2006 was a pretty good year for Hip Hop – with a couple of classic releases and a good number of albums that are aging really well. This year will also be remembered as the year Hip Hop lost one of its greatest talents: J Dilla died three days after his 32nd birthday and the release of his 2nd album Donuts. Donuts is one of the 40 albums that make up our Top 40 Hip Hop Albums of 2006 list – check it out and feel free to share your thoughts about the entries and the ranking order! Oh, and don’t forget to check out the Honorable Mentions section, lots of pretty good albums in there too.
Also read: Top 150 Hip Hop Albums Of The 2000s
1. The Roots – Game Theory
The Roots is one of the most consistent acts in the game. Practically their whole catalog is excellent – but for us, Game Theory is one of their stand-out albums – right up there with the very best Roots albums Illadelph Halflife (1996) and Things Fall Apart (1999). Cuts like “False Media”, “Clock With No Hands” and the elegant Dilla tribute “Can’t Stop This” help make this album a definite Roots classic, but there are no skippable tracks on Game Theory.
2. Jedi Mind Tricks – Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell
Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell is the fifth studio album by legendary Philly crew Jedi Mind Tricks and arguably their best, in a series of mostly excellent albums. It is also their best-performing album commercially but still went criminally unnoticed (especially when compared to 2006 highest selling and wack rap albums from the likes of Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, and others like them).
Servants In Heaven, Kings In Hell is worth the price of admission alone for the masterpiece that is “Uncommon Valor”, with an epic verse by guest emcee R.A. The Rugged Man. But the rest of the album bangs too. Stoupe’s unique and cinematic soundscapes and Vinnie Paz’s vicious lyrics get equal shine, every track works. With some dope additional rhyming from guests like regular JMT collaborator Chief Kamachi, Sean Price, and especially the aforementioned R.A. The Rugged Man, this album truly is a worthy addition to anyone’s music collection.
3. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor
The debut from Chicago’s Lupe Fiasco is one of the best of the decade. In an age of simplistic rhymes and lack of meaningful concepts, Lupe Fiasco brought intelligence and consciousness back to mainstream Hip Hop. He would drop more excellent projects later on (and some misses as well), but Food & Liquor remains his best album.
4. J Dilla – Donuts
Released just three days before his untimely death on Feb. 10, 2006, Donuts turned out to be J Dilla’s magnum opus. Donuts is a fitting reflection of Dilla’s creativity and musicality, and an apt tribute to his career.
Together with DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing (1996), Donuts has become THE landmark album when it comes to instrumental Hip Hop. It serves as the perfect example and as a great inspiration for countless aspiring beatmakers and DJs, showing where talent and dedication can lead to Donuts is the defining masterpiece from an amazingly talented musician who died much too young.
5. CunninLynguists – A Piece Of Strange
The third album from the underrated CunninLynguists is a masterpiece from start to finish. Much darker and denser than their more light-hearted and fun first two albums, A Piece Of Strange takes us on a journey following the story of a man and those closest to him in their struggles with right and wrong, love and hate, while at the same time exploring the religion and racism that were (and are) so prevalent in the south. The 16 songs contain loose connections with certain defined Biblical numerics and their interpretations. In Kno’s own words:
“This album is not meant to be overtly Christian in theme or presentation, but more so delivering an amoral slant to a storyline communicated through Hip Hop. Deacon’s life growing up as the son of a preacher definitely led us to some of the insights and story molding that went on when we were making and recording the album, but as most moderate Christians will tell you…you have to relate the material as generally as possible without preaching and talking down to people. APOS wasn’t meant to teach faith-infused lessons necessarily, but simply to deliver a story.”
A Piece Of Strange offers excellent production and clever lyrics – the whole album is as good as it gets. Standouts tracks aplenty, but cuts like Brain Cell and Nothing To Give especially shine. Don’t sleep folks, this truly is a landmark album.
6. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale
Ghostface Killah is the most prolific and consistent artist out of the Wu-Tang camp. Starting with his dope solo-debut Ironman in 1996, over the decades he has put together an amazingly high-quality catalog, stocked with gems and containing very few duds (in contrast to most of his Wu-Tang colleagues). Fishscale is one of Ghostface’s best four albums, competing with Ironman and Twelve Reasons To Die (2013) for the second-place spot, after his magnum opus Supreme Clientele (2000).
