Home Music Music Lists

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


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.