So you want to get into the world of hip hop. But you don’t know where to start out? Well this is why we are here to help you out, by curating some of the most important albums in Hip-Hop history. These will give you a brief introduction to a holistic view of the culture. Since Hip Hop culture is so vast and so diverse, it is very difficult to pick and choose albums that will fit into this list.
Please note that this list is not to be mistaken as a “Top Albums in Hip Hop History” list. Nor is it intended to offend anybody’s points of views regarding the albums that have not been selected. It is created simply with the sole purpose of providing to the listener a complete package of the sound of hip hop in its true essence. This list contains albums that give out an all-round sound for the listener to experience.
With that being said, let’s get started with the list of essential albums. These are albums that non-hiphop listeners or even the audiences just entering the culture of Hip-Hop should give a listen to!
1) Nas – Illmatic
Illmatic by Nas is one of the ultimate Hip-Hop/Rap albums ever. Rap in expansion is rhythm and poetry, and Illmatic goes further than many, many albums (to this day) to justify that expansion. We all know that art can never be perfect, but this album has willfully reached close enough to be perceived that way. Heck, for most listeners, it IS perfect.
This album has stood the test of time like no other. It is crafted to represent the true genius that was put into the makings of the whole album. Nas has truly “written the Bible” of Hip-Hop with this one. If you’re just starting out and want to explore rap from a standpoint where you can experience the history of the genre and at the same time glimpse into the future of it, this would be it.
Illmatic has some of the best songs ever written in Hip Hop history. It covers the life of Nas and his inner turmoils, experiences, movements within his own life and his external environment. The most notable songs in this album if we could ever choose some, would be “N.Y State of Mind”, “Life’s A Bitch”, “The World Is Yours” & “It Aint Hard to Tell”.
This album at the time had exceeded expectations and painted a new picture of hip hop. It showed how Hip-Hop can be a medium of advanced poetry and how it can capture essential moments in beautiful writing and rhythm. This day the album is studied not just by hiphop enthusiasts, but also in in scholarly manners, in Harvard. It is one of the four albums that have been selected for The Harvard catalogue by 9th Wonder. The album, its style of writing and rhythm and poetry, has been emulated time and again in Hip-Hop culture. It has surely set a benchmark for the ages to come and is essential for any listener, whether they like Hip-Hop or not. These are the kind of once-in-a-lifetime albums.
2) Dr. Dre – The Chronic
KRS-One was recently asked to pick two albums that would depict the whole picture of hip hop history. After a lot of thought, KRS-One picked – “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” by Public Enemy, and The Chronic by Dr. Dre.
We could have added either one of these albums on this list, and “The Chronic” was definitely one that needed to be added so let’s start with that. Dr Dre produced the classic album “The Chronic” and released it through his own record label, “Death Row Records”. Needless to say this album was well received by listeners worldwide.
This was an album created for the sole purpose of relaxing and moving with the groove of Hip-Hop. Hip Hop culture essentially came out of oppression and was created to soothe that pain and express the anger through songs. The Chronic was Dre’s departure from the NWA sound where he created some legendary, timeless hits. And now was the time he would move the world with his own hits.
The singles “Nuthin But A G Thang”, “Dre Day” and “Let Me Ride” still remain anthems in the portrait of Hip-Hop. Pop this album in your playlist, sit back and enjoy the chronic vibes.
3) KRS One & Marley Marl – Hip-Hop Lives
If hip hop as albums were pieces in the dictionary, this album would be the definition of the word itself. KRS One has always been the teacher. And with this album, the listener will get a complete understanding of what hip hop represents.
The single hip Hop lives itself is basically a deep dive into the global culture. It outlines the growth, the impact and influence of hip hop culture. The album also touches on the experiences of KRS one within the hip hop world. It’s a really fun album to play, with some amazing flows and catchy beats by KRS and Marley Marl respectively.
This album is also very easy to understand so we’d recommend playing this album before any of the albums mentioned on this list.
4) Kendrick Lamar – Good Kidd Maad City
Good kid mad city is not just an album. It is a movie disguised as an album. This is arguably Kendrick Lamar’s best album till date. It has a replay value which will keep it a classic forever. This album is best listened to alone and from start to end.
The way Kendrick has presented this album, very few others have done before him, and very few may do it after. It follows the days in the life of Kendrick in his neighbourhood as he experiences life changing events that happened on a particular day. All this packed with amazing musical scores that add to the story. It is one of the most enjoyable albums in hip hop. In this album you will experience most levels of the sound of rap/hiphop. Does album give us classics like “B**** Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Backseat Freestyle”, “Sing About Me, Im Dying Of Thirst”, “Money Trees” and many more.
This album is tailor-made so that everyone will have different songs that they enjoy the most. It is an evergreen classic and a must listen to understand where Kendrick stands in modern day hip hop. The albums that followed this album also match the same levels of genius, but have been presented differently. Check them out too!
5) Eminem – The Eminem Show
With Eminem, you can never keep everyone happy. We were also ourself debating which album should be best put on this list for the listener who’s listening to Eminem for the first time. But we already can guarantee that there are just a few of you.
The Eminem show is an album which showcases the Rap Gods skills, his other side aka Slim Shady, and his ability to create amazing hits with the flows, lyrics and beats he chooses. This album was also chosen to represent Eminem as the complete package. It does not have the same craziness as the MMLP does, but it stands out in its own way showing people the best side of Eminem.
