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Best hip hop albums of all time: 50 classic hip-hop albums revealed

The best rap albums of all time - including Nas, Wu-tang, Dre and more.

Best hip hop albums of all time: 50 classic hip-hop albums revealed
Marc Chacksfield
09 November 2023

It's the perfect time to celebrate the best hip hop albums and the best rap albums of all time. In 2023, hip-hop hit the grand old age of 50.

It began with a birthday party in the recreation room of an apartment building, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, in the west Bronx, New York City, hosted by Clive Campbell, also known as DJ Kool Herc. Today it's home to some of the most vital, culturally relevant music in the world.


UPDATE: It's officially 30 years since one of the best hip-hop albums of all time was released - Wu-tang Clan's Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The album brought to the world one of the greatest rap acts of all time, a group that spawned many a solo career and changed the face of hip-hop for many years. Happy birthday, Wu-tang!


What better way to celebrate one of the greatest musical art forms than by rounding up the definitive 50 greatest hip hop albums of all time?

Remember to vote to get your top album to number one you can submit unmissables we may have missed below.

Best hip hop albums

Best hip hop albums

1. Nas: Illmatic

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Year: 1994

Despite being home to groups like Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest, New York appeared distinctly second best to the sounds emanating from California in 1994. All that changed with the release of Nasir Jones’s debut album, the iconic Illmatic. With production duties served by DJ Premier and Large Professor, Nas’s rhymes reflected upon ghetto life in the Big Apple. Raw, powerful and unforgettable, Illmatic opened the doors for a new generation of MCs to burst through. Speaking of which…

Key track: NY State of Mind

Image Credit: Columbia Records

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Best hip hop albums

2. Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

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Year: 1993

Released on the same day as Midnight Marauders, the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album was arguably the most important hip hop album of the Nineties. It not only introduced the world to a collection of colourful characters, but redefined the sonic language of hip hop. RZA’s production was sparse, pieced together with esoteric samples and dialogue from kung fu movies, while the raps from Method Man, Ol Dirty Bastard, GZA, Chef Raekwon, Ghostface Killah et al were incendiary.

Key track: Protect Ya Neck

Image Credit: Loud Records

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Best hip hop albums

3. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly

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Kendrick Lamar is up there with the greatest rappers of all time. The speed he can spout his lyrics is unparalleled, as is the clarity with which you hear them. There’s a rhythm in his rhyming that has been missing in hip hop’s latter years. Here, his third album, he perfects perfection. The likes of King Kunta are crowd pleasers, a raging funk masterclass named after the main character in Roots. He’s angry and he has every right to be. Then there’s the poetic For Free? that sounds like nothing else. There’s chaos throughout, punctuated by moments of beauty and Thundercat’s ever-present bass. But you never know what you are going to get with each track which is fine by us.

Image Credit: Top Dawg Entertainment

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Best hip hop albums

4. Notorious BIG: Ready To Die

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Year: 1994

It’s a shame that today The Notorious B.I.G. is known as much for his role in the unfortunate East Coast/West Coast rap wars of the mid-Nineties. He was one of the greatest rappers of all time. A vital release in New York’s move towards hardcore gangsta rap, Biggie’s storytelling skills are to the fore on tracks like Juicy, Gimme The Loot and Things Done Changed. The mind boggles as to what Biggie could have achieved if he wasn’t senselessly lost in 1997.

Key track: Juicy

Image Credit: Bad Boy Records

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Best hip hop albums

5. Madvillain: Madvillainy

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Year: 2004

Underground hip hop was in rude health at the turn of the millennium. The likes of Cannibal Ox, Quasimoto, Aesop Rock and co were producing inventive music that was raw, wry and futuristic. The collaboration between MF Doom (RIP) and Madlib was certainly in the same vein. A hypnotic take on hip hop it melded the duo’s distinctive talents – Doom’s cerebral raps and Madlib’s unconventional beat – into something both charming and mystical.

