The 20 Best Hip-Hop Albums Ever Recorded…


20 – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Rocafella, 2010 ) Kanye West

Kanye Kardashian makes more headlines these days for his antics than his music. It’s a shame, because he’s one of the most talented Producers and MC’s in the game. Fantasy is Kanye’s White Album, where he experiments with sonic sounds to varying degrees of success. Every song feels different, yet they blend well. As with every Kanye album, the production is where everything shines, with “All of the Lights” and “Power” being among his catchiest jams to date.

Memorable Lyric: All of the Lights “I made mistakes / I bump my head / Courts suck me dry / I spent that bread / She need a daddy / Baby please, can’t let her grow up in that ghetto university”

19 – Everready (The Religion) (Strange Music, 2006) Tech N9ne

Tech N9ne is one of hip-hop’s most colorful characters. Nobody sounds like him; in fact, nobody even comes close. Bringing the choppa style to levels never before even imagined, Tech is also one of the most successful independent artists of all time. From the second the grimy electric guitars kick in on Riotmaker, Everready takes you on the fast-paced ride of your life. Disk One is Tech doing what he does best (his daughters even lend a hand, as he declares his paternal love in “The Rain”) while Disk Two showcases the variety of talent from Strange’s bench.
Memorable Lyric: Riotmaker “This is my music for all my people missing my music / Keep listening to it, ain’t like I said get a pistol and use it / Satan shot my homie Maintain with a missile and blew it / for the industry, cause he was one of the truest..”

18 – E. 1999 Eternal (Ruthless, 1995) Bone Thugz-n-Harmony

Four months after the death of Eazy-E, his progeny released their full length debut album. Sporting classics such as “1st of the Month,” alternating versions of “Crossroads,” and “Budsmokers Only,” Eternal is filled with fast paced, sing-songy rhymes over orchestrated beats. Bone Thugs set the pace for the Midwest, and this ode to marijuana, Ouija’s, and demons is one of the most hauntingly beautiful albums ever made. It’s a shame Eazy didn’t live long enough to see his boys take over the world.
Memorable Lyric: 1st of tha Month “Wake up and I see that my sister is already dressed / She said ‘I’m gonna run and go get my stamps / Watch and make sure no one snatches my check’”

17 – Unplugged (Rocafella, 2001) Jay-Z ft The Roots

Jay-Z is arguably the greatest MC of all time. The Roots are arguably the best live band around. The two of them getting together to play a live acoustic set is an orgasm for the ears. Hov runs us through a selection of greatest hits (at the time) to create one of the most memorable sets ever recorded at MTV Unplugged. From the opening Izzo to the closing Jigga, this album shows why both Jay-Z and The Roots are legends.

Memorable Lyric: Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love) “Young’ens ice-grillin me / Oh – You not feelin me? / Fine; it cost you nothin / Pay me no mind”

16 – As Cruel as School Children (Fueled by Ramen, 2006) Gym Class Heroes

Travie McCoy is one of the most underrated lyricists in the game. He’s not your average MC. Mixing upbeat music with fast paced rhythms, GCH turns in one of the most enjoyable hip-hop dance albums ever recorded. It’s impossible not to smile while listening to party anthem, “Clothes Off!” or the swag of “Viva La White Girl.” The bonus disk features remixes of album tracks showcasing rap royalty Ghostface Killah and Lil Wayne, among others. If you want to get a party started, add this gem to your playlist.

Memorable Lyric: – Clothes Off! “Shit, don’t be concerned with mine / I feel like a Speak and Spell way I got you learning my lines / Fine, pull the string, replay that shit / I change my name to “did he really just say that shit?”

