The Best Album doesn’t exist.
Instead, there are several seminal albums that have forever changed the course of music history, helping to define the genre as we know it today.
Our fourth editorial ‘Hip Hop 50’ aims to celebrate the legacy that Hip Hop music has left in pop culture, by mentioning the 20 most impactful albums of all time, explaining the reasons behind their importance, without being swayed by the cold figures of the sales charts, or how many platinum or diamond records they have collected.
Discover now the 20 Best Albums in Hip Hop History, NOT in ranking Order.
When N.W.A recorded Straight Outta Compton, they did not call their music ‘Gangsta Rap’, but ‘Reality Rap’.
Tracks like ‘Gangsta Gangsta’, ‘If It Ain’t Ruff’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton’ reflected the daily lives of proud ex-gangster Eazy-E, producer-djs Dr. Dre and Yella, and lyricists Ice Cube and MC Ren. A legendary record, it brought together the scene’s top professionals and marked the birth of one of Hip Hop‘s most popular sub-genres: Gangsters Rap.
Released during his apogee with RZA, GZA‘s first solo album is also one of his best.
Liquid Swords is a masterful mélange of lyrics inspired by the five vital centers of Koan Zen philosophy, reinforced by his authentic charisma, calm but ruthless like that of a Samurai.
It is a total, inspired record that paved the way for the rapper to go it alone.
For Run-DMC, too, there is a before and an after. 1984’s ‘Run-D.M.C.‘ is the group’s debut album that would change the fate of Hip Hop.
An album that is a worldwide edict, that reinvented and dethroned Rock & Roll, whose rhythm runs through you and echoes, forever. Producer Larry Smith encoded the noise through DMX’s drum machine, the excruciating synthesizers, and scratchy turntables of Jam Master Jay: a monument of Hip Hop.
The first album released by Death Row / Interscope changed the musical landscape.
Synthesized bass lines, samples and raucous anthems became the standard for West Coast Gangster Rap: a then-unknown Snoop Dogg put his voice to it and created havoc, as well as a high level of curiosity. The Chronic is concise and instantly recognizable, even thirty years after its release.
At a certain point in his career, LL Cool J released an album with one goal: to reign over hip-hop as undisputed champion. He stepped into the ring throwing energetic bars, stinging rhymes like jabs, winning the fight that led him to the world title and winning a Grammy.
2005’s Late Registration introduced the sample-flipping virtuoso to the world and laid the foundations for one of rap’s most brilliant albums. At the time, Kanye‘s arrogance had not yet calcified into something unbearable: he was simply a visionary artist, capable of anything and everything, determined to make it big and prove it. With this album, he marks a milestone in his career and in the Rap music industry.
The great Lamar’s debut album marks his name in the Olympus of Hip Hop kings.
He puts all the anguish and pain that has been his life up to this point and eviscerates it as a true Pulitzer-worthy poet: he poetizes loneliness, suffering and a sense of social claustrophobia, describing a murder he witnessed in his youth as an angry wail that gives you goosebumps.
This too is a debut album, this time by De La Soul: a record that is more a feat of creative imagination impossible to replicate; both from a visionary and practical point of view: the samples used of Steely Dan‘s ‘Peg’ and Daryl Hall and John Oates’ ‘I Can’t Go for That’ would be prohibitively expensive today; a factor that makes this record a milestone in Rap discography.
After the hype of their debut album and alienated from their wealthy American college fraternity fanbase, the Beasties moved to Los Angeles and joined forces with the Dust Brothers crew, creating one of the most sinister and least predictable turns in Hip Hop music.
Paul’s Boutique is an album that may have disappointed early fans, but made them rightfully join the ranks of the Rap Gods.
Death, real and imaginary conflicts, the difficult relationship with notoriety: it’s all encapsulated in a legendary album that makes you cringe, think, dream. All Eyez on Me is a collection of 27 masterpieces that the recently released MC eviscerates to the sound of bars, using a cast of superb voices and names: from Snoop to Nate Dogg, via Method Man and E-40; Dr Dre in the wings.
An unmatched masterpiece that marked an AC and DC of Hip Hop.
Impossible not to include this in the Hall of Famer: the late Prodigy‘s opening verse alone is full of chilling bars; while Havoc‘s jangling beats are to be applauded.