Key track: America’s Most Blunted

Image Credit: Stones Throw Records

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Best hip hop albums

6. Dr Dre: The Chronic

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Year: 1992

Not to be outdone by his former protégé Ice Cube, Dr. Dre didn’t take long to release another landmark album by an N.W.A. alumni. Not only was The Chronic acclaimed immediately, it ushered in a new sound within hip hop – G-funk. Instantly recognisable due to the use of synthesisers and an all-encompassing bass, it made a solo star of Dre, and introduced his latest rap ward to the world: Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Key track: Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang

Image Credit: Interscope Records

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Best hip hop albums

7. 2Pac: All Eyez On Me

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Year: 1996

Hip hop double albums aren’t generally worth the entrance fee. All Eyez On Me changed all that. After a spell inside, 2Pac was focused and angry ahead of his magnum opus. This attitude was channelled into 27 tracks of sparkling virtuosity. The thug life with which he had previously flirted with is wholeheartedly embraced and the result is an epic record of G-funk and gangsta rap that managed to take on the mainstream. And win.

Key track: California Love (Remix)

Image Credit: Interscope Records

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Best hip hop albums

8. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP

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Year: 2000

The notion of a credible white rapper was a joke for eons – not helped by Vanilla Ice. All that changed with Eminem. A confrontational, provocative and sardonic wordsmith – and another protégé of Dr. Dre – he released three classic albums on the spin in the late-Nineties and early-Noughties. It was the middle release – The Marshall Mathers LP – that captured the witty, irreverent and rebellious spirit best.

Key track: The Real Slim Shady

Image Credit: Aftermath Entertainment

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Best hip hop albums

9. Kanye West: The College Dropout

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Year: 2004

Today Kanye West is known for his bizarre celebrity lifestyle and controversial statements, as much as his music, which means we really need to celebrate the man from the music here. This is such a shame as a decade ago, West was a serious underground hip hop icon. Having breathed new fire into Jay-Z with his production work on The Blueprint, West’s true calling was rapping himself. If there were doubts he could match his Roc-a-Fella employer there were quickly dispelled with the release of The College Dropout. A vivacious album dripping in hooks and cheeky raps, it set in motion the merry-go-round that West still expertly deals in to this day.

Key track: Through The Wire

Image Credit: Roc‐A‐Fella Records

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Best hip hop albums

10. N.W.A.: Straight Outta Compton

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Year: 1988

If Public Enemy was hip hop’s militant conscience, NWA (or Niggaz With Attitudes to give them their correct uncompromising moniker) were the hoodlum wing. Their debut album was a brazen example of six individuals who didn’t give a f**k. From the brutal opening triptych of songs (Straight Outta Compton, F**k Tha Police and Gangsta) to the groovy Express Yourself this was indeed a riotous display of street knowledge.

Key track: Straight Outta Compton

Image Credit: Ruthless Records

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Best hip hop albums

11. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

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Year: 1998

After Fugees disbanded in 1997, few could have predicted what was to follow. Granted, it was obvious in Lauryn Hill the trio had a sparkling talent, but even the most ardent admirers must have been shocked by her first solo album. Mixing classic soul with a reinvigorated R’n’B and leaning on her hip hop roots, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was another crossover success.

Key track: Doo Wop (That Thing)

Image Credit: Ruffhouse Records

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Best hip hop albums

12. Mobb Deep: The Infamous

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The Infamous is hip-hop by candlelight. It’s packed with stripped-bare beats, stark piano, the screeches of the city in the background. Samples are used but muffled as if the album had to be made in hiding. It’s gangster rap but run through Queensbridge slang, the closest an album has got to the feeling The Wire gave us when we first watched it. Havoc and Prodigy are two of the greatest rappers, with the likes of Q-Tip and Raekwon coming along for the ride. We dare you to hear first the snare, then the bass of Shook Ones, Pt.II without getting shivers. Stunning stuff.

Image Credit: Loud Records

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Best hip hop albums

13. A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders

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Year: 1993

Of all the acts beloved of the rap fraternity that coalesce around the head-nodding sound of ‘backpack hip hop’, A Tribe Called Quest are the most cherished. In truth, we could have chosen two other ATCQ albums in this spot – 1991’s The Low End Theory is another stone cold classic – but Midnight Marauders elevated Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and co to legendary status. Their jazz-rap fusions were nothing new, but this was them working at the top of their game.

