List of hip hop albums considered to be influential
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This list provides a guide to the most important hip hop albums, as determined by their presence on compiled lists of significant albums: see the "Lists consulted" section for full details. Inclusion on a list is indicated by numbering after each release. The brief accompanying notes offer an explanation as to why each album has been considered important. The organization of the list is by date of release, ranging from Run-D.M.C.'s eponymous debut in 1984 to Jay-Z's 2001 album, The Blueprint.
Since for the period of 1979–1983, hip hop was a music for 12" singles rather than albums, the absence of old school hip hop from the list has been compensated for by providing it with its own section of notable releases. Notable compilations of songs which contain important hip hop breaks (short percussive interludes used as the rhythmic basis for a hip hop song) are also included.
The break, the instrumental portion of a record (of any genre, though perhaps most often funk or rock) that emphasizes the percussive pattern, has been the fundamental unit of much of hip hop music. The collections below collect the original songs that contain some of the most popular breaks in hip hop.
- Super Disco Brakes (Winley) Vol. 1 was released in 1979, making it one of the first releases connected to hip hop culture, and almost certainly the first breakbeat record.
- Ultimate Breaks and Beats Vols. 1–25 (Street Beat, 1985–1990) 5 This comprehensive and influential series began just as the sampler was taking a central role in hip hop music.
- Kurtis Blow Presents The History of Rap Vol. 1 (Rhino, 1997) 5 One of the few breakbeat collections not of dubious legality.
Old school hip hop
- Live Convention '82 (Disco Wax, 1982) 1 This is a bootleg of a live event at T Connection on which one can hear various extracts and breaks, and Grand Wizard Theodore cutting up "Do the Funky Penguin" with rap over the top.
- Wild Style (Animal, 1983) 1 3 The soundtrack to the movie Wild Style has historical weight and yet "still feels like now", in the words of Jeff Chang.
- Go-Go Crankin' (4th & B'way, 1985) 5 Go-Go Crankin' is a hard-to-find early compilation of the related genre go-go. See also Meet Me At The Go-Go (Sanctuary, 2003).
- The Best of Enjoy Records (Hot Productions, 1989) 3 5 Enjoy were responsible for some of the most essential old school recordings; some contained here are "Superrappin'", "The New Rap Language" and "Feel the Heartbeat".
- The Sugar Hill Story - Old School Rap To The Beat Y'all (Sequel, 1992) 5 This is the definitive collection pertaining to the earliest hip hop label, compiled for Sequel by David Toop.
- Street Jams: Electric Funk Vols. 1–4 (Rhino, 1992) 5 These are compilations of the subgenre electro.
- Cold Crush Brothers: All The Way Live in '82 (Tuff City, 1994) 5 The Cold Crush Brothers were a direct inspiration for The Sugarhill Gang. This live 1982 recording obviously does not contain their 1984 single "Fresh, Wild, Fly and Bold", but it is an essential old school document. See also Cold Crush Brothers Vs. The Fantastic Romantic 5 (Tuff City, 1998).
- Warp 9: It's a Beat Wave (1983), (Island Records), 1983) Contains the iconic singles, "Nunk," and "Light Years Away," described as the "perfect instance of hip hop's contemporary ramifications," and a cornerstone of early 80s beatbox afrofuturism
- Pumpkin: The Tuff City Sessions (Old School Flava, 1995) 5 Pumpkin was the musician, percussionist and band leader behind many old school tracks for the Profile, Enjoy, and Tuff City record companies. This collection does not have his own "King of the Beat" (Profile, 1983) and suffers from poor sound quality, but captures some of his performances for Grandmaster Caz, Spoonie Gee and others.
- Spoonie Gee: The Godfather of Hip Hop (Tuff City, 1997) 5 Almost all of the best releases by "perhaps the first great MC" are compiled here. Not to be confused with The Godfather of Rap (BCM, 1988).