15 – The Chronic (Death Row, 1992) Dr. Dre

Over a decade before California legalized medical marijuana, Dr. Dre prescribed one of the greatest funk-inspired gangsta rap albums ever made. The Chronic put Death Row on the map, bringing the gritty realities of life on the streets of Compton to the forefront of the American consciousness. It wasn’t long before everyone and their mother was emulating Dre. This is the album that introduced us to Dre protege Snoop Doggy Dogg, whose laid back, weed induced rhymes set the stage for hip-hop to take over radio airwaves.
Memorable Lyric: Nuthin But a G Thang “You know, and I know, I flow some ol funky shit / To add to my collection, the selection / Symbolizes dope, take a toke, but don’t choke / If ya’ do, ya’ have no clue / O’ what me and my homey Snoop Dogg came to do”


14 – Tha Carter III (Cash Money, 2007) Lil Wayne

Lil Wayne’s sixth album silences all the haters, cementing his place as Cash Money’s Most Valuable Playa. The first single “Lollipop” took rap in a new direction. Weezy gets gangsta in street banger, “A Milli,” playfully romantic in “Mrs. Officer,” and conscious in “Tie My Hands” while Robin Thick croons a somber dedication to New Orleans. The most poignant moment in Carter III, however, comes during the closing track, “Dontgetit,” where he takes off the glasses, drops his stage persona, and gets real about racial issues afflicting America. Whether you love him or hate him, Lil Wayne is an icon.

Memorable Lyric: Dontgetit “Excuse my French, emotion, and my passion / But I wear my heart on my sleeve like it’s the new fashion”

13 – The Marshall Mathers LP (Shady/Aftermath, 2000) Eminem

When Eminem first exploded onto the scene with The Slim Shady LP, there was no denying the guy had skills, but it wasn’t until his follow-up The Marshall Mathers LP that we knew Shady is here to stay. “The Real Slim Shady” is one of the catchiest songs in hip-hop history, the piano beat in “The Way I Am” is beautiful, and the Dido-infused “Stan” is an insightful peak behind the curtain at the trials and tribulations of one of the most polarizing stars in music. From front to back, this album still stands as Eminem’s best album, although he’s still cranking out hits and doesn’t look to be jumping out the game any time soon.

Memorable Lyric: Stan “Hey, Slim / I drank a fifth of vodka / you dare me to drive? / You know that song by Phil Collins – ‘In the Air of the Night?’”

12 – 3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy, 1989) De La Soul

Back in the late 80’s when hip-hop was still finding it’s way, De La Soul tour onto the scene, opting to avoid the street vibe still common in the mainstream rap with the most inventive and playful debut album ever released. A 24-track concept album (rare for a major label debut in any genre) that tore down every boundary that existed at the time, 3 Feet is littered with hip-hop classics such as “Me, Myself, & I” and “D.A.I.S.Y Age.” De La Sol opened the doors for rappers to be something other than street gangsters.

Memorable Lyric: The Magic Number “Time is a factor so it’s time to count / Count not the negative actions of one / Speakers of soul say it’s time to shout / Three forms the soul to a positive sum”

11 – Doggystyle (Death Row, 1993) Snoop Dogg

After the success of The Chronic, Dre’s protege Snoop was finally ready to take the reins of West Coast rap. He didn’t disappoint. Doggystyle‘s lead single, “Who Am I? What’s My Name” had the entire country chanting along to George Clinton’s “Bow wow wow yippee yo yippee yay.” It was just radio friendly enough to draw suburban America into Snoop’s “Doggy Dogg World.” When I tell you this is still Snoop’s best album, you know I’m not Lion.
Memorable Lyric: Lodi Dodi “Damn, now what was I to do / She’s cryin over me and she was feelin blue / I said, ‘Um, don’t cry, dry your eye / And here comes your mother with those two little guys’”

10 – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (LaFace, 2003) OutKast

From the get-go, OutKast seemed on a mission from the microphone gods to inject a little bit of musical color to the game. Essentially a solo album from each member, Speakerboxxx (Big Boi) and The Love Below (Andre 3000) represents the yin and yang of musical styles that comprises one of hip-hop’s most dynamic duos. Big Boi’s contribution is a bass heavy Southern bumper, while Dre 3K blesses our speakers with a Prince-worthy funk and growl. OutKast has never made a bad album, but this experimental double is the Cream of their crop.
Memorable Lyric: Roses “Oh so you’re one them freaks, get geeked at the sight of an ATM receipt / But game been peeped, dropping names she’s weak / Trickin’ off this bitch is lost / Must take me for a geek”

