Top 120 Hip-Hop Albums of All Time
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
Ryan ANTIART responds to the Rolling Stone list with a (slightly) better set of records.
Preface: I think it's worth including a few important details so that this list doesn't get taken the wrong way. For starters, this is not a list created by a council of individuals who have a longstanding relationship with hip-hop. There are no producers, rappers, A&Rs, or "professional" music journalists putting their heads together to find the best of the best. This list was created by the scrambled mind of one white man in a Google Doc. I'm probably missing a lot of classics and my placements might not be perfect in that regard. Secondly, my limited knowledge in the field of hip-hop and the male dominance in the genre probably adds up to a major skew towards male artists. I did my best to find classic records from female artists including Lauryn Hill and Trina, but this list is kind of a boy's club. Shoutout to people like Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Peppa, Rico Nasty, and others. I have just never had a strong enough connection to their music before or after doing my listening to make this list (at least to the degree that I'd include them in a GOAT list.)
So again, to reiterate, this is a combination of my personal taste and who I consider to be the best rappers based on what they added to the genre and overall musical landscape. If an artist you love is not included, I'm sorry. These are my personal curated picks. Enjoy!!! (Oh, also I am a Kanye, Kendrick and MF Doom stan and have preferences towards posses. Take that how you will.)
I will list out the first 100 albums with no descriptions and then describe the final 20 as to not break the Wix page I am typing this into.
120. Navy Blue, Song of Sage: Post-Panic! (2020)
119. Drakeo the Ruler, Thank You For Using GTL (2020)
118. Megan Thee Stallion, Fever (2019)
117. El-P, Fantastic Damage (2002)
116. Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein (2001)
115. Denzel Curry, TA13OO (2018)
114. Deltron 3030, Deltron 3030 (2000)
113. Blu & Exile, Below The Heavens (2007)
112. T.I., Trap Muzik (2003)
111. Big Tymers, How You Luv That? (1997)
110. Migos, Culture (2018)
109. Lil Kim, Hardcore (1996)
108. Company Flow, Funcrusher Plus (1997)
107. Pusha T, DAYTONA (2018)
106. Tyler, the Creator, Call Me If You Get Lost (2021)
105. Capone-N-Norega, The War Report (1997)
104. Killer Mike, R.A.P. Music (2012)
103. Freddie Gibbs/The Alchemist, Alfredo (2021)
102. Trina, Da Baddest Bitch (2000)
101. 50 Cent, Get Rich Or Die Tryin' (2003)
100. Little Brother, The Minstrel Show (2003)
99. Viktor Vaughn, Vaudeville Villain (2003)
98. Skepta, Konnichiwa (2016)
97. Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory (2018)
96. Shabazz Palaces, Black Up (2011)
95. MF DOOM, Operation Doomsday (1999)
94. JPEGMAFIA, Veteran (2017)
93. Westside Gunn, Pray For Paris (2020)
92. A$AP Rocky, LONG.LIVE.A$AP (2013)
91. Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015)
90. Lupe Fiasco, Food and Liquor (2006)
89. Black Star, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998)
88. Common, Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
87. Goodie Mob, Soul Food (1995)
86. Young Thug, Barter 6 (2015)
85. Playboi Carti, Whole Lotta Red (2020)
84. Dizzie Rascal, Boy In The Corner (2003)
83. Future, DS2 (2015)
82. DJ Quik, Dollaz + Sense (1995)
81. Dr. Dre, 2001 (1999)
80. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, E. 1999 Eternal (1995)
79. Rick Ross, Teflon Don (2010)
78. Kanye West, Graduation (2007)
77. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale (2006)
76. Gang Starr, Moment of Truth (1998)
75. Mach-Hommy, Mach's Hard Lemonade (2020)
74. Mos Def, The Ecstatic (2009)
73. Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs (2018)
72. Drake, Take Care (2012)
71. Playboi Carti, Die Lit (2018)
70. Danny Brown, XXX (2011)
69. Digable Planets, Blowout Comb (1994)
68. Cam'ron, Purple Haze (2004)
67. Kanye West & Jay-Z, Watch The Throne (2011)
66. A Tribe Called Quest, People's Instinctive Travels and Paths of Rhythm (1990)
65. Boogie Down Productions, By Any Means Necessary (1988)
64. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising (1997)
63. Kool G Rap, 4,5,6
