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list Oct 25 2019 Written by

Top 200 Hip Hop Albums 1980 – 1999

best hip hop albums 1980s 1990s

The ninety-eighties and -nineties: the decades in which Hip Hop grew from a local phenomenon into the most dominant musical and cultural force worldwide. Below you will find 200 classic 1980s & 1990s Hip Hop albums, ranked in our order of preference. Are your favorites missing or ranked too low? Share your opinions in the comments!

Also read: Top 100 Hip Hop Albums Of The 1980sTop 150 Hip Hop Albums Of The 1990s & Greatest Hip Hop Albums 1980 – 2019

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

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Public Enemy‘s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is one of the best albums ever made, in any genre. The best and one of the most important Hip Hop albums ever. Enough said.

2. Nas - Illmatic (1994)

best hip hop album ever

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.

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

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

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.

4. Wu Tang Clan - Enter The Wu Tang (1993)

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What can be said about this seminal album that hasn’t been said a thousand times over already? One of the most innovative, groundbreaking, influential and important Hip Hop albums EVER. New York’s answer to Dr. Dre’s worldshaking The Chronic of the year previous. RZA’s incredible innovative production resulting in that trademark dirty and gritty Wu-Tang sound, complemented by 9 emcees who all bring their A-game and show crazy versatility and never-seen-before lyrical creativity: unbeatable.

5. A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders (1993)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

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.

6. Eric B & Rakim - Paid In Full (1987)

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In a music genre still in its infancy, this Eric B & Rakim masterpiece was a game-changer. Seductive, smooth yet hard beats laced with Rakim’s innovative and intricate rhyme style, make for this groundbreaking and seminal work.

This is one of the albums that can be seen as a precursor to 1988, Hip Hop’s break-out year. An album that established Hip Hop as a musical genre that was there to stay. Paid In Full will forever be recognized as one of Hip Hop’s ultimate classics. Filled with unforgettable tracks and Hip Hop anthems this album is a must-have. If you don’t own this album, your Hip Hop collection is incomplete.

7. Ultramagnetic MCs - Critical Beatdown (1988)

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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 HHGA’s all-time favorite albums and deserves its top spot in this list of Hip Hop’s break-out decade.

8. 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.

9. Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded (1987)

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After making a name for themselves in the NYC Hip Hop underground, former social worker Scott La Rock and one of his clients, KRS One, formed Boogie Down Productions and came out in 1987 with Criminal Minded. The sparse production by the artists – and the at the time uncredited Ced Gee of the Ultramagnetic MCs – combined with KRS One’s lyrical content and distinctive delivery make this album a definitive Hip Hop classic, that without a doubt is up there with the greatest Hip Hop albums of all time.

Together with other groundbreaking 1987 debuts of Eric B & Rakim (Paid In Full) and Public Enemy (Yo! Bum Rush The Show), this album set the standard for Golden Age of Hip Hop.

10. De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising (1989)

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Innovative and hugely influential – this cooperation between De La Soul and producer Prince Paul is truly a landmark album in Hip Hop (and music in general). This album introduced the skit to Hip Hop albums; and although skits more often irritate than add value, on this album they work. The whole album is consistent and all the songs are awesome – no filler tracks here. Clever wordplay, deft rhymes, playful production, positivity, and fun: 3 Feet High And Rising represented a new direction for Hip Hop, clearly a reaction to cliches already emerging in Hip Hop, even in its early years. De La Soul’s debut is a must-have for anyone who loves Hip Hop and an all-time classic.

11. OutKast - ATLiens (1996)

A step up from their already awesome Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik debut album. On ATLiens OutKast shows real growth and newfound maturity, resulting in an album that is simply amazing lyrically as well as musically. No skits, no filler, no bullsh** – just straight up dope Hip Hop with that unique OutKast twist.

12. Slick Rick - The Great Adventures Of… (1988)

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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.

