100 Best Rap Albums of All Time

Hip-hop has produced plenty of great music over its 40-plus history. Some of them are worthy of the title "greatest rap album," some more than others. That's the essence of this list. These albums were picked on the grounds creativity, originality, replay value, and overall cultural impact.

100
of 100

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels
Courtesy Fools Gold

Killer Mike is really good at rapping. El-P is really good at rapping and excellent at making beats. Put these two together and not even Al Gore could screw it up.

99
of 100

Freestyle Fellowship - To Whom It May Concern

Freestyle Fellowship
Courtesy Sun Music

Amidst the thugged-out reign of N.W.A. and Cypress Hill, Freestyle Fellowship countered with lyrical virtuosity

98
of 100

Too Short - Born To Mack

Born to Mack
Courtesy Jive Records

Raw, uncut, and x-rated tales of female conquests abound. At a mere 8 tracks, Born to Mack was indeed too short.

97
of 100

MF Doom - Operation Doomsday

MF Doom - Operation Doomsday
Courtesy Metal Face Records

DOOM's off-kilter rhymes, scenic skits, and soul-inspired production made Operation Doomsday a unique set worthy of multiple spins.

96
of 100

Pharoahe Monch - Internal Affairs

Pharoahe Monch - Internal Affairs
Courtesy Priority Records

 Internal Affairs was Pharaoh Monche's Rocky Balboa moment. Most of the album was recorded in a closet without air conditioning, which imbues it with a raw feeling. The gritty production comes from now-vintage SP-12s and AKAI 2000s.

95
of 100

Jeru the Damaja - The Sun Rises in the East

jeru-the-damaja-sun-rises.jpg
Courtesy Payday Records

Fame proved elusive for the Brooklyn MC, but Jeru's edutainment and Premier's mind-blowing compositions made his debut one of the quintessential 90s hip-hop albums.

94
of 100

Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city

Kendrick Lamar Good Kid Maad City
Courtesy Top Dawg Entertainment

There's a lot to love about Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city. For starters, it's a remarkable rap album in every sense rap can be remarkable in this age. It's a portrait of the jungle through the eyes of a prey. And despite a Grammy snub, it was well received by fans, critics and peers.

93
of 100

Juvenile - 400 Degreez

Juvenile - 400 Degreez
Courtesy Cash Money Records

A combination of Juvie's melodic flow and Cash Money's high-end production made 400 Degreez a Southern rap favorite in 1998.

92
of 100

The Roots - Things Fall Apart

The Roots - Things Fall Apart
Courtesy MCA

This mid-career success for the Roots was a huge step forward from the righteous fury of their first 3 LPs.

91
of 100

Del - I Wish My Brother George Was Here

Del - I Wish My Brother George Was Here
Courtesy Elektra Records

While his cousin Ice Cube was busy stirring up the gangsta rap scene, Del was laying the foundation for what would become a healthy alternative-hip-hop landscape.

90
of 100

Xzibit - 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz

40 dayz and 40 nightz xzibit
Courtesy RCA Records

 Xzibit molds his voice into a gruffy instrument, overpowering the beats when necessary. A brilliant move when it works.

89
of 100

Reflection Eternal - Train of Thought

Reflection Eternal - Train of Thought
Courtesy Rawkus

Super lyricist Talib Kweli and super producer Hi-Tek join forces on a masterwork that underlined the Rawkus era in hip-hop.

88
of 100

Slum Village - Fantastic vol..2

Slum Village - Fantastic vol..2
Courtesy GoodVibe

Two of the three masterminds behind Fantastic Vol...2 are no longer alive, but this album left an indelible mark on hip-hop. SV's experimentation with neo-soul and quirky raps flung the door open for groups like Little Brother and Tanya Morgan.

87
of 100

Black Moon - Enta Da Stage

Black Moon - Enta Da Stage
Courtesy Wreck Records

Unlike most hip-hop albums of its era, Enta Da Stage eschewed confrontational raps and opted for brooding, electrifying brand of hip-hop.

86
of 100

Wyclef Jean -The Carnival

Wyclef Jean -The Carnival
Courtesy Sony

This is where it all began. Wyclef's debut set the bar high for the rest of the Fugees' solo efforts. The Carnival was a masterful piece that combined Clef's smart songwriting with excellent beatsmithing. It was a critical and commercial smash.

