From Illmatic to Get Rich or Die Tryin’, this list boasts many classic albums. Nas’ groundbreaking Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was an inspired example of an album that beautifully combined emceeing, DJ-ing, beats creation, and lyrics writing into one complete package.
West Coast OG deviated from their signature themes of sex, drugs and violence with this album of dark-warped production featuring an expert MC.
1. Run DMC- Raising Hell (1986)
Raising Hell was Run DMC’s 1986 third album that catapulted Hip Hop from underground to mainstream, thanks to their phenomenally successful cover version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” which reignited their career and made them global rap superstars. Lyrical content on Raising Hell also had significant resonance, such as on ‘Proud to be Black,’ which referenced Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesse Owens as calling for non-racism; Additionally their gangsta bravado and stripped-back beats a significant influence on future crews such as NWA Public Enemy and Beastie Boys who all stripped down rap’s Sugar Hill gloss to take it back into its gritty origins.
After their experiment with musicality on King of Rock failed, Run DMC returned to their roots by creating a record that featured almost exclusively hard b-boy jams. Their MCs traded lines with each other and the beat master in an uptown style that’s both gritty and funky; there were scratches, squeals, and static as Jay spun the beats while Run and DMC delivered their trademark rhymes – creating an album that remains timeless today.
2. Wu-Tang Clan- Wu-Tang Forever (1993)
Wu-Tang Clan made waves in 1993 with their groundbreaking debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), still as influential today as when it was released. Their follow-up didn’t quite reach those heights but made a significant impression: kids born after its release still listen to it today, and it remains one of the hardest-hitting rap albums ever created.
Much like its predecessor, this album was an overwhelming triumph of style and substance. RZA’s production features strings, synthesizers, and classic soul samples for an elegant cinematic effect; additionally, he gives each member plenty of room to shine – Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, and Inspectah Deck all contributed some fantastic verses here.
Moments where they collaborate genuinely set the band apart; “Triumph” is an ideal example. Here, seven members trade verses effortlessly while creating an incredible flow – not to mention its killer South American drumbeats!
3. Outkast- Aquemini (1993)
Outkast made their mark in hip-hop history with Aquemini – their debut album proving they weren’t another gangsta rap posse. Andre was an exceptional rapper in his own right, with unrivaled rhythmic control and playful wordplay; however, Big Boi gave this masterpiece its soul and made it such a masterpiece.
This duo’s second album had been outstanding, yet they built on everything they learned by taking everything a step further on this one. Reflecting how hip hop had progressed since 2Pac and Biggie died, their production features more layers, complex composition, imagistic imagery, and thoughtful content creation.
It also indicates that Andre and Big Boi had grown more comfortable with what they were saying on record, moving beyond gangsta cliches to discuss more serious topics such as racism.
Stankonia would take their work even further in this vein, but Aquemini remains one of the greatest rap albums ever created. It is an unparalleled masterpiece.
4. Outkast- Stankonia (1995)
Outkast’s fourth album, Stankonia, was an instant classic, an ambitious blend of pop hits and artistic triumphs that upended hip-hop’s conventions. Until Kanye West released his College Dropout 15 years later, Stankonia was the only record capable of such an ambitious blending of widespread impact with moral themes that could entertain and provoke discussion simultaneously.
After their groundbreaking debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Andre Benjamin, and Big Boi returned with Stankonia: an ambitious yet intimate sci-fi funk fantasy. Their sonic and thematic ambitions had grown considerably since 1994; here, walls of trombones, gospel choirs, stuttering rhythms, two-step breakbeats, and other genre-defying sounds create an immersive soundscape to accompany Three Stacks’ rapid-fire rhymes of Afrofuturism and imagined black futures; all this makes Stankonia an unforgettable work that proves how even veteran artists can still break new ground; making it one of the greatest ever made rap albums ever.
5. Public Enemy- It Takes A Nation (1993)
Rap has long been recognized for its innovation and social impact since its origins in the ’80s. Ice-T and the Beastie Boys led its mainstream expansion; Public Enemy’s groundbreaking album It Takes A Nation introduced new schools of political consciousness that remain groundbreaking today. Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation remains unmatched when it comes to production value or lyrical content – its production value or lyrical content has never been replicated again since.
Chuck D and the Bomb Squad’s indelible political diatribes and explosive beats make for unforgettable songs such as ‘Don’t Believe The Hype,’ ‘Night Of The Living Baseheads’ and ‘Rebel Without A Pause’ from Public Enemy – three tracks which should never be forgotten about when listening to their legendary albums! Public Enemy was part of hip-hop’s revolutionary era, and their powerful energy would ultimately propel them to superstar status.
It’s clear why this album has become such an icon over time and continues to resonate with audiences today. From its political protest lyrics that challenge false beliefs about Black life and cultural norms to its cultural impact that subverts incorrect stereotypes about race relations in America, this record remains one of the most influential works ever released. Its influence can be felt everywhere, from Rage Against The Machine’s emo sounds to Tom Morello’s guitar innovations.
6. Dr. Dre- The Chronic (1992)
After splitting from N.W.A, Dre partnered with young Calvin Broadus (Snoop Dogg) to deliver this instant classic record. It was widely received critically and marked a revolutionary new sound within hip-hop known as G-funk. Its heavy use of synthesizers remains iconic today and propelled Snoop as one of the greatest rappers ever.
Production on this album was truly outstanding. DJ Premier’s drumming is flawless, while Arabian Prince’s bass and horns add an air of sophistication that distinguishes it from your average boom-bap album. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg showcase remarkable lyrical skills that add their signature jazzy sound to proceedings.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is an early and futuristic production, sounding far ahead of its time. Packed with sexual, drug-driven raps that mix sex with violence-laden lyrics delivered with enough intelligence and morality that they don’t succumb to mindless gangsta stereotypes, ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” shows hip hop has always been an eclectic genre. In addition, several tracks by Donny Hathaway, Bill Withers, and James Brown cover songs appear here, demonstrating hip hop’s diversity!
7. 2Pac- All Eyez On Me (1993)
Are You Searching For Gangsta Rap? If you want a definitive statement of gangsta rap, look no further than 2Pac’s posthumous release. This classic album showcases him at his peak with features from Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, among many others. At the same time, jazz-rap fusions show off 2Pac’s masterful production and urban persona, making this an essential purchase for any hip-hop fan!
Pac’s third album may not be as politically charged as his previous two, yet his feelings about prison, race, and America remain undeniable. Even songs about video models carry more profound significance. Lex Luger’s frenetic drum loops and stimulating synths add excellent production value – this should be considered essential listening for any fan of gangsta rap music! This classic album deserves to become part of any serious music library.
This album is one of the smoothest yet most brutal rap albums I’ve ever heard, yet it is surprisingly low on any list I could develop. Why it hasn’t reached #1 is beyond me – Dre alone provides some of the greatest rapping and beats ever heard, making this album worthy of first place on any list. Straight out of Compton. Definitely the greatest ever created. However, there’s close competition on any list for its home here.