- Afrika Bambaataa: Looking for the Perfect Beat: 1980-1985 (Tommy Boy, 2001) 3 5 Bambaataa is one of hip hop's most important figures; this collection best preserves his legacy.
- Harlem World: The Sound Of The Big Apple Rappin' (Heroes & Villains, 2001) 5 MC and producer Spyder D's disco rap "Big Apple Rappin' (National Rappin' Anthem)", released on his own Newtroit Records in 1980, gives its title to this collection of early hip hop. See also Big Apple Rappin': The Early Days of Hip-Hop Culture in New York City 1979-1982 (Rhino, 2006).
- Mantronix: That's My Beat (Soul Jazz, 2002) 5 This compilation is notable for containing "Adventures of Super Rhymes" (Dazz, 1980) by the influential early MC Jimmy Spicer. It also contains the early Bambaataa Zulu Nation party favorite "Computer Games" by Yellow Magic Orchestra, and the important T La Rock single "It's Yours".
- The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979-1983 (Stones Throw, 2004) 5 Writer Peter Shapiro describes The Third Unheard as an "impeccable" collection of "irrepressible" early music.
List of important albums
- Run-D.M.C.: Run-D.M.C. (Profile, 1984) 1 2 3 6 7 Containing the early singles that saw off the old school, this is considered a superior rap album to any that preceded it.
- LL Cool J: Radio (Def Jam, 1985) 1 2 3 5 6 7 Hard, minimalist, self-assertive, and funky, this was a new school blueprint.
- Run-D.M.C.: Raising Hell (Profile, 1986) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Crossover hits like "Walk This Way" co-exist with the quintessential hip hop of tracks like "Peter Piper", "Perfection", "It's Tricky" and "My Adidas".
- Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill (Def Jam, 1986) 1 2 3 5 6 7 9 Licensed to Ill was responsible, along with Run D.M.C.'s Raising Hell, for establishing the hip hop album as a fixture of the mainstream.
- Boogie Down Productions: Criminal Minded (B-Boy, 1987) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Minimalist and tribalist, this album contains the material that started The Bridge Wars.
- Eric B. & Rakim: Paid in Full (4th & B'way, 1987) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Paid in Full is minimalist hip hop, with DJ tracks complementing the precise, logical and influential style of Rakim's raps.
- Biz Markie: Goin' Off (Cold Chillin', 1988) 1 2 3 4 5 Biz Markie, in singular comedic style, beatboxes, holds forth on the topic of "Picking Boogers", and describes a certain kind of fair-weather friend phenomenon on "The Vapors". Production is by Marley Marl.
- Slick Rick: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (Def Jam, 1988) 1 2 3 4 5 10 Slick Rick's roguish tales are noted early narratives in hip hop.
- EPMD: Strictly Business (Fresh, 1988) 1 2 3 4 5 6 The slow-moving funk of Strictly Business, with its loud bass and laid-back rapping, was a new sound in hip hop.
- Big Daddy Kane: Long Live the Kane (Cold Chillin', 1988) 1 2 3 4 5 Kane's exemplary boasting is backed by Marley Marl's excellent production.
- Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam, 1988) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Droning feedback, occasional shards of rock guitar, and James Brown horn samples distorted into discordant shrieks back the political rhetoric of lead rapper Chuck D and the surreality of Flavor Flav.
- N.W.A: Straight Outta Compton (Ruthless, 1988) 1 2 3 5 6 7 Powerful and uncompromising, both lyrically and sonically, Straight Outta Compton's first-hand representations of Compton, California life would set the tone for much of future hip hop.
- MC Lyte: Lyte as a Rock (First Priority, 1988) 1 2 3 4 5 The treatments Lyte gives rap competitors and ex-boyfriends in tracks like "10% Dis", "I Cram to Understand U" and "Paper Thin" make this debut one of the best albums of the era.
- Ultramagnetic MC's: Critical Beatdown (Next Plateau, 1988) 1 2 3 4 5 7 Critical Beatdown's abstract rhymes in strange syncopations laid on top of sampling experiments proved widely influential, from Public Enemy to gangsta rap to several generations of underground hip hop artists.