85
of 100

Scarface - The Fix

Scarface - The Fix
Courtesy Def Jam

The Fix was one of those albums that came out of nowhere and made you forget everything else going on in the southern rap. With robust beats by Mike Dean and a young Kanye West and Scarface in peak-form, The Fix was an instant hit. A southern rap classic.

84
of 100

The Roots - Illadelph Halflife

The Roots - Illadelph Halflife
Courtesy Geffen

The year is 1996 and hip-hop heads aren't so sure about live instrumentation. So The Roots flip the script and sample themselves. A brave artistic endeavor.

83
of 100

Busta Rhymes - When Disaster Strikes

Busta Rhymes - When Disaster Strikes
Courtesy Elektra Records

Busta's second album is arguably his most consistent work to date. It definitely contains his most memorable singles "Dangerous" and "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See."

82
of 100

MC Lyte - Lyte as a Rock

MC Lyte Lyte as a Rock
Courtesy Atlantic

Hip-hop in 1988 is a misogynistic place. MC Lyte's debut, Lyte as a Rock, helped usher in a wave of skilled and confident rappers who just happen to be women. Standouts include: "Paper Thin" and "I Cram to Understand U."

81
of 100

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP

Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP
Courtesy Aftermath

The Marshall Mathers LP is an undeniable hip-hop masterpiece that reinforced Eminem's status as one of the most exciting artists of the new millennium.

80
of 100

2Pac - All Eyez On Me

2Pac - All Eyez On Me
Courtesy Death Row Records

Tupac Shakur was fresh out of jail when he released All Eyez on Me, and you could hear the raw thoughts of a man grappling with his inner conflict. On one hand side was the brazen cuts that showed his tough side; on the other, he was soft as a pillow, immortalizing dead homies on the sentimental "Life Goes On."

79
of 100

Diamond & Psychotic Neurotics - Stunts, Blunts, & Hip-Hop

Stunts, Blunts, & Hip-Hop
Courtesy Mercury Records

Stunts, Blunts, & Hip-Hop announced Diamond D not as one of the best producers on the mic. It also gave us a sneak peek of hip-hop's future -- in sound and rhyme. Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop featured fierce rhymes and beats by the likes of Big L, Fat Joe, and Q-Tip, among others. Finding early promotional copies of this album today is like find unicorn blood.

78
of 100

Kanye West - College Dropout

Kanye West "College Dropout"
Courtesy Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam

Kanye West's first album, College Dropout, was one for the ages. His hunger on this album is unmatched. Warm, sample-heavy production backs up Mr. West's self-conscious lyrics. College Dropout appealed to both mainstream and underground audiences.

77
of 100

DMX - It's Dark & Hell is Hot

DMX It's Dark and Hell Is Hot
Courtesy Def Jam

 DMX's debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, arrived in May 1998 and established him as the hottest thing in rap. At a time when Bad Boy stars like Mase and Diddy ruled radio with a pop-friendly sound, X went the dark route. He barked (literally) his way to the top of the charts, thanks to key singles "Get at Me Dog" and "Ruff Ryder's Anthem." And "How's It Goin' Down" with Faith Evans showed this dog wasn't all bark all the time.

76
of 100

Eminem - The Slim Shady LP

eminem the slim shady lp
Courtesy Aftermath

 A 24-year-old bleach blonde rapper from Detroit? Not your typical image of a hip-hop artist at the turn of the decade. But once Eminem opened his mouth, no one could question his skill. The Slim Shady LP sold over five million copies and solidified Em as a new force in rap.

75
of 100

Jungle Brothers - Straight Out of the Jungle

Jungle Brothers - Straight Out of the Jungle
Courtesy Warlock Records

1980s hip-hop is colored by drum breaks, bad fashion and Afrocentrism. Jungle Brothers provided the Afro comfort music to soundtrack it all. Their debut is one of the most influential of the era.

74
of 100

GangStarr - Step in the Arena

GangStarr - Step in the Arena
Courtesy Chrysalis Records

 Guru used his monotone voice like an instrument to call attention to inner-city strife, while Premier backed him up with some of the grimiest beats hip-hop has ever heard.

73
of 100

Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

Pharcyde - Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
Courtesy Delicious Vinyl Records

 While De La Soul was brewing Daisy Age rap in the east coast, Pharcyde was diligently paying attention out west. Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde has so many fun, irreverent moments and ("Oh Sh*t") and angst ("Officer") and mush ("Passin' Me By"), but not once do the zany fellas on the mic compromise passion for a bitter whine.