13. N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton (1988)

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This album was a game-changer; for better or for worse. One of the first real ‘gangsta rap’ albums, and one of the most successful, going multi-platinum without any radio play. It influenced and changed the direction of Hip Hop, producing countless clones for decades to come. The difference between all the clones and this album is the originality and authenticity of Straight Outta Compton; combined with the revolutionary & flawless production of Dr. Dre and the raw energy & at the time shocking lyrical imagery of Ice CubeMC Ren & Eazy E.

14. Raekwon - Only Built For Cuban Linx... (1995)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s

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.

15. Dr Dre - The Chronic (1992)

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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.

16. Run DMC - Raising Hell (1986)

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One of the first mega-sellers in Hip Hop and the album that would cement the status of Run DMC as the most important Hip Hop act of the time. A brilliant album, with perfect interplay between Jam Master Jay – one of the first great all-around DJ’s in the game – and the back-and-forth rhyming of DMC and Run.

This album, together with Beastie Boys‘ debut Licensed To Ill from the same year, was responsible for opening Hip Hop to all kinds of audiences all over the world. Run DMC “took the beat from the street and put it on TV”.

17. Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle (1993)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

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 ChronicDoggystyle is and always will be Snoop Dogg’s magnum opus.

18. LL Cool J - Radio (1985)

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LL Cool J‘s debut album is one of the most influential Hip Hop albums of all time. Together with Run DMC’s debut album from the year before, Radio was the second album that would set the tone for how Hip Hop was going to sound. Rick Rubin’s stripped-down, minimalistic production complements LL Cool J B-Boy attitude and revolutionary lyricism perfectly. This is one of the greatest and most important debuts in the history of Hip Hop and LL Cool J is one of the all-time greats.

19. Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)

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Was there ever an album, in any genre, that used sampling more brilliantly and creatively than Paul’s Boutique? This album truly is sampling heaven. Paul’s Boutique was completely different from Beastie Boys‘ much easier accessible and commercially super successful debut album Licensed To Ill, and not what a lot of fans of that album were expecting.

Initially a commercial failure, Paul’s Boutique aged like fine wine and with it the appreciation for it. Now considered a landmark album in Hip Hop, it’s the ultimate example for what the Beastie Boys always stood for: creativity and innovation. They were never afraid to reinvent themselves and stretch (and cross) genre boundaries, while at the same time keeping it real. A timeless masterpiece, Paul’s Boutique will forever be remembered as a classic album, in music, not just in Hip Hop.

20. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die (1994)

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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.

21. 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 & RisingDe 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.

22. Public Enemy - Fear of A Black Planet (1990)

best hip hop albums ever

“Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps” (Fight The Power)

How do you 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 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 and a bonafide classic.

Top tracks: Burn HollyWood Burn | Fight The Power | Welcome To The Terrordome | 911 Is A Joke

23. Ice T - Original Gangster (1991)

ice t o g

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.

24. Run DMC - Run DMC (1984)

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This album would be the one to change the direction of Hip Hop. Going for rock-infused, stripped-down, hard beats and a new kind of emceeing, it was game-changing in more ways than one. A great prelude to even greater things to come. A bit dated now, but historically super significant for setting the new standard.

25. Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998)

Both Mos Def and Talib Kweli planned to release their solo albums around the same time, but they postponed their individual projects and decided instead to collaborate on a full-length LP – and what a collaboration it is. Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star is a timeless piece of music that gets better with every passing year.

26. Gang Starr - Step In The Arena (1991)

best hip hop albums 1990s nineties

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.

27. Big Daddy Kane - Long Live The Kane (1988)

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With Big Daddy Kane‘s debut album, he immediately established himself as one of Hip Hop’s top lyricists. This album was produced by Marley Marl at the peak of his powers and is a definitive Hip Hop classic.

28. The DOC - No One Can Do It Better (1989)

best hip hop albums ever

On the heels of the explosive success of N.W.A‘s Straight Outta ComptonDr. Dre turns out another flawlessly produced album. The D.O.C. proved to be a talented emcee who complements Dre’s beats perfectly. The D.O.C. doesn’t need gangster posturing to show and prove he is the man – he has the skills and confidence to carry this album and to make it an all-time Hip Hop classic.

