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The 200 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums of All Time

These are the albums that have defined hip-hop history — from Run-DMC to Playboi Carti, from G-funk to drill, from the Bronx to Houston, and beyond

Hip-hop albums list

Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers for Rolling Stone. Images in illustration by Michael Stewart/WireImage; Paras Griffin/Getty Images; Rich Fury/Getty Images; Rick Kern/Getty Images; Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; John Shearer/Getty Images; Paras Griffin/WireImage

Two hundred seems like an almost luxuriantly expansive number when you’re making an albums list, and in any other genre, maybe it would be. But the history of rap LPs is so rich and varied, we were forced to make some painful choices — there are so many iconic artists with deep catalogs, so many constantly evolving sounds and regional scenes. That’s one reason we limited our scope to English language hip-hop. Relatedly, a list of hip-hop-adjacent albums from the worlds of dancehall or reggaeton or grime would be fun and fascinating, and something for us to revisit down the road.

When confronted with a choice between the third (or fourth or fifth) record by a classic artist (Outkast, for instance, or A Tribe Called Quest) and an album from an artist who would make the list more interesting (The Jacka or Saba or Camp Lo), we tended to go with the latter option. The result was a list that touches on every important moment in the genre’s evolution — from compilations that honor the music’s paleo old-school days, to its artistic flourishing in the late Eighties and early Nineties with Public Enemy, De La Soul, Eric B. and Rakim and others, through the gangsta era, the rise of the South, the ascendance of larger-than-life aughts superstars like Jay-Z and Kanye West and Nicki Minaj, and on and on into more recent moments like blog-rap, emo-rap, and drill, from New York to L.A. to Houston to Chicago, and beyond.

As we dug and listened, we found ourselves a little less swayed by “golden age” mystique than we might’ve been had we done this list 10 or 15 years ago. One of the incredible things about hip-hop is that it evolves and expands faster than any other genre in music history. To a fan coming up in the era of Cardi or Tyler or Polo G or Playboi Carti, the golden age is now.

From Rolling Stone US


Gucci Mane, ‘Chicken Talk’ (2006)

There is staying on your grind, and then there is Gucci Mane. In the beginning, there was Chicken Talk, the first of what became a whopping 74 mixtapes from this Atlanta phenomenon (not to mention 15 studio albums, a few comps, and dozens upon dozens of singles and features). For many fans, the first remains the best, a funny, movie-length ode to drugs, guns, the South, and everything that comes with it. Songs like “745” and “Swing My Door” made it a key document in the evolution of both internet-era mixtape culture in general and trap in particular. —J.G.


Various Artists, ‘Soundbombing II’ (1999)

Not too long before the city was attacked and the planet went to hell, New York’s Rawkus Records gave us the greatest hip-hop compilation ever: no skips or runners-up. You could file Soundbombing II under “backpack rap” if you were lazy. But the comp also features an Eminem all-timer (“Any Man”), Common and Sadat X at their cinematic finest (“1-9-9-9”), and the best song ever written about a political assassination (Pharoahe Monch’s “Mayor”). Soundbombing II isn’t on the big streamers, making the haze of bygone greatness all the more intense. But this album is a peak, and worth the climb to find it. —N.S.


Little Simz, ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ (2021)

Fast like an automatic rifle, raw like an open wound, witty as a stand-up comic, more profound than your preacher, Little Simz has talent that would be borderline intimidating … if her songs weren’t so damn hot. From the Afrobeat-inspired anthem “Point and Kill” to the soulful “Woman,” Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one banger after the next. And each tune reveals a new layer, especially the searing “I Love You, I Hate You”: “Too much unsaid, now the silence givin’ me headaches/Only through speech can we let go of all this dead weight … Hard to not carry these feelings, even on my best days/Never thought my parent would give me my first heartbreak.” Only a virtuoso like Simz could make grappling with her dad so funky. —N.S.


Freestyle Fellowship, ‘To Whom It May Concern…’ (1991)

Recruited by rapper-producer J-Sumbi to make an album together, Myka Nine, Aceyalone, P.E.A.C.E, and Self Jupiter were less a longstanding group than four rap talents burning down appearances at the Good Life Café in Los Angeles. To Whom It May Concern… captures the four men in several solo showcases: There’s Myka’s show-stopping evocation of Biblical apocalypse on “7th Seal,” Sumbi’s “Sunshine Men” treatise on corporate sellouts, and Aceyalone’s twisty, flowing “My Fantasy.” However, the group unites for “We Will Not Tolerate,” a chant against white supremacy set over the beat from Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That.” Positioning hip-hop lyricism as a vocal expression akin to jazz, the Freestyle Fellowship’s impact proved lasting, and their influence resonates in underground, left-of-center rap music today. —M.R.