72
of 100

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly
Courtesy Aftermath

To Pimp a Butterfly is a concept album with a convoluted arc that Kendrick follows with rare discipline. It retains vestiges of good kid, mAAd City themes, with Lucy (Lucifer) supplanting Sherane. And because it deserves a seat alongside timeless works like Fear of a Black Planet and Amerikkka's Most Wanted.

71
of 100

Mobb Deep - Infamous

Mobb Deep The Infamous
Courtesy Sony

 One of rap's greatest duos, Mobb Deep brought QB dun talk to hip-hop audiences in the 90s. East coast hip-hop was a competitive space in the 90s, and Mobb's first album, Juvenile Hell, flew under the radar. In 1995, Havoc and Prodigy made huge creative leaps with The Infamous. With Havoc serving up hardbody beats and Prodigy thrilling listeners with cinematic crime rap, The Infamous became one of the most influential gangsta rap albums.

70
of 100

Biz Markie - Goin' Off

Biz Markie - Goin' Off
Courtesy Cold Chillin' Records

The Human Beat Box came onto the scene with jokes in his veins and a boogers-out attitude on the mic. With Marley Marl weaving some of the tightest beats of the Golden Era and Biz dropping lung-cracking rhymes, Goin' Off affirmed Biz Markie as a certified master of ceremonies.

69
of 100

Kanye West - Late Registration

Kanye West - Late Registration
Courtesy Roc-A-Fella

When everyone wondered if Kanye could reenact the magic of his stellar debut, his response was a resounding yes. Late Registration not only built on his previous sound palette, it packed even more lyrical punch than his debut. West was rewarded with a Grammy for his effort.

68
of 100

Geto Boys - We Can't Be Stopped

Geto Boys - We Can't Be Stopped
Courtesy Rap-A-Lot Records

 It's hard for those who weren't there to understand, but the Geto Boys were rap heroes to every little ghetto boy or girl in the Gulf Coast who dared dream of counting bars at a time when east coast and west coast were vying for rap supremacy. Of course, it's a great album full of raw tales every hood can relate to, from Houston to Haiti.

67
of 100

Queen Latifah - All Hail the Queen

Queen Latifah - All Hail the Queen
Courtesy Tommy Boy Records

Latifah's debut showcased her Grade A rapping chops, with songs like "Wrath of My Madness" and "Ladies First" announcing the Jersey native as rap's new royalty. 

66
of 100

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing
Courtesy Island

Endtroducing is one of the most influential hip-hop albums of all time. The largely instrumental album sounded like nothing else that was out in 1996. Shadow culled samples from obscure places to create a hazy spell of an album.

65
of 100

AZ - Doe or Die

AZ - Doe or Die
Courtesy Capitol

After his star turn on Nas' "Life's a B*tch," AZ launched his solo career with the arrival of Doe or Die. Nas returns the favor on "Mo Money, Mo Murder," while songs like "Rather Unique" and "Gimme Yours" hearken to Illmatic's street spirit.

64
of 100

Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary

Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary
Courtesy Jive

If you're one of those glass half-full people you'll note that the only positive side of Scott La Rock's unfortunate murder was in the direction of By All Means Necessary. KRS-One found himself denouncing black-on-black violence and railing against injustice on the classic BDP album. La Rock would approve.

63
of 100

UGK - Ridin' Dirty

UGK - Ridin' Dirty
Courtesy Sony

Ridin' Dirty is UGK's most important album and one of the best rap albums ever recorded. The album gets its unique identity from Bun and Pimp's yin and yang connection. Bun is the surgical emcee, while Pimp is the flBoogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessaryamboyant philosopher. Everyone should buy two copies.

62
of 100

GZA/Genius - Liquid Swords

GZA/Genius - Liquid Swords
Courtesy Geffen

Liquid Swords introduced GZA as the cerebral swordsman. And RZA's serene, atmospheric boardwork helps transform the album from alt-rap bravery to a Wu masterpiece. 

61
of 100

Mos Def - Black on Both Sides

Mos Def - Black on Both Sides
Courtesy Rawkus

 Mos Def's solo debut, Black on Both Sides, scores major points in key categories: aesthetics, substance, production. It knocks from end to end. Whether kicking rhymes about his personal politics or painting a portrait of a plump backside, Mos does it with vivid skill.