- Jungle Brothers: Straight out the Jungle (Idlers, 1988) 1 2 3 4 10 This debut was an original album containing fluid grooves and nods towards sexual and political egalitarianism.
- De La Soul: 3 Feet High & Rising (Tommy Boy, 1989) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 An eclectic yet inclusive collage of samples, a benevolent sensibility and an enormous sense of fun made this record a hip hop landmark.
- Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique (Capitol, 1989) 1 2 3 5 6 7 9 " ... one of the high watermarks of the sampling era".
- Queen Latifah: All Hail the Queen (Tommy Boy, 1989) 1 2 3 5 Latifah's Afrocentric, charismatic, regal mien projected a new and original persona onto the world of hip hop.
- Jungle Brothers: Done by the Forces of Nature (Warner Bros., 1989) 1 2 3 5 The second album by the Jungle Brothers is an inclusive outing: "the most all-embracing hip-hop ever made".
- Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam, 1990) 1 2 3 6 7 Fear of a Black Planet, containing the singles "Fight the Power" and "Welcome to the Terrordome", was the similarly incendiary follow-up to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
- A Tribe Called Quest: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (Jive, 1990) 1 2 3 10 Rich and infectious, this debut wore the worthy intent of its morality plays, allegories and explorations of ambiguity lightly.
- X-Clan: To the East, Blackwards (4th & B'Way, 1990) 1 2 4 5 X-Clan mixed a brand of Egyptology with their Islamic teachings, creating catchphrases still resonant in hip hop today in the process.
- Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (Priority, 1990) 1 2 5 7 10 The music keeps pace with the raps on Ice Cube's album of alienation and rage.
- Poor Righteous Teachers: Holy Intellect (Profile, 1990) 1 2 4 5 Mystic Islam offshoot The Nation of Gods and Earths had a strong presence in hip hop at this time; Holy Intellect had bouncing funk and ragga influences to sugar the pill of the messages.
- Brand Nubian: One for All (Elektra, 1990) 1 2 3 4 As above, this was another Five Percenter album that was an impressive work of sound.
- Gang Starr: Step In the Arena (Chrysalis, 1991) 1 2 3 10 Gang Starr was one of the most consistent groups in hip hop, and one of the greatest. DJ Premier's production here was a leap forward in hip hop techniques.
- De La Soul: De La Soul Is Dead (Tommy Boy, 1991)1 2 3 5 7 Following the success of their debut, De La Soul killed off their hippy image, producing this sometimes frustrated, sometimes uplifting album with rich grooves in both moods.
- Main Source: Breaking Atoms (Wild Pitch, 1991) 1 2 3 5 Breaking Atoms is noted for introducing both Nas and Akinyele, for its clever production (by Large Professor) and for its sophisticated storytelling in tracks like "Peace Is Not the Word to Play" and the metaphor for racism that was "Just a Friendly Game of Baseball".
- Cypress Hill: Cypress Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1991) 1 2 3 4 5 Sardonic and menacing, marijuana-toking Cypress Hill's debut had B-Real's unmistakable nasal-whine delivery and extraordinary beats on this commercially successful record.
- A Tribe Called Quest: The Low End Theory (Jive, 1991) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "The album demonstrated that hip-hop was an aesthetic every bit as deep, serious and worth cherishing as any in a century-plus of African-American music".
- Scarface: Mr. Scarface Is Back (Rap-A-Lot, 1991) 1 2 3 5 Scarface's skillful rapping about the thug and hustler lifestyles includes reflecting on their consequences.
- Gang Starr: Daily Operation (EMI Records, 1992) 1 2 4 5 This album represents the hardcore, gritty, and resurge in East Coast Hip Hop.
- Redman: Whut? Thee Album (Def Jam, 1992) 1 2 4 5 Zapp and P-funk form the basis of beats that are tough, raucous fun, much like Redman's raps.
