The 10 Essential Rap Albums

1
10 Hip-Hop Albums Everyone Should Own

Nas - Illmatic
Nas - Illmatic. © Columbia

With hundreds of hip-hop albums released every year, a few are sure to fly past your radar. That said, there's a handful of essential hip-hop albums every music fan should own. No hip-hop library is complete without these albums. From Biggie's classic debut to Public Enemy's sophomore smash, here are 10 hip-hop albums every head should own.

2
#10. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

LaurynHillMiseducation.jpg

Lauryn Hill's solo debut, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, offered the most memorable fusion of rap and R&B in hip-hop history. Hill's brilliant songwriting flourished from song to song, whether she was grappling with spirituality ("Final Hour," "Forgive Them, Father") or stroking sexuality without exploiting it ("Nothing Even Matters"). Like Lyte and Latifah before her, Lauryn changed the game on her own terms.

  • Essential Tracks
  • Lost Ones
  • Doo Wop (That Thing)
  • Everything Is Everything
  • Nothing Even Matters

Buy from Amazon

3
#9. UGK - 'Ridin' Dirty'

© Jive

If you've ever wanted to know where your favorite southern rappers got their game from, if you've ever been curious about the coast-to-coast influence of Bun B and Pimp C, then Ridin' Dirty is for you. It's UGK's most commercially successful album to date (it moved over 800,000 units) and one of the best hip-hop albums ever recorded. It thoroughly captures the essence of the Texas duo through gems like the title track and "One Day" and "Murder."

  • Top Tracks
  • "One Day"
  • "Murder"
  • "Ridin' Dirty"

Buy from Amazon

4
#8. 2 Pac - Me Against The World

Album cover: © Interscope.

Me Against The World captures 2Pac in his prime: no excessive braggarts, no name-inscribed lyrical missiles aimed at New York rivals. The two sides of his personality compete on this album: occasionally vulnerable, occasionally cantankerous. (In fact, he pays homage to rap pioneers on "Old School.") This is simply Pac and his poignant, albeit defiant, multifaceted dispositions. And you wonder why he's still the most imitated rapper of all time.

  • Top Tracks
  • Dear Mama
  • Lord Knows
  • Me Against The World
  • So Many Tearz

Buy from Amazon

5
#7. A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders

ATCQMidnightMarauders.jpg

A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders led the jazz-rap hip-hop movement of the 1990s.No other album showcased this amalgamation of jazz, soul and rap better than Tribe's third album, Midnight Marauders. It featured an array of Crisco-slick tunes like "Electric Relaxation" and "Award Tour." Produced largely by Large Professor and Q-Tip, Midnight Marauders is Tribe at its best.

  • Essential Tracks
  • World Tour
  • Electric Relaxation
  • Sucka N---a
  • Oh My God

Buy from Amazon

6
#6. Dr. Dre - The Chronic

Album cover: © Death Row.

Dre's funky bass lines and heavy synths, coupled with the lyrical showcase from the likes of Snoop and RBX, changed the sound of hip-hop and made The Chronic a household name in the genre. But most importantly, The Chronic was instrumental in the commercialization of gangsta rap by introducing the G-Funk style of hip-hop to the mainstream. Dr. Dre's groundbreaking solo debut also served as a podium for bourgeoning west coast rappers including Lady of Rage, Kurupt, Daz, and Snoop Dogg. From the abrasive Eazy-E dis, "Dre Day", to the headphone favorite, "Nuthin' But A G Thang", Dre's chemistry with Snoop was as captivating as it was refreshing.

  • Essential Tracks
  • Stranded On Death Row
  • Nuthin' But A G Thang

Buy from Amazon

7
#5. Wu-Tang - 36 Chambers (Enter The Wu-Tang)

Album cover: © Loud.

This introductory Wu-Tang album became a career-defining platform for the rise of all 9 original clan members and their 1,073 affiliates. In fact the 12-track-long album didn't provide enough ventilation for RZA, Ghostface, GZA, Raekwon, the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Masta Killah, Inspectah Deck, and U-God to stretch out their unique eccentricities. But it was just enough to set the bar high for the several rap crews that would later attempt to re-write the Wu recipe.

  • Essential Tracks
  • C.R.E.A.M.
  • Protect Ya Neck
  • Can It Be All So Simple

Buy from Amazon

8
#4. Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt

Album cover: © Roc-A-Fella/Priority.

Reasonable Doubt arrived in a year that churned out many heavyweight rap releases, including 2Pac's Me Against The World, Fugees' The Score, and Nas' It Was Written, to keep the list brief. Yet, Jay-Z's "unified steady flow," witty lyricism, and confident (if not cocky) delivery made him stand tall. Even when The Notorious B.I.G.'s cameo on "Brooklyn's Finest," threatened to steal the show, Hov held his own, going pound for pound with the late legend. Sprinkling slick and memorable one-liners here and there, Reasonable Doubt established Jigga as a charismatic MC. His best work so far? Absolutely!

  • Essential Tracks
  • Dead Presidents II
  • Can't Knock The Hustle
  • Regrets
  • 22 Two's

Buy from Amazon

9
#3. Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back

Album cover: © Def Jam.

Lacing up-tempo tracks with social commentary, Chuck D, Professor Griff, Terminator X, Flavor Flav, and Bill Stephenney--collectively known as Public Enemy--helped introduce revolution-on-wax with their debut, Yo! Bum Rush The Show. But it wasn't until the explosive follow-up, It Takes A Nation of Millions... that hip-hop fans started to grasp the concept of a socially conscious, hardcore sound. Chuck challenged everything that challenged the upliftment of black people: police brutality, racial profiling, stereotypes, negligence, etc. A definitive hip-hop essential by one of the greatest groups of all time.

  • Essential Tracks
  • Rebel Without A Pause
  • Don't Believe The Hype
  • Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos
  • Night of The Living Baseheads

Buy from Amazon

10
#2. The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die

Album cover: © Bad Boy.

With the help of Puff Daddy, Biggie helped concoct the formula for 90's rap albums by including club singles like "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance," on a street LP like Ready To Die. The shock-inducing, highly dramatic debut was successful due to Biggie's crisp, meticulously-structured flow and distinct delivery. Serious tales about the harsh realities of street life, suicidal thoughts, and nightmarish death threats, many of which B.I.G. claimed were drawn from real experiences, help make Ready To Die a mainstay of east coast rap. Eight million people would later agree. (Although Ready To Die has enjoyed a tremendous amount of sales since Biggie's demise on March 9, 1997, the album suffered a setback on March 19, 2006. Following a copyrights infringement lawsuit, a judge has ordered that sales on the album be halted, because the title track for Ready To Die sampled Ohio Players' "Singing in The Morning" without permission.)

  • Essential Tracks
  • Juicy
  • Big Poppa
  • Ready To Die
  • Unbelievable

Buy from Amazon

11
#1. Nas - Illmatic

Album cover: © Columbia.

Often heralded as the "hip-hop bible" by fans and critics alike, Illmatic is proof that you don't need a 22-song CD to create a masterpiece. Nas packed into 39 minutes more potent material than most rappers are able to produce in twice that amount of time. With A-list producers (DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock and Q-Tip) supplying the beats, then 19 year-old Nasir Jones dispensed endless chains of multi-syllabic rhymes throughout his debut LP, tossing vivid imageries and metaphors like confetti. Illmatic is the paragon of lyricism and stellar production. It's the greatest hip-hop album of all time and a must-own for every hip-hop head.

  • Essential Tracks
  • Halftime
  • It Ain't Hard To Tell
  • The World Is Yours
  • New York State of Mind
  • Memory Lane

Buy from Amazon