62. The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde
61. MF DOOM, MM...FOOD (2004)
60. M.I.A., Kala (2007)
59. Outkast, Aquemini (1998)
58. Souls of Mischief, 93 'til Infinity (1993)
57. Waka Flocka Flame, Flockaveli (2010)
56. Ice Cube, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (1990)
55. Run The Jewels, RTJ2 (2014)
54. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (2017)
53. Kanye West, Late Registration (2005)
52. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
51. Chief Keef, Finally Rich (2012)
50. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (1995)
49. Jay-Z, 4:44 (2017)
48. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3 (2007)
47. EPMD, Strictly Business (1988)
46. Slick Rick, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988)
45. Run DMC, Raising Hell (1986)
44. DMX, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998)
43. Death Grips, The Money Store (2012)
42. Scarface, The Diary (1994)
41. The Roots, Things Fall Apart (1999)
40. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
39. Outkast, ATLiens (1996)
38. Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique (1989)
37. Missy Elliot, Under Construction (2002)
36. The Fugees, The Score (1996)
35. Ol' Dirty Bastard, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995)
34. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders (1993)
33. Freddie Gibbs/Madlib, Piñata (2012)
32. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III (2008)
31. Three 6 Mafia, Mystic Stylez (1995)
30. Kanye West, The College Dropout (2003)
29. Eric B. & Rakim, Follow The Leader (1988)
28. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)
27. Kanye West, Yeezus (2013)
26. UGK, Ridin' Dirty (1996)
25. Boogie Down Productions, Criminal Minded (1987)
24. Big Daddy Kane, Long Live The Kane (1988)
23. Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle (1993)
22. GZA, Liquid Swords (1995)
21 Jay-Z, The Blueprint (2001)
20. Eminem, The Eminem Show (2002)
While most hip-hop fans would argue that The Marshall Mathers LP is the quintessential Eminem project, I believe The Eminem Show makes a strong case for itself. It's less abrasive and more tongue-in-cheek than his early material, balancing murderous rage with pointed humor. "White America" was pretty terrifying when it came out, yet became only more relevant with Trump's election. Then we get downright high school sports classics like "Solider", "'Till I Collapse" and "Sing For The Moment", which are each endlessly inspirational in their own regard (sorry I know Em is a cornball but not on this fucking thing.) The skits and funny cuts ("My Dad's Gone Crazy") still hit hard, as does the stage play framing. This was the cursing album of my conscious youth and I will defend it to the day I die. I also love how much he makes fun of Dr. Dre here too, I miss the light controversy of records like this.
19. Geto Boys, We Can't Be Stopped (1991)
Speaking of controversial, in-your-face rap music, here's an album that does that even better. My absolute favorite aspect of the Geto Boys sound is how unrestricted their content is. While Eminem and even N.W.A. ("Express Yourself") eventually had succumb to mainstream pressures, this trio of Texans never for a second considered to keep it clean. Whether it be the poignant "Fuck A War" or "Punk-Bitch Game", they were also calling someone a bitch or telling a dude to suck their dick. Even with all the filth, an album like this was still smart enough to inject itself with some of the greatest storytelling in hip-hop period, in the form of cuts like "Mind Playing Tricks On Me". I sit alone in my four cornered room staring at candles just hits so much harder when you live alone...
18. Mobb Deep, The Infamous (1995)
Put on your Timbs and North Face and get ready for a cold motherfucking winter, because that's exactly what Mobb Deep provides on their classic second album. With production from the duo almost exclusively, we get a controlled and dark world that pulls no punches. "Temperature Rising" features lyrics about a murder investigation, while "Survival of the Fittest" includes the lines "There's a war goin' on outside no man is safe from". The best rap albums come from a journalistic perspective, and The Infamous is definitely of that ilk.
