The 1970s were the decade in which Hip Hop was ‘born’, witnessed solely by the happy few who were there. The 1980s saw Hip Hop grow from a local phenomenon to a new musical genre and worldwide cultural movement, with Hip Hop albums steadily starting to be released from the mid-eighties on. The 1990s were the first full decade in which Hip Hop albums were being released, with dozens of dope records coming out every single year – a lot of which we now consider classics.
For this list, we ranked which are in our opinion are the best 90s Hip Hop albums. Obviously, not everyone (or no one…) will agree 100% with the order on this list – but that’s exactly why these lists exist: to have a healthy discussion about the music we all love. So please do weigh in if you have a different opinion!
1. Nas - Illmatic (1994)
One of the very best Hip Hop albums in history, period. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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 just dumb.
9. 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.
10. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die
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 & Bullshit”. 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.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Gang Starr - Step In The Arena (1991)
On their second album, Gang Starr started coming into their own 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.
15. Mos Def - Black On Both Sides (1999)
Mos Def’s masterpiece. Mos Def must be 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.
16. 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.
17. 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 the RZA as per usual in that era, and the trademark dope Wu-Tang lyricism. Classic Wu-Tang.
18. 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.
19. 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 a 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 already getting most of the spotlight, proving real Hip Hop will always survive – if necessary underground. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. The Pharcyde - Labcabincalifornia (1996)
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).
23. 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 may just be the album that is 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.
24. 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.
25. 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 ‘too’ 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.
26. Dr. Octagon Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)
Is this Kool Keith‘s best album (outside Ultramagnetic’s 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.
27. 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.
28. Gang Starr Moment of Truth (1998)
Few artists can boast a catalog as consistent as Gang Starr‘s. Ask six 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.
29. 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. 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.
30. 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.
31. MF Doom Operation: Doomsday (1999)
What a comeback! 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.
32. 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.
33. 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.
34. 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.
35. 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 were more like a West Coast version of ATCQ or De La Soul.
36. 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.
37. 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.
38. Showbiz & AG - Runaway Slave (1992)
This is a flawless album: top-notch production from Showbiz (and Diamond D) and guest appearances from Lord Finesse and Big L (among others) – along with O.C.’s Word… Life this may just be 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.
39. 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 0thers.
40. 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.
41. DJ Shadow Endtroducing... (1996)
Simply the best instrumental Hip Hop album, ever. Timeless.
42. 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.
43. 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.
44. KRS One - Return Of The Boom Bap (1993)
After 5 albums as 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 on the boards the result had to be a classic.
45. Main Source - Breaking Atoms (1991)
Large Professor, one of Hip Hop’s most respected producers, exploded on the scene with this classic album – showing both his extraordinary talents on the boards and on the mic. Breaking Atoms is an important and hugely influential album in the history of Hip Hop 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.
46. 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 did. 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.
47. 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.
48. 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.
49. Common - Ressurection (1994)
“…but I’ma take her back hoping that the s*** stop / Cause who I’m talking ’bout, y’all, is Hip Hop” (I Used To Love H.E.R.)
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.
Top tracks: I Used To Love H.E.R. | Sum S*** I Wrote | Resurrection | Book of Life
50. Diamond D - Stunts Blunts & Hip Hop (1992)
Yet another NYC classic, true Hip Hop for connaisseurs. 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. An underrated Golden Age gem.
51. 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 member. Also part of the epic run of classic Wu-Tang solo debuts.
52. 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.
53. 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 in any Hip Hop head’s collection.
54. 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. As KRS One would say: this album is real boom bap – real hard beats and real rap. Rough, rugged & raw, the epitome of the early 90s NYC street sound – a must-have for NYC Hip Hop heads, if not for every real Hip Hop fan.
55. Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
Jay-Z’s first 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. Masterful production, brilliant lyricism, Reasonable Doubt shows us Jay Z at his peak as the Hip Hop artist he was (and not the business mogul he would become).
56. 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.
57. 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.
58. 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.
59. 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.
60. 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. Public Enemy will forever be one of Hip Hop’s most important and celebrated groups and Chuck D on of Hip Hop’s most respected and eminent figures. Apocalypse 91… is a strong part of P.E.’s excellent discography and should be in any Hip Hop fan’s collection.
61. 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.
62. 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.
63. 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 the perfect introduction to the world of a unique talent.
64. Redman - Muddy Waters (1996)
The third album in an incredible three-album run. After the classics Whut Thee Album and Dare Iz A Darkside, Redman dropped Muddy Waters, his 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 album that is not to be missed.
65. 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.
66. 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.
67. 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.