Key track: Award Tour

Image Credit: Jive Records

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14. Snoop Doggy Dogg: Doggystyle

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Year: 1993

There must have been something in the air in November 1993. Two weeks after ATCQ and the Killer Bees released their era-defining sets, a cocky tyro mentored by Dr. Dre released his debut set. Then known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle was another landmark record. Coated in G-funk finery, Doggystyle opened up a portal into a horizontal West Coast world of weed, sunshine and unforgettable grooves.

Key track: Gin And Juice

Image Credit: DeathRow Records

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Best hip hop albums

15. Eric B & Rakim: Paid In Full

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Year: 1987

The first golden age of hip hop was kick-started by the art form’s standout DJ/MC pairing, Eric B and Rakim. A master class in breaks, beats and rhymes, Paid In Full laid down the gauntlet to thousands of wannabe crate digging producers and rappers. Standout tracks include the title track (soon to be remixed into sonic nirvana by Coldcut), Eric B Is President and I Know You Got Soul.

Key track: Paid In Full

Image Credit: label 4th & B'way Records

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Best hip hop albums

16. Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt

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Year: 1996

Today, Jay-Z is the biggest active hip hop star. In 1996 he was just another aspiring rapper who, to use his parlance, had led a hard knock life on the streets of New York. This hustle was the backbone of his awesome debut set. Featuring the likes of Can’t Knock The Hustle, Brooklyn’s Finest and Dead Presidents II, it was a stunning combination of frontline reportage and frankly ice cool rhymes. A star had been born.

Key track: Dead Presidents II

Image Credit: Priority Records

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Best hip hop albums

17. Public Enemy: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

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Year: 1988

If, as Chuck D has repeatedly stated, rap is the black CNN, Public Enemy’s second album was their revolutionary state of the nation address. The stark, eerie music bordered on the nihilist, while its doubtful anyone has used hip hop to shine an unwelcoming light on America’s manifold ills in the manner of Chuck D before or since. Don’t believe the hype? One listen to these rebels without a pause will cause you to reconsider.

Key track: Bring The Noise

Image Credit: Def Jam

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18. 50 Cent: Get Rich Or Die Tryin'

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Year: 2003

Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ arrived in a blaze of glory in early 2003. Thankfully, amid the hype there was a classic album to back up all the verbals. In Da Club was the worldwide smash that’s still infectious today, but this was just one high (literally) among a cavalcade of hip hop anthems. What Up Gangsta sets the scene – placing Fiddy in the lineage of Biggie/Nas/Jigga – while Many Men (Wish Death) and High All The Time ensure the taut pace is never broken.

Key track: In Da Club

Image Credit: Aftermath Entertainment

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Best hip hop albums

19. Mos Def: Black On Both Sides

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Year: 1999

Thanks to his work with De La Soul and his Black Star collaborative album with Talib Kweli, anticipation on the underground hip hop scene was high ahead of Mos Def’s debut solo set. After the release of Black on Both Sides, however, it wasn’t just the underground that appreciated the charismatic character born Dante Smith (and who now goes by the name of Yasiin Boy). A politically aware album, but one that piles on the infectious beats and effervescent rhymes, Black on Both Sides was confirmation that Mos Def was one of the most talented stars pushing hip hop forward ahead of the new millennium.

Key track: Ms Fat Booty

Image Credit: Rawkus; Priority

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Best hip hop albums

20. Fugees: The Score

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Year: 1996

Fugees were inescapable in 1996. The trio – Wyclef Jean, Pras Michel and Lauryn Hill – had made some waves on the underground with their first album, Blunted On Reality, but with The Score everything changed. Hip hop gone pop, without conceding to the mainstream, The Score catapulted Fugees and their conscious songs to stardom. Some complained there were too many covers (Killing Me Softly and No Woman, No Cry among them), but when they sounded this fresh and vital, that was just purist posturing.

Key track: Ready Or Not

Image Credit: Columbia Records

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Best hip hop albums

21. Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

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A concept album that takes Wu-tang alumni Raekwon and Ghostface Killah into Mafiosa territory. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is a stunning, cinematic album that is up there with Wu-tang's best work. Although it’s strictly Raekwon’s debut, Ghostface is everywhere on this and all the better for it - just listen to Criminology to hear the lyrical swordplay at work.

