The 50 Best Hip-Hop Albums of All Time

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Ruffhouse Records / Columbia Records

As a musical genre, hip-hop has morphed into a mainstream force that impacts everything from the way we dress to the way we speak.

From the rough & tumble streets of the Bronx in the 70s right up until the current day, masterful wordsmiths have taken to the mic to put their lyrical art on full display. Rap/hip-hop aficionados all over the globe have been treated to some of the finest pieces of work in all of music from mega-popular acts and underground legends. While there are hundreds of recommendable albums worth mentioning here, we decided to come up with a definitive list of 50 hip-hop albums that will always stand the test of time due to their unbridled musical excellence and relevant social commentary.

The LPs scattered all over this list should implore you to dig into the digital crates and unearth the lyrical gems each GOAT-tier MC provides.

1. ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ - Lauryn Hill

Queen Hill arrived on the scene as a member of the legendary trio The Fugees (more on that group later). When she decided to step out on her own and deliver her first solo LP, the world got treated to an all-time classic. This LP props up black women as a whole and speaks on the issues that plague them on a daily basis (dealing with one’s sexuality and sense of identity, for instance). Lauryn Hill mashed up a number of genres and came away with an amazing hodgepodge of songs that inspired an entire generation of women to pursue their musical dreams.

2. ‘Criminal Minded’ - Boogie Down Productions

The debut LP from the collective trio of KRS-One, D-Nice, and DJ Scott La Rock is an East Coast gem that still knocks to this very day. The clever amalgamation of rap/hip-hop, rock & roll, and reggae influences played the background perfectly while KRS-One released a flood of hard-hitting bars. Songs like “South Bronx” and “The Bridge is Over” are monumental hits off of this monumental LP. Thankfully, the rest of the songs on offer here are just as phenomenal as those undisputed hip-hop gems.

3. ‘Only Built for Cuban Linx...’ - Raekwon

Mafioso rap sounds so legit whenever Raekwon the Chef and Ghostface Killah deliver it. Both of these Wu-Tang affiliates mastered that art and inspired a generation of fellow MCs to follow in their footsteps thanks to this certified classic. The production is ace, the skits are actually worth listening to, and the songs themselves are top-tier 36 Chambers material. From front to back, Only Built for Cuban Linx... provides listeners with a rugged trip through a life filled with gangland activities and unmatched machismo.

4. ‘Liquid Swords’ - GZA

GZA is truly “The Genius.” He put his proficiency for intelligent raps on full display on his debut LP, Liquid Swords. RZA truly got in his production bag and blessed this LP with some of the finest beats he’s ever created. And thankfully, GZA’s flows perfectly stayed in the pocket for each banger as he broke down the trials and tribulations of a hood upbringing. When the opening notes to “4th Chamber'' kick in, every rap head in the vicinity has no choice but to rock an ugly scowl while they bump their head in place.

5. ‘Raising Hell’ - Run DMC

Run DMC’s unmatched synergy can be dissected in full just by listening to this seminal LP. Run and DMC go back and forth like the fast & furious tandem they are over masterful beats/cuts from Jam Master Jay. “Peter Piper,” “It’s Tricky,” and “My Adidas” are peak Run DMC. And one can’t forget the mega hip-hop/rock & roll crossover hit that is “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith. Raising Hell is required homework for any modern-day MC that wants a lesson or two about mastering the art of rap.

6. ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ - 50 Cent

As soon as that quarter drops, everyone knows what’s coming next. 50 Cent’s blockbuster album starts off with a bang and doesn’t slow down the whole way through. The man known as Curtis Jackson caused a bootlegging frenzy upon release and broke into the mainstream consciousness due to the greatness of this LP. “In da Club” is just one of the many solidified bangers that have pushed this album to legendary status and signified Fif’ as one of the best to ever do it.

7. ‘The Infamous’ - Mobb Deep

Queensbridge’s very own Havoc and Prodigy (RIP, King!) catapulted themselves to a higher level of hip-hop excellence once their second album offering hit the streets. The Infamous offers gritty descriptions of two young men making their way through a life filled with plenty of turmoil. Both MCs brought furious young energy to each track and did it all while dropping street knowledge on the back of classic beats. “Shook One, Pt. II,” “Survival of the Fittest,” and “Give Up the Goods” are just three of the reasons why this album will always stay in rotation.

8. ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ - De La Soul

Noted producer Prince Paul helped form the soundscape for De La Soul’s debut album. It was released during a time where gangsta rap was all the rage, yet it still managed to garner plenty of attention and praise thanks to a deviation in theme and sound. The colorful cover itself is iconic and so are the songs that match that image’s super cool vibe. Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo have always been a winning trio - jamming to joints like “The Magic Number” and “Me, Myself, and I” do a good job of convincing everyone of that undisputed fact.

9. ‘The Marshal Mathers LP’ - Eminem

Detroit’s premier wordsmith built up a strong catalog of songs with his first two albums. But things truly took a turn for the better once Eminem released The Marshal Mathers LP. Em’s slick wordplay and outlandish disses for the world at large are in fine form here. Songs like “Stan'' showcase a version of Em that’s willing to delve into the sorts of topics that are rarely mentioned within hip-hop. The rest of The Marshal Mathers LP hits all the high notes that fans have come to champion about one of rap’s certified GOATs.