17. Jay-Z, The Black Album (2003)
This is another case of knowing what the expectation of me is and subverting it for reasons of personal taste. While I'm fully aware that The Blueprint is the obvious choice for top Jay record, it has never really spoken to me like that. I knew I needed to include it because it is a GOATed record, but The Black Album is just so much better in every way. It's confessional with cuts like "December 4th" and "My 1st Song", has commercial bangers like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and "Encore", and has some of the best deep cuts of any rap record period ("Threats" and "Moment of Clarity"). The Just-Blaze, Pharrell and Kanye West production is immaculate and Jay-Z at an absolute peak flex and substance-wise, in my opinion.
16. 2Pac, All Eyez On Me (1996)
Obligatory listing. Had to include one 2Pac album up very high, it would be blasphemy not to. That being said, this album fucking slaps. It is a little long and for that I have to bump it down a few spots, but how can anyone deny something as hard as "Ambitionz Az A Ridah" or "Life Goes On"? You can't, it's impossible.
15. Eric B. & Rakim, Paid In Full (1987)
If we're speaking from a purist perspective on rap music, this would be a top five record. For me, this is the genre stripped down to it's most basic elements and done to perfection. Just like on the recordings of Boogie Down Productions, this is a top notch producer dealing the breaks while an elite lyricist goes on and goes on without slipping. If I'm recruiting an MC for a rap battle, Rakim would probably be my number one pick. This is one of the few albums in that skill-centric style that I not only tolerate, but love above many other albums. It just has such a pointed goal with tracks like "I Ain't No Joke" and "Paid In Full" that it hits dead on. Oh, and the extended instrumental cut up of the title track at the very end is fucking awesome, I can listen to it for hours.
14. Outkast, Stankonia (2000)
On their opus Stankonia, Outkast does what they do best: tag-team to skewer the culture around them. Here, their target is the American empire. Imagine writing a song called "Bombs Over Baghdad" three years before the U.S. invasion of Iraq? I know that this was in reference to another bombing of Iraq, but that's what's so poignant about it. I mean, for fucks sake, "Gasoline Dreams"? Burn motherfucker burn American dream?! This song and the infamous "Ms. Jackson" also address the child support and poverty crisis in a meaningful way. How much more direct do they need to get? Its themes are eternal, and the two men creating it are at the absolute peak of their abilities here. The only fault of this project is that it's a little bit too overstuffed, but in my opinion that just gives someone like me more room to grow with it.
13. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele (2000)
Despite what that fictionalized version of Joe Biden may have you believe, Supreme Clientele is the definitive Wu-Tang solo experience. Everything about this album is dripping in swag, from the baby blue cover to classy RZA production. The genius of this project, like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is that it's framing is gorgeous while it's narrator is dirty and gets involved in plenty of bullshit. I will forever love the idea of "Queen Elizabeth rubbing [his leg]" just before he was "giving hickeys to Vianna White" on "The Grain". How could anyone sit there and tell me "Nutmeg" and "One" are not two of the most elite songs (in general) of all time? This is an album that redefines wealth in the image of man that actually knows how to have fun with it, a proto-Watch The Throne or Teflon Don if you will.
12. Public Enemy, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
I have a confession to make: I don't think this album is the rap album to end all rap albums. While many people might argue for that to be the case, what cripples it for me in some regards is all the filler and skits. While the Bomb Squad sampling and "live show" style of the production is extremely influential, I think of this as a draft to a better experience on the album that follows this one (which I'll get into in a few moments). Still, the forward moving political momentum of this album is beyond powerful, and Chuck D is pound for pound the best rapper to ever grace a microphone. Cuts like "Bring The Noise", "Don't Believe The Hype" and "Prophets of Rage" are head spinning decrees that forever shaped music generally speaking. I also love how mad this album made people when it dropped, literally getting ire from the FBI.
11. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
The supreme confidence and swagger of Lauryn Hill makes this album essential listening from top to bottom. Each interlude teaches a new lesson and each new track provides a new style or angle on Lauryn's boundless sound. Although this was her only solo album, it goes down as one of the greatest of all time in any genre. The freeform, Marley Family-aided style of the instrumentals also gives it unique flavor. Tracks like "Ex-Factor" are deeply dramatic and soulful, while something like "Final Hour" showcases her supreme abilities as a pure MC. This is a multifaceted and ambitious project that checks all the boxes with ease.
