey Bada$$ – B4.DA.$$ (2015)
- A$AP Rocky – At.Long.Last.A$AP (2015)
- Apollo Brown – Grandeur (2015)
- Skyzoo – Music For My Friends (2015)
- billy woods – Today I Wrote Nothing (2015)
- The Game – The Documentary 2/2.5 (2015)
- Ryu – Tanks For The Memories (2016)
- Ab-Soul – Do What Thou Wilt (2016)
- Apollo Brown & Skyzoo – The Easy Truth (2016)
- Ka – Honor Killed The Samurai (2016)
- Royce 5’9″ – Layers (2016)
- Isaiah Rashad – The Sun’s Tirade (2016)
- ScHoolboy Q – The Blank Face LP (2016)
- Elzhi – Lead Poison (2016)
- De La Soul – And The Anonymous Nobody (2016)
- Kool Keith – Feature Magnetic (2016)
- Armand Hammer – Rome (2017)
- O.C. – Same Moon Same Sun (2017)
- Oddisee – The Iceberg (2017)
- Sean Price – Imperius Rex (2017)
- Jay-Z – 4:44 (2017)
- Jonwayne – Rap Album Two (2017)
- Kendrick Lamar – DAMN (2017)
- P.O.S – Chill, Dummy (2017)
- Joey Bada$$ – All AmeriKKKan Bada$$ (2017)
- Royce Da 5’9″- Book Of Ryan (2018)
- Armand Hammer – Paraffin (2018)
- B.E.N.N.Y. – Tana Talk 3 (2018)
- Awon & Phoniks – The Actual Proof (2018)
- Masta Ace & Marco Polo – A Breukelen Story (2018)
- Apollo Brown – Sincerely Detroit (2019)
- billy woods & Kenny Segal – Hiding Place (2019)
- Skyzoo & Pete Rock – Retropolitan (2019)
- Add-2 – Jim Crow: The Musical (2019)