Also read: Top 100 Hip Hop Albums Of The 1980s
1. De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising
“Mirror, mirror on the wall / Tell me, mirror, what is wrong? / Can it be my De La clothes / Or is it just my De La song?” (Me, Myself & I)
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, incredible sampling, 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.
Top tracks: The Magic Number | Say No Go | Eye Know | Ghetto Thang
2. Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
“Now I rock a house party at the drop of a hat / I beat a biter down with an aluminum bat / a lot of people they be Jonesin’ just to hear me rock the mic / they’ll be staring at the radio / staying up all night” (Shake Your Rump)
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, even more than the no. 1 album on this list. 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.
Top tracks: Shake Your Rump | Hey Ladies | Shadrach | B-Boy Bouillabaisse
3. The DOC - No One Can Do It Better
“Keepin’ it dope as long as I can like imagine / Makin’ each record that I do better than the last one” (The Formula)
On the heels of the explosive success of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, Dr. Dre turns out another flawlessly produced album. The D.O.C. is 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.
Top tracks: It’s Funky Enough | The Formula | Mind Blowin’ | The Grand Finale
4. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road To The Riches
“Bass, snare drum in your eardrum / Musical outcome, lyrical tantrum / Energy enters me, power absorbed / Phonograph arts and crafts mic warlord” (Rhymes I Express)
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 ‘mafioso’ 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.
Top tracks: Road To The Riches | Butcher Shop | Rhymes I Express | Poison
5. EPMD - Unfinished Business
“My father always told me to wisen up son / Cause if you hung with nine broke friends, you’re bound to be the 10th one” (It Wasn’t Me, It Was The Fame)
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 and would establish them as one of Hip Hop’s powerhouses.
Top tracks: So Whatcha Sayin’ | The Big Payback | Strictly Snappin’ Necks | It Wasn’t Me, It Was The Fame
6. Boogie Down Productions - Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop
“I believe that if you’re teaching history / Filled with straight-up facts no mystery / Teach the student what needs to be taught / ‘Cause Black and White kids both take shorts / When one doesn’t know about the other ones’ culture / Ignorance swoops down like a vulture…” (You Must Learn)
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.
Top tracks: Why Is That? | Bo! Bo! Bo! | You Must Learn | Jack Of Spades
7. Geto Boys - Grip It! On That Other Level
“I’m back like a rebel ‘making trouble’ / I’m an Assassin, kickin a** on the double / No motherf***er alive’s gonna stop me / So f*** you and your god**** posse” (Do It Like A G.O.)
The Geto Boys‘ second album, but first one with the ‘realest’ line-up: Scarface, Willie 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.
Top tracks: Mind Of A Lunatic | Do It Like A G.O. | Scarface | Size Ain’t S**
8. Ice T - The Iceberg
“Cos I’m the coldest motherf***er that you ever heard / Call me The Ice…or just The Iceberg” (The Iceberg)
Ice T‘s grittiest album. Some hardcore lyrics, but also some lessons to be learned here. Most important theme is the PMRC censorship that was being imposed on Hip Hop artists at the time. A tight album, one of Ice T’s best and the one that established Ice T as one of Hip Hop’s most prominent personalities.
Top tracks: You Played Yourself | This One’s On Me | The Hunted Child | Lethal Weapon
9. Big Daddy Kane - It's A Big Daddy Thing
“Come, get some, you little bum / I take the cake but you can’t get a crumb / From the poetic, authentic, superior / Ultimate – and all that good shit” (Warm It Up)
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 at the time. 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.
Top tracks: Another Victory | Mortal Combat | Warm It Up | Smooth Operator
10. Jungle Brothers - Done By the Forces Of Nature
“Round and round, upside down / Living my live underneath the ground / Never heard of and hardly seen / A whole lot of talk about the Red, Black, and Green” (Beyond This World)
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 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?
Top tracks: Doin’ Our Own Dang | Beyond This World | Sunshine | What U Waitin’ 4
11. LL Cool J - Walking With A Panther
“I release the juice smack dab in your face / Do damage, I’m pickin’ up the pace / My mics’ like a torch when I’m walkin’ at nighttime / straight to the dome, it’s like a pipe-line” (It Gets No Rougher)
LL Cool J‘s much-maligned third album. It got slammed because it contains two (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.