68. The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death (1997)
Biggie‘s sophomore album is one that will forever polarize opinions. Although commercially even more successful than his monumental debut Ready To Die, it is not quite as good. Even though Biggie stepped up his already off the charts storytelling abilities and rapping style a notch, the album is not as cohesive and consistent as his debut was. Much like 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me, the album is just a bit too long. Had they left out the Puffy shiny-suit pop songs and the skits and released the 14 best songs as one tight album, Life After Death would have been a super classic. As it is, it’s still an awesome album packed with classic tracks – just a tad short of the masterpiece it could have been.
69. 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 some filler songs stand in the way of an even higher ranking on this list.
70. Pharoahe Monch - Internal Affairs (1999)
Internal Affairs is the solo debut from former Organized Konfusion member and brilliant lyricist Pharoahe Monch. After three acclaimed albums with Prince Po as O.K., Pharoahe went for a harder sound on his first solo outing. High energy and consistently good, this album may not be the ultimate classic some of us expected after his work on the O.K. albums, but it is a banger nonetheless.
71. All Natural - No Additives, No Preservatives (1998)
Chicago underground Hip Hop heavies All Natural dropped one of the most slept-on albums of 1998. If you for some reason missed out on this hidden treasure, you will not regret checking it out now – never too late to catch up!
72. Organized Konfusion - Organized Konfusion (1991)
This album has it all. Consciousness, politically juiced tracks, party anthems, story-telling – Prince Poetry and Pharoahe Monch pull off a perfect display of clever lyricism and dope wordplay. This is a forgotten cult classic that is a must-have for anyone who likes clever, layered Hip Hop.
73. 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.
73. 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.
74. 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.
75. 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.
76. 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.
77. Organized Konfusion - Stress: The Extinction Agenda (1994)
Organized Konfusion was responsible for three excellent albums in the 90s – Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch show some unparalleled lyricism on this dark, dense, complicated and intellectual album. A Golden Age underground classic.
78. Styles of Beyond - 2000 Fold (1998)
This album from Los Angeles underground crew Styles Of Beyond is a forgotten gem. Originally released in 1998, it suffered from lack of promotion and several re-releases, which ensured it never really got any spotlight. The album stands heads and shoulders above most other albums released in the late nineties, however. Great synergy between emcees Ryu and Tak, who sound like confident veterans (even though this is their debut). Excellent production, dope sampling, clever rhymes, and wordplay – this album is an underground classic.
79. 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.
80. 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.
81. 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.
82. 2Pac - All Eyez On Me (1996)
Now, some of you will get all upset because you want to see this album ranked higher. Many people see this album as 2Pac’s magnum opus and one the best, if not THE best, Hip Hop album ever. Often though this is just paroting behavior by casual Hip Hop listeners who just don’t know many other Hip Hop albums, so who really can’t compare. Of course, because of the number of units sold and its iconic status, All Eyez On Me is a classic. All Eyez On Me probably is 2Pac‘s most popular album, released when he was at the peak of his fame (while alive). It certainly was a bestseller, selling upwards of ten million units in the US alone. Packed with classic songs – like “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”, “Ambitionz Az A Ridah”, “Life Goes On”, “California Love”, “Only God Can Judge Me”, “Heartz Of Men” and “Picture Me Rollin’” – and showcasing 2Pac’s signature mix of “thug-ism” and his vulnerable, thoughtful side, All Eyez On Me surely is a landmark album. But is it a flawless classic, or even 2Pac’s best album? No, and no.
A double album, All Eyez On Me just is too long (and a little too heavy on the ‘thug’ side) for its own good, especially the second album contains a bunch of filler tracks. The album would have been better with fewer guests, too. Much like Biggie’s Life After Death, it probably would have been better had the best 14 tracks been released as one album – which would have made All Eyez On Me the all-time classic it could have been. As it is, it is far from flawless – but still a good album, and no doubt one the highlights of 2Pac’s epic career.
83. Eric B. & Rakim - Don't Sweat The Technique (1992)
Of the 4 Eric B & Rakim albums, their last one probably is the most underappreciated. Sonically slightly different yet again from the previous albums, we see a Rakim who lyrically still has no peer and who even drops some socially conscious rhymes this time around, along with his usual skill-flexing.
84. Aceyalone - A Book Of Human Language (1998)
Aceyalone is an incredibly talented and unique MC, always pushing lyrical boundaries and succeeding effortlessly in all styles he employs. He released a string of excellent creative and innovative albums throughout his career, and this one is his very best. A Book of Human Language combines intelligence, creativity, and superior lyrical skill – resulting in a brilliant concept album that should be a part of any real Hip Hop fan’s music collection. A Book of Human Language is a left-field masterpiece.
