Let me just start off by saying, these top 10 rap albums are 100% my own opinion. It’s not based upon sales, the artist or what the music industry has to say. I have been an avid hip-hop enthusiast since my dad let me listen to his albums from the 1990s, and from there I grew up listening to a diverse range of artists.
From Jay-Z and Nas, to A-Boogie and Kendrick Lamar, I love what these artists have to offer. Not just in what they put on their tracks but their craftsmanship behind the lyrics.
10. Take Care (2011) – Drake
This was the second studio album by Drake, as it just recently had its nine year anniversary since debuting on Nov. 15 in 2011. Released by Young Money Entertainment, Cash Money Records and Republic records.
The album made No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Within the album’s first week it sold roughly 631,000 copies and made Drake, in my opinion, a superstar in the industry going forward.
What I personally appreciate about this album is that he had a diverse group of feature artists like The Weeknd, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Birdman, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Lil Wayne and Andre 3000. His diverse range of beats and rhythm of his songs pulls me in as a listener everytime, as well as the way he utilized each artist in a unique way for his tracks.
My favorite song on the album is “Headlines,” one of the few songs where he went solo on the track. The beat and lyrics were beautifully combined and his voice took it over the top.
9. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) – Kanye West
The fifth studio album by the infamous Kanye West made its debut on Nov. 22, 2010 by Def Jam Records and Roc-A-Fella records. This album found its way to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold within just the first week 496,000 copies in the United States alone, eventually selling 1.3 million copies in the United States in 2010. The album won the 2012 Grammy Award for best rap album and the 2011 BET Hip Hop award for CD of the year.
This album brought multiple artists into the fold; West featured artists such as Raekwon, RZA, Pusha T, Rick Ross, Charlie Wilson, Big Sean, Cyhi the Prynce, Swizz Beatz, Dwele, Nicki Minaj, T.I., Drake, Common, Jay-Z, John Legend, Fergie, Rihanna, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Elton John and Raekwon.
This album holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first albums I really listened to and started to fall in love with the genres of rap and hip-hop.
Kanye West, even with all of his controversial statements over the years, is undoubtedly a musical genius and he tiplifies excellence on every note and every lyric of every song he does; he brings a narration and beautiful overall tone in this album.
My favorite song from this album is “All of the Lights.” This is such an iconic song to me, as his lyricism and storytelling behind it bring joy to my ears every time I hear the beat drop and him giving a visualization behind his lyrics is just flat out incredible.
8. Paid In Full (1987) – Eric B. and Rakim
This was the debut album of the infamous duo of Eric B. and Rakim, released in 1987 on July 7 by Island-subsidiary label 4th and B’ way records. This album was a pinnacle of the “Golden Age” of hip-hop according to most individuals, as it brought a new way of rapping and flow to the songs. This duo utilized their lyricism and brought it to a new level for more artists to follow.
The album has sold over one million copies and the Recording Industry Association of America certified it platinum in 1995. In 2012 the rap album was ranked No. 228 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time.
My personal views on this album is that it brings a classic style while providing a great story telling theme through all their songs.The duo made a new pinnacle of rap and use of storytelling for artists to follow. My favorite song on the album is “Paid In Full.”
Everytime I hear this song, I can visualize the artists performing it live as well as imaging them in the studio recording it. The beats on this album are simply superb and starting off as a first album for the duo just shows how legendary this duo was.
7. All Eyez on Me (1996) – 2Pac
This was the fourth studio album by 2Pac, and sadly the last masterpiece he made before his untimely death. The album was released on Feb.13, 1996 by Death Row records and InterScope records.
This album skyrocketed its way to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B and Hip-Hop album charts. Selling 566,000 copies in just his first week, 2Pac dominated the country with his iconic rhymes and beats. The album went on to win the 1997 Soul Train award for Rap album of the year.
2Pac brought several Death Row records artists on his album,from, The Outlawz, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, George Clinton, E-40, Redman, Method Man, Tha Dogg Pound, K-Ci & JoJo and Roger Troutman.
I personally find this album to be iconic in not just the Hip-Hop community but the culture of the 1990s and some of the points in his songs still weigh heavily on today’s community. So much history and narration behind every song, each one of these songs by any real hip-hop enthusiast can be characterized as iconic.
But with that being said, my favorite song off this album was without a doubt “California Love.” Featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman. This song gives an absolute 10 out of 10 for beats, made by the master Dr. Dre, with the narration and rhyme scheme of 2Pac as he gives Troutman an additional add in for beats and flow to the song. This is by far one of my favorite songs to just listen to and enjoy.
6. Straight Outta Compton (1988) – N.W.A
This is the debut studio album by N.W.A, a group with rappers Eric Wright ”Eazy-E”, O’Shea Jackson “Ice Cube,” Andre Romelle “Dr.Dre,” Lorenzo Patterson “MC Ren” and Antoine Carraby “DJ Yella.”
This group formed in the heart of Compton, California, debuted this album Aug. 1, 1988. Selling over three million copies, the album reached No. 37 in the Billboard Top 200 in the Spring of 1989, as well as reaching No. 9 on Billboard’s Top Soul albums.
What made this album so iconic was the matter of the group pioneering gangster hip-hop. This group spoke on social issues in their own neighborhoods, from gang violence, drugs, making financial gain and success, as well as police brutality.
To me this album is for all hip-hop listeners. From the 1980s to now, issues like police brutality and racial inequality still happen today, and for this group of individuals to come together and make songs like “F**k tha Police” and give clear criticism towards the police and governmental system within the United States shows how no one is safe from possible racial profiling no matter how rich or poor you are.