7. People Under The Stairs – Stepfather
People Under The Stairs have put together a truly excellent catalog over the years, starting in 1998 with The Next Step and ending in 2019 with their final album Sincerely, the P. Stepfather is the fifth album by the Los Angeles duo – and one their best. Stepfather is a long but totally cohesive album filled with dope beats and rhymes – a testament to the fact that positive Hip Hop will prove to have longevity, much more than the dumbed-down crap that was (and is) dominating the mainstream. An album like Stepfather will still be listened to decades from now, whereas the bubble-gum rap that may peak for a moment will soon be forgotten.
8. Nas – Hip Hop Is Dead
Fans and critics alike seem to rate Hip Hop Is Dead as one of Nas’ weakest albums. We disagree. In fact, we feel Hip Hop Is Dead easily belongs among the best half of his albums. Hip Hop Is Dead is way better than Nastradamus (1999) and Nasir (2018), better than Streets Disciple (2004), I Am (1999) and Untitled (2008), and on par with God’s Son (2002), Life Is Good (2012) and even with Stillmatic (2001) and It Was Written (1996).
The overall production here is better and more consistent than on most of his albums, and lyrically Nas is as good here as he ever was. “Money Over Bullsh*t”, “Where Are They Now”, “Hip Hop Is Dead”, “Black Republican” (with Jay-Z) – all of them are classic Nas cuts. Other highlights include “Hold Down The Block”, “Carry On Tradition”, “Hustlers”, “Still Dreaming” and “Not Going Back”, this really is one of Nas’ most consistent albums. The most underappreciated album in his discography – with Hip Hop Is Dead Nas proved Hip Hop was alive and well.
9. Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury
An album that sometimes goes unnoticed or is slept on by many in the genre, this album is truly the greatest thing that Pusha and Malice created. They received the lushest instrumentals from the Neptunes, which worked wonders for them on the album. Hell Hath No Fury features plenty of solid tracks like “Mr. Me Too” and “Nightmares”, but what makes it so special is the overall cohesion. Hell Hath No Fury is the best Clipse album.
10. Ugly Duckling – Bang For The Buck
Ugly Duckling never disappoints. Bang For The Buck is another UD winner. Formed in Long Beach, Los Angeles in the mid-90s, Ugly Duckling has always been different (hence Ugly Ducking) than most of their local contemporaries in their sound and subject matter. No G-funk beats and no gun- and crime talk, instead Ugly Duckling are Hip Hop traditionalists. Their sound is lifted straight from the early days of NYC Hip Hop, reminiscent of fellow L.A. crew Jurassic 5.
Bang For The Buck is no exception, this is another more than solid UD production filled with old-school boom-bap instrumentals and great wordplay.
11. MF Grimm – American Hunger
60 tracks? Really? This triple album, with 20 tracks and around 70 minutes playing time for each of the three albums, by all rights should have been a bloated failure. Even most double albums have their share of fillers – something that even plagued some of the most popular / best-known albums in Hip Hop like 2Pac’s All Eyez On Me and Biggie’s Life After Death. But somehow, MF Grimm makes it work on American Hunger.
MF Grimm has stated once that the album is not intended to be listened to in one sitting, rather it is intended to be taken in over the course of three separate listening sessions, reflecting the names of each disc: “Breakfast,” “Lunch” and “Dinner.” However you consume this insanely ambitious project, it will be hard to point out weak spots or skippable material. American Hunger is amazingly consistent and coherent. This project is phenomenally crafted, and it stays interesting and entertaining for the whole ride through.
12. Apathy – Eastern Philosophy
Known for being part of Hip Hop collectives Demigodz, Get Busy Committee and Army Of The Pharaohs, and of his association with acts like Jedi Mind Tricks and others from the unsung Babygrande Records label, Connecticut emcee Apathy dropped this solo-debut in 2006. While Apathy’s later solo-albums like Honkey Kong, Wanna Snuggle, and Connecticut Casual were all dope and held their own, Eastern Philosophy still stands as his best work as a solo artist. Eastern Philosophy is an album filled with vicious, in-your-face lyrics and the beats to match the ferocity of the bars Apathy spits.
13. Project Polaroid – Project Polaroid
Project Polaroid is a collaboration consisting of our favorite crazy genius Kool Keith and Bay Area producer TomC3. Project Polaroid dropped in 2006 and not a lot of people took notice. That’s a shame because this album is fantastic – easily part of the better half of Kool Keith’s prodigious output. TomC3’s soundscapes are dope as hell and lyrically Kool Keith is in great form, with lyrics that are reminiscent of his absolute masterpiece Dr. Octagonecologyst. Project Polaroid is a project everybody slept on, but it is never too late to get up to speed.