60
of 100

Nas - Stillmatic

Nas - Stillmatic
Courtesy Sony

 Nas would spend the rest of his career chasing a shadow named Illmatic. 2001's Stillmatic was the closest he came to capturing the angst and paranoia of his boyhood self. Standouts include: the scathing Jay Z diss "Ether" and the time-bending classic "Rewind."Xzibit - 40 Dayz & 40 Nightz

59
of 100

Nas - It Was Written

Nas - It Was Written
Courtesy Columbia

It Was Written is Nas' attempt to match the grit and glory of Illmatic. Highlights include: "The Message," "I Gave U Power," and "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)" with Lauryn Hill.

58
of 100

OutKast - Stankonia

Outkast Stankonia
Courtesy LaFace

Creative ebullience abounds, yes. But also three of 2002's best rap songs are all here: "B.O.B.," "So Fresh, So Clean," and the baby mama drama jama "Ms. Jackson."

57
of 100

De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead

De La Soul Is Dead
Courtesy Tommy Boy Entertainment

De La Soul reinvented their sound on De La Soul Is Dead. After being derided as hippies, they shifted away from the daisy-age image of the first album and returned with a poker-faced album that still retained some of that early zaniness.

56
of 100

OutKast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Outkast-Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.jpg
Courtesy LaFace

OutKast's debut is as much a triumph for Andre 3000 and Big Boi as it is for production outfit Organized Noize. One part southern-fried beatsmithery, one-part poetic sorcery, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is 100% dope.

55
of 100

Jay Z - The Blueprint

Jay Z - The Blueprint
Courtesy Roc-A-Fella

An album so great not even Osama bin Laden could stop its flight to the top on 9/11/01. Blueprint solidified Jay's place as a GOAT contender. One of the best hip-hop albums of the 2000s.

54
of 100

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - Road to Riches

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo
Courtesy Warner Bros. Records

Marley Marl supplies the cold beats, DJ Polo provides the cuts, and Kool G Rap attacks every track with the nastiest lisp in the five boroughs.

53
of 100

Madvillain - Madvillainy

Madvillain - Madvillainy
Courtesy Stones Throw Records

 Prime poets MF Doom and Madlib joined forces to create this enduring masterwork in 2004.

52
of 100

Dr. Dre - 2001

Dr. Dre - 2001
Courtesy Aftermath

An extension of Dr. Dre's classic debut, 2001 (aka Chronic 2001) is a syncopated day in the life of a G.

51
of 100

The Coup - Genocide & Juice

The Coup - Genocide & Juice
Courtesy Wild Pitch Records

 Now a duo, The Coup makes a more focused album full of political rhetoric, vivid storytelling and slick production.

50
of 100

Big Punisher - Capital Punishment

Big Punisher - Capital Punishment
Courtesy Columbia

 Pun impressed with his larger-than-life debut, which sports immediate standouts like "Still Not a Player" and "You Ain't a Killer."

49
of 100

Black Star - Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

Black Star
Courtesy Rawkus

 A mic in one hand and a copy of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey in the other, Mos Def and Talib Kweli excelled with their consciousness revivalism form of hip-hop.

48
of 100

OutKast - ATLiens

Outkast ATLiens
Courtesy LaFace

 WIth Organized Noize manning the boards once again, OutKast emerged with a thoroughly enjoyable southern rap album that rival its predecessor for greatness.

47
of 100

The Roots - Do You Want More?!!!??!

The Roots - Do You Want More?!!!??!
Courtesy Geffen

 In 1995, The Roots released a groundbreaking album that offered a peek into the experimental approach to music they would later hang their hat on. 100% sample-free. No additives.

46
of 100

Organized Konfusion - Stress: The Extinction Agenda

Organized Konfusion - Stress: The Extinction Agenda
Courtesy Elektra

 Stress: The Extinction Agenda, Organized Konfusion's second album, is more ambitious and exceptionally well-written. Highlights include the title track and "Let's Organize."

45
of 100

LL Cool J - Radio

LL Cool J - Radio
Courtesy Def Jam

LL Cool J would go on to release a ton of clunkers in the latter part of his career, but Radio stands a testament to his days as a great MC. Tough, def and jingling baby.