Top tracks: It Gets No Rougher | Droppin ‘Em | Going Back To Cali | Fast Peg
12. 3rd Bass - The Cactus Album
“Ready in the intro, cue up the Serch-lite / Point us to the center stage, I’ll grab the first mic / Projectin’ the voice with this mic that I’m cuffin’ / You ain’t my nucka, sucker I’m snuffin'” (Steppin’ to the A.M.)
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)
Top tracks: Brooklyn-Queens | The Gas Face | Triple Stage Darkness | Steppin’ to the A.M.
13. Gang Starr - No More Mr. Nice Guy
“I suggest you take a breath for the words I manifest, they will scold you and mold you, while I impress upon you the fact that, I use my tact at rhymin for climbin, and chill while I attract that girl you’re with…” (Manifest)
Gang Starr‘s debut album. They are still coming into their sound here, which they would find on Step In The Arena and perfect on Daily Operation. But this is a dope album in its own right and a must-have for any Gang Starr fan.
Top tracks: Manifest | Conscience Be Free | DJ Premier In Deep Concentration | Positivity
14. MC Lyte - Eyes On This
“You can cha-cha-cha to this Mardis Gras / I’m the dopest female that you’ve heard thus far” (Cha Cha Cha)
MC Lyte second album establishes her as one of the best emcees out there, male or female. With Lyte on the mic and production from EPMD‘s Parrish Smith, Brand Nubian‘s Grand Puba, Audio Two & Marley Marl, you can’t go wrong with this album.
Top tracks: Cha Cha Cha | Cappucino | Shut the Eff Up! (Hoe) | Not Wit’ A Dealer
15. Low Profile - We're In This Together
“Mic check, now in effect / Suckers still comin short / That’s why I’m callin order in the court / It looks like a lotta suckers gotta learn the hard way / It doesn’t pay when you tamper with my deejay” (Aladdin’s On A Rampage)
Low Profile is a collaboration between World Champion DJ Aladdin and rapper WC before he formed WC & The MAAD Circle. This album is a real Hip Hop album; with a WC on the mic before he started gangster posing and a DJ with dope turntable techniques. Consistent throughout, this is a slept on West Coast classic.
Top tracks: Aladdin’s On A Rampage | How Ya Livin’ | Pay Ya Dues | Keep Em Flowin
16. Nice & Smooth - Nice & Smooth
“Rap czar, superstar / No limitation in my life and I’m known to go far” (Early To Rise)
Another forgotten classic from a time when it was still OK to make humorous, clean and catchy Hip Hop. One of Hip Hop most respected duo’s, this was their signature album and their best work.
Top tracks: Funky For You | No Delayin’ | Ooh Child | Early To Rise
17. Biz Markie - The Biz Never Sleeps
“Don’t you like when the winter’s gone / And all of a sudden it starts gettin warm / The trees and the grass start lookin fresh / And the sun and sky be lookin their best” (Spring Again)
Biz Markie‘s second and most successful album. This time around without help from Marley Marl (for the beats) and Big Daddy Kane (for the lyrics), Biz managed to produce a dope album anyway. It’s hard not to love the Biz.
Top tracks: Just A Friend | Spring Again | Things Get A Little Easier | A Thing Named Kim
18. Chill Rob G - Ride The Rhythm
“It’s a pity the way the city treats the poor / I got congressmen, councilmen – tell me, what are they for? / I write letters, or better, I even give them a call / But they kick back, cool out in my city hall” (Court Is Now In Session)
Listen to Chill Rob G if you want to learn about multi-syllable rhymes and complex rhyme schemes. Great voice, flow & delivery. This guy was the real deal and this album is a forgotten classic.
Top tracks: Court Is Now In Session | Bad Dreams | Let The Words Flow | Dope Rhymes
19. Young MC - Stone Cold Rhymin'
“Lo and behold, Young MC struck gold / From the rhymes that I’ve been sayin’ to the young and the old / From the battles I’ve been havin’ with the smart and the dumb /From the records I’ve been makin’ with the mic and the drum…” (I Come Off)
Young MC never quite got the props he deserved for this album in Hip Hop circles. Too easily dismissed as a ‘pop-rapper’, Young MC definitely had skills. This debut album is just an all-around fun album, filled with radio-friendly but dope tracks. You can pop it in today and enjoy the full album without having to skip a track – Stone Cold Rhymin’ is good work.