10. N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton (1988)
What I love so much about N.W.A. is how much of an eclectic supergroup they were. Dr. Dre, DJ Yella and Arabian Prince were all like house and disco dudes who wore shiny silk tops. Eazy-E was a drug dealing, uzi totting, hard-money boss and Ice Cube was at a technical school at the time of group's formation. They were more like a board of directors than a rap group, and Straight Outta Compton is their mutual business venture. This is such an insanely influential, fun and dangerous rap album. "Fuck da Police" got them an FBI letter and got them arrested on at least one occasion. "Express Yourself" is fun and free, while the title track is a ruthless and heartless document of the conditions the group was living in. I love everything about this record, from its iconic cover to how messy it can often be, but by far my favorite aspect of it all is the camaraderie between the Boyz.
9. A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (1991)
I can't think of a more streamlined statement of purpose than "You could find the Abstract listening to hip hop/My pops used to say, it reminded him of be-bop/I said, well daddy don't you know that things go in cycles/The way that Bobby Brown is just ampin like Michael" over upright bass. If jazz is a creation of the black community and so is rap, what is the issue with sampling the former to therefore advance the latter? This is the greatest jazz rap album that will ever be, period. Aside from stamping itself as the definitive record in its genre, the balance between rapping topically and "for the Hell of it" on this project is nearly unmatched as well. Whether it's through the skewering of shitty music industry people on "Rap Promoter", the tough tackling of subject matter on "The Infamous Date R*pe" or the "kicking of routines" on NYC-curbside classic "Check the Rhine", The Low End Theory proves itself to be a top ten rap project. On top of all of this, I love how the group keeps it mostly positive and never raps outside their own experience. I don't see Kanye West existing without the foundation from people like Tribe and Lauryn Hill.
8. Dr. Dre, The Chronic (1992)
Honestly, how the fuck did Rolling Stone not have this in the top 10? Not only did they fuck that up, they also put 2001 ahead of this on the list? Insane. I think whoever did that just has Spotify and forgot that this album exists? No fucking clue. This is the stoner rap album to end all stoner rap albums. This is West Coast excellence for however misogynistic it is ("Bitches Ain't Shit"), and it's a much more honest statement of Dr. Dre as a man than anything he did with N.W.A., especially as the group got more fragmented. He proves to be a much better partner with Snoop Dogg than anyone else, essentially tag-teaming the project with him. ELITE ELITE ELITE ELITE.
7. The Notorious B.I.G., Ready To Die (1994)
You knew it would be here. It's GOATed, B.I.G. is GOATed. Rest In Peace. Living in NYC really elevates this one for me and makes me appreciate it more.
6. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly (2016)
Is this the most influential rap project of all time? No. Sometimes that's a good thing, though, because it means what's being presented is singular and can't be easily copied. To Pimp A Butterfly addresses wealth disparity, gang violence, police violence, alcoholism, survivor's guilt and the prison system without missing a single beat. Did it change very much about these issues? Sadly, no, but it picked apart and artistically explored them in ways many albums before it never had attempted. As a musical endeavor, it has no filler and no fat, this is hands down one of the most concise and flawless albums to ever exist in any genre. I'm getting really into the what is seemingly hyperbole on these last ones because I'm in a time crunch and I'm hungry, but I mean it all.
5. Madvillain, Madvillainy (2004)
This is a peak Stones Throw, Adult Swim-era release. It took the cartoon sampling of DOOM's production to a whole other plain of existence with the addition of master producer Madlib, and allowed DOOM to focus purely on the bars. "They better off goin' to fly a kite in a firefight /During tornado time with no coat then I caught ya", is such idiosyncratic word vomit expression that only makes sense coming out of the metal mouth of this man. This is the type of record that you'll go into as a new listener and hate 90% of it before slowly being seduced by deep cuts like "Curls" and "Money Folder". I couldn't imagine hearing "All Caps" and "Raid" for the first time again, the lyrics of each feel like they're branded into the right lobe of my brain. Also, this man plays another man who is being cucked by himself on "Fancy Clown", who the fuck else could pull something like that off? Anon king. Rest In Peace Daniel.