E-40, ‘In a Major Way’ (1995)

Over his 28 albums, E-40 has proven himself to be hip-hop’s most consistently brilliant MC, a totem of independent hustle and a game-spitter welcome inside multiple generations. His second album, 1995’s In a Major Way, helped popularize so much of what rappers still love today: hyper-specific tales of drug sales, the slow-creeping pulse of Bay Area “mobb music” and — probably more than any MC in history — dictionaries full of colorful slang and inventive word tweaks. “Fifty-nine clip kizzartridge, you know I’m pizzackin’/In the mornin’, cookin’ bacon/In the ghetto in the bulletproof apron.” —C.W.


Gravediggaz, ‘6 Feet Deep’ (1994)

As a major label-backed attempt to bring horrorcore to the mainstream, Gravediggaz were a notable failure. But plenty of heads found pleasure in this bugged-out satire of hardcore values, fire-and-brimstone theology, and horror movie tropes. Producer Prince Paul and rappers the RZA, Frukwan, and Too Poetic conjure an East Coast response to the “Chuckie” antics of regional acts like the Geto Boys, resulting in pulpy and decidedly un-PC antics like “Diary of a Madman,” “1-800 Suicide,” and “2 Cups of Blood.” It’s a fun and ridiculously gory B-boy trip. —M.R.


Westside Gunn, ‘Flygod’ (2016)

Westside Gunn seemed to emerge fully formed with Flygod, offering a memorable take on the low-fi/street-rap style popularized by the likes of Prodigy and Roc Marciano. In fact, the Buffalo, New York, rapper toiled in the East Coast underground for over a decade and built a buzz before his official debut album made heads around the world take notice with unexpected cameos like turntablist hero DJ Qbert, dreamy samples from Daringer and the Alchemist, and Westside Gunn’s wheezy, off-kilter flow depicting a life of hypebeast fashion and hood politics. “Gustavo,” a languid and mesmeric pairing with poet Keisha Plum, is a slice of thug-rap perfection. —M.R.


Roxanne Shanté, ‘Bad Sister’ ( 1989)

Perhaps the fiercest freestyle rapper of the mid-late 1980s, Queens teen prodigy Lolita “Shanté” Gooden battled her toughest foe, sexism, for years before her debut LP showed up. Juice Crew producer Marley Marl relied on archetypal funk breaks (using Lyn Collins “Think [About It]” on three different songs) for Shanté to spit it and quit. Her old-school playground sass, pitiless flow, and casually eviscerating wit turned songs like “Bad Sister,” “Live on Stage,” “Have a Nice Day,” and “Go on Girl” into giddy celebrations. —C.A. 


Cam’ron, ‘Purple Haze’ (2004)

Harlem native Cam’ron is one of East Coast hip-hop’s great outliers — gangsta swagger cut with druggy surrealism. And for a while there, he was on his hustle like a true New Yorker, cranking out albums, singles, and features at astounding speed (not to mention getting the streets to wear pink and endorsing Sizzurp Liquer with his crew Dipset). Purple Haze was the peak of classic-era Cam, somehow shoring up his delivery and getting weirder for it. Check out the impossibly smooth “Killa Cam,” the classic early Kayne track “Down and Out,” the Hill Street Blues interpolation on “Harlem Streets” and, uh, a mangled Cyndi Lauper sample on “Girls.” —J.G.


Mac Miller, ‘The Divine Feminine’ (2016)

Mac Miller’s emergence from frat-rapper to the sensitive, sentimentalist you hear on this album was fitful. But with The Divine Feminine he found his voice, exploring the ups and downs of love on songs like “Dang!,” “Stay,” and the Ariana Grande duet “My Favorite Part.” With assists from Anderson .Paak and pianist Robert Glasper, the sound was appropriately gracious and sumptuous, with shades of jazz and R&B offering a lush backdrop for Miller to prove his bona fides as a generously smooth dude who’s heart was pretty much always in the right place. —J.D.


Flo Milli, ‘Ho, Why Is You Here?’ (2020)

Flo Milli’s 2020 debut mixtape is full of viral-ready bars that boldly introduce us to a legit young original. The Mobile, Alabama, native flexes on the single “Beef FloMix,” spitting, “Can’t do no broke ho, they give me allergies/But I know they love my personality.” On “In the Party,” she makes being a homewrecker (”La, la, la, la, la, la, yeah, bitch, I got your man”) sound as soothing as a ratchet lullaby. And the TikTok megahit “Weak” is a colossal flex, where the 22-year-old runs down a laundry list of sprung suitors over a lush reboot of SWV’s “Weak.” —W.D.