Top tracks: Non Stop | I Come Off | Know How | Just Say No
20. Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five - Piano
“Slammin’ like a jail cell, I’m pumpin’ like an oil well, M-E-L, Melle Mell…” (Freestyle)
Underrated and slept on, this album is a tribute to one of the best emcees in the game ever: old school pioneer Melle Mel. The production is nothing special – but this one is all about emceeing. Few can touch Melle Mel’s lyrical skill.
Top tracks: Piano | Free Style | Old School | Kick The Knowledge
21. Schoolly D - Am I Black Enough For You?
“My name Schoolly School, I’m never alone / Just, rough and tough, and takin no stuff / All I really wanna know y’all.. am I black enough?” (Am I Black Enough For You?)
Schoolly D‘s fourth album, much in the same vein as his previous three – hard-hitting beats and monotone lyrics that are signature Schoolly D. Not as fresh sounding as his first two, but better than his third – this album is a solid entry in Schoolly D’s discography.
Top tracks: Livin’ in the Jungle | Gangster Boogie | It’s Like Dope | Am I Black Enough for You?
22. Queen Latifah - All Hail The Queen
“The ladies will kick it, the rhyme that is wicked / Those that don’t know how to be pros get evicted / A woman can bear you, break you, take you / Now it’s time to rhyme, can you relate to / A sister dope enough to make you holler and scream…” (Ladies First)
Queen Latifah‘s debut album was a great success upon its release. The album is universally regarded as a Hip Hop classic; though it contains a couple of filler tracks; and has a bit too much of a crossover feel (with even some house, techno, and reggae influences) to be higher on this list. There’s no denying Queen Latifah’s ability and star power though – and this album is a powerful start of an impressing career.
Top tracks: Ladies First | Wrath Of My Madness | Evil That Men Do | Mama Gave Birth To The Soul Children
23. Special Ed - Youngest In Charge
“I’m Special Ed and you can tell by the style that I use / I’m creatively superior, yo–I never lose / I never lost cause I’m the boss / I never will cause I’m still / The champion, chief one, won’t lose until I choose” (I Got It Made)
Only 16 years old when this album was recorded, Special Ed was a dope emcee despite his youth. This album is a bit uneven with a few filler tracks – but overall this is a well-produced effort, with a few classic tracks on it; most notably the absolute Hip Hop anthem “I Got It Made”
Top tracks: I Got It Made | The Magnificent | Taxing | Think About It
24. Tuff Crew - Back To Wreck Shop
“Too Tuff – detonate!” (Behold The Detonator)
This legendary but underrated crew from Philadelphia dropped a series of dope albums in the late 80s. Hard beats and a prominent role for DJ Too Tuff’s scratching – this is real raw Hip Hop.
Top tracks: Down With The Program | Got To Be Funky | What You Don’t Know | Come On & Go Off
25. Awesome Dre - You Can't Hold Me Back
“Awesome Dre – switch it around: Dre’s Awesome / What do I do to suckers – I boss ’em” (You Can’t Hold Me Back)
An early album from the Detroit Hip Hop scene, that gained some underground traction upon its release but failed to make Awesome Dre a household name. Still, worth checking out for those who are into raw, hardcore beats and lyrics.
Top tracks: You Can’t Hold Me Back | Committing Rhymes | Sackchasers | Frankly Speaking
26. Kwame The Boy Genius - Featuring A New Beginning
“It’s a New Beginning, my name Kwame / And if you didn’t know I could tell you that I’m a / Mellow cool brotha / Slicker than oil / Rap get so hot it makes the spit boil” (The Rhythm)
This is a funky and clean album, with some dope production and above-average emceeing. Kwame never made it big, maybe because of poor marketing and the competition at the time – but this album should not be forgotten.