44
of 100

Brand Nubian - One For All

Brand Nubian - One For All
Courtesy Elektra

 Grand Puba, Sadat X, Lord Jamar, and DJ Alamo brought social commentary and spirituality to the forefront of 90s rap with gems like "Slow Down" and "Wake Up."

43
of 100

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Courtesy Sony

 Lauryn Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill offered the best blend of rap and R&B in hip-hop history. Her stellar songwriting flourished from song to song, whether grappling with spirituality ("Final Hour," "Forgive Them, Father") or stroking sexuality without exploiting it ("Nothing Even Matters").

42
of 100

EPMD - Unfinished Business

EPMD - Unfinished Business
Courtesy Priority Records

 At a time when hip-hop was dominated by rage, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith slowed things down with the decidedly smooth Unfinished Business. Fresh and exciting.

41
of 100

Ice T - Power

Ice T - Power
Courtesy Warner Bros

The one gangsta rap album to rule them all, Power portrayed inner-city street life in graphic detail while sending an anti-crime message to the hood. 

40
of 100

The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death

The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death
Courtesy Bad Boy Records

Biggie must have known this would be his last album, he stuffed it with as many songs as he could muster -- street anthems, radio hits, comedic skits, and a wide cast of co-stars. Life After Death is certified diamond for sales totaling over 10 million units.

39
of 100

GangStarr - Hard to Earn

GangStarr - Hard to Earn
Courtesy Chrysalis Records

Hard to Earn varied from Gang Starr's previous albums: it was harsher and more insular. It also captured Guru and Premier's growing frustration with sucker emcees.

38
of 100

A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
Courtesy Sony

 Authentic, fun and beautifully produced, Tribe's stunning debut appealed to lovers of alternative hip-hop and still inspires today.

37
of 100

Pete Rock & CL Smooth - Mecca and the Soul Brother

Mecca and the Soul Brother
Courtesy Elektra

 Pete Rock and CL Smooth helped usher in a pivotal point in hip-hop with their mix of smooth, horn-heavy beats and sophisticated rhymes.

36
of 100

Dead Prez - Let's Get Free

Dead Prez - Let's Get Free
Courtesy Columbia

The most revolutionary hip-hop group since Public Enemy, dead prez helped revive the conscious movement with this powerful debut LP. 

35
of 100

Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet

Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
Courtesy Def Jam

Dark, raw and provocative, Fear of a Black Planet produced classic cuts like "911 Is a Joke" and "Who Stole the Soul." 

34
of 100

Ghostface Killah - Ironman

Ghostface Killah - Ironman
Courtesy Sony

Backed by RZA's slick and somber beats, Ghostface dropped a combustive debut rife with rich stories and wild metaphors.

33
of 100

Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted

Ice Cube - AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
Courtesy Priority Records

After a messy breakup with NWA.E=Following a bitter split from N.W.A., Ice Cube filled his debut album with dark stories of,manic frustration. 

32
of 100

Redman - Whut? Thee Album

Redman - Whut? Thee Album
Courtesy Def Jam

Redman's wild sense of humor is the main star of Whut? Thee Album. But the album is also notable for its rousing energy, funky party jams, and ferocious boasts.

31
of 100

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
Courtesy Capitol

As critics were busy writing off Beastie Boys as a one-album wonder, Ad-Rock, Mike, and MCA went back to their L.A. studio and worked feverishly on their follow-up to the monumental Licensed to Ill. The result was Paul's Boutique -- an album that packed a combination of creative depth and layered production. 

30
of 100

LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out

LL Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out
Courtesy Def Jam

 Striking a balance between pleasant and pugnacious, Mama Said Knock You Out marked Uncle L's growth as a rapper. The hard-edged records are here ("Murdergram," "Mama Said Knock You Out"), but they're perfectly complemented by smooth, accessible jams ("Around the Way Girl"). Marley Marl's excellent production helps make Mama a masterpiece.

29
of 100

Makaveli - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory

Makaveli - The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
Courtesy Death Row Records

 Some say Makaveli is 2Pac's best album. It's certainly his hardest and most surreal. Released just 7.5 weeks after Pac's death, the album further eternalized Pac's enigma. The album's best songs include the street anthem "Hail Mary" and the (adoptive) hometown tribute "To Live and Die in LA." 