Marley Marl, ‘In Control, Volume 1’ (1988)

Not just a showcase for the funkiest producer of the early sampling era, not just the first attempt by a rap producer to step out as an artist, but a platform for the entire Juice Crew umbrella, easily the most powerful and virtuosic rap crew of the late Eighties. “The Symphony,” featuring Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane, stands to this day as the greatest “posse cut” ever committed to wax. Roxanne Shanté (“Wack Itt”), Biz Markie (“We Write the Songs”), Intelligent Hoodlum (“The Rebel”), and MC Shan (“Freedom”) all get spotlights over Marley’s beats, testaments to the power of minimalism, experimentation, and finely chopped drums. —C.W.


Big K.R.I.T., ‘Krit Wuz Here’ (2010)

By 2010, when this Mississippi talent released this, his sixth mixtape, rap blogs had crowned him king of the South. They weren’t wrong — it was genuinely exciting to hear yet another MC/beatmaker who felt like pure potential explode out of somewhere that wasn’t Atlanta or Houston. Check out the self-defining “Country Shit,” the thoughtful “Children of the World,” and the terrific “Hometown Hero,” a riff on Friday Night Lights and the complexities of small-bore fame that sums up everything important about book/movie/show in less than three and a half minutes. —J.G.


Goodie Mob, ‘Soul Food’ (1995)

Goodie Mob got their start appearing on Outkast’s 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Working with Outkast’s go-to producers the Dungeon Family, the Atlanta crew’s own debut set realist, at times politically tinged, rhymes to earthy, soul-steeped Dirty South production, rapping about life in low-income housing, prison overcrowding, and Geto Boys-style psychological trauma. Raspy-voiced leader CeeLo Green (who opens the album with the prayerfully bluesy “Free”) would become a breakout star, and later a justly canceled music industry pariah. But Soul Food remains a gripping listen that played an undeniable role in the development of Southern rap. —J.D.


Mach-Hommy, ‘Pray for Haiti’ (2021)

Pray for Haiti is a bar-heavy opus from one of rap’s most gifted lyricists. Mach-Hommy raps in a plaintive, patois-laced tone that makes every expressive one-liner take up permanent space in your brain. On “No Blood No Sweat,” he excoriates the opps, scoffing, “My merchandise is like the Louis store, yours is more V.I.M./Only go there when I need buy Timbs.” And the humid “Makrel Jaxon,” which finesses a fire Beatles reference out of random gun talk (”You thought you was the best on the drums, meet Ringo”), is a lively, long-hot-summer-invoking slap. We’re indeed blessed by Pray for Haiti. —W.D.


Above the Law, ‘Black Mafia Life’ (1993)

Above the Law’s second album offers proof that Dr. Dre isn’t the singular figure behind the G-funk sound. Released a few months after The Chronic, it finds group leader Cold 187um, KMG, and DJ Go Mack reworking similar elements — classic funk interpolations as well as wholly original music, unrepentant gangsta rhymes, and a little bit of raggamuffin courtesy of longtime collaborator Kokane — into a singularly bludgeoning experience. “Pimpology 101” turns down the raps altogether in favor of instrumental vibes, while “Pimp Clinic” samples from Parliament’s “Mothership Connection (Star Child),” same as Dre’s “Let Me Ride.” Guests like 2Pac and Money B from Digital Underground appear on the riveting cipher session “Call It What U Want,” contributing to this underrated gem. —M.R.


Childish Gambino, ‘Because the Internet’ (2013)

Already a star thanks to his role on Community, Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) released his second full-length studio album in 2013. (There was a mixtape called Royalty in between this and the 2011 album Camp.) Armed with kaleidoscopic production and featuring guest spots from Chance the Rapper and Azealia Banks, Because the Internet seemed to vex and amuse critics in equal measure, the level of Glover’s creativity and fame in other fields putting a question mark over an album that still managed to go gold. His music would get more ambitious (see his Grammy-winning 2018 single “This Is America”). But there’s a backpack full of ideas here, spilling out all over your room. —J.G.


Cannibal Ox, ‘The Cold Vein’ (2001)

Mentored by producer El-P — whose group Company Flow broke up just as The Cold Vein was being completed — Vast Aire and Vordul Mega represented a generation of subterranean MCs more focused on crafting evocative lyrics than editorializing about a lack of mainstream attention. With its allusions to inner-city deprivation, pop-culture metaphors, densely cryptic verses, and noisy, astringent beats, the trio’s album together defined New York indie rap for years, even as they eventually split over money and credit. “Iron Galaxy” elevates the two rappers’ personal struggles to cosmos-level conflict, while songs like “Battle for Asgard” and “A B-Boy’s Alpha” burn with hallucinatory sci-fi intensity. It’s a brilliant snapshot of pre-9/11 New York, a city fracturing underneath its moneyed surface. —M.R.