Top tracks: Boy Genius | The Mic Is Mine | The Rhythm | The Man We All Know and Love
27. Three Times Dope - Original Stylin'
“Fly like a falcon, strong like a stallion / Now all I need is a gold medaillon / Providin small time suckers with info / EST’s the unusual fellow” (Greatest Man Alive)
Another excellent 1989 Hip Hop album, like a few others in this list somewhat forgotten because it came out in an era when so much dope albums were released. There’s a lot to enjoy here, so anyone who somehow missed this Philly classic would do well checking it out.
Top tracks: Original Stylin’ | Funky Dividends | From Da Giddy Up | Greatest Man Alive
28. Just Ice - The Desolate One
“Don’t think I start to vex take it seriously / If you forget my name it is a Just I-C-E / Take it as a threat, take it as a warning / From me to every DJ and opposing MC” (Na Touch Da Just)
Raw and elemental lyrics and beats – the product of KRS One’s production and Just Ice’s emceeing. Overall a little less good than Just Ice’s previous two albums, but still essential for fans of raw NYC Hip Hop with some ragga influences.
Top tracks: Hardhead | And Justice For All | The Desolate One | Hijack
29. Donald D - Notorious
“Straight up, while you wait up, she put the plate up / Your dinner, boy, Donald-D just ate up / Syndicate Sniper will never smile / Cause I’m lost in a freestyle”(Lost In A Freestyle)
Donald D was an NYC Hip Hop veteran with a few single releases under his belt before he got picked up by Ice T for the 1988 compilation album Rhyme Syndicate Comin’ Through. The cooperation resulted in this release, a varied and because of that may be a bit uneven album. The album has some really dope tracks, and the best intro ever – go check it out.
Top tracks: Notorious | F.B.I. | Syndicate Posse | Lost In A Freestyle
30. Willie Dee - Controversy
“When I left my neighborhood, to make this big break / I promised my road dogs, that I’d dedicate / A super jam to the hood, that’s sharp as a sickle / So here it is, 5th Ward, better known as the Nickel” (5th Ward)
Willie D‘s debut album, released before he joined the Geto Boys. Willie D has always been a hard-hitting emcee, with a distinctive voice and versatile rap style. This album is in the same vein as later Geto Boys releases, so you know what to expect.
Top tracks: 5th Ward | Do It Like A G.O. | Willie D | Trip Across From Mexico
31. Stezo - Crazy Noise
“Extra extra, read all about it / It’s me Stezo that has been doubted / I came to make you move and groove and get down / There’s no way that the crowd can sit down” (It’s My Turn)
Stezo started out as a dancer for EPMD, before releasing this debut album. It’s a clean, radio-friendly and fun album, with quality production (mostly self-produced, but Paul C was involved). Stezo is not the best emcee, but he delivered a solid album that deserves its place on this list.
Top tracks: It’s My Turn | Freak The Funk | Bring The Horns | Talking Sense
32. The Jaz - Word To The Jaz
“Now I can dig rappin’ / You know it’s true / But I can dig cuttin’ too” (I Can Dig Rappin’)
The Jaz (or Jaz O) was the mentor of Jay Z (who makes a few appearances on this album). Unlike his protege, The Jaz never made it big – but there is no doubt about his skill as an emcee. This album (and it’s follow up) are dope albums that you should definitely check out if you haven’t before.
Top tracks: Word To The Jaz | Pumpin’ | Fun | I Can Dig Rappin’
33. Tone Loc - Loc-ed After Dark
“Workin’ all week / 9 to 5 for my money / So when the weekend comes / I go get live with the honeys” (Wild Thing)
Tone Loc‘s debut album was a huge commercial success, on the strength of the singles Funky Cold Medina and especially Wild Thing – which had a huge pop-appeal. The rest of the album is OK, just not strong enough to make it a classic.
Top tracks: Wild Thing | Funky Cold Medina | Cheeba Cheeba | Cutting Rhythms
34. Cool C - I Gotta Habit
“Creating more rhymes than Shakespeare got books / It’s an addiction, yes I am hooked…” (I Gotta Habit)
Before he lost his way and got himself on death row for killing a female police officer during a bank robbery gone bad (with Steady B), Philly rapper Cool C debuted with this pretty dope album.