My favorite from this album would be “Express Yourself.” Dr. Dre shows off his lyrics featuring Ice Cube who brings his own narration into the fold. This upbeat and energetic song to me is a good throwback when wanting to have a party mix.
5. The Chronic (1992) – Dr. Dre
This album by Dr. Dre was his debut studio album that was released on Dec. 15, 1992. The album was released by his own studio at the time, which was Death Row Records.
The Chronic would rise to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 as well as being certified for platinum by the RIAA. The album has sold roughly over 3 million copies in the United States, which gave Dr. Dre the momentum to be a top 10 selling artist in 1993.
Dr. Dre brought into the album the emerging artist who we all know today as Snoop Dogg. This not only gave Snoop a platform to start his own career but gave Dre that added bonus of Snoop’s unique rhythm and flow to some of the songs.
My favorite song out of the whole album is by “Nuthin But a ‘G’ Thang,” as it featured Snoop Dogg. To me this is a classic Dr. Dre type of beat as it synchronizes with the soft tone and laid back melodies of Snoop Dogg.
4. Reasonable Doubt (1996) – Jay-Z
This was the debut album from Jay-Z, released in 1996 on Jun. 25; the album was made by Roc-A-Fella records and Priority Records. The album went onto sell 1.5 million copies by 2006, making this album the lowest charting album of his career.
The album was certified by the RIAA in 2002 for shipments of one million copies sold in the United States. The album had a wide variety of East coast R&B and hip hop artists, from The Notorious BIG, the great Mary J. Blue, Mecca, Foxy Brown, Memphis Bleek, Big Jaz and Sauce Money.
This album depicts the life mostly of Jay-Z’s lifestyle in the projects he grew up in NYC and how he has risen through the area of crime and drug filled NYC. Every song in my opinion brings a classic beat to the song, as he utilized instruments like drums that can be clearly heard.
My favorite song off of this album would have to be “Dead Presidents II.” The overall tone and rhyme scheme is fantastic, the story telling behind each bar is fascinating and pulls me in every time.
3. Ready to Die (1994) – The Notorious B.I.G.
This was the debut album by The Notorious B.I.G., released in 1994 on Sept. 13 by Bad Boy Records and Arista Records.
The album went on to sell 3.87 million copies in the United States as well as being a certified platinum album, but that was after the untimely death of Notorious B.I.G. in 1997.
This album is what launched not only Biggie’s career as an artist, it also put Bad Boy Records right on the map as a power house record studio. Owner Sean Combs and Biggie brought the amazing lyricist of his songs and flow to the United States.
Although this album didn’t necessarily win anything the year it debuted, the positive reviews of this album were pouring in. The original Rolling Stones review was, “Ready to Die is the strongest solo rap debut since Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.”
What I find most appreciative about this album is that during the East Coast versus West Coast hip hop dispute, Biggie came in off the first album and made the clear statement to the people of NYC that he was their king. I found every song on this album to give a gritty and real life description of the details behind his own life.
For the most part he talks about gang violence, and selling drugs and using weapons, but in the midst of all that he brings an iconic rhythm and narration on his beats that hasn’t been heard from before in my opinion.
2. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) – Wu-Tang Clan
This was the debut album of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan, released in 1993 on Nov. 9 by Loud Records. The album was produced by the group’s leader, producer and rapper RZA. As of right now, the album has sold roughly over 1.4 million album copies but has not won any awards from it.
The members of Wu-Tang Clan are RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Cappadonna.
What I find so special about this album is the unique styles of each member, as all of them originate from burrows of NYC growing up in gang violence and drug-filled communities. They all bring their own personal tales into each song and talk about how they have had to survive.
What is so impactful about this album was that it was a real staple for underground hip-hop and what I mean by that is, they weren’t being backed at the time by a major records studio — it was just all of them working it out together and using their instincts and business savvy to release this masterpiece of an album.
My favorite song on the album is “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” or it’s more referred to as, “C.R.E.A.M.” Before the base drop, the background music comes in and soon you hear: “Dollar dollar bill y’all.” Method Man follows with: “I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side, Staying alive was no jive.” The beginning of this song is very iconic in my eyes, as the rhyme scheme utilizes a poetic background of their personal lives that is then bridged into their music — I think it is truly fascinating.
This beginning to the song will get me pumped every time. RZA’s and Method Man’s rhyme scheme on the album was amazing; it brought a fresh new beat to the hip-hop industry and that is why I regard this album as the second best rap album of all time.
1. Illmatic (1994) – Nas
My personal favorite Hip-Hop artist of all-time, Nas released Illmatic as his debut studio album back in 1994 on Apr. 19. Released by Columbia Records the production of the album was handled by DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S. and of course Nas himself.
With over 1.6 million copies sold, this album launched Nas’ career to what it is today. While not going heavy noticed by the mainstream music media and not winning any records, it is still widely recognized as one of the most iconic albums of all time in the history of hip-hop and is argued for being the best of all time.
Selling 63,000 copies in its first week and coming in at the 12th spot on Billboard 200, the album found itself eventually receiving a gold certification from RIAA in 1996 as well as a platinum certification in 2001.
Although there were no other artists featured in this album, Illmatic is regarded as one of the best lyrical albums of all time.
What I personally find so interesting about this album was the matter of Nas wanting more than one producer to make his album. This is usually uncommon, as he had four other producers provide their own rhythm and style to each song.
Why I think this is the best rap album of all time is because of the deep meanings behind each lyric. His flow and rhythm to each song is diverse and each song is so iconic in the hip hop community.
My favorite song on the album is “The World Is Yours,” which was the debut single for the album. His multi-syllabic internal rhyme scheme during this song is uncanny and just a great listen no matter what you’re doing, whether it is for a workout mix or just something to listen to while you’re driving.