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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


Noname, ‘Room 25’ (2018)

The Chicago poet-activist Fatimah Warner got intimate in Room 25, a deeply personal coming-of-age story with her unique jazzy flow. It’s a song cycle about finding her voice, with lines like, “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” Noname first got attention with her cameo on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, but she went her own way for her 2016 debut, Telefone. On Room 25, she brings in longtime Chicago friends like Saba and Smino — but there’s no mistaking it for anybody’s voice but her own. —R.S.


A Tribe Called Quest, ‘Midnight Marauders’ (1993)

The third album from A Tribe Called Quest was not as whimsically experimental as 1990’s People’s Instinctive Travels… or as bohemian jazz-cool as 1991’s The Low End Theory, but it’s still a timeless fan favorite because the quartet was equally gifted when it came to meat-and-potatoes hip-hop. The samples were still brilliantly curated from the dustiest corners of jazz and soul, but the drums could knock the block off a fan of Black Moon and Gang Starr. MCs Q-Tip and Phife Dawg were as incisive and funny as ever, whether big-upping revolutionaries (“Steve Biko”), breaking down a controversial word (“Sucka N***a”), or just dropping that infamous line about Seaman’s Furniture (“Electric Relaxation”). —C.W.


Migos, ‘Culture’ (2017)

Atlanta trio Migos had already cycled through a handful of peaks and valleys before making their biggest album — blowing up with zany mixtapes like Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas), being written off with their disappointing Young Rich Nation, regaining popularity with the “Look at My Dab” dance fad. Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff’s style eventually slowed from thumping “Hannah! Montana!” chants to the rope-a-dope mic trading of “Bad and Boujee,” where Offset, Quavo, and guest Lil Uzi Vert drop punchlines that land like feathers. “T-Shirt” is driven by Quavo’s haunting, deliberately hesitant chorus: “Mama told me/Not to sell work/Seventeen-five, same color T-shirt.” But it’s the way that the trio punctuate Culture verses with ad-libs, giving their songs a rhythmic, vocal jazz cadence, that makes their performance so memorable. —M.R.


Salt-N-Pepa, ‘Hot, Cool and Vicious’ (1986)

Cheryl “Salt” James and Sandra “Pepa” Denton initially emerged as Super Nature with “The Showstopper,” where they playfully mocked Doug E. Fresh’s hit single “The Show.” Subsequently renaming themselves Salt-N-Pepa, the New York duo’s debut album is just as delightfully funky. With go-go-inspired New Jack production from mentor Hurby “Luvbug” Azor, they approximate Otis Redding and Carla Thomas’ “Tramp” as well as the Pointer Sisters’ “Betcha Got a Chick on the Side,” all with a clear sense of fun. “This is the moment that men fear/Female MCs are moving up here,” the two chant on the party-rocking cut “My Mic Sounds Nice.” Then there’s “Push It,” a classic electro-bass moment where the ladies shake their asses on the dance floor, no explanation required. —M.R.


Kanye West, ‘The College Dropout’ (2004)

The College Dropout is Kanye West at his most endearing. His humor is bright and weightless, even if you, as a woman or a diploma-owner, find yourself at the butt of the joke. His religious convictions are so palpable they elicit empathy, even if you’re a staunch nonbeliever. His reflections on working retail, dysfunctional families, unabashed consumerism, personal aptitude, and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming are as bewitching as raps can be. And to think, West also dreamt up nearly every timeless beat on which he bared it all as a spanking new artist is almost too much. This album is both incredibly human and impossibly extraordinary. —M.C.


The Roots, ‘Things Fall Apart’ (1999)

For rap fans in the late Nineties looking for an alternative to what they saw as the genre’s commercial excesses, Things Fall Apart was the holy grail: a socially observant, profoundly musical thesis statement from the Philadelphia band that dared to play their own instruments. The songs are full of virtuosic verses from Black Thought and Malik B, along with fellow travelers like Mos Def and Common, and varied grooves from drummer Questlove, bassist Leonard Hubbard, keyboardist Kamal Gray, as well as collaborators like Dilla and Scott Storch — grounded as much in the renewing warmth of neo-soul as in the head-nodding energy of the cipher. It may or may not have been any realer than what was on the charts that year, but in its commitment to hip-hop’s human elements, Things Fall Apart is timeless. —S.V.L.