Schoolboy Q, ‘Blank Face’ (2016)

On this contemporary gangsta rap classic, Schoolboy Q took a giant leap out of the shadow of Top Dawg labelmate Kendrick Lamar with his sharp eye for detail, mournful choice of beats, and nimble raps, painting street life with an unflinching eye and a heavy heart. Smash single “That Part” is classic braggadocio, but the album juxtaposes his hard exterior with regrets, struggles, complaints, paranoia, and fears. “[H]ope was all that I needed, dreamin’ myself to work,” he raps on “Lord Have Mercy, “‘Cause workin’ to fail was better than bullet holes in my shirt.” —C.W.


UGK, ‘Super Tight…’ (1994)

Super Tight… is one of a handful of albums that helped define a uniquely Southern street-oriented sound. Credit goes to the late rapper-producer Pimp C, who crafted a sound informed by bluesy soul, gospel fervor, and plenty of Hammond B-3 organ. On “Front, Back & Side to Side,” Pimp C and Bun B pen the ultimate tribute to Texas car culture, complete with “candy paint” body paint and “flippin’ switches” to boost hydraulics. Life is a nonstop celebration on “It’s Supposed to Bubble,” but on “Three Sixteens,” the two and DJ DMD make gun-toting threats with funky worm melodies and raw aggression. UGK’s Port Arthur stomping ground is a place of fascination on Super Tight…, one where squares need not apply. —M.R.


Tierra Whack, ‘Whack World’ (2018)

The shortest album on this list, clocking in at just 15 minutes, but it’s one of the most imaginative, gently pushing the hip-hop-soul tradition into bold new plateau. Philadelphia’s Tierra Whack unspooled a series of one-minute vignettes (each with its own video), at once brash and dreamy, steely yet boldly introspective — a maximalist minimalism of the first order. “Pet Cemetery” honors her deceased dog over a bouncing piano; “Fuck Off” woozily dispenses with a no-good man as her voice slips into a comic drawl; “Pretty Ugly” distills and celebrates her down-to-earth surrealist aesthetic. Whack made her own little corner of the world seem like heaven. —J.D.


Polo G, ‘Die a Legend’ (2019)

Polo G’s debut project finds him traumatized by his past yet unwilling to leave it behind. The Chicago rapper admits to sleepless nights while boasting, “I was in the trenches with them gravediggers.” His collaboration with Lil Tjay, “Pop Out,” was one of the most ominous Billboard rap hits of the year, with the duo claiming that they’ll put one in your brain with pronounced menace. Other tracks find Polo G luxuriating in the trappings of success — Rolls-Royce Wraiths, one-night stands — wary of hangers-on who want something from him. It all makes for an unsettling yet compelling debut, a blend of raps and melodies that stands out in the drill rap era. —M.R.


Big L, ‘Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous’ (1995)

Before his 1999 death, Lamont “Big L” Coleman viewed New York City as a flickering film noir in fast-forward. Over dank funk, warped jazz, and snares that hit like an aural stop-and-frisk (produced by his D.I.T.C. crew), the 21-year-old Harlem MC articulated his lyrics as if they were dum-dum bullets exploding your false reality. On “All Black,” as Lord Finesse’s prelude-for-zombies droned, he stated matter-of-factly: “Yo, once again it’s the Big L, that kid who got much props from killing corrupt cops with motherfuckin’ buckshots.” —C.A.


Handsome Boy Modeling School, ‘So…How’s Your Girl?’ (1999)

Part rap album, part twisted art-pop experiment, and part excuse to wear fake mustaches and sample Chris Elliott, this collaboration between quirky hip-hop producers Prince Paul and Dan the Automator is a kitschy pan-genre classic with an all-star cast of hipsters, weirdos, iconoclasts, and virtuosos. Cibo Matto singer Miho Hatori gets Beastie Boy Mike D as her hypeman, indie-rap hero J-Live gets lyrical alongside trip-hopper Róisín Murphy, and digital hardcore misfit Alec Empire knocks an El-P verse out of the pocket (much to the latter’s chagrin). —C.W.