Image Credit: RCA

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Best hip hop albums

22. De La Soul: 3 Feet High & Rising

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Year: 1989

Despite what the likes of Public Enemy, N.W.A and 2 Live Crew might have suggested otherwise, not everyone involved in hip hop in the late Eighties was angry. De La Soul, alongside the likes of The Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest (along with others known as the Native Tongues Posse), were the polar opposite – they were Afrocentric urban hippies pushing a sunshine-soaked vision of hip hop named the Daisy Age. Their debut album was a joyous mixture of soft rock samples, hilarious skits and psychedelic rhymes. It’s positive attitude chimed perfectly with the loved-up acid house era in which it was produced.

Key track: Me Myself and I

Image Credit: Tommy Boy

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23. Ice Cube: Death Certificate

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Year: 1991

Given the strong personalities at play in N.W.A. it wasn’t surprising Ice Cube’s departure from the group was acrimonious. He poured his vitriol into his solo releases. This reached an apogee on his second album, Death Certificate. An unapologetic treatise at the state of things at the start of the fin de siècle, it was both coruscating and visionary, and not without controversy. The furore surrounding its release might have lessened in the intervening years. Its power most certainly hasn’t.

Key track: No Vaseline

Image Credit: Priority Records

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Best hip hop albums

24. Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique

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Year: 1989

Licensed To Ill might have introduced the world to the Beastie Boys, but following its release the trio were routinely dismissed as brattish frat rappers. Paul’s Boutique, released nearly three years, showed otherwise, demonstrating that Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA really did have the skills to pay the bills. Criminally ignored upon release – probably because it wasn’t Licensed To Ill Part 2 - it is now recognised for what it is: a multi-layered hip hop masterpiece.

Key track: Shake Your Rump

Image Credit: Capitol Records

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Best hip hop albums

25. Outkast: Speakerboxx / The Love Below

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Year: 2003

OutKast’s Speakerboxx/The Love Below is one of the most audacious moments in hip hop’s rich history. A double album – in essence two solo albums by Andre 3000 and Big Boi – it takes in everything from G-funk to pop, Southern soul to blues, electronica to rock. In this sense it’s everything the artform of hip hop started out as – a cultural sponge imbibing the best that music has to offer. An in Hey Ya! They had the kind of worldwide hit that every musician would die for.

Key track: Hey Ya!

Image Credit: Arista Records

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26. Run DMC: Run DMC

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Year: 1984

Yes, The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five had taken hip hop into the mainstream, but Jam Master Jay, D.M.C. and Rev Run were the first group to properly legitimise it with the release of bona fide classic albums. Their self-titled longplayer was a confrontational fusillade of minimal electro, crunching beats and mesmeric rhymes, as exemplified by It’s Like That, Sucker M.C.s, Rock Box and Hard Times.

Key track: Hard Times

Image Credit: Profile Records

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27. Ghostface Killah: Supreme Clientele

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After proving to the world that he was one of the best lyricists and rappers around, thanks to his marvelous verses on 36 Chambers, Only Built For Cuban Lynx and his debut Iron Man, Ghostface Killah’s sophomore effort is an absolute wonder. Ghostface weaves grit and candour, stupidity and absurdity into his tracks with ease - offering up gold-gilded hip-hop album that still resonates today. Just listed to Malcolm to hear this.

Image Credit: Epic Records

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28. Cypress HIll: Cypress Hill

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Year: 1991

Alongside De La Soul and Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill were one of the first hip hop acts to crossover to a predominantly white rock crowd. Given their music was designed to reflect (and even enhance) the slacker habit of smoking weed this perhaps wasn’t surprising. But Cypress Hill’s debut album is no curious novelty – the music is withdrawn, almost as if it’s not there, while B Real’s imaginative rhymes were at once unclear and sardonic. It was a combination that would sell more on 1993’s Black Sunday, but this was the apex of Cypress Hill’s multi-racial creativity.