85. Geto Boys - We Can't Be Stopped (1991)
We Can’t Be Stopped contains the monster track “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” – one of Hip Hop’s biggest tracks, ever. The album has more to offer, though. Besides the Geto Boys trademark psychotic (“Chuckie”) and sexual lyrics (“Quickie”, “The Other Level”), the album also offers some political and social commentaries (“F*** A War”, “Trophy”). On top of that Willie D, Bushwick Bill and Scarface are all dope rappers, with their own, distinct voices. A strong album and an early Southern classic.
86. 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.
87. 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.
88. 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.
89. 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.
90. 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 gem.
91. Brand Nubian - One For All (1990)
Original, both lyrically and musically. Sadat X, Lord Jamar, and Grand Puba 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.
92. Arrested Development 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... (1992)
Arrested Development was rather a unique act. Hailing from the South, but having nothing to do with stories of crime and violence. Instead, they brought a mix 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.
93. Above The Law - Livin' Like Hustlers (1990)
One of the earliest N.W.A. / Dr. Dre ‘sponsored’ acts, Above The Law debute with a straight-up (West Coast) Hip Hop classic. Slammin’ west coast gangsta funk beats, produced by ATL themselves, Laylaw and Dr. Dre. One of those rare albums where you don’t have to skip a track.
95. Cru - Da Dirty 30 (1997)
An underground treasure. Production is handled by Yogi and is excellent throughout. Yogi and Chaddeo share the mic on mostly all of the tracks, with a few guest appearances by the likes of Ras Kass, Black Rob, and the legendary Slick Rick to add extra spice. This is mid-90s hardcore NYC boom-bap Hip Hop – no frills, no gimmicks. If they would just have left out the unnecessary and annoying skits, Cru would have had a true classic on their hands with Da Dirty 30.
96. DMX - It's Dark And Hell Is Hot (1998)
It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot is DMX‘s debut studio album and an immediate mega-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 by the Ruff Ryders label.
This is DMX at the top of his game: introspective, hardcore, and emotional at the same time. He 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 this same year, was a pretty good album as well.
97. 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 the godfathers of the P-Funk / G-Funk sound. His production work is always incredible 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.
98. 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.
99. 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 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 is great start to that career.
100. Beastie Boys - Hello Nasty (1998)
Even though we love all Beastie Boys albums, for HHGA this one comes closest to the brilliance of their Paul’s Boutique masterpiece. Eclectic and creative as always, and more in tune with a pure Hip Hop feel that was less in evidence on their previous two albums, Hello Nasty shows us the Beastie Boys at a new peak of their artistic powers.
101. 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.
102. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Wanted: Dead Or Alive (1990)
Kool G Rap sophomore album proved G Rap was one of the top lyricists in the game. More varied than his dope Road To The Riches debut, Wanted Dead Or Alive showcased G Rap’s growth and is a classic East Coast Hip Hop album, if only because it contains the epic songs “Streets Of New York” and “Erase Racism” (with Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie).
103. Dred Scott - Breakin' Combs (1994)
Wrong year, wrong coast? If this outstanding album had dropped in NYC a few years earlier, it probably would have been bigger back then and universally recognized as a classic right now. As it is, Breakin’ Combs is an unjustly forgotten album. Entirely self-produced, Dred Scott delivers smooth, jazzy beats reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest. Nothing wrong with his lyrics and emcee skills either. Why this album is so underappreciated is a mystery, but it deserves its props.
104. Prince Paul- A Prince Among Thieves (1999)
Producer extraordinaire Prince Paul (Stetsasonic, De La Soul, Gravediggaz) comes with his second solo album – the brilliant concept album A Prince Among Thieves, sometimes dubbed the first ‘rap opera’. The album tells the story of a young guy named Tariq, who is trying to get a record contract and needs to make some money to finish up his tracks and get his demo tape ready for a meeting with Wu-Tang Clan’s The RZA. A Prince Among Thieves features cameos by Kool Keith, Big Daddy Kane, Chubb Rock, Biz Markie, De La Soul, Everlast, Sadat X, Xzibit, Kid Creole, Special Ed, Chris Rock, RZA and Buckshot. Fresh beats and dope rhymes throughout – without a doubt, this is one of the best concept albums in Hip Hop ever.
105. 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.
106. 2Pac (Makaveli) - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (1996)
Released just a few months after 2Pac’s murder (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.
107. Hard Knocks - School Of Hard Knocks (1992)
This is a supremely underrated and slept-on album. 12 tracks, all good, powerful and conscious rhymes, tight production – excellent.
108. Ras Kass - Soul On Ice (1996)
One of the most lyrical albums in Hip Hop ever, by one of the most underrated lyricists. A classic if only for the controversial 8-minute tour-de-force “Nature Of The Threat”.
109. Digable Planets - Blowout Comb (1994)
Digable Planets’ second album in two years and unfortunately their last. Musically reminiscent of The Roots, this smart and seductive album is one of 1994 most creative and interesting releases. A timeless album, that sounds as fresh today as it did in 1994.