29. Mos Def - Black On Both Sides (1999)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

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.

30. Eric B & Rakim - Follow The Leader (1988)

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Faced with the impossible task to follow up the game-changing classic Paid In FullEric B & Rakim delivered anyway. Rakim raised the bar of emceeing to a level few ever approached.

31. Ice Cube - Death Certificate (1991)

Still angry, still hungry. Ice Cube picks up where he left things with his classic debut AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and even takes things a bit further. Raw and uncompromising, Death Certificate was highly controversial in its subject matter. Ice Cube pulls no punches and spares no one in his examinations of early 90s American society, which can make it an ‘uncomfortable’ listen at times.

Sonically, there is nothing wrong with Ice Cube’s and Sir Jinx’s production – although the funk induced beats on Death Certificate may be a little less appealing than the Bomb Squad’s stand-out work on AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted – but this album is all about the lyrical content. Widely considered Ice Cube’s best work (together with AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted), Death Certificate is an important album in Hip Hop history.

32. Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary (1988)

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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.

33. GZA - Liquid Swords (1995)

Liquid Swords is another highlight in the Wu-Tang (solo) catalog. The album would have been even higher on this list if GZA & RZA hadn’t overdone it a bit on the skits/intro’s, but the actual songs on this one are all true bangers. Elite production by the RZA as per usual in that era, and the trademark dope Wu-Tang lyricism. Classic Wu-Tang.

34. The Roots - Illadelph Halflife (1996)

best hip hop albums of the 1990s nineties

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.

35. 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.

36. 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.

37. The Pharcyde - Labcabincalifornia (1996)

best hip hop albums 1990s

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).

38. 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.

39. 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.

40. 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.

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

The classic debut of one of Hip Hop’s greatest and most important groups of all time. This album truly was a game-changer, production- and content-wise. Rough, hard-hitting beats and turntablism, complemented by Chuck D’s booming voice and Flavor Flav’s antics – Yo! Bum Rush The Show was revolutionary in many ways. Hugely influential and the stepping stone to Public Enemy‘s follow up and Hip Hop’s ultimate classic album: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.

42. 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.

43. EPMD - Strictly Business (1988)

epmd strictly business 1988 album cover

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.

44. 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.

45. 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.

46. Pete Rock & CL Smooth The Main Ingredient (1994)

The Main Ingredient (Pete Rock & CL Smooth) 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.

47. Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (1986)

A timeless classic. Licensed To Ill offers pure energy and great fun. The Beastie Boys were the first white act in Hip Hop to make it big, and maintain credibility and respect in the Hip Hop world throughout their career. This album is another one of the big, early successes of Def Jam – the dominating and most innovating record label at the time, extremely important for the exposure of Hip Hop to larger audiences worldwide.

48. 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.

49. MF Doom Operation: Doomsday (1999)

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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: Doomsdayis up there with the best of his work.

50. 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.

51. 2Pac - Me Against The World (1995)

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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.

52. 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.

53. 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.

54. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road To The Riches (1989)

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Kool G Rap is generally considered one of the greatest emcees ever, a pioneer of multi-syllabic & internal rhymes and complex rhyme schemes. And he could spit too. Later he would go on to make the ‘maffioso’ rap not everyone can appreciate, but here he was a straight-up emcee with mostly braggadocio, battle-ready rhymes over Marley Marl’s sparse beats. Kool G Rap is often named your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, and this album shows why.

55. 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.

56. 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.

57. LL Cool J - Bigger And Deffer (1987)

Still early days in Hip Hop, but in 1987 LL Cool J already drops his sophomore album. One of the first mega-sellers in Hip Hop (together with 1986 albums Raising Hell from Run DMC & Licensed To Ill from the Beastie Boys). LL Cool J at the top of his game.

58. 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.

59. 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 other three. Artistically it is every bit as strong, though – cohesive and consistent throughout – an artistic peak for both De La Soul and producer Prince Paul. De La Soul’s first four albums are all classics, this one is definitely up there with the others.

60. Paris The Devil Made Me Do It (1990)

Paris The Devil Made Me Do It

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.