Top tracks: I Gotta Habit | Mary Go Round | Enemy Terrority | I’m Not Impressed
35. Def Jef - Just A Poet With A Soul
“Yo man, give me that microphone and sit down / Cos a brother like me is known to get down /So get up from the rhyme and you’ll find / It’s designed to give sight to the blind and enlighten the mind” (Droppin’Rhymes On Drums)
Smooth and funky production with sociopolitical, conscious lyrics. Def Jef is not the best emcee to ever pick up the mic, but this album is worth listening to nevertheless.
Top tracks: Just A Poet | On The Real Tip | God Made Me Funky | Downtown
36. Vicious Beat Posse - Legalized Dope
“I’m fiending… for legalized dope” (Legalized Dope)
A forgotten crew from California – Vicious Beat Posse dropped this album in 1989 and disappeared from the Hip Hop scene soon afterward. Although they were from California, this album has more of a NY vibe to it. No gangster rap here, but a mix of party and positivity vibes. Not an essential album, but worth checking out anyway.
Top tracks: Legalized Dope | Give The People What They Want | My Girl | Fundamental But Essential
37. Black Rock & Ron - Stop The World
“Some brothers act fool, they’re getting me fed / You need to lay off the drugs and read a book instead” (Stop The World)
Black Rock & Ron was a trio hailing from Hollis, Queens, NYC. Their debut and only album failed to gain much attention upon it’s release. A shame, because there’s enough to enjoy here. With quality producers Jazzy Jay, Paul C. (Ultramagnetic MC s, Super Love Cee & Cassanova Rudd, Organized Konfusion), DJ Doc (Boogie Down Productions), and Skeff Anselm (A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubian) on the boards, this really is a solid album that should not be forgotten.
Top tracks: Stop The World | You Can’t Do Me None | Getting Large | That’s How I’m Livin’
38. Kool Moe Dee - Knowledge Is King
“I got the credentials that is so essential / to make a rhyme send chills / then you know I will fulfill to make a couple of mill / as I build a guild for all the rappers with skill / and kill the weak rappers with no thrills” (I Go To Work)
Kool Moe Dee‘s third solo album; and second best selling (after How Ya Like Me Now). A solid album in typical Kool Moe Dee style: excellent lyrical skill, let down a bit with bland beats and production.
Top tracks: I Go To Work | Let’s Go | Knowledge Is King | The Don
39. The New Style - Independent Leaders
“Hyper till the point that we can never be calm / so stay back and call the bomb squad / cause we’re droppin’ the bomb” (Droppin’ The Bomb)
Naughty By Nature‘s debut album; before they restyled themselves Naughty By Nature. This self-produced album is pretty much forgotten, but actually not bad at all, and a must-have for all Naughty By Nature fans.
Top tracks: Independent Leaders| Bring The Rock | Picture Perfect | Droppin The Bomb
40. King Sun - XL
“King Sun with the sounds you could never escape / Every time you turn around, you hear another fat tape”(Fat Tape)
Bronx rapper King Sun had been a respected name in the NY Hip Hop scene since the early 80s before he released XL in 1989. This debut album showcase his explosive yet smooth rapping style, but is a little bit let down by average production and one or two love songs too many. But when King Sun is on point, he can compete with the likes of Rakim and Big Daddy Kane – and that’s saying something.
Top tracks: Fat Tape | Mythological Rapper | It’s A Heat Up | Snakes
- Breeze – The Young Son Of No One
- 2 Live Crew – As Nasty As They Wanna Be
- Too Brown – Takin No Shorts
- Kings Of Pressure – Slang Teacher
- Maestro Fresh Wes – Symphony In Effect
- Divine Styler – Word Power
- Jazzy Jay – Cold Chillin…
- 415 – 41Fivin
- Chubb Rock with Howie Tee – And The Winner Is…
- DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – And In This Corner
- DJ Chuck Chill Out & Kool Chip – Master Of The Rhythm
- Steady B – Going Steady
- Sir Mix A Lot – Seminar
- Roxanne Shante – Bad Sister
- Heavy D – Big Tyme
- Freddie Foxxx – Freddie Fox Is Here
- Le Juan Love – I Still Feel Good
- Mellow Man Ace – Escape From Havana
- Craig G – The King Pin
- Doctor Ice – The Mic Stalker
- Redhead Kingpin & The FBI – A Shade Of Red