An anthology example of New York Rap, in which tracks like ‘Survival of the Fittest’, ‘Eye for an Eye’, ‘Trife Life’ and ‘The Start of Your Ending’ echo, creating a new world of challenges and mystery.
Again Dr Dre behind one of the most important albums in Rap history. The Marshall Mathers is the story of an obsessed fan who writes to his idol he hates so much. A long letter made up of threats, anxiety, revenge, in which the MC has a psychotic breakdown, and eviscerates it into the microphone.
An intimate, inspired record, born out of a raw, negative story, but nevertheless giving birth to something unique.
First solo album for 23-year-old Lauryn Hill, who, far from the Fugees, made a feminist hip-hop-soul masterpiece that still echoes everywhere today.
The smash hit ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ is sandwiched between ‘To Zion’, an ode to her first child, and ‘Superstar‘, a plea for more inspiration for mass culture.
At 77 minutes long, Miseducation is filled with brilliant insights, exciting melodies: a true blockbuster that redefined every musical genre.
A Shakespearean freestyle that cast a timeless spell on anyone who lends their ears and listens to it: a deep, intimate and powerful poem.
Illmatic is an album that resonates like a philosophical reflection, artfully moulded with songs characterized by jazz-funk brushstrokes, crafted by a stellar cast of producers and collaborators, such as Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Q-Tip. 10 tracks, 10 unmatched masterpieces.
Nation of Millions was Hip-Hop’s first masterpiece and with It Takes a Nation od Millions to Hold Us Back, comes Public Enemy‘s crowning achievement. Considered by many to be a Sgt. Pepper’s of rap, lyrically, and a ‘London Calling’ in terms of its radical mix of controlled chaos, justified rage, and dizzying scratch allime. A milestone without which Hip Hop music would not be as we know it today.
Stronger than a bombshell, its influence has crossed genre lines from hip-hop to heavy metal to shoegaze and beyond.
The epithet Jazz Rap is reductive for this 1991 record. It is the fruit of a multicultural state of mind, touching on everything from electronica to blues, and the Tribe’s hottest themes: anger management issues, road hazards, resentments, feelings. It sums up all that is shady in the music industry; it is drastic, swaggering. A masterpiece.
Nine boys from the suburbs of NY crammed into a recording studio for weeks on end, intent on reshaping rap and influencing it for decades. That’s what Enter the Wu-Tang more or less did: verses that displayed incredible stylistic skill, but also arrogance, wisdom, and instinct.
Enter the Wu-Tang made an entire generation of MCs improve their jargon and laid the foundations for the great crews to come, from Odd Future to Spillage Village and beyond. A record that changed the course of history.
After his colossal embarrassment at the VMAs, when he interrupted Taylor Swift‘s award ceremony by publicly discrediting her in favor of Beyoncé, West had to pull a really convincing ace out of his sleeve, to wipe away all the negative noise around him.
‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ arrives as a total redemption for the rapper, perhaps driven to be at his best: it is a concentrate of everything that made us love Kanye.
Lush production, smooth bars on hot topics such as drugs, sex and love. This album is a masterpiece that will inspire generations and generations of musicians.
Madvillain‘s one and only album sees two eccentric hip-hop geniuses push each other to a peak of wacky virtuosity: rapper MF Doom and producer Madlib.
Doom started out as part of the underrated Long Island crew KMD, but became a cult figure on his own, a mysterious supervillain in a metal mask, using an array of aliases and costumes. He had a perfect chemistry with Madlib, a West Coast master of sampling and distorted funk. He is one of the boldest and highest creative points in Hip-Hop history.
It’s hard not to fall into rhetoric when talking about this album. Ready to Die marked the precise moment between the Golden Age of Hip Hop and the Modern Era, making the New York style reach its highest point ever, before, or since.
It is simply the masterpiece of the greatest rapper of all time, who, before becoming Notorious B.I.G., is Christopher Wallace, who tells the story of his life of dealing drugs to make ends meet and delinquency. Experiences that he poured into harsh and raw songs, which he tried to temper with a subtle sense of humor, perfecting a hard-soft dichotomy that would later become a model for decades of artists.
The album remains a dark and innovative masterpiece that fixed Biggie’s name in the immortals of music.