14. Murs & 9th Wonder – Murray’s Revenge
Not as good as 3:16, but Murray’s Revenge is another dope collaborative release from Murs & 9th Wonder nevertheless. Murray’s Revenge is nice and tight at ten tracks, with enough highlights like “L.A.”, “Dreamchasers”, “Love & Appreciate”, “Yesterday & Today”, and “Dark Skinned White Girls”.
15. Army Of The Pharaohs – The Torture Papers
The Torture Papers is the debut album by underground Hip Hop collective Army of the Pharaohs, released in 2006 after years of anticipation. The crew was established in 1998 by Jedi Mind Tricks frontman Vinnie Paz, and originally featured Jedi Mind Tricks, Chief Kamachi, 7L & Esoteric, Virtuoso, and Bahamadia. Virtuoso and Bahamadia later split from the group. When The Torture Papers was recorded, AOTP consisted of Paz, Kamachi, 7L & Esoteric, Apathy, OuterSpace, King Syze, Reef the Lost Cauze, Des Devious, Celph Titled, and Faez One.
The single “Battle Cry” is a standout track on The Torture Papers – an all-out insane rap-fest with nine emcees spitting bars over a great beat with violins and bass. Other highlights include cuts like the title track, “Feast of the Wolves”, “King Among Kings”, “Gorillas”, “Henry the 8th”, “Pull The Pins Out”, “Tear It Down”, “Into The Arms Of Angels” and “All Shall Perish”. The Torture Papers is a very strong, well rounded, and complete album and a must-have for all those into hard, underground battle-rap kind of Hip Hop.
16. J Dilla – The Shining
The Shining is the third studio album by J Dilla, who died February 10, 2006. The Shining was incomplete (but mostly done) at the time of J Dilla’s passing and was posthumously completed. With features from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Common, Madlib, Guilty Simpson, Black Thought, and more – and Dilla’s trademark soundscapes throughout, The Shining simply is a great listen. While not an absolute classic like Dilla’s masterpiece Donuts is, The Shining nevertheless is another testament to the exceptional talent J Dilla possessed.
17. Mekalek – Live & Learn
18. P.O.S – Audition
19. 7L & Esoteric – A New Dope
A New Dope is somewhat different in sound from most other 7L & Esoteric releases – less boom-bap, more electro-influenced – but like their other work, it brings that Golden Age flavored Hip Hop, with dope beats and rhymes from start to finish.
20. Kool Keith – Nogatco Rd.
Strong instrumentals by producer Iz-Real and strong rhymes by Kool Keith result in a strong conceptual album with intriguing futuristic themes and outrageous storylines.
21. Modill – Midnight Green
22. Ghostface Killah – More Fish
Fishscale is one this year’s best albums, More Fish is a full presentation of Fishscale leftovers. Ghostface Killah’s cutting-room floor material is better than most other people’s albums – More Fish is a great GFK album in its own right.
23. Panacea – Ink Is My Drink
24. Akir – Legacy
25. Tanya Morgan – Moonlighting
26. Dilated Peoples – 20/20
27. Steady Diggin Workshop – Let’s Go Steady
28. Oh No – Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms
29. Mr Lif – Mo Mega
Boston, Massachusetts rapper Mr. Lif’s second full-length album is another layered, politically charged album. In the album’s liner notes, Mr. Lif wrote:
Mo’ represents the dialect of the Black slave in America. Mega represents the hyper-modernized world we live in. As the cost of living increases at an exponential rate, more of us are finding it difficult to keep pace. I feel that the term Mo’ extends beyond race to describe the masses whom have not achieved elite levels of wealth. Mo’ Mega is the juxtaposition of the slave and the elite with no common ground between the two.
Mo’ Mega is a credit to Def Jux top-dog El-P’s skill and growth as a producer, and it is a testament to Mr. Lif’s superior mic skills.
30. Surreal & The Sound Providers – True Indeed
31. Aceyalone – Magnificent City
32. KRS One – Life
Life is another dope KRS release. Not too long and not too short, not too much interludes to break the flow of the album and all the ingredients we can expect from the Blastmaster: mostly good (if not great) beats and clever lyrics with a message to be found everywhere.
Standout tracks include “I Am There”, “Woke Up”, “Gimme Da Gun”, “Freedom”, “F-cked Up”, “Still Slippin’”, “I Ain’t Leavin’” and “I’m On The Mic”. The best song is the album’s closer, “My Life”, where KRS details his life and longevity in Hip Hop. Life is just another testament to KRS One’s longevity and continued relevance in the Hip Hop game.
33. Rhymefest – Blue Collar
34. Method Man – 4:21… The Day After
Method Man’s best albums since Tical, his classic 1994 solo debut album.