110. A Tribe Called Quest - Beats, Rhymes & Life (1996)
After their classic debut and monumental second and third album, ATCQ returned in 1996 with Beats, Rhymes & Life. A bit darker sounding than their earlier efforts, and not flawless like The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, it still is an excellent album by all means. It may feel a little less like a ‘true’ Tribe album, because there are more guest appearances than in the past (the album could have done with less of guest rapper Consequence) and because a part of the production is handled by the legendary J Dilla – who brings his own distinct flavor to the table. With all that being said – Beats, Rhymes & Life still is a dope album and a worthy part of Tribe’s classic body of work.
111. Boogie Down Productions - Sex & Violence (1992)
This album has always been way underrated in KRS-One’s catalog. It failed commercially (selling a ‘mere’ 250.000 copies) and received mixed reviews. Both undeservedly – Sex & Violence deserved wider recognition both in sales numbers and general acclaim.
After Edutainment (1990), KRS unloaded some members of his BDP Posse and came back with this album where he sounded fresh and reenergized. KRS takes aim at the state of Hip Hop (as always), politics, religion, sexual morality, violence, drug dealers, hypocrisy and more – and manages to sound less preachy than he did on Edutainment. In fact, in rawness and ‘street-feel’, this album comes closest to the spirit of Criminal Minded of all the BDP albums.
“Duck Down”, “Ruff Ruff”, “Drug Dealer”, “We In There”, “Who Are The Pimps”, “Build & Destroy”, “13 & Good” and “Sex & Violence” are all standouts, but the whole album is dope – it feels tight and cohesive (with production from Prince Paul and KRS’ brother Kenny Parker among others) and has no skippable tracks or useless interludes and skits.
112. Hieroglyphics - 3rd Eye Vision (1998)
This supergroup – consisting of Del (The Funkee Homosapien), Pep Love, A-Plus, Tajai, Opio & Phesto (from Souls Of Mischief), Casual, Domino, Jay-Biz, Toure & Extra Prolific – brings together so much talent that the product of their cooperation has to be epic, right? Right! This album is pure Hip Hop, from one of the best collectives in the game.
113. EPMD - Business As Usual (1990)
EPMD‘s Business As Usual is exactly what the title says: business as usual. And in the case of EPMD that is a very good thing. Quality Hip Hop, hardcore and funky at the same time – trademark EPMD. This is also the album that introduced Redman to the world – a landmark event in itself!
114. Ice Cube - The Predator (1992)
Ice Cube’s third solo album is another banger. It may lack a bit of the hunger, the anger, the urgency of his first two and it may contain a few filler tracks – but it also contains Cube’s biggest hit single(s). His last classic album.
115. Jurassic 5 - Jurassic 5 (1998)
Jurassic 5 is the debut album by Jurassic 5, the well-respected Los Angeles underground crew. The material from the 1997 Jurassic 5 EP plus a few additional tracks was repackaged as an album and released as Jurassic 5 in 1998. Tight tag-team old-school flavored rhymes backed up by dope beats, with an air of positivity and fun – this is Hip Hop as it’s supposed to be.
116. Masta Ace - Take A Look Around (1990)
Taking the spotlight for the first time in 1988 on Marley Marl’s classic posse cut The Symphony – Masta Ace presented himself as one of Hip Hop’s biggest talents. One of the best to ever do it, constantly reinventing himself and dropping new, inventive projects and collaborations – this debut was a fairly ‘straight forward’ Hip Hop album. Very dope though – Marley Marl’s and Mister Cee’s production is tight, lyrics are on point and there barely are any filler tracks here. Take A Look Around is a highly enjoyable album and if you don’t have it, you should make adding it to your collection a priority.
117. Beastie Boys Check Your Head (1992)
Maybe more an alt-punk /rock/rap album than a straight-up Hip Hop album, Beastie Boys‘ third album is yet another self-reinvention. As always crazy creative and innovative, this album is a mash-up of styles that remains an enjoyable listen to this day.
118. Smif-n-Wessun - Dah Shinin' (1995)
Classic mid-90s NYC Hip Hop.
119. UGK - Super Tight (1994)
UGK‘s second record flew a little bit under the radar upon its release, in a big year for Southern Hip Hop with classic releases from OutKast and Scarface. While UGK’s first album was well-received, this short and tight sophomore album was even more acclaimed, even if it never achieved really big sales. The lyrical content is nothing special – mostly the typical pimp stories and gangsta cliches – but it is the late Pimp C’s funky and bass-heavy production that makes this album shine. No doubt about it: Super Tight is an important Southern Hip Hop album and a solid stepping stone to UGK’s real break-out album: 1996’s classic Ridin’ Dirty.
