1988 was Hip Hop’s break-out year, arguably the second or third year of its Golden Age, but THE year that artists creativity, innovativeness, and diversity truly took Hip Hop to the next level. Where 1987 produced four or five genre-defining albums, 1988 saw at least a dozen albums released that would all turn out to be hugely influential classics.
For what is without a doubt one of the best and most important years in Hip Hop history, we have compiled a list with 30 of its best albums. Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
Also read: Top 100 Hip Hop Albums Of The 1980s
1. Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
“Yes – the rhythm, the rebel / Without a pause – I’m lowering my level / The hard rhymer – where you never been I’m in…” (Rebel Without A Pause)
Top tracks: Rebel Without A Pause | Bring The Noise | Don’t Believe The Hype | Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos
2. Ultramagnetic MCs - Critical Beatdown
“Well I’m the ultimate, the rhyme imperial / I’m better, but some don’t believe me though / But I’m a pro in hot material / On your Walkman, box or any stereo” (Watch Me Now)
A classic 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 here. Critically acclaimed, but at the same time slept on and somehow underappreciated – this is one of our all-time favorite albums and deserves its top spot in this list of one of Hip Hop’s best years.
Top tracks: Ego Trippin’ | Ease Back | Watch Me Now | Funky
3. Slick Rick - The Great Adventures Of…
“Gather ’round party go-ers as if your still livin / And get on down to the old Slick rhythm” (The Ruler’s Back)
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 typical rap style, make this album an unforgettable classic.
Top tracks: Mona Lisa | The Ruler’s Back | Hey Young World | Children’s Story
4. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton
“Straight outta Compton, crazy motherf***er named Ice Cube / From the gang called N****z With Attitudes…” (Straight Outta Compton)
This album was a game-changer; for better or for worse. One of the first real Gangsta Rap albums, and 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 of Dr. Dre and the raw energy & at the time shocking lyrical imagery of Ice Cube, MC Ren & Eazy E. Super classic.
Top tracks: Straight Outta Compton | F*** Tha Police | Gangsta Gangsta | Express Yourself
5. Eric B & Rakim - Follow The Leader
“I was a fiend before I became a teen / I melted microphone instead of cones of ice cream / Music orientated so when Hip Hop was originated / Fitted like pieces of puzzles, complicated” (Microphone Fiend)
Top tracks: Microphone Fiend | Follow The Leader | Lyrics Of Fury | Musical Massacre
6. Big Daddy Kane - Long Live The Kane
“Let it roll, get bold, I just can’t hold / Back, or fold cos I’m a man with soul / In control and effect, so what the heck / Rock the discotheque and this groove is what’s next” (Set It Off)
With Big Daddy Kane‘s debut album, he immediately establishes himself as one of Hip Hop’s top lyricists – a status he holds until this day. This album was produced by Marley Marl at the peak of his powers and is a definitive Hip Hop classic.
Top tracks: Raw | Set It Off | Ain’t No Halfsteppin’ | Long Live The Kane
7. Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary
“See I’m telling, and teaching pure facts / The way some act in rap is kind of wack / And it lacks creativity and intelligence / But they don’t care cause their company’s selling it” (My Philosophy)
Not even one year after Boogie Down Productions‘ classic debut album Criminal Minded, and shortly after the murder of Scott La Rock, KRS One drops another classic. KRS One quickly establishes himself as the conscious voice of Hip Hop, together with Public Enemy – a role both acts would maintain in the decades to follow.
Top tracks: My Philosophy | Ya Slippin’ | I’m Still No. 1 | Stop The Violence
8. EPMD - Strictly Business
“Relax your mind, let your conscience be free / And get down to the sounds of EPMD” (You Gots To Chill)
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 true powerhouses in Hip Hop.
Top tracks: Strictly Business | You Gots To Chill | Get Off The Bandwagon | Let The Funk Flow
9. Ice T - Power
“I’m livin’ large as possible, posse unstoppable / Style topical, vividly optical” (Power)
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.
Top tracks: Power | High Rollers | Personal | Drama
10. Jungle Brothers - Straight Out The Jungle
“Educated man, from the motherland / You see, they call me a star but that’s not what I am / I’m a jungle brother, a true, blue brother / And I’ve been to many places you’ll never discover” (Straight Out The Jungle)
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, mellow rhymes – another 1988 classic.
Top tracks: Straight Out The Jungle | On The Run | Because I Got it Like That | What’s Going On
11. MC Lyte - Lyte As A Rock
“This thing called Hip Hop, Lyte is ruling it / I hate to laugh in your face, but you’re funny / Your beat, your rhyming, your timing, all crummy” (10% Diss)
MC Lyte‘s debut album is a classic piece of work, one that belongs in any Hip Hop fan’s collection.
Top tracks: Paper Thin | 10% Diss | I Cram To Understand U | Kickin’ 4 Brooklyn
12. Eazy E - Eazy Duz It
“Woke up quick, at about noon / Jus’ thought that I had to be in Compton soon” (Boys N The Hood)
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 especially 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.