35. The Game – Doctor’s Advocate
Not on par with his classic debut The Documentary (2005), but a decent follow-up nevertheless. Dr. Dre’s magical touch is missing here, but the beats here are solid and The Game’s personality and charisma are enough to raise this album a few pegs above average.
36. Strange Fruit Project – The Healing
37. J-Zone & Celph Titled Are The Boss Hog Barbarians - Every Hog Has Its Day
Every Hog Has Its Day is not an album for the easily offended or for those without a sense of humor. Quite different from J-Zone and Celph Titled’s work outside this collaboration, Every Hog Has Its Day is kind of a concept album on which the duo explore… something (how to be as misogynistic as possible, maybe). The blurb on their Bandcamp page may tell you something of what they’re going for here:
If you feel froggish, then leap. But if you feel hoggish, then creep! It was inevitable. Say no more, the Hogs are here. As a group, J-Zone and Celph Titled (aka Kenny Hoggins and Wade Hoggs) are the Bo$$ Hog Barbarian$. The two multi-talented beatsmiths/rappers/entertainers/masters of all that is rude are in the house for a full-length ride. Enter Hog Heaven, where the order of the day is foul-mouthed trash talk, funkafied beats, and a sense of humor, to the 50th power. With nearly all production by J-Zone and Celph Titled, the lone outside beat comes from none other than the legendary Mr. Walt of Da Beatminerz’, longtime Hog affiliates. On the rapping side? No guests!! Hogs don’t need em. Celph and Zone are the Jordan and Pippen of Hog Heaven, so no help is necessary. 100% pure unadulterated hoggin’. With the single, “$teady $mobbin’” b/w “Celph Destruction”, already makin noise, this album will Hog your arteries. You’ve been warned… they won’t stop hoggin’ nooooo!
Obviously intended as a comedic presentation, or maybe even as a parody of artists who do this kind of thing as if they mean it (acts like Three 6 Mafia come to mind), Every Hog Has Its Day is nothing but harmless – if at times deeply offensive – fun, with funky beats and humorous punchlines. A hate-it or love-it kind of album probably, depending on the listener’s sense of humor and ability to not take things all too seriously.
38. Jurassic 5 – Feedback
Jurassic 5’s fourth and weakest album. Weakest because Feedback is not as good as their other albums are, but that doesn’t mean Feedback sucks – in fact, it is still plenty good. Musically it’s hit and miss, with more poppy and electro-infused beats than the earlier fresh old-school flavored boom-bap instrumentals most fans love Jurassic 5 for. Cut Chemist’s departure from the group earlier in 2006 may have something to do with the change in sound, maybe the remaining 5 simply wanted to something a bit different for a change. Whatever the reason, Feedback is not a strong as their previous three albums, but the chemistry and lyrical prowess of Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir, and Marc 7 is on full display as always. A sub-par Jurassic 5 album is still better than most others, it’s as simple as that.
39. Psalm One – The Death Of Frequent Flyer
Chicago emcee Psalm One is an interesting artist, there is definitely something unique about her sound. The beats on her Rhymesayers debut The Death Of Frequent Flyer are fine, but this album is all about Psalm One’s dope flow, and her clever observations (“Rapper Girls”) and excellent storytelling abilities – this is an album with HEART and SOUL.
40. OutKast- Idlewild
- Ice Cube – Laugh Now, Cry Later
- Ice T – Gangsta Rap
- Snoop Dogg – Tha Blue Carpet Treatment
- Public Enemy & Paris – Rebirth Of A Nation
- The Coup – Pick A Bigger Weapon
- Masta Killa – Made In Brooklyn
- Inspectah Deck – The Resident Patient
- Lord Jamar – The 5% Album
- Sadat X – Black October
- AZ – The Format
- Chino XL – Poison Pen
- C.L. Smooth – American Me
- Busta Rhymes – The Big Bang
- Boot Camp Clik – The Last Stand
- Killer Mike – I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind
- Black Sheep – 8WM/Novakane
- Pimp C – Pimpalation
- K-Rino – Time Traveller
- Xzibit – Full Circle
- Exile & Lokey – Fool
- Prince Po – Pretty Black
- M-1 – Confidential
- Granite State – The Breaking Point
- Slow Suicide Stimulus – Slow Suicide Stimulus
- The Aztext – Haven’t You Heard?