4. Nas, Illmatic
You knew it would be here. It's GOATed, Nas is GOATed. Rest In Peace....
Nah jk I won't cop out on this one. I'll just say that every old school rap record is so full of filler and this one is surprisingly lean. Illmatic is the rare classic that I don't have to make any sort of excuse for, it's just a flawless diamond straight through with no skips. This is what Nas will always be remembered for and it's for good reason because it absolutely lives up to every bit of hype.
3. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
The endlessly pontificated upon modern rap supposed classic is about to be pontificated on some more. For starters, of course this is a fucking classic. This has to be the most expensive rap album ever created, it's like a storybook blockbuster bursting with A-list features from Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Rihanna and many, many more. It's title is long as fuck and so is it's runtime but the album manages to really bring the listener into this man's perverted coke world in such a meaningful way. It begs the question, why should we care about his drama? And that question is answered by the platinum-pissing contest of "Blame Game", the stadium-sized custody battle (foreshadowing much) of "All Of The Lights" and night out from Hell on "Devil In A New Dress". Each track serves a purpose to the overall themes, and contextually it pulled Kanye out of the rut that his career was in. It's funny how criticizing Taylor Swift publicly can lead to such a world of pain, been there before lol. Regardless, his stupidity in that situation fueled his genius in creating this, so fuck it. Take a drink and a bump and enjoy the dark twisted ride.
2. Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet (1989)
On the rare sequel that's leagues more enjoyable than the predecessor (It Takes A Nation...), Fear Of A Black Planet is a less-jumbled, more fun, and better produced product that has so much more to offer than just "Fight The Power". Also when I say more fun, I don't mean this album isn't really focused on it's mission because it is. On the Chuck heavy-end, we have the immaculate "Brothers Gonna Work It Out" and "Welcome To Terrordome" that are ceaseless machine gun firings of rap verses over what I consider to be the very best production to ever be on a rap album, just a notch above my #1 pick. The instrumental only tracks go hard as well, including my favorite ever skit "Incident At 66.6 FM", a pitch-perfect document of white male self-importance and bland cultural control that is still relevant today. Aside from the triple doubles from Chuck and the production team, what sets this over the edge for me is how well Flavor Flav is used. While Chuck's frustration is heady and rooted in scholarly context, Flav stands in for the every man. "YOU WANT $6 FOR WHAT?!" he cries out on "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya, Man!", "WASH YOUR BUTT!" And don't even get me started on "911 Is A Joke". Never has a more simple and true statement ever been put to wax, "they don't care cuz they stay paid anyway." Absolutely.
1. Wu-Tang Clan, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
Finally, #1. Was this really a surprise considering how many Wu-Tang solo records I included in here? If there was a ever a time to use the phrase "lightning in a bottle", it's right now as it applies to this album. RZA handled production from top to bottom, and huddled the GZA, The Old Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raewkon The Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah and Method Man into a Brooklyn studio to make what I'm sure they believed would be the greatest rap album of all time, and they were absolutely right. It's overstuffed with classics from the seminal "C.R.E.AM." to the brutal "Method Man" to the chest-bump "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing ta F' Wit". All the titles of these songs are convoluted, there's so many cooks in the kitchen, and it's a super long record, but none of it is disposable. This is a once in a lifetime irreplaceable experience to the point where I literally don't even like other Wu-Tang group albums. This shit popped off in such a specific way with it's story telling, humor, kung-fu samples and flawless production that it created a whole universe in it's wake. Without it there'd be no Ghostdog, no Kill Bill and certainly not as much solo success from the members. It's so insane to see them still move as a unit and perform live after all these years, they are truly the G.O.A.T.s to the full extent of that term. I'll put Chuck and Ghostface head-to-head and see if it doesn't result in a six episode Dragon Ball Z filler saga.