Key track: How I Could Just Kill A Man

Image Credit: Columbia Records

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29. Common: Be

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Year: 2005

Throughout the nineties and early noughties Common ploughed a very unique and idiosyncratic furrow – that of the thoughtful and conscientious rapper. He hit commercial paydirt on his sixth album, Be. Utilising the production work of Kanye West and underground icon J Dilla, Common created a completely unified piece of work on Be. This was the sound of hip hop reflecting upon itself – hence the jazzy backbone and soulful tenor of Common’s voice. The result was magnificent.

Key track: GO!

Image Credit: Geffen Records

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30. The Pharcyde: Labcabincalifornia

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Year: 1995

Thankfully, it wasn’t all braggadocio in hip hop in the mid-Nineties. Los Angeles four-piece The Pharcyde followed their mesmeric debut, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, with another lesson in irreverent sonic adventure. The jazzy, soporific vibes of Runnin’ recalled kindred spirits A Tribe Called Quest, while the inventive Drop (with an equally original video from Spike Jonze) displayed a steely experimental edge. The group would fall apart after this release with Fatlip leaving, but this was some parting gift.

Key track: Runnin’

Image Credit: Delicious Vinyl

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31. A Tribe Called Quest: Low End Theory

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Date: 1991

Scenario, Buggin' Out, Show Business... the tracklist for Low End Theory plays out like A Tribe Called Quest greatest hits, with the album jamming in so many bangers that it's sometimes hard to keep up. This, their second album, is when jazz and rap truly fused together, connecting the dots of two of the greatest music genres. The laid-back beats, mixed with the thoughtful wordplay is as slick today as when it was released back in 1991.

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Best hip hop albums

32. Outkast: Stankonia

Year: 2000

At a time when hip-hop was categorised as East or West Coast, it was Aquemini which finally put the South onto the map. While that album is a masterclass itself, Stankonia was the one which made Outkast a household name, with its more uptempo beats and sound that conjured up the three Ps: Public Enemy, PM Dawn and Pharcyde. The album was a Grammy winner as was the track Ms. Jackson, an apology of sorts to Erykah Badu who he had broken up with some time before.

Key Track: Ms Jackson

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33. Big Pun: Capital Punishment

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It may be a little skit-heavy but if you can forgive the (we presume) faux sex noises and other nonsensical moments, the tracks that make up Capital Punishment are just sublime, framing the impeccable rhyming talent of the late Big Pun. This was the only album released when he was alive and it just proves that he would have gone on to become one of the greatest rappers alive.

Image Credit: RCA / Loud

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Best hip hop albums

34. Gang Starr: Moment Of Truth

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We could have chosen a number of Gang Starr albums but there is something about their 1998 hit which is so compelling. It was released when hip-hop was going through some serious changes. The genre had seeped into the charts and with more commercial eyes on the prize, the essence of what made hip-hop hip-hop had started to dilute. Enter Guru and DJ Premier, a perfect pairing of emcee and DJ, beats creator and lyricist. Throughout the 20 tracks, it's clear that they had lost none of their immediacy. This is despite the fact that there are four years and endless separate collaborations between records. Moment of Truth offers a new sound for the duo but one that never-ever sells out - all while having guests as disparate as Inspectah Deck and Jodeci on board.

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35. EPMD: Strictly Business

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Not everyone in hip-hop gets it right on their debut album - case in point: Gza - but EPMD managed to do the business with Strictly Business, melding funk with rawness that gives the tracks a laid back feel. There's threads of the G Funk era within this debut, as well as managing to do wonders with some well-known samples - the loop of I Shot The Sheriff on the title track is just sublime. Yes, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith were in it for the money (it's in their name after all) but with grooves this good, we are happy to part with our cash.

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36. Slick Rick: The Great Adventures Of

Year: 1988

Debut albums don’t come much more critically acclaimed than The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick. The rapper essentially made an album about being a superstar rapper, the first to brag about the riches and ego that comes from this. It’s one of the most influential albums because of the narratives it weaves, with Slick Rick taking on many a persona, all while delivered with a British sensibility. Given the amount of rappers that have pilfered from Slick Rick’s style and rhymes, it’s clear he is a watermark for rap and this album a key reason for this.

