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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


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.