- Uppa Notch – No Greater Love
- Main Flow & 7L – Flow Season
- Chief Kamachi – Concrete Gospel
- Jahi – Soulhop The Breakthru
- Four Zone – My Turn
- Othello – Alive At The Assembly Line
- Juggaknots – Use Your Confusion
- Elephant Beach – Escape
- Black Ice – The Death of Willie Lynch
- Deep Rooted – The Second Coming
- Ise Lyfe – Spread The Word
- Cali Agents – Fire & Ice
- Sivion – Mood Enhancement
- True Live – The Shape Of It
- Kenn Starr – Starr Status
- Tame One – Spazmatic
- PackFM – WhutduzFMstand4?
- Outerspace – Blood Brothers
- Planet Asia – The Medicine
- Royal Fam – Black Castle
- Substance – Abuse Overproof
- Cadence – Creative Commerce
- Dan The Automator – 2K7: The Tracks
- Exile – Dirty Science
- Channel Live – Secret Science Rap
- Blame One – Priest, Thief & Wizard
- Qwel & Meaty Ogre – FreezerBurner
- Solillaquists Of Sound – As If We Existed
- The Procussions – Five Sparrows For Two Cents
- The Society Of Invisibles – The Society Of Invisibles
- Louis Logic & J.J. Brown – Misery Loves Comedy
- Mr. Skurge – Skyline: A Detailed Story of a Man Without Wings
- Pigeon John – Pigeon John & The Summertime Pool Party
- Skyzoo & 9th Wonder – Cloud 9: The 3 Day High
- Soul Position – Things Go Better with RJ & Al
- Unknown Prophets – The Road Less Traveled
- Beatman & Rockin’ – Who’s Supa Now
- Potluck – Straight Outta Humboldt
- Jel – Soft Money
- Soul Plasma – The Soul Affect
- Blue Sky Black Death – A Heap Of Broken Images
- Scienz Of Life – The Blaxploitation Sessions
- Unagi – It Came From Beneath The SFC
- Termanology & DC – Alien Out The Gate
- DL Incognito – Organic Music For A Digital World
- Kankick – Serious Business This
- Jakprogresso – Random Violence
- Prozack Turner – Bangathon
- Dabrye – Two/Three
- Hi-Tek – Hi-Teknology²: The Chip
- Okai – Dekonstruktion Of The Mind
- The Good People – The Good People
- Surreal & DJ Balance – Future Classic
- Kero One – Windmills Of The Soul
- Vakill – Worst Fears Confirmed
- Bronze Nazareth – The Great Migration
- Shabazz The Disciple – The Passion Of The Hood Christ
- Darc Mind – Symptomatic Of A Greater Ill
- Edgar Allen Floe – Floe Almighty: The Chronicles Of Edgar Allen Floe
- Zion I & Grouch – Heroes In The City Of Dope
- Zion I – Break A Dawn
- Kidz In The Hall – School Was My Hustle
- CopperShot – Issues
- Life – Realities Of Life
- Classified – Hitch Hikin’ Music
- A.G. – Get Dirty Radio
- Bahamadia – Good Rap Music
- Tim Dog – BX Warrior
- Tech N9ne – Everready: The Religion
- Jungle Brothers – I Got U
- Braille – Box Of Rhymes
- Recyclone & Soso – Stagnation And Woe
- Rampage – Have You Seen?
- El Da Sensei – The Unusual
- King Syze – Syzemology
- 40 Watt Hype – Strong Feet On The Concrete
- Sivion – Spring Of The Songbird
- Tha Alkaholiks – Firewater
- Ayatollah – Now Playing
- Defari – Street Music
- Yak Ballz – Scifentology
- Psycho Les – Psycho Therapy
- Awol One & Mascaria – The Chemikillz
- Verbal Kent – Move With The Wall
- Kottonmouth Kings – Koast II Koast
- Kool Keith – The Return Of Dr. Octagon
- Mos Def – True Magic
- Styles P – Time Is Money
- Juvenile – Reality Check
- Remy Ma- There’s Something About Remy: Based On A True Story
- T.I. – King.
- Ludacris – Release Therapy
- Kurupt – Same Day, Different Sh*t
- Tha Dogg Pound – Cali Iz Active
- E-40 – My Ghetto Report Card
- Obie Trice – Second Round’s On Me
- Lloyd Banks – Rotten Apple
- Mobb Deep – Blood Money
- DMX – Year Of The Dog… Again
- Boondox – The Harvest
- Bubba Sparxxx – The Charm
- Jeezy – The Inspiration
- Jim Jones – Hustler’s P.O.M.E.
- Cam’ron – Killa Season
- Fat Joe – Me, Myself & I
- Rick Ross – Port Of Miami
- Flavor Flav – Flavor Flav
- LL Cool J – Todd Smith
- Jay-Z – Kingdom Come