61. DJ Shadow Endtroducing... (1996)

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Simply the best instrumental Hip Hop album, ever. Timeless.

62. A Tribe Called Quest - Peoples Instinctive Travels On The Paths Of Rhythm (1990)

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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.

63. Goodie Mob - Soul Food (1995)

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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 timeless gem with this album.

64. 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.

65. Ice T - Power (1988)

PowerIce 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.

66. Main Source - Breaking Atoms (1991)

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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”.

67. 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.

68. EPMD - Unfinished Business (1989)

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No sophomore slump for EPMD. One year after their brilliant debut album Strictly Business they turned out another classic. A tight album from start to finish, Unfinished Business proved EPMD’s consistency.

69. Wu Tang Clan - Wu Tang Forever (1997)

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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.

70. Jeru The Damaja - The Sun Rises In The East (1994)

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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.

71. Common - Ressurection (1994)

Clever and conscious wordplay over excellent production – on his second album Common is maturing into what he would eventually become: one of Hip Hop’s most revered emcees and personalities. In one of Hip Hop’s biggest years, this album measures up to any of the other releases with ease.

72. Jungle Brothers - Done By The Forces Of Nature (1989)

The Jungle Brothers never really received the same recognition their fellow Native Tongues crews De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest did, but their first two albums are straight up Native Tongue classics as well. Their 1988 debut Straight Out Of The Jungle is a classic, this one is more than a worthy follow-up. Conscious, positive and funky – what’s not to like?

73. 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.

74. 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.

75. 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.

76. 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.

77. 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.

78. Jay Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)

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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).

79. MC Lyte - Lyte As A Rock (1988)

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A female emcee who can spit with the best of them, male or female. MC Lyte‘s debut album still is a classic piece of work, that belongs in any Hip Hop fan’s collection.

80. 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.

81. 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.

82. 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.

83. Ice T - Rhyme Pays (1987)

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Even with a sometimes uneven production and an Ice T who hasn’t quite reached the peaks of his lyrical skills yet – this album is an undeniable classic. Very influential (for good or for bad), it was one of the very first albums with ‘gangsta rap’ themes (although with limited profanity). In 1987 the gangsta theme still had originality and authenticity, which makes Ice T a true O.G. & a bonafide Hip Hop icon.

84. 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.

85. Jungle Brothers - Straight Out The Jungle (1988)

The debut album of the Jungle Brothers, and the first album of a group affiliated with The Native Tongues collective. An influential album – it marked the beginning of a series of albums by groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Black Sheep. Dope production, mellow rhymes – another 1988 classic, arguably the greatest year in the history of Hip Hop.

86. 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.

87. Schoolly D - Saturday Night The Album (1987)

Attitude. Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D was all about attitude. Though not the best rapper ever to spit rhymes, he dropped some important albums in the mid-’80s and carried them with his personality. This second album shows Schoolly D in top form – hardcore lyrics over minimalist, hard-hitting beats. The first two Schoolly D albums belong in any Hip Hop fans music collection.

88. 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.

89. 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.

90. Boogie Down Productions - Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop (1989)

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By 1989 BDP had already two very different, but equally classic albums out. This third effort only cemented BDP’s and KRS One‘s prominence in Hip Hop. KRS One firmly establishes himself as Hip Hop’s no.1 conscious voice.

91. 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.

92. Redman - Muddy Waters (1996)

muddy waters album cover

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.

93. 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.

94. 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.

95. Geto Boys - Grip It! On That Other Level (1989)

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The Geto Boys‘ second album, but the first one with the ‘realest’ line-up: ScarfaceWillie D & Bushwick Bill (plus DJ Ready Red). This album is as groundbreaking as NWA’s Straight Outta Compton in many ways – with it’s violent and misogynistic topics. The beats are excellent and the emcees are dope as well. The album that put Houston Hip Hop on the map.

96. 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.

97. 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 Deathwould 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.

98. Big Pun - Capital Punishment (1998)

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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.

99. 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.