Key Track: Children’s Story

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Best hip hop albums

37. Pete Rock & CL Smooth: Mecca and the Soul Brothers

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Pete Rock & CL Smooth made a huge statement of intent with their first album. At 80 minutes, it's a whopper but there's no flab on Mecca and the Soul Brothers, it's hit after hit. They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.) is the standout, as it's one of the best hip-hop tracks ever written, but the whole album is filled with treats. Pete Rock - a cousin of Heavy D - is a crate digger and using his father's record collection for reference, the samples here set the bar for how to re-use music for a new beat. There's snippets of soul, funk and even Talking Heads, creating beats that match CL Smooth's thoughtful lyrics.

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38. DJ Shadow: Entroducing

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DJ Shadow was influenced by the scratch DJs of the past. He's the ultimate crate digger, finding amazing hooks from the most obscure records and creating a rich cut-and-paste tapestry out of them. Entroducing is his masterpiece and while he has, quite rightly, shied away from recreating the sound of the album for future releases it remains a high point of hip-hop and turntablism that still sounds fresh today.

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39. Ol' Dirty Bastard: Return To The 36 Chambers

Year: 1995

Given Gza was the band leader, Rza the maestro, it was a surprise that the second solo album (after Method Man) to come from the Wu-tang family was by Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Seen by some as the joker of the pack, this rap classic soon put to bed the idea he wasn’t to be taken seriously. Tracks such as Shimmy Shimmy Ya, Brooklyn Zoo, Cuttin' Headz show off a lyrical dexterity that few can match, his raps as golden as the grille they are spat out from. It’s a shame that the rest of his cut-short career didn’t quite match the pockmarked (im)perfection of his solo opus.

Key Track: Brooklyn Zoo

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40. Boogie Down Productions: Criminal Minded

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In 1987, there was - quite rightly - anger seething through many of the records released. None so much as BDP's Criminal Minded. From the bullet belt and guns on the front of the record, a first for rap but certainly not the last, to the blunt beats and KRS-One's booming bass-laden raps, this is a serious and searing record. It was released months before the tragic death of founding member Scott La Rock and paved the way for Gangsta Rap and the more abrasive side of rap music.

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41. Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo: Wanted: Dead Or Alive

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Over 30 years old and lost none of its shine, you'd be forgiven in thinking that Wanted: Dead Or Alive was a chilled album, with its laid back Streets Of New York opener. How wrong you would be, though, with the ferocious title track hitting you with a ferocity of spittle-filled rap from Kool G Rap and it doesn't let up from there. There are echoes of Gangsta Rap here, for good and bad, but what can't be denied is the lyrical quality on show and when the beats work they really work.

Image Credit: Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros. Records

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42. Ultramagnetic MCs: Critical Beatdown

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Filled with fantastic off-beat samples, silky rhyming and, of course, the genius that is Kool Keith this is an album way before its time and one that still sounds utterly inventive today. It's hard to think that Critical Breakdown is some 35 years old now, an album that's influenced everyone from Public Enemy to Beastie Boys.

Image Credit: Next Plateau

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43. Dizzee Rascal: Boy In Da Corner

Year: 2003

Come the 2000s, America was greedy with hip-hop, not letting many more countries in. But along came Dizzee Rascal, an 18 year old from East London who rapped with an accent about all the worries and issues of his life. Forget New York State of Mind, this was The New Estate of Grime, where welfare was replaced by the dole, tower blocks with council flats. Rascal shone a light on a life unfamiliar to many, using rap as his torch, and his legacy can be heard in every grime and drill track of today.

Key Track: Fix Up, Look Sharp

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44. Scarface: The Fix

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Year: 2002

Not many musicians release their defining work seven albums in. Even less so in the frenetic world of hip hop where youthful bravado generally trumps maturity every time. But then Scarface is different. An astute businessman as well as recording artist, he knows his audience inside out, being able to give them what they want. And The Fix is the arch example of that. A lurid trip into the rags’n’riches lifestyle of hip hop hustlers, it’s a high octane ride from start to finish.