28
of 100

Scarface - The Diary

Scarface - The Diary
Courtesy Rap-A-Lot Records

 Third time was the charm for Brad "Scarface" Jordan. His third solo foray, The Diary, immediately established the Houston rapper as the South's answer to Rakim, thanks to his smart storytelling and inimitable flow.

27
of 100

Big Daddy Kane - Long Live the Kane

Long Live the Kane
Courtesy Cold Chillin' Records

 Big Daddy Kane wrote the manuscript for braggart rap on Long Live the Kane. Marley Marl's sparse production and Kane's slick wordplay are also worth noting. Like Tony the Tiger, he's GRRRRREAAAT.

26
of 100

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders

Midnight Marauders
Courtesy Jive

 Tribe's third disc is a collection of melodic, Crisco-slick sizzlers. You'll love: "Electric Relaxation," "Award Tour," and "Oh My God."

25
of 100

Ultramagnetic MCs - Critical Beatdown

Ultramagnetic MCs - Critical Beatdown
Courtesy Next Plateau

Critical Beatdown is important for three reasons: 1) It's arguably the best album of 1988; 2) It revolutionized the art of hip-hop sampling, thanks to Ced-Gee's brilliant use of the E-mu SP-1200 sampler; 3) It introduced the world to the exceptionally creative weirdo known as Kool Keith.

24
of 100

Run-D.M.C. - Raising Hell

Run-D.M.C. - Raising Hell
Courtesy Profile Records

 Raising Hell Run DMC was the most uncompromising Run DMC. Raising Hell Run DMC was also the most accessible. The album has this gloriously invigorating feel that resonated with audiences--old and new. Raising Hell is important for its originality as well as its influence. "My Adidas" is still an anthem for hip-hop fashion, while "Walk This Way" helped started a trend of rock-rap fusion.

23
of 100

D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better

D.O.C. - No One Can Do It Better
Courtesy Ruthless Records

Before a car crash wrecked D.O.C.'s larynx, he made an undeniable hip-hop classic. No One Can Do It Better sidestepped west coast gun talk in favor of east coast lyricism. It also featured some of Dr. Dre's finest production.

22
of 100

EPMD - Strictly Business

EPMD Strictly Business
Courtesy Priority Records

EPMD is the most sampled group in hip-hop for a good reason. Their production is a thing of beauty. Combine that with Erick and P's laid-back rhymes and you get strictly dopeness.

21
of 100

Afrika Bambaataa - Looking for the Perfect Beat

Afrika Bambaataa - Looking for the Perfect Beat
Courtesy Tommy Boy Records

Afrikaa Bambaataa was a trailblazer, an innovator of hip-hop aesthetic. Looking for the Perfect Beat is a good place to start if you're seeking to familiarize yourself with his most significant works, including "Planet Rock" and "Unity Pt. 1," a collaboration James Brown.

20
of 100

Main Source - Breaking Atoms

Main Source - Breaking Atoms
Courtesy Wild Pitch Records

 The sample-heavy Breaking Atoms is one of the most influential ever, in that it helped launch the careers of Nas, Akinyele, and others. It also inspired a production technique that's still widely emulated today.

19
of 100

Common - Resurrection

Common - Resurrection
Courtesy Relativity Records

1994 was a flagship year for hip-hop, with Illmatic and Ready to Die arriving the same year. Yet Chicago rapper Common (then known as Common Sense) still managed to stand out with his smart, jazz-tinged sophomore LP, Resurrection.

18
of 100

Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill

Cypress Hill - Cypress Hill
Courtesy Columbia

 Aside from being the first popular Latino rap group, Cypress Hill also did a respectable job of bridging the gap between rock and hip-hop on their self-titled debut album. Highlights include: "How I Could Just Kill a Man" and "The Phunkcy Feel One."

17
of 100

Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle

Snoop Doggy Dogg - Doggystyle
Courtesy Death Row Records

 Doggystyle kicked the door wide for many west coast emcees. Dr. Dre's finesse aside, Snoop's piquant delivery and melodic flw were equally crucial to Doggystyle's success.

16
of 100

Fugees - The Score

Fugees The Score
Courtesy Columbia

 Fugees' second album The Score was so remarkable that most fans forgot about their less memorable debut. Truth be told, The Score was a huge improvement on the lackluster Blunted on Reality.

15
of 100

Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill

Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill
Courtesy Def Jam

 There are two stars on Licensed to Ill and both deserve equal credit. Rick Rubin, the true pioneer of rap rock is the one pulling the musical puppet strings on this thing. But the album is nothing without the Beasties destroying every track with their unbridled passion.