100. Eazy E - Eazy Duz It (1988)

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Eazy E‘s debut album really is a veiled N.W.A. album. The lyrics are written by Ice Cube, The D.O.C., and MC Ren, who also makes a few appearances. The production is handled by Dr. Dre & DJ Yella– this clearly is a group effort. A little less consistent than N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton – released in the same year – this album still is a bonafide (West Coast) Hip Hop classic.

101. 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!

102. 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.

103. 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.

104. Stetsasonic - On Fire (1986)

The first Hip Hop band: Stetsasonic came out with a bang with this album in 1986. Fine work from a young Prince Paul on the boards and great synergy between Stet’s emcees – this is an essential 80’s Hip Hop album.

105. 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.

106. 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.

107. Ice T - The Iceberg (1989)

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Ice-T‘s grittiest album, but one with great variation lyrically as well as sonically. From the epic, ominous intro “Shut Up, Be Happy” (featuring Jello Biafra and brilliantly interpolating Black Sabbath’s classic “Black Sabbath”) to the all-out fun “My Word Is Bond” – this album has something for everybody.

The chilled-out album opener “The Iceberg”, the dope 9-minute posse cut “What Ya Wanna Do”, the personal “This One’s For Me”, the gangster tale “Peel Their Caps Back”, the thought-provoking “You Played Yourself”, the multi-layered noise on “The Hunted Child” and “Lethal Weapon” – this album is packed with dope tracks.

The album’s most important theme – as evidenced in the album’s subtitle and the song “Freedom Of Speech” – is the PMRC censorship that was being imposed on Hip Hop artists at the time. The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say! is a tight album, one of Ice-T’s best and the one that established Ice-T as one of Hip Hop’s most prominent and authentic personalities.

108. 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.

109. 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.

110. Big Daddy Kane - It's A Big Daddy Thing (1989)

Maybe not as groundbreaking as his debut Long Live The Kane, still this album shows Big Daddy Kane in top form. Nobody (with the exception of Rakim) touched the mic skills of BDK. This album is just a little bit too long (with a few filler tracks) to be considered a true classic, but BDK’s persona and lyrical ability throughout make this an essential Golden Age album.

111. 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.

112. 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.

113. Gravediggaz - 6 Feet Deep (1994)

gravediggaz album cover

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.

114. 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.

115. Souls of Mischief - 93 'til Infinity (1993)

souls of mischief 93

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.

116. 2Pac - All Eyez On Me (1996)

2Pac "All Eyez on Me"

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 parroting 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.

117. Eric B. & Rakim - Don't Sweat The Technique (1992)

Of the 4 Eric B & Rakim albums, their last one 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.

118. Schoolly D - Schoolly D (1985)

Often recognized as the first ‘gangster rapper’, Schoolly D dropped an underground classic with this debut. Hard beats & lyrics: vintage Schoolly D.

119. Aceyalone - A Book Of Human Language (1998)

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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.

120. 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.

121. 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.

122. 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.

123. Common - One Day It’ll All Make Sense (1997)

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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.

124. Digable Planets Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (1993)

digable planets 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.

125. 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.

126. 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.

127. 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.

128. Marley Marl - In Control Vol 1 (1988)

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.

129. Above The Law - Livin' Like Hustlers (1990)

One of the earliest N.W.A. / Dr. Dre ‘sponsored’ acts, Above The Law debuted 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.

130. Biz Markie - Goin Off (1988)

best hip hop albums ever

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.

131. Too Short - Life Is… (1988)

best hip hop albums ever

Our favorite Too Short album from his extensive discography. Already a Hip Hop veteran by 1988, Too Short came into his own on this album. Trademark explicit lyrics, with his typical laid-back flow and music to ride to. This album is one of his most consistent ones and contains a few classic tracks.

132. 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.

133.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.

134. LL Cool J - Walking With A Panther (1989)

LL Cool J Walking With A Panther HHGA

LL Cool J‘s much-maligned third album. It got slammed because it contains two or three (admittedly pretty bad) love songs, but the album is long enough to be able to redeem itself. And it does. 15 dope tracks are more than enough to make this an album to be respected and loved.