9 – When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers, 2008) Atmosphere

If you’ve never heard of Atmosphere, you need to fix this immediately. Slug created his own lane in hip-hop with emo-rap. The tracklist of Lemons is enough to make it a stand out classic but the cherry on this sundae is the Slug and Ant-penned children’s book that accompanies the album. The album’s instrumentals move from classic hip-hop inspired (“Waitress”) to rock (“You”), jazz (“Puppets”) and acoustic guitar (“Guarantees”). Slug’s delivery is top notch from start to finish, showcasing why he’s one of the world’s greatest MC’s.

Memorable Lyric: Guarantees “But I don’t wanna go home yet / So I’ma talk to my cigarette and that television set / It doesn’t matter what brand or station / Anything to take away from the current situation.”

8 – Illmatic (Columbia, 1994) Nas

Hip-hop is filled with MC’s, but Nas is one of the game’s most real lyricists. Illmatic introduced him to the world, earning him The Source’s first 5 mic rating for a debut, and remaining his best album to date. The sole guest appearance is from AZ, who makes a worthy contribution. The rest of the album is hip-hop the way it’s meant to be: raw, gritty, hard hitting musical backdrops (provided mostly by DJ Premier) with Nas’ now signature multi-syllable flow eating into the beat like a fat kid at the bakery on allowance day.

Memorable Lyric: Memory Lane (Sittin in Da Park) “It’s real, grew up in trife life, did times or white lines / The hype vice, murderous nighttimes, and knife fights invite crimes / Chill on the block with Cognac, hold strap / with my peeps that’s into drug money, market into rap”

7 – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse, 1998) Lauryn Hill

After the Fugees debut dropped, everyone wanted to know what’s next from the trio. Miseducation, Lauryn Hill’s solo debut, easily topped the group’s solo efforts. Flowing across genres from neo soul to reggae to R&B, Hill showed us there’s no limits in hip-hop (…except No Limit). She opens up about her impending motherhood (“To Zion”), heartbreak (“Ex-Factor”), and The Fugees (“Forgive Them Father”). Miseducation also introduces us to a teenage John Legend on “Everything is Everything.” I’m far from Hill’s target demographic, but The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is easily one of hip-hop’s most inspiring albums.

Memorable Lyric: To Zion “Now let me pray to keep you from / The perils that will surely come / See life for you my prince has just begun”

6 – American Gangster (Rocafella, 2007) Jay-Z

I must admit, when Jay-Z debuted, I didn’t think much of the Brooklyn native. He grew on me over time, but I lost him again after his post-Black Album “retirement.” American Gangster, Hov’s 2nd post-retirement album, hits all the right notes. Produced mostly by iconic bad boy Diddy, the album features contributions from The Neptunes, soon-to-be-bride Beyonce, Lil Wayne, Nas (burying their beef), and Bilal, whose blues-inspired “Fallin” is one of the album’s highlights. This is Jay-Z at the top of his game, consistently dropping that ignorant shit we like.

Memorable Lyric: Say Hello ”Saying, I’m a bad guy, why’s that? / Cause when my back’s against the wall, nigga, I react / Secretly though, I know you admire that / You wish you had the balls to fire back”

5 – Ready to Die (Bad Boy, 1994) Notorious B.I.G.

“Things Done Changed” since we lost Biggie. There isn’t a bad track to be found on this debut album from one of hip-hop’s most prolific MCs. I can only imagine he named it Ready to Die because he knew he created one of the best hip-hop albums ever made. Nearly 20  years later, Die still holds up, defining the East coast sound for an entire generation. “Big Poppa” told his street tales over Puffy’s sampled beats, letting the world know that NYC will forever remain the center of rap music.