Key track: In Cold Blood

Image Credit: Island Def Jam

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45. Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow

Year: 2002

The mid-90s saw hop-hop blaze in the LA sunshine thanks to the G-Funk era but while clouds took over that sub-genre, Blackalicious brought the rays right back to rap at the turn of the new Century, thanks to blistering beats and politically conscious lyrics. Gift of the Gab and producer Chief Xcel evoke Gil Scott-Heron and Jurassic 5 (incidentally, both guests on this album) for this gloriously hazy, hedonistic slab of hip-hop.

Key Track: Release Part 1, 2 and 3

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46. Roots Manuva: Brand New Second Hand

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While grime has finally established British rap on a global level, UK hip-hop in the 90s never quite reached the heights of what was happening in the US at the time. That is except for Roots Manuva who didn't shy away from being British in his rhymes: he didn't hide his accent, or exaggerate his situation to proto-gangsta rap levels. His rapping on Brand New Second Hand is not 'mo money, mo problems' more 'normal money, normal problems'. All of this is accompanied by big bass and sparse beats, echoing a cold rainy day on the streets of Brixton and highlighting Manuva's pristine rapping.

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Best hip hop albums

47. Jeru The Damaja: The Sun Rises In The East

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There are few who can beat Jeru The Damaja when it comes to rhyming style. He’s clear, concise, his lyrics are bent to a beat and enunciated to perfection, sometimes pausing mid sentence to make sure you are listening. That’s because he really wants you to understand what he has to say. If ever there was a lyric that still resonates, it’s this one from D. Original: “Dirty, because of the skin I’m in, the fact I have melanin, automatically, makes me a felon”. And the album is packed with these; social commentary mixed with science and philosophy, tackling race and even misogyny which is a rare thing in hip hop. Then, again, Jeru is a rare thing as well.

Image Credit: PayDay Records

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Best hip hop albums

48. Jurassic 5: Jurassic 5

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Year: 1998

Those bored by the gangsta rap heyday of the mid-Nineties found much succor in the backpack underground sounds that began to emerge in the later part of that decade. Company Flow represented New York’s wild experimental edge, while on the other side of America, Jurassic 5, with their emphasis on turntablism, were all about recalling the likes of De La Soul. On Jayou, Concrete Schoolyard and Lesson 6: The Lecture, the six-piece pleasingly put a smile back on the face of hip hop.

Key track: Concrete Schoolyard

Image credit: Interscope

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Best hip hop albums

49. Dead Prez: Let's Get Free

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Year: 2000

Upon release, Let’s Get Free was rightly acclaimed as a clarion call for righteous and political hip hop – not for nothing were the duo of stic.man and M-1 lauded as the most revolutionary rap outfit since Public Enemy. And while Let’s Get Free is a bombastic and unrepentant call to arms, there are lighter touches too, displaying that sometimes subtlety is just as powerful as an iron fist.

Key track: Hip hop

Image Credit: Loud Records

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Best hip hop albums

50. Lupe Fiasco: Food & Liquor

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Year: 2006

Hip hop isn’t short of the odd cocksure character or seven, and in Lupe Fiasco the most brazen of musical genres gained another confident young man upon the release of Food & Liquor. Fiasco’s debut album it displayed the nous of a man wise beyond his 24 years. Reminiscent of Kanye West’s The College Dropout, there was a pop sheen to these urbane stories of sex and aspirational stardom. Two things Fiasco wouldn’t be short of from here on in.

Key track: Kick, Push

Image Credit: Atlantic Records

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How we tested

Marc Chacksfield, the author of this best hip-hop albums shortlist, has been an hip-hop fan since the early '90s.

His first album he ever bought was Snoop Doggy Dogg's Doggystyle, before making the switch from West Coast to East Coast rap, devouring all of the Wu-tang Clan's early records - and the solo stuff - and then heading back to the '80s with the likes of Beastie Boys and Public Enemy on his turntable.

While he grew up with '90s hip-hop - and still has a collection of HHC mags to prove it - he is still an avid listener of hip-hop and has used his 30-odd years listening experience as a fan, and his decades experience as an entertainment journalist, to compile this best-of.

Where possible, the albums have been listened to on vinyl but any gaps in the collection were listened to on Spotify. While chart placing has been taken into consideration, the biggest thing here for the albums chosen is: do they still stand the test of time? For the 50 chosen above, the answer is a resounding YES.


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