120. Poor Righteous Teachers - Holy Intellect (1990)
Poor Righteous Teachers has to be one of the most underrated groups in Hip Hop. They dropped a number of dope albums in the 90s; Holy Intellect was their debut. Best known for the classic track “Rock Dis Funky Joint”, but Holy Intellect has a lot more to offer. Intelligent, conscious lyrics over dope beats – you should check out Holy Intellect if you slept on it for some reason.
121. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Live And Let Die (1992)
A gangster movie on wax. Kool G Rap proves once again he is one of the best and most versatile emcees in the game. On this album, he completely goes for the ‘maffioso’ type of rap he helped pioneer. Sonically interesting because of Sir Jinx’s input on the production tip, which lends a West Coast flavor to an East Coast album. Often imitated, not often equaled.
122. Lootpack - Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999)
Lootpack is a trio consisting of Madlib, Wildchild, and DJ Romes, at the time signed to Stones Throw Records. Soundpieces: Da Antidote is their debut, and is now recognized as an underground classic. The album especially shines because of the wonderfully inventive and creative board work by Madlib, and also because of the point Lootpack tries to make – to be the real Hip Hop alternative to the materialism and violence in the dumbed-down mainstream rap.
123. The Beatnuts - The Beatnuts (1994)
An underappreciated NYC banger. This is one of those albums that have stood the test of time. The production is excellent throughout, and the braggadocious and humorous rhymes are catchy and creative. This album is consistent from beginning to end, with no filler tracks. The Beatnuts always made quality Hip Hop, and this one is among their best work. A must-have for fans of the early 90s East Coast sound.
124. Ultramagnetic MCs - The Four Horsemen (1993)
After their classic debut album Critical Beatdown (1988), Ultramagnetic MCs dropped their somewhat disappointing sophomore album Funk Your Head Up in 1992. They came back strong with this third album, however. Ced Gee and especially Kool Keith are in top form, and the production is tight. Fantastic album.
125. Mobb Deep - Hell On Earth (1996)
Mobb Deep’s third album continues in the vein of their second one, the epic 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 Pt 2” from The Infamous, but Hell On Earth is no doubt one of the two best Mobb Deep albums.
126. Cypress Hill - Black Sunday (1993)
Cypress Hill has always been an act with massive crossover- and commercial appeal and this is the album that introduced them to new (non-Hip Hop) audiences all over the world. For Hip Hop purists perhaps not as enjoyable as their classic self-titled debut album, but Black Sunday nevertheless is an entertaining listen, with a few classic tracks on it. There are some filler tracks too however and a few interludes that irritatingly break the flow of the album. B-Real high pitched wine combined with Sen Dog’s grunts are not suited for everybody’s enjoyment, but what makes this album a winner anyway is DJ Muggs’ terrific and utterly recognizable production work.
127. Capone-n-Noreaga - The War Report (1998)
Capone-N-Noreaga’s debut album is an NYC noir classic, very similar to Mobb Deep’s monumental albums The Infamous and Hell On Earth. Excellent production from some of the finest producers in the game (like Buckwild, Lord Finesse, Clark Kent, Havoc from Mobb Deep and Marley Marl) and typical East Coast gangsta rap lyrics – more tough-guy tales from Queensbridge’s rough streets. Capone is only on half of the songs because he got locked up while recording the album. Tragedy Khadafi takes his place on some songs, which actually does the album good. A solid album, a must-have for fans of NYC street rap like that of Nas, Mobb Deep, and Kool G Rap.
128. KRS-One - KRS-One (1995)
KRS-One (originally meant to be titled Hip-Hop Vs. Rap) is a great album, but very underappreciated. It may lack the spark and fun-factor of its predecessor Return Of The Boom Bap, but it holds at least as many awesome tracks. The banging album opener “Rappaz R N Dainja”, the other DJ Premier-produced classic “MCs Act Like They Don’t Know”, the clever “Hold”, the controversial “The Truth” and tracks like “Represent The Real Hip Hop” and “Ah Yeah” – this album has plenty of treasures. In a year when mafioso rap was on the rise and the south was taking over, KRS-One was overlooked a bit – even if it was one of KRS One’s better-selling albums. KRS-One is one of the best albums in KRS One’s catalog – and that says a lot.
129. Method Man - Tical (1994)
Tical was the first solo release of a Wu-Tang Clan member after the monumental group album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and was an immediate commercial success. Raw, gritty and atmospheric, RZA’s basement-sounding production suits Method Man’s hoarse voice excellently.
Method Man has always been one of Wu-Tang Clan’s most charismatic and high-profile members. He also has one of the most recognizable voices of the Clan- and that is part of his ‘problem’: it tends to work better in tracks with other emcees than in solo tracks. All in all, Tical is a fine album, only slightly less classic than Wu-Tang solo albums like Liquid Swords and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that would follow in 1995.