This is classic Em, he stands out from the crowd with skill alone and gets the ball rolling with his tracklist. “White America”, “Soldier”, “Sing 4 The Moment”, “Business”, “Cleanin Out My Closet”, “Til I Collapse”, “Superman” all jam-packed in one album. It surely is a rollercoaster ride. So fasten your seatbelts and sit tight while bumping this extraordinary piece of art!
6) Jay-Z – Kingdom Come
Jay-Z is one of the most prolific writers in Hip Hop history. Though calling him a writer would be an understatement. The man literally spits off of his head when he enters the studio. He memorizes the songs and spits them straight at the mic when he’s in the booth. This is also a God-given talent without a doubt.
“Kingdom Come” is an album that can he described as one of the most finesse albums soundscape. Jay-Z shows his expert skill taking beats that grow on you after you play them and making songs that are instant classics. Jay-Z mixes the world of business, the hustle, and the rap game, all the while describing experiences from his own life and creates this masterpiece album.
This album is also jam packed with hits. It has a little bit of everything for everyone that listens to it. Some songs that you may not like, somebody else might like, and vice versa. Jay expertly paints vivid pictures on each of his tracks as only he can. This album is essential!
7) Lupe Fiasco – The Cool
Lupe Fiasco could be called the uncrowned king of hip-hop. His discography is as diverse as the music he makes on each of his albums. “The Cool” is one such classic album. Lupe adds intelligence and his own brand of nerdiness mixed with some intricate lyrics and amazing song writing to build this beautiful portrait of an album. The topics that he has chosen in this album boast of his range.
Lupe has touched on subjects like skateboarding, how Hip-Hop changed his life, and even has a collaboration with Snoop Dogg on the album. The songwriting on this album stands out the most and will definitely make you a fan after a single listen. He strays away from the people who want to chase the “cool”, infact he creates his own cool with the power of his words. This album is food for thought.
8) Atmosphere – The Family Sign
Atmosphere is a brand of Hip-Hop by themselves. Being a producer/emcee combo (Ant & Slug), they have dropped classics after classics. The Family Sign is an album that puts their maturity into perspective. This album is sonically amazing and lyrically it will give you goosebumps with each listen.
The song ‘Became’ on this album tributes Eyedea (who was Atmosphere’s label mate) after his untimely passing away. This album is a journey from Atmospheres troubled past to their newly found peace and serenity within themselves. A great listen for newcomers any day of the week.
9) Slick Rick – The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
Remember how Kendrick dropped a movie in “Good Kid, Maad City”? Well, Slick Rick is one of the pioneers of storytelling in rap and this album is also a compilation of stories in rap format. Close your eyes and feel the world that Slick Rick paints through his lyrics and also feel the world that he paints through a combination of old-school style and flow.
This is also an album that stands the test of time. Any true hip-hop fan already has heard this album atleast once in their span of time with the musical genre. Check this album out once youve gotten in the groove of the music and enjoy!
10) Outkast – Stankonia
Outkast is one of the greatest duos of all time in Hip-Hop history. Big Boi and Andre 3000 are an award winning group of talents that helped shape the way the Hip-Hop soundscape is percieved in the industry.
They have also built the duality in their personas as well. Big Boi is more of the “playa” in the duo, whereas Andre 3000 is the “poet” in the equation. This translates equally well in their music as well. Stankonia is one of their best albums to date. This album breaks you free from the usual norms of Hip-Hop and introduces to you a word in itself. Inspired by the world in itself that is Atlanta, this album embodies the spirit of their surroundings and presents it to us in more ways than one. It is also one for the ages!
11) Kanye West – Graduation
In the plethora of Kanye West albums, is very difficult to choose which one you can put forward to represent his sound the best. He is a genius in every sense of the word and everything he creates is a book in itself.
There is a reason why most rappers and Beat producers also study this man. It is because of his authenticity and gift for excellence in music. Graduation is smack dab in the middle of his discography. It is one of his most successful albums and this album is a classic for more reasons than one. Every song in this album is handcrafted from different samples from different songs. The album truly shows the genius of Kanye West, both as an emcee and a producer.
Each track on this album will give you different feelings each time you play them. Get ready to immerse yourself in sounds that you may never have heard before. This is one of the finest examples of the complete Kanye experience. Enjoy!
12) Notorious B.I.G – Ready To Die
The debut studio album of one of hip-hops greatest emcees is beyond a doubt also one of the best hip hop albums of all time. This album was also the first release of Bad Boy records. It was also the Notorious B.I.G’s only studio album.
The album spawned multiple classic records such as “Juicy” (which gave Hip Hop the infamous “It was all a dream” line), “Gimme the Loot”, “Unbelievable”, and “Suicidal Thoughts”. The album currently stands certified 4x Platinum. It is one of hip hops most widely received and praised albums of all time. As an album, it showcases the life and times of Brooklyn native Notorious BIG. It’s filled with poetic genius and extraordinary skills of flow. It presents the skill of Biggie and details exactly why he is regarded as one of the greatest of all time. A must have album for any music lover!
13) GangStarr – Moment Of Truth
If there ever was an album that you could listen to to find your true self, this is the one. First and foremost, Rest In Peace to one of the most prolific writers in Hip-Hop history – Guru. This album is a soul-changer. It is the pure, ultimate truth presented in bars and beats. Beats by the godlike DJ Premier no less. As Gangstarr, Guru and Preemo also set the tone for a whole generation with their style. The polish that Hip-Hop really needed was handed to it by them and it created new sounds and new pathways to explore. This album is one to cherish and will also have you pressing repeat on more songs than one. Enjoy!