Top tracks: Boys N The Hood | Eazy Duz It | Eazy-er Said Than Dunn | We Want Eazy
13. Marley Marl - In Control Vol 1
“Yo, Marley gives the slice, I get nice / And my voice is twice as horrifying as Vincent Price” (The Symphony)
With the Juice Crew and it’s individual members in full effect, 1988 was also the year for this Marley Marl compilation album. An album filled with dope tracks, with the stand-out “The Symphony” as its biggest attraction.
Top tracks: The Symphony | Droppin’ Science | Simon Says | Live Motivator
14. Biz Markie - Goin Off
“Can you feel it / Nothin’ can save ya / For this is the season of catchin’ the vapors” (Vapors)
Another 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’ antics over Marley’s dope beats.
Top tracks: Goin’ Off | Nobody Beats The Biz | Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz | Vapors
15. Too Short - Life Is…
“I remember how it all began / I used to sing dirty raps to my East Side fans” (Life Is… Too Short)
Our favorite Too Short album from his extensive discography. Already a Hip Hop veteran in 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 contains a few classic tracks. A West Coast classic.
Top tracks: Life Is… | Cusswords | I Ain’t Trippin’ | Nobody Does It Better
16. Run DMC - Tougher Than Leather
“Some underestimate / And miscalculate / My intent to create what I call the great” (Run’s House)
By 1988 Run DMC were no longer solo king-of-the-hill in Hip Hop. Also they faced the impossible task following up their mega successful third album, the hugely influental 1986 classic Raising Hell. They pretty much succeeded with Tougher Than Leather. Typical Run DMC: high energy, braggadocious, hard-hitting but clean – a dope Hip Hop album from Run DMC at their peak; and sadly their last great one.
Top tracks: Run’s House | Beats To The Rhyme | Mary Mary | I’m Not Going Out Like That
17. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - He's The DJ I'm The Rapper
“It’s new, it’s out of the ordinary / It’s rather extraordinary, so yo bust this commentary / A literary genius and a superior beat creator / Have come together, and we made a / Musical composition which we think is a remedy / To cure all the dance floors that’s empty…” (Brand New Funk)
He’s The DJ I’m The Rapper was the duo’s second album and the first double album in Hip Hop. It was a huge success, reaching triple platinum status. It established pioneering DJ Jazzy Jeff as one of the all-time great DJs in Hip Hop and was the stepping stone to Will Smith‘s international superstar status. Back then The Fresh Prince was a talented emcee with a dope flow and great storytelling skills. Together they were one of the acts responsible for making Hip Hop accessible to a wider audience when it was still cool to create clean and fun Hip Hop music.
Top tracks: As We Go | Here We Go Again | Brand New Funk | Time To Chill
18. Superlover Cee & Casanova Rud - Girls I Got Em Locked
“Girls I got em locked so similar to a prison / In my awesome jams that are causin me favoritism” (Do The James)
Girls I Got Em Locked is an underrated album from an overlooked duo. The album may have suffered from too much competition (in a year with so much quality releases) and poor marketing (the corny album cover surely did not help). Excellent production (the late Paul C was involved) and two dope emcees with good flows and typical 80s party-flavored braggadocious rhymes. What’s not to like?
Top tracks: Girls I Got Em Locked | All You MCs | Girls Act Stupid-aly | Do The James
19. Stetsasonic - In Full Gear
“Stop, check it out my man / This is the music of a Hip Hop band / Jazz, well you can call it that / But this jazz retains a new format” (Talkin’ All That Jazz)
Stetsasonic‘s second album, after 1986 debut On Fire. Arguably a little bit too long, with a few filler tracks, but mostly consisting of dope music from the first Hip Hop band.
Top tracks: Sally | Miami Bass | Pen & Paper | Talkin’ All That Jazz
20. King Tee - Act A Fool
“It’s Friday night on the streets of L.A / I’m goin out, been hangin round the house all day”(Act A Fool)
Top tracks: Act A Fool | Bass | The Coolest | Ko Rock Stuff
21. MC Shan - Born To Be Wild
“It’s been so long and I paid my dues / And with rhymes like these, yo, Shan can’t lose” (Born To Be Wild)
MC Shan‘s career took a serious hit from losing the (Queens)Bridge Wars to Hip Hop powerhouse KRS One. He did drop some very decent albums however, and this is one of them. Completely produced by Marley Marl at his peak.
Top tracks: Born To Be Wild | Back To The Basics | Juice Crew Law | They Used To Do It Out In The Park
22. Lakim Shabazz - Pure Righteousness
“Peace as I unleash / Style of the wild, tell a lyrical masterpiece” (Pure Righteousness)
Chronically underrated, Lakim Shabazz was a dope emcee with a very distinctive voice. With the always competent hands from the 45 King on the boards, this album is a slept-on gem.