10. ‘Reasonable Doubt’ - Jay-Z

The Jigga Man arrived on the scene in full mafioso garb and had the lyrics to match all that bravado with Reasonable Doubt. The very best luxury raps are littered all over this magnificent debut LP. It says a lot about an album when you can play the first five seconds of every song on it and most folks recognize it without too much effort. Listening to this album is a worthwhile experience since it successfully mirrors the high stakes that come with organized crimes and other risky endeavors.

11. ‘Hard Core’ - Lil’ Kim

The “Queen B” kept it all the way real and raunchy when she stepped into a hip-hop arena that tends to be dominated by the opposite sex. With Hard Core, Lil’ Kim threw all caution to the wind as she spits with the best of ‘em. While there aren’t a ton of features on this one, the guests that do appear do a great job of further strengthening Kim's repertoire of provocative (in a good way) songs. “Big Momma Thang,” “No Time,” “Crush on You,” and “Drugs” are held up as some of Kim's greatest songs. And as luck would have it, they all appear on this album.

12. ‘The Blueprint’ - Jay-Z

The Blueprint is practically a how-to guide on how to put together an album that simply can’t be denied. With a nice mix of Kanye West and Just Blaze beats to support him, Jay-Z floats all over each track with ease and exudes his best qualities as an MC. He goes for the jugular on “Takeover,” gets super celebratory with “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” throws lyrical bouquets at the ladies with “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and goes toe to toe with Eminem on “Renegade.” This is the album that laid the foundation for some of your favorite rappers, so all praises due to The Blueprint.

13. ‘Paid in Full’ - Eric B & Rakim

Rakim is referred to as the God MC for good reason - his furious flow and penchant for crafting bars that hit you right in the soul have afforded him the right to accept that moniker. With DJ Eric B by his side, Rakim changed the rap game in a dramatic fashion with this incredible LP. The cover itself evokes dreams of making it big through one’s undefeatable hustle - thankfully, Rakim reflects that hunger for greatness through his kingly bars and delivery. Paid in Full inspired a whole generation of 90s babies to step to the mic and it’s easy to see/hear why. Never forget - “MC means move the crowd.”

14. ‘It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot’ - DMX

Darkman X’s yin and yang qualities made millions of fans flock to him. Even though he may have found himself in the worst situations imaginable, his faith and undeniable passion inspired others to remain strong just like he did. DMX’s magnum opus It’s Dark and Hell is Hot showcases the Ruff Ryder representative’s many trials and tribulations through some of the hardest rap songs ever laid on wax. “Get at Me Dog,” “Stop Being Greedy,” and “The Convo” are just a sample of the headbangers that make this album an unforgettable trip with the Darkman himself. 

15. ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ - Public Enemy

Chuck D’s socially conscious lyrics, Flavor Flav’s magnetic persona, Terminator X’s intense scratches, and The Bomb Squad’s boomin’ beats were a winning combo back in the day. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back masterfully combined all of those elements while producing an album with an unapologetic message that remains relevant to this day. “Fight the Power” and “Bring the Noise” are clear examples of the heavy hitters that define this bodacious hip-hop classic.

16. ‘Ready to Die’ - The Notorious B.I.G.

Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. left an indelible mark on the world of hip-hop. Even though he only left the world before he could really get going, his two solo projects produced a discography full of tracks that Golden Era rap fans swear by. Biggie’s hard-hitting lyrics and flow delve into a wide range of hood tales all over his amazing debut album, Ready to Die. This classic album features songs that describe the daily lives of stick-up kids (“Gimme the Loot”), achieving one’s lofty dreams (“Juicy”), and staying ahead of those that simply want to stick you for your paper (“Warning”). Ready to Die is an autobiographical listen that perfectly encapsulates the rough and tumble upbringing of Bad Boy’s greatest MC.

17. ‘Illmatic’ - Nas

The world truly sat in the hands of a young Nas when he arrived with his debut LP, Illmatic. He managed to meet the overwhelming hype attached to his name and did it with only 10 tracks. Nas’s production dream team at the time (DJ Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and L.E.S.) created a strong array of soundscapes that allowed the Queensbridge MC to lyrically prosper. Nas’s aptitude for storytelling and smooth flows can be heard through songs like “N.Y. State of Mind,” “The World is Yours,” “Represent,” and “One Love.”

18. ‘Doggystyle’ - Snoop Doggy Dogg

Doggystyle is practically a West Coast party that bangs through your speakers every time you throw it on. Young Snoop tapped into the sounds of the region that raised him as he took listeners on a wild ride through the streets of L.A. Doggystyle remains an easy listen to this day thanks to a number of factors, which includes top-notch beats from Dr. Dre, raunchy lyrics that always elicit a few laughs every time they’re heard, and a collection of L.A. MCs that ruled the 90s. Snoop Dogg came into the game like a force of nature - his continued relevance is due in part to this hard-edged album debut.

19. ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ - Wu-Tang Clan

Never forget - Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin to ‘eff with. That statement will always ring true no matter the time we live in. Every member of the Wu-Tang got together like Voltron to give hip-hop heads across the globe one of the grittiest records of all time. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) can get a flood of fans to flip into mosh pit mode, which should tell you just how monumental everything on that LP is. The posse cuts are out of this world and helped define the best qualities of each Wu-Tang member. “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Method Man,” “Protect Ya Neck,” and “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” are essential listening if you ever want to consider yourself a true rap aficionado.

20. ‘The Score’ - The Fugees

New Jersey’s own Fugees camp ascended from their underground origins to a level of mainstream superstardom thanks to this album. All three parts of the mega trio brought their signature traits together and managed to craft undeniable jams in the process. The East Coast vibes knock extra hard on this one, as evidenced by “How Many Mics,” “Ready or Not,” “Fu-Gee-La,” and “The Score.” “Killing Me Softly With His Song” put Lauryn Hill’s heavenly vocals front and center, which is one of the many gifts The Score gave to the world.

21. ‘Midnight Marauders’ - A Tribe Called Quest’

A Tribe Called Quest mastered the art of jazzy samples and boom-bap instrumentals when it released its third album. Hip-hop stables don’t get any better than the trio of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White. Their incredible synergy can be heard throughout each and every part of this album (special shout out to Tribe’s long list of friends that agreed to appear on the cover, too). Backpackers everywhere live by songs like “Award Tour,” “Electric Relaxation,” and “Lyrics to Go.” Midnight Marauders is a whole vibe that’s super chill and worth experiencing on more than one occasion.

22. ‘Aquemini’ - Outkast

This pick also falls into the category of “amazing third release from an illustrious hip-hop group.” Outkast already built up an amazing track record with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATLiens - once they released Aquemini, it was quite evident that their superstar status had reached another level. This LP featured those signature Andre 300 and Big Boi traits that we’ve all come to appreciate, such as southern bounce, tongue-twisting flows, and thought-provoking lyrics. “Rosa Parks,” “both parts of “Da Art of Storytellin’,” and “Aquemini” all lift this project to the high heavens where only the greatest hip-hop albums reside.

23. ‘All Eyez on Me’ - 2Pac

Once 2Pac’s prison sentence came to an end, he aligned himself with Death Row and emerged from its studios with the album most people hold in high regard. 2Pac’s frustrations and triumphs were told in equal parts across this two-disc LP. Most double albums feel bloated and full of filler, yet All Eyez on Me stands apart from the pack thanks to a mix of strong singles and underrated B-Side cuts. “Ambitionz Az a Ridah,” “How Do You Want It,” “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,” and “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” are just a few of the bangers that define the greatness of this album.

24. ‘Mecca and the Soul Brother’ - Pete Rock & CL Smooth

This album is one of those ultimate knockers that cause necks to break everywhere due to excessive head bobbing. Pete Rock laid the audio groundwork for his man’s CL Smooth to lay down his most memorable rhymes. Mecca and the Soul Brother describes the everyday life of an urban NYC denizen thanks to CL Smooth’s vivid wordplay. “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” still stands tall as one of the greatest song tributes of all time. The rest of this LP exposes those who don’t know to the incredible production of Pete Rock and the slick bars that come courtesy of CL Smooth.

25. ‘The Chronic’ - Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre is a noted perfectionist. Whenever he drops an album, it’s an event that brings everything to a standstill. That’s because it rarely happens due to the fact that Dre works his sound until it matches the high quality established by his debut album. The G-Funk established by The Chronic inspired an army of West Coast MCs to follow in Dre’s footsteps, which should clue you in to just how monumental it was. "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang,” "Let Me Ride,” and "F**k wit Dre Day (And Everybody's Celebratin')" are the type of songs that simply can’t be denied. The Chronic is GOAT album material, no matter the coastal region.

Honorable Mentions

26. ‘Black on Both Sides’ - Mos Def

27. ‘The Low End Theory’ - A Tribe Called Quest

28. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ - Kendrick Lamar

29. ‘Efil4zaggin’ - N.W.A.

30. ‘Madvillainy’ - Madvillain

31. ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ - Kanye West

32. ‘Fantastic, Vol. 2’ - Slum Village

33. ‘Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101’ - Young Jeezy

34. ‘Tha Carter III’ - Lil Wayne

35. ‘The Minstrel Show’ - Little Brother

36. ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’ - Kendrick Lamar

37. ‘Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde’ - The Pharcyde

38. ‘The College Dropout’ - Kanye West

39. ‘Paul’s Boutique’ - Beastie Boys

40. ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ - Missy Elliot

41. ‘Critical Beatdown’ - Ultramagnetic MCs

42. ‘2001’ - Dr. Dre

43. ‘Trap Muzik’ - T.I.

44. ‘Supreme Clientele’ - Ghostface Killah

45. ‘Death Certificate’ - Ice Cube

46. ‘The Renaissance’ - Q-Tip

47. ‘The Black Album’ - Jay-Z

48. ‘ELE (Extinction Level Event): The Final World Event’ - Busta Rhymes

49. ‘EVE’ - Rapsody

50. ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ by Ice Cube

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