Memorable Lyric: Juicy “Now I’m in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight / Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade”


4 – Hell’s Winter (Def Jux, 2005) Cage

Easily the most slept on classic album on this list, Hell’s Winter, Cage’s debut album for Definitive Jux, is the most introspective album in hip-hop history. Cage explores his dad’s heroin use on “Too Heavy for Cherubs” while introducing us to his relationship fears on “Subtle Art of the Break Up Son” over RJD2 and El-P beats. Cage can write hooks just as catchy as anything Eminem ever came up with (see “Stripes,” “Perfect World,” and “Shoot Frank”), although admittedly darker. Brace yourselves…Hell’s Winter is coming, and it takes no prisoners.

Memorable Lyric: Too Heavy for Cherubs “Erratic then gone; I go from manic to calm / Watching the yellow liquid dripping back out of his arm”

3 – All Eyez on Me (Death Row, 1996) 2Pac

This double album (a hip-hop first) was the last one released prior to 2Pac’s untimely death. Listening to it again for this list makes me smile. Nate Dogg crooning about seeing the same ho’s everywhere in “All About U,” guest verses from Redman, Dr Dre (on the barbeque-worthy “California Love”), Snoop, Kurupt, Richie Rich, E-40 – Eyez is the best album from the iconic rapper. When 2Pac died, we didn’t just lose one of the best MCs in the game, we lost a poet, an activist, and a visionary. All Eyez on Me is a reminder that while Pac was a thug, he believed in working toward the greater good of society. If you want to emulate him, and all you’re doing is trying to become a rapper, you need to sit down and listen to his albums again…because you’re clearly missing the point.

Memorable Lyric: – Life Goes On “Bury me smilin’ / with G’s in my pocket / have a party at my funeral /
let every rapper rock it / let tha hoes that I usta know / from way before /
kiss me from my head to my toe.”

2 – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (Loud, 1993) Wu-Tang Clan

In the early 90’s, West Coast rap was dominating the airwaves and seeping into the suburbs, thanks to the radio-friendly, funk-inspired, trunk-rattling beats by Dr. Dre. In order to compete, Puffy and Bad Boy went flashy. Wu-Tang Clan went the opposite direction, with RZA creating the musical backdrop to the supergroup’s debut album. Enter the Wu is a hardcore hip-hop album created with a Shaolin flair. I still remember sitting in a car behind the town’s graveyard hearing the unique voices of Ol Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and the rest of the Wu Crew bump through the speakers. “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Method Man,” and “Shame on a Nigga” are some of the standout tracks, but everything on this album works, right down to the skits in between. I’ll fuckin…I’ll fuckin lay your nuts on a dresser, just your nuts layin on a dresser…


Memorable Lyric: – Shame on a Nigga “I come with that ol’ loco / Style from my vocal / Couldn’t peep it with a pair of bi-focals / I’m no joker! Play me as a joker / Be on you like a house on fire! Smoke ya!”

1 – Paid in Full (4th & Broadway,
1987) Eric B & Rakim

It’s hard to imagine anymore, but there once was a time before cell phones, internet, and complicated internal rhyme patterns. In the beginning days of rap, MCs followed a very basic AA-BB rhyme pattern. Rakim changed all that. Like Filippo Brunelleschi before him, Rakim opened the flood gates by discovering a new perspective. Even when compared to today’s modern rappers, this album is impressive. Throughout Paid in Full, Eric B sets up soulful tunes that Rakim skillfully hops around. If you listen close enough, you can almost hear young Marshall Mathers & Sean Carter salivating…

Memorable Lyric: – Paid in Full “Thinkin’ of a master plan / ‘Cuz ain’t nuthin’ but sweat inside my
hand / So I dig into my pocket, all my money is spent / So I dig deeper but
still comin’ up with lint”
Brian Penny whistleblower Huffington post Dr dre EminemBrian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and writer. Penny has been featured on Main Street, Cannabis Now, Hardcore Droid, and The Huffington Post.


Dr. Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. You can find his work in Cracked, High Times, HuffPost, Lifewire, Forbes, Fast Company, and dozens of other places, although much of it is no longer under his name. Dr. Penny loves annoying fake media.

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