Devin the Dude, ‘Just Tryin ta Live’ (2002)

If rap’s storied history were comprised of film characters, Houston’s Devin the Dude would be The Big Lebowski’s “Dude.” The terminally relaxed MC remains criminally underrated, but few of rap’s preeminent stoners can hold a candle, or spliff, to Devin’s laid-back philosophizing. Just Tryin ta Live, Devin’s 2002 album featuring the cult hit “Doobie Ashtray,” is a primer on keeping the session going. “What you gonna do when the people go home/And you want to smoke weed but the reefer’s all gone,” Devin croons. He’s got the charisma to make getting to the end of your stash seem existential. —J.I.


Danny Brown, ‘XXX’ (2011)

Detroit trickster Danny Brown made quite a splash in rap’s more rarified precincts with XXX, declaring himself the “Adderall Admiral” and sampling U.K. post-punk band This Heat. Brown raps about doing not-nice things to Sarah Palin and depicts drugs as both a life force and a dead end (“Experimented so much it’s a miracle I’m livin’”). Producer Paul White’s ostentatiously dingy, electro-damaged tracks add to the sense of harried desperation. Brown isn’t just in it for shocking kicks; “Scrap or Die,” about stripping and selling the decaying innards of abandoned houses, makes Upper Midwest post-industrial fallout seem as gruelingly real as any Least Coast stickup fantasy. —J.D.


DJ Quik, ‘Quik Is the Name’ (1991)

When rapper and producer DJ Quik opened his debut album with the raunchy party cut “Sweet Black Pussy,” he signaled that he was more than just another L.A. reality rapper. To be certain, he could kick hardcore, too: See “Born and Raised in Compton,” where he threatens retribution against a “clucker” who stole his equipment. More typical is “Tonite,” where he gets so drunk that he suffers a crushing hangover, and “Tha Bombudd,” where he celebrates his love of weed in a mock-reggae lilt. The instrumental track “Quik’s Groove” is further evidence that Quik’s dynamic musicianship offers funky multitudes that can’t be limited by “gangsta rap” stereotypes. —M.R.


Jeru the Damaja, ‘The Sun Rises in the East’ (1994)

Jeru’s debut is the platonic ideal of a certain kind of golden age hip-hop album: big beats, righteous lyrics, extremely serious vibe. Produced entirely by DJ Premier, the beats are the very definition of boom bap, while Jeru’s shtick tends toward teaching (“You Can’t Stop the Prophet,” the single “Come Clean,” “Ain’t the Devil Happy”) rather than pleasure-seeking. Jeru doubled down on this sort of thing to lesser effect on the amazingly titled 1996 follow-up, Wrath of the Math, but the debut remains a fist of fury. —J.G. 


Steinski, ‘What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective’ (2008)

For a certain kind of music nerd, What Does It All Mean? is a foundational text. Steve Stein was half of the masterful remix duo Double Dee and Steinski when he started blending all sorts of weird and copyright-ignoring soundbites (instructional records! speeches!) into early hip-hop. The result was one of pop music’s “Wait, you can just do that?” revelations via songs that were hearable only if you knew where to find them. A massive influence on hip-hop production in general, mash-up culture in particular, and anyone who has ever used the phrase “culture jammer,” this collection is packed with danceable collages that could have been made tomorrow. —J.G.


Eazy E, ‘Eazy-Duz-It’ (1988)

Dropping a mere three months after N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, Eazy-Duz-It was that album’s grimier, sketchier cousin, trading street politics for increasingly tasteless jokes. The creative team was essentially the same as Compton, with MC Ren writing the majority of the lyrics, and Dre and Yella adding more detail to their once-minimalist beats. Still, it became an underground classic — you can see its DNA everywhere from Kanye to trap. Eazy died March 26, 1995, of complications related to AIDS. —J.G.


Rae Sremmurd, ‘SremmLife’ (2015)

These Mississippi twins would go on to make more extravagantly ambitious music, but the ebullience of their debut embodies pure pop-rap joy like few records in recent memory. They lace ludicrous boasts like “Better run for cover!/Might run for governor!” over Mike Will Made It’s dreamily brash tracks, drop the killer hit “No Flex Zone,” and celebrate new stardom with a zeal you can’t help but get behind. Even “Up Like Trump” still sounds great — one of the few times that clown has actually been convincingly associated with winning. —J.D.


Lil Nas X, ‘Montero’ (2021)

It took a year and half after his hick-hop masterstroke “Old Town Road,” but his debut LP was every bit as thrilling as his elastic persona. Lil Nas X rapped about his up-from-nothing, brought on Jack Harlow for the heroic ode to his own ambition (“Industry Baby”), partied it up with Megan Thee Stallion on the crunked-up, camped-up “Dolla Sign Slime,” and explored his own struggles and insecurities, mixing the Southern rap tradition of his native Atlanta with a post-Drake-era sense of self-revelation that gave his outsize gestures a relatable gravity. —J.D.