130. DJ Quik - Safe + Sound (1995)
West Coast legend DJ Quik drops another G-funk / P-funk gem with Safe + Sound, arguably his best album together with his debut Quik Is The Name (1991).
131. The Coup - Genocide & Juice (1994)
The Coup has released a string of excellent albums with socially conscious and clever rhymes, and this sophomore effort arguably is their best. Funky, fresh production, intelligent rhymes by Boots, E-Roc & DJ Pam the Funkstress: this is just one of the slept-on The Coup masterpieces.
132. Goodie Mob - Still Standing (1998)
Always a little bit in the shadow of their fellow Atlantians OutKast, Goodie Mob released on of 1995’s best albums with their debut Soul Food, and this sophomore effort is almost as strong. Very much comparable to one of 1998’s top albums Aquemini, Still Standing shines with intelligence, originality, creativity, and musicality.
133. Redman - Dare Iz A Darkside (1994)
This is an album Redman himself never listens too, and from which he never performs songs at his shows – as he has stated on numerous occasions. Less accessible than Redman‘s debut Whut!? Thee Album or Dare Iz A Darkside‘s follow-up Muddy Waters, this album shows us Redman at his darkest.
Dare Iz A Darkside is one of Erick Sermon’s production masterpieces – highly atmospheric, with bass-soaked beats that perfectly complement Redman’s frantic and innovative rhymes. Redman has always been one of the most interesting and naturally skilled rappers in the game and this album is one of his best – even if he doesn’t much like it himself.
134. Handsome Boy Modeling School - So... How's Your Girl? (1999)
Handsome Boy Modeling School is a collaboration between renowned producers Dan The Automator (Gorillaz, Dr. Octagon, Deltron 3030) and Prince Paul (Stetsasonic, De La Soul, Gravediggaz, A Prince Among Thieves), which produced two dope albums, most notably this experimental masterpiece, the first of the two HBMS albums. This clever and humorous album is just one of 1999’s hidden gems.
135. Aceyalone - All Balls Don't Bounce (1995)
Aceyalone had already made a name for himself as the lead emcee of the Freestyle Fellowship crew. Even though they are from Los Angeles, like the rest of Freestyle Fellowship, Aceyalone is all about lyricism and not about gangster posturing. Like all of his albums, All Balls Don’t Bounce is supremely underappreciated, except by the Hip Hop connoisseur.
136. Boogie Down Productions - Edutainment (1990)
This is a difficult album to rate. The highs on Edutainment are really high, but there are some lows too. We were never fans of interludes or skits on Hip Hop albums, and here they distract more than they add value. Also, maybe out of all KRS-One albums, this one feels the most ‘preachy’ (and that’s saying something…).
“Ya Know The Rules”, “Blackman In Effect”, “Original Lyrics”, “Beef”, “The Racist” and especially the monumental “Love’s Gonna Getcha” are all classic cuts, cuts that make this album a must-have. And with his fourth album in four years, KRS-One was leaving no room for doubt as to who was Hip Hop’s intellectual and spiritual leader at that time. Despite its flaws, Edutainment is still classic BDP and an unmissable part of KRS-One’s catalog.
137. Digital Undergrond - Sex Packets (1990)
Best known for two of Hip Hop’s most famous party jams – “The Humpty Dance” and “Doowutchyalike” – this album still sounds as fresh as it did when it came out. Funky and funny, creative and crazy, great beats and samples – Digital Underground dropped a unique album with Sex Packets.
138. N.W.A - Efil4ziggan (1991)
After the incredible success and impact of N.W.A‘s game-changing debut album Straight Outta Compton – and after the departure of the creative intelligence of Ice Cube – N.W.A. came back with Efil4ziggan. Efil4ziggan is hard to review. Sonically, Dr. Dre reaches near perfection on the production side of things. If only for the beats, this album could have been an all-time Hip Hop classic.
Lyrically however the album is a firm step back when compared to N.W.A’s epic debut. Gone is the authenticity and raw intelligence of Straight Outta Compton, what’s left are dumbed down and sometimes downright silly lyrics – serving more to shock and cause controversy than anything else. The album is also let down by two rather annoying Eazy E tracks and some dumb skits (“To Kill A Hooker” – really?). But even taking into account these negatives, the album still is an entertaining listen, mainly because of Dr. Dre’s stellar work behind the boards.
139. Jedi Mind Tricks - The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation Of Human Consciousness (1997)
On their debut album, this underground crew from Philadelphia do not reach their full potential yet, but this still is a dope album anyway. Stoupe Enemy of Mankind is an excellent producer, providing bone-chilling and atmospheric soundscapes for Vinnie Paz to loose his lyrical assaults on. Innovative and intelligent, and the beginning of an impressive career filled with A+ quality albums. Jedi Mind Tricks is one of the best and most consistent Hip Hop crews in the game.