14
of 100

Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded

Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded
Courtesy B-Boy Records

 KRS-One was the dreaded poet, Scott La Rock the musical visionary. Together, they cooked up an album that shook up the landscape of hip-hop. Criminal Minded should be studied in college.

13
of 100

OutKast - Aquemini

OutkastAquemini
Courtesy LaFace

 Aquemini is evidence of just how often Boi and Dre loved reinvent their sound. They abandoned everything that worked in the past and went straight for harmonica, acoustic guitar, and even a tinny splice of electro.

12
of 100

Ice Cube - Death Certificate

Ice Cube - Death Certificate
Courtesy Priority Records

 Cube's debut, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, was outstanding. But his follow-up was even better, even more venomous than the first. The thing is named Death Certificate, after all. The album's 'Death' side presented an image of the present, while the 'Life' side offered a vision of the future.

11
of 100

Jay Z - Reasonable Doubt

Jay Z, Reasonable Doubt
Courtesy Roc-A-Fella

Pre-Reasonable Doubt, mafioso rap lacked nuance. Jay studied his peers and perfected their template, bringing a vulnerable side that personified the usual street characters. The outcome? An album that served both as an honest narrative of the ills of street life and an unrepentant defense of it.

10
of 100

2Pac - Me Against the World

2 Pac Me Against the World
Courtesy Interscope

 Me Against The World is 2Pac at his best. No thugcore tracks, no name-inscribed missiles aimed at east coast rappers. Simply Pac at his most poignant and most defiant. The duality in all its brilliance.

09
of 100

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

The Low End Theory
Courtesy Jive

 The Low End Theory is Tribe at their best. Ali Shaheed, Q-Tip, and Phife Dawg became one of the greatest rap groups of all time by trafficking in smart lyrics drizzled over smooth, jazz-rap layers. 

08
of 100

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton
Courtesy Priority Records

 Eazy, Dre, Cube and 'em had to fight for their right to party. No one--not even the alphabet people--could stop them from publicly, viciously and explicitly indicting the powers that be. A true west coast masterpiece.

07
of 100

Dr. Dre - The Chronic

Dr Dre The Chronic
Courtesy Death Row Records

1991 produced many great albums: Pete Rock & CL Smooth's Mecca & the Soul Brother, Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, Diamond D's Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop. But it was Dr. Dre's The Chronic that towered over hip-hop that year and many years to come. Dre's G-funk basslines, bolstered generously by Snoop's slick flow, announced the new name running the game.

06
of 100

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Courtesy Loud Records

 36 Chambers is one of the greatest debuts hip-hop has ever seen. the 12-song spectacle barely gave the nine original swordsmen enough room to stretch out their eccentricities. Highlights include: "C.R.E.A.M.," "Protect Ya Neck," and the pragmatic life hack "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit."

05
of 100

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
Courtesy Loud Records

 Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... is a journey through the thrills, the violence, and the rote regimen that constitute a New York drug kingpin's life. A crime-rap manifesto that would shape the course of mafioso rap throughout the 90s.

04
of 100

Eric B. & Rakim - Paid in Full

Eric B & Rakim Paid in Full
Courtesy Island

 While his peers bragged about the size of their manhood, Rakim styled on them with peculiar precision. The man loves painting pictures with words and Paid in Full is his ultimate canvas.

03
of 100

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Courtesy Def Jam

 Public Enemy challenged everything that posed an obstacle to the oppressed: racism, injustice, crooked cops, profiling, everything. P.E.'s second album is an undeniable hip-hop classic.

02
of 100

The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die

Notorious-BIG-Ready-To-Die-cover.jpg
Courtesy Big Beat Records

 Biggie's ability to cooly captivate an audience with his storytelling chops, or capture a difficult emotion (i.e. suicidal thoughts), or mine comedy from the most serious of subjects (i.e. robbery) are skills rarely seen in the same package. Biggie Smalls is the illest.

01
of 100

Nas - Illmatic

Nas - Illmatic
Courtesy Columbia

There are great hip-hop albums, and then there's Illmatic. A 19-year-old word wizard, Nas packed potent poetry into 39 minutes, while A-list producers like DJ Premier and Pete Rock supplied the perfect score. Illmatic is the greatest hip-hop album of all time.