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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


Biz Markie, ‘Goin’ Off’ (1988)

It was impossible to dislike Biz Markie; how can anyone dislike a man who opens his debut with fat scratches and Graham Central Station’s indestructible “The Jam” break beat, then immediately starts rapping about “Pickin’ Boogers”? On Goin’ Off, he proves himself a wicked beat boxer (“Make the Music With Your Mouth Biz”) and a genuinely funny rapper (“Nobody Beats the Biz,” “Vapors”). It’s a classic of the Cold Chillin’ label house style: Big Daddy Kane wrote much of it, Marley Marl produced all of it, but it’s Biz whose goofball style makes it a feel-good classic. —J.G.


Main Source, ‘Breaking Atoms’ (1991)

Breaking Atoms was the astonishing, comprehensive vision of Queens studio rat Large Professor (assisted by DJs K-Cut and Sir Scratch). With an almost stentorian voice, Large Pro doled out socially conscious fables in the guise of workaday observations. But the album’s reputation came from its almost scientifically designed songs — countless sample snips of soul, jazz, funk, and psych-rock, animated by one crackling drum loop after another. Of historical significance, it marked the debut of Large Pro’s confidant, a teen MC named Nasir. —C.A.


Pusha T, ‘Daytona’ (2018)

Clocking in at an impossibly tight 21 minutes over seven songs, Daytona is easily the best Pusha T solo record, nearly the equal of anything he did with his old crew the Clipse. Rapping over wall-to-wall top-shelf Kanye beats, songs like “If You Know You Know,” “Hard Piano,” and the spooky “Infrared” prove Pusha is the Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Pynchon of drug rap — within this one topic, he creates worlds. Points deducted for a tasteless (and wholly unnecessary) cover graphic, apparently Whitney Houston’s filthy bathroom. —J.G.


Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ (1990)

Kool G Rap and DJ Polo came out of Queens as part of the legendary Juice Crew, kicking hard-boiled rhymes about the realities of life in NYC that proved a massive influence on everyone from Biggie to Nas. On the still-amazing “Streets of New York,” they remind listeners they aren’t like other NYC rappers — the guitar lick is pure menace; the piano is somehow even scarier. “Talk Like Sex” goes at its subject extremely head on, and “Erase Racism” enlists Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie to take on the most hideous of social ills. The closer “Rikers Island” reminds listeners that they do not want to go there. —J.G.


Ol’ Dirty Bastard, ‘Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version’ (1995)

Chaos, thy name is Ol Dirty Bastard. Following-up Method Man’s solo debut, Tical, with 36 Chambers as the second Wu-Tang solo album was inspired — where Meth comes off as the Wu’s movie star, ODB is the weird character actor whom the rest of the cast worships. On Return, the late ODB established himself as the Wu’s careening id, with a like-it-raw vibe that disguised lyrical chops, a jazzy flow, and hip-hop’s greatest can’t-sing voice since Biz Markie. “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Brooklyn Zoo” were great singles, but check out “Baby C’mon” and the bonkers “Goin’ Down” for the full story. —J.G.


Chance the Rapper, ‘Coloring Book’ (2016)

Steady in faith and focus, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book discovered a course to spiritual emancipation by blurring the genre lines that divide angelic gospel, idyllic rap, and effervescent R&B. Held together by a heartfelt tenderness through a flurry of fluorescent notes, ambient chords, triumphant trumpets, and contagious rhythms, Chance’s third release is a nourishing rap record that met the expectations set by breakthrough Acid Rap. With choirs, Kanye, Future, Kirk Franklin, Young Thug, and countless other collaborators, Chance created a middle passage for rap voices, pop idols, and seasoned songstresses to coalesce beneath beautiful, balmy production in a fashion that glorified growth and God. —Y.P.


Eve, ‘Scorpion’ (2001)

On Eve’s 1999 debut, she proved her bark was just as powerfully cutting as her hyper-masculine Ruff Ryders brethren (DMX, The LOX). And on this follow-up, she gave dimension to the furious whirlwind via more sophisticated production — Dr. Dre’s taut, clipped funk stroll for “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” her Grammy-winning, Hot 100 chart-peaking No. 2 hit with Gwen Stefani; and on “Who’s That Girl?”, Teflon’s irresistible chop of the horn blast and shuffle from Demphra’s reggaeton hit “Ya No Soy Tu Mujer.” Even at 16 tracks, Scorpion sizzled. —C.A. 


Mos Def, ‘Black on Both Sides’ (1999)

Everyone who heard Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star in 1998 suspected that the first guy mentioned in the title had a classic solo album in him. The artist not yet known as Yasiin Bey followed through in ’99 with Black on Both Sides, a heady yet humble showcase for underground hip-hop’s most charming revolutionary — a deep, radical thinker who could still hang on the stoop. “Speed Law” and the DJ Premier-produced “Mathematics” showed his reverence for classical rap poetics; “Umi Says” furnished gorgeous vibes for incense-filled dorm rooms; “Ms. Fat Booty” recalled a fling with the kind of heartbreaker who makes you think you’re feeling “flu-like symptoms when shorty not around.” Listening in retrospect, you can hear the frustration with a racist entertainment industry that may have contributed to Bey’s sporadic releases in subsequent years. First, he gave the world something to remember him by. —S.V.L.


Young Thug, Birdman, Rich Homie Quan, ‘Birdman Presents Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 1’ (2014)

As the latest breakouts from Atlanta’s hothouse rap scene, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan were already on a sharp ascent when they joined forces for this classic collaboration. Hosted by Birdman — who was about to undergo a very public split with former protégé Lil Wayne — Tha Tour Part 1 was a standout showcase for Thugger, who layers his tracks with yelps and scattershot flows, finding odd pockets of rhythm over beats by London on da Track, Goose, and others. Quan complements him well with an appealing melodic flow, serving as a straight man for Thugger’s idiosyncrasies. —M.R.


Young Jeezy, ‘Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101’ (2005)

“Now I’m ya favorite rapper’s favorite rapper/Now I’m ya favorite trapper’s favorite trapper,” Jeezy spits on “Standing Ovation” — and when you’re right, you’re right. The Atlanta talent’s debut established him as one of the premier artists of hip-hop’s in the mid-2000s. Over cheap-sounding keyboards, drum machine claps, and incessant digital hi-hats, Jeezy opined mostly about selling drugs and the money made therein (“stack it all up like Lego money/ Played with them blocks call it Tetris/ Real talk a hundred carats in my necklace”), creating one of the trap-era’s defining albums. —J.G.