140. Paris - Sleeping With The Enemy (1992)
Another excellent album, after Paris’ impressive debut The Devil Made Me Do It. It’s a mystery why Paris never blew up like Ice Cube and Public Enemy did – he does the same and he does it just as well. Intelligent, militant, powerful – Paris dropped some classic material here.
141. Xzibit - 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz (1998)
Xzibit‘s At The Speed Of Life was a great debut and on this sophomore effort, X-to-the-Z displays even further growth, both lyrically and in his raw flow. A great album from a West Coast giant. Also, the banging single “What U See Is What U Get” is supported by one of the best Hip Hop videos ever.
142. Too Short - Short Dog's In The House (1990)
After dropping a few self-released tapes and two ‘official’ albums; this third Too Short album did exactly what we came to expect from Oakland’s rap pioneer. Explicit tales with some consciousness sprinkled in here and there – Too Short’s tales from the hood always hit; and this is one of his best albums.
143. Warren G - Regulate... G Funk Era (1994)
One of the best G-funk albums ever. This album captures the sunny summertime vibe of Los Angeles like few others ever have. Warren G never was the best rapper out there, but he has a nice and mellow flow (reminiscent of Snoop Dogg’s) that suits his own excellent G-funk beats nicely. Short and sweet at a little under 40 minutes, Regulate…G Funk Era is a definite West Coast classic.
144. Intelligent Hoodlum - Intelligent Hoodlum (1990)
Intelligent Hoodlum a.k.a. Tragedy Khadafi started out as the youngest member of Marley Marl’s Juice Crew. Marley Marl produced this dope debut album (with two tracks done by Large Professor). A very solid album start to finish – dope beats, conscious lyrics, good emceeing. This album was somewhat overlooked when it came out, but shouldn’t be forgotten. An impressive debut.
145. Lord Finesse - Return Of The Funky Man (1992)
Lord Finesse was an excellent punchline emcee before his main activity would become producing for other artists. This is an all-round fun album with Finesse creatively and humorously bragging and boasting over the length of the album. Classic DITC.
146. AZ - Doe or Die (1995)
Why AZ never made it bigger than he did will forever be one of Hip Hop’s biggest mysteries. Universally recognized as one of the best emcees (and somewhat paradoxically one of the most underrated emcees) in the game, AZ has released a series of good to excellent albums. Doe Or Die, his debut, is one of his best. Short and tight, it pioneers the mafioso subgenre, together with releases from Raekwon and Kool G Rap in the same year.
147. The Coup - Steal This Album (1998)
As conscious and razor-sharp as Public Enemy, The Coup never really got the wider recognition they deserved. Steal This Album is The Coup’s third consecutive excellent effort, filled with intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics and funky-ass beats. Don’t sleep on The Coup.
148. EPMD - Business Never Personal (1992)
Another quality EPMD release. More stripped down, with a harder, grimier sound than the previous three, this effort once again confirmed EPMD’s status as one of the top acts in Hip Hop.
149. The Dynospectrum - The Dynospectrum (1998)
The Dynospectrum is a collaboration from the Rhymesayers Entertainment roster, between Slug, I Self Devine, Sab the Artist, and Swift. As The Dynospectrum they performed under the pseudonyms Sept Sev Sev Two, Pat Juba, General Woundwart, and Mr. Gene Poole, respectively. Production was handled by Atmosphere’s Ant, who assumed the name Solomon Grundy for the project. This is an underground treasure, an excellent album for all those who are into real lyricism, fat beats and just plain old Hip Hop.
150. Beastie Boys - Ill Communication (1994)
Like its predecessor Check Your Head, Ill Communication is not strictly a Hip Hop album, but a mash-up of styles with liberal doses punk-rock thrown in the mix. Never afraid to experiment and to do exactly what they wanted, Beastie Boys stayed true to their punk-rock roots on this album. Even though it contains a number of the Beasties’ biggest singles – like “Sure Shot”, “Root Down”, the Q-Tip featuring “Get It Together” and “Sabotage” (made extra special because of the epic video) – the whole album feels a little bit less coherent as Check Your Head did (even if it is kind of similar to it).
Ill Communication may be a bit too heavy on the punk-rock side for Hip Hop purists but that said, Ill Communication still is a more than fine album by any standard. Although it may not be for everybody, it’s a classic in its own right – with massive appeal to other, non-Hip Hop audiences.