135. 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.

136. Jeru The Damaja - Wrath Of The Math (1996)

best hip hop albums 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.

137. 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.

138. 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.

139. 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.

140. MC Shan - Down By The Law (1987)

A very solid debut by MC Shan. Of course, you can’t go wrong with Marley Marl on the boards. Tracks like ‘The Bridge’ & ‘Kill That Noise’ sparked the Bridge Wars between the Juice Crew and Boogie Down Productions, and although BDP emerged victoriously, MC Shan more than held his own & The Juice Crew’s honor.

141. 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).

142. Run DMC - Tougher Than Leather (1988)

By 1988 Run DMC was 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 influential 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.

143. 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.

144. 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.

145. 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 Eternalhas been universally recognized as a Hip Hop classic – influencing many later rappers’ styles.

146. 3rd Bass - The Cactus Album (1989)

3rd Bass "The Cactus Album" (1989)

A long, but an excellent album. It could have done without the skits, but it is pretty much dope from start to finish. MC Serch & Pete Nice are competent emcees and the production & beats are excellent. Essential Golden Age material. Also notable for the first appearance of MF DOOM (as KMD’s Zev Love X)

147. 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.

148. 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.

149. Ras Kass - Soul On Ice (1996)

best hip hop albums ever

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”.

150. 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.

151 - 200

151. A Tribe Called Quest – Beats, Rhymes & Life (1996)

152. Boogie Down Productions – Sex & Violence (1992)

153. Hieroglyphics – 3rd Eye Vision (1998)

154. EPMD – Business As Usual (1990)

155. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – He’s The DJ I’m The Rapper (1988)

156. Ice Cube – The Predator (1992)

157. Jurassic 5 – Jurassic 5 (1998)

158. Masta Ace – Take A Look Around (1990)

159. Beastie Boys Check Your Head (1992)

160. Smif-n-Wessun – Dah Shinin’ (1995)

161. UGK – Super Tight (1994)

162. Poor Righteous Teachers – Holy Intellect (1990)

163. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Live And Let Die (1992)

164. Run DMC – King Of Rock (1985)

165. Lootpack – Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999)

166. The Beatnuts – The Beatnuts (1994)

167. Ultramagnetic MCs – The Four Horsemen (1993)

168. Mobb Deep – Hell On Earth (1996)

169. Cypress Hill – Black Sunday (1993)

170. Capone-n-Noreaga – The War Report (1998)

171. Gang Starr – No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989)

172. KRS-One – KRS-One (1995)

173. Method Man – Tical (1994)

174. Mantronix – Mantronix (1985)

175. DJ Quik – Safe + Sound (1995)

176. The Coup – Genocide & Juice (1994)

177. Goodie Mob – Still Standing (1998)

178. MC Lyte – Eyes On This (1989)

179. Redman – Dare Iz A Darkside (1994)

180. Handsome Boy Modeling School – So… How’s Your Girl? (1999)

181. Aceyalone – All Balls Don’t Bounce (1995)

182. Boogie Down Productions – Edutainment (1990)

183. Digital Underground – Sex Packets (1990)

184. N.W.A – Efil4ziggan (1991)

185. Jedi Mind Tricks – The Psycho-Social, Chemical, Biological & Electro-Magnetic Manipulation Of Human Consciousness (1997)

186. Paris – Sleeping With The Enemy (1992)

187. Xzibit – 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz (1998)

188. Too Short – Short Dog’s In The House (1990)

189. Warren G – Regulate… G Funk Era (1994)

190. Whodini – Escape (1984)

191. Intelligent Hoodlum – Intelligent Hoodlum (1990)

192. Lord Finesse – Return Of The Funky Man (1992)

193. AZ – Doe or Die (1995)

194. Low Profile – We’re In This Together (1989)

195. The Coup – Steal This Album (1998)

196. EPMD – Business Never Personal (1992)

197. Nice & Smooth – Nice & Smooth (1989)

198. The Dynospectrum – The Dynospectrum (1998)

199. Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (1994)

200. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Rock The House (1987)

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