Top tracks: Pure Righteousness | All True And Living | Black Is Black | First In Existence
23. DJ Cash Money & Marvelous - Where's The Party At?
“There is no competition, as Cash’ cuts go…” (The Mighty Hard Rocker)
Another dope, dynamic MC / DJ combination from Philly. Like their counterparts DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince these guys were all about fun & positivity, in an era when it was still OK to be that way in Hip Hop. Cash Money’s DJ skills can compete with Jazzy Jeff‘s. Marvelous can definitely hold his own on the mic but is somewhat less of an emcee than The Fresh Prince was however, both in skill and storytelling abilities. Still, this is a fun album with a few classic cuts on it.
Top tracks: Ugly People Be Quit | The Mighty Hard Rocker | Find An Ugly Woman | A Real Mutha For Ya
24. The 7A3 - Coolin In Cali
“Listen to my words, cause the teacher must teach / Take a sentence and rhythm, commence to speak” (Coolin’ In Cali)
DJ Muggs pre-Cypress Hill. Together with the brothers Sean and Brett Bouldin, Muggs formed the 7A3. Their most notable effort was a contribution to the Colors Soundtrack, but this album can hold it’s own. Although the 7A3 was labeled as an L.A. crew, all members originally come from New York City – and it shows. With production from Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, Stetsasonic’s Daddy-O and the Bombsquad this is not a typical West Coast album.
Top tracks: Coolin’ In Cali | Drums Of Steel | Hit Em Again | Lucifer
25. Rhyme Syndicate - Comin' Through
“What you’re gonna do? I’m gonna follow you / It’s ’88 punk, Syndicate is coming through” (Rhyme Syndicate – Comin’ Through)
This compilation album with tracks from artists affiliated with Ice T‘s Rhyme Syndicate is a solid early West Coast album when Gangsta Rap themes were not dominating everything yet. Nothing that really stands out, but pretty dope all the way through. Featured artists include Ice T, Donald D, WC (Low Profile), Everlast, Nat The Cat, Toddy Tee, Evil E, Hen Gee & more.
Top tracks: Rhyme Syndicate Comin’ Through | You Haven’t Heard Nothing | Bustin’ Loose | Name Of The Game
26. Tuff Crew - Danger Zone
Tuff Crew is a slept-on group from Philadelphia, who dropped a few of pretty solid albums in the last half of the 1980s. Danger Zone is one of them and will remain notable if only because it contains the banger My Part Of Town – which is a trademark Tuff Crew track: competent emceeing over raw beats and aggressive scratching.
Top tracks: My Part Of Town | Northside | Bound To Ike | Smooth Momentum
27. JVC Force - Doin' Damage
“Styling and wilding, constantly smiling / We’ll keep trooping in a place called Strong Island” (Strong Island)
The stand-out track on this album is the classic Strong Island, but the rest of the album is worth listening to as well. Got to love that 1988 sound, when a [scratch] DJ still played an important role in a Hip Hop crew.
Top tracks: Strong Island | Doin’ Damage | Stylin’ Lyrics | The Move
28. Def IV - Nice & Hard
“Have a Coke and a smile, but get the hell out my way – we don’t play” (We Don’t Play)
This Houston-based crew dropped this pretty dope album in 1988, one of the early Rap-A-Lot releases. Just straight up NYC flavored Hip Hop, none of the Gangsta Rap that would come to dominate the South soon after 1988. This is a slept on and underrated album.
Top tracks: We Don’t Play | Schoolboy Crush | That’s The Way | What Goes Up
29. Schoolly D - Smoke Some Kill
“Turn up the bass to make a funky sound / Like a nuclear bomb hitting the ground / Grab a fat chain, put around my neck / Hell of a man and I’m gettin respect” (Here We Go Again)
Schoolly D‘s third album does not quite reach the level of his first two releases, but still is a pretty solid record with Schoolly’s trademark hard-hitting beats and take-no-prisoners lyrics.
Top tracks: Smoke Some Kill | Here We Go Again | Gangster Boogie II | Fat Gold Chain
30. Audio Two - What More Can I Say?
“Milk is chillin, Giz is chillin / What more can I say? Top billin'” (Top Billin’)
Not really a very good album, but included in this list nonetheless on the strength of two excellent tracks: I Don’t Care and the Hip Hop super classic Top Billin’.
Top tracks: Top Billin’ | I Don’t Care | I Like Cherries | Hickeys On My Neck
- Doug E Fresh – The World’s Greatest Entertainer
- Masters Of Ceremony – Dynamite
- Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock – It Takes Two
- Salt N Pepa – A Salt With A Deadly Pepa
- Kid N Play – 2 Hype
- Two Live Crew – Move Somethin’
- Chubb Rock – Chubb Rock
- Skinny Boys – They Can’t Get Enough
- Mantronix – In Full Effect
- Steady B – Let The Hustlers Play
- Derek B – Bullet From A Gun
- Kurtis Blow – Back By Popular Demand
- Cold Crush Brothers – Troopers
- Grandmaster Flash – On The Strength