- K-Solo – Tell The World My Name (1990)
- Salt N Pepa – Black’s Magic (1990)
- D-Nice – Call Me D-Nice (1990)
- Compton’s Most Wanted – It’s A Compton Thang (1990)
- The Jaz – To Your Soul (1990)
- 2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now (1991)
- Ed OG – Life Of a Kid In The Ghetto (1991)
- L.O.N.S. – A Future Without A Past (1991)
- Freestyle Fellowship – To Whom It May Concern (1991)
- Compton’s Most Wanted – Straight Checkn Em (1991)
- Chubb Rock – The One (1991)
- 3rd Bass – Derelicts Of Dialect (1991)
- KMD – Mr Hood (1991)
- UMCs – Fruits Of Nature (1991)
- X-Clan – To The East, Blackwards (1991)
- WC And The MAAD Circle – Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed (1991)
- Das EFX – Dead Serious (1992)
- Positive K – The Skills Dat Pay The Bills (1992)
- Ultramagnetic MCs – Funk Your Head Up (1992)
- Too Short – Shorty The Pimp (1992)
- Common – Can I Borrow A Dollar (1992)
- 2Pac – Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z. (1993)
- Lords Of The Underground – Here Come The Lords (1993)
- Queen Latifah – Black Reign (1993)
- Fat Joe – Represent (1993)
- Del – No Need For Alarm (1993)
- The Roots – Organix (1993)
- Masta Ace Inc. – Slaughtahouse (1993)
- Too Short – Get In Where You Fit In (1993)
- Geto Boys – Till Death Do Us Part (1993)
- Scarface – The World Is Yours (1993)
- Eightball & MJG – Comin’ Out Hard (1993)
- Spice 1 – 187 He Wrote (1993)
- Ice Cube – Lethal Injection (1993)
- Brand Nubian – In God We Trust (1993)
- King Tee – Tha Triflin’ Album (1993)
- Keith Murray – The Most Beautifullest Thing In This World (1994)
- Da Brat – Funkdafied (1994)
- Artifacts – Between A Rock And A Hard Place (1994)
- Coolio – It Takes A Thief (1994)
- Thug Life – Vol. 1 (1994)
- Public Enemy – Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age (1994)
- Boogiemonsters – The Underwater Album (1994)
- Show & AG – Goodfellas (1995)
- The Roots – Do You Want More…? (1995)
- Tha Dogg Pound – Dogg Food (1995)
- E-40 – In A Major Way (1995)
- WC – Curb Servin (1995)
- Tha Alkoholiks – Coast II Coast (1995)
- LL Cool J – Mr Smith (1995)
- Eightball & MJG – On Top Of The World (1995)
- The Nonce – World Ultimate (1995)
- Cypress Hill – III (1995)
- Keith Murray – Enigma (1996)
- Heltah Skeltah – Nocturnal (1996)
- Xzibit – At The Speed Of Life (1996)
- Busta Rhymes – The Coming (1996)
- Bahamadia – Kollage (1996)
- Westside Connection – Bow Down (1996)
- M.O.P. – Firing Squad (1996)
- Lost Boyz – Legal Drug Money (1996)
- Lil Kim – Hardcore (1996)
- Foxy Brown – Ill Nana (1996)
- Sadat X – Wild Cowboys (1996)
- Nine – Cloud 9 (1996)
- Ultra – Big Time (1996)
- Poor Righteous Teachers – The New World Order (1996)
- Lord Finesse – The Awakening (1996)
- Jay Z – In My Lifetime Vol 1 (1997)
- Atmosphere – Overcast! (1997)
- Missy Elliott – Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
- EPMD – Back In Business (1997)
- Organized Konfusion – Equinox (1997)
- Jungle Brothers – Raw Deluxe (1997)
- Busta Rhymes – When Disaster Strikes (1997)
- Kool Keith – Sex Style (1997)
- Rakim – The 18th Letter (1997)
- Rampage – Scout’s Honor (1997)
- Killah Priest – Heavy Mental (1998)
- Rasco – Time Waits For No Man (1998)
- Pete Rock – Soul Survivor (1998)
- ATCQ – The Love Movement (1998)
- Jay Z – Vol 2 Hardknock Life (1998)
- RZA – Bobby Digital (1998)
- Canibus – Can-I-Bus (1998)
- Heltah Skeltah – Magnum Force (1998)
- Fat Joe – Don Cartagena (1998)
- AZ – Pieces Of A Man (1998)
- Juvenile – 400 Degreez (1998)
- DMX – Flesh Of My Flesh… (1998)
- Ice Cube – War & Peace Vol.1 (1998)
- Busta Rhymes – E.L.E. (1998)
- Jay Z – Vol 3 (1999)
- Q-Tip – Amplified (1999)
- Kool Keith – Black Elvis (1999)
- Nas – I Am (1999)
- Inspectah Deck – Uncontrolled Substances (1999)