- The Pharcyde: Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (Delicious Vinyl, 1992) 1 2 3 4 5 10 L.A.'s The Pharcyde made an album that was a carnival of fun and inventiveness that still made time for some disarmingly honest introspection.
- Dr. Dre: The Chronic (Death Row, 1992) 1 2 3 5 6 7 10 The era of wide-scale sampling would draw to a close in the wake of this hugely successful and hugely influential record, which used live band "interpolations" to create a slow, laid-back music, forming the background to raps of chilling violence.
- Souls of Mischief: 93 'til Infinity (Jive, 1993) 1 2 3 5 There were hazy jazz samples, a bohemian air and a torrent of rhymes on the classic debut record from Souls of Mischief of East Oakland, California.
- Wu-Tang Clan: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (Loud, 1993) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 One of hip hop's true landmarks, this ferocious, startling album rescued New York hip hop in a time dominated by the relaxed sounds of the West Coast.
- Snoop Doggy Dogg: Doggystyle (Death Row, 1993) 1 2 3 5 The star of The Chronic, with his laid-back drawl, made the best-selling debut album ever.
- Nas: Illmatic (Columbia, 1994) 1 2 3 5 6 7 As writer Peter Shapiro frames it, Illmatic demonstrated a fitting of production to lyrics worthy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, an analytical evocation of street life that matched the power of N.W.A., and a command of the microphone not heard since Rakim.
- Organized Konfusion: Stress: The Extinction Agenda (Hollywood BASIC, 1994) 1 2 3 5 Challenging but occasionally joyful music that demonstrates virtuosity even at its most difficult, this is noted not least for a gruesome narrative told from the perspective of a titular "Stray Bullet".
- The Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (Bad Boy, 1994) 1 2 3 5 6 This album's platinum sales, rap skills, and bleak vision mitigated by humor and funk, completed the revitalization of New York hip hop begun with the success of the Wu-Tang's debut a year before.
- Common Sense: Resurrection (Relativity, 1994) 1 2 3 4 5 "I Used To Love H.E.R." is an extended metaphor for hip hop that attracted much attention, while on tracks like "Resurrection" and "Watermelon" Common's style is warm and witty, the tracks full of wordplay and assured jazzy production.
- Mobb Deep: The Infamous (Loud, 1995) 1 2 3 4 5 " ... a bone-chilling classic of Rotten Apple hardcore".
- Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (Loud, 1995) 1 2 3 7 Raekwon's grim street tales made for one of the best Wu-Tang solo records.
- GZA: Liquid Swords (Geffen/MCA Records, 1995) While heavily sampling dialogues from the 1980 martial arts film Shogun Assassin, the Genius' second album is considered one of the best Wu-Tang solo albums, next to Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx....
- The Fugees: The Score (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1996) 1 2 3 4 6 Massive singles aside, this was a dark, downtempo album; it sold over 18 million copies worldwide and was widely respected.
- Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt (Roc-A-Fella, 1996) 1 2 3 5 6 Jay-Z combined elements of the New York underground with a mainstream sensibility on his debut, proving himself a strong presence on the mic in the process.
- Capone-N-Noreaga: The War Report (Penalty/Tommy Boy/Warner Bros. Records, 1997) Rappers Capone and Noreaga (also known as C-N-N) take you to a New York battlefield with their slamming beats and raw vocals.
- Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998) 1 3 5 7 Soaring music and Hill's voice, rapping or singing, made this among the most successful crossover albums of the hip hop era.
- Outkast: Aquemini (LaFace, 1998) 1 3 5 7 Critical, analytical and emotionally intelligent, Aquemini was ambitious and successful both musically and lyrically.
- Eminem: The Slim Shady LP (Aftermath/Interscope, 1999) 3 5 6 8 This contains some Dr. Dre productions and Eminem's deliberately offensive wordplay; the huge single "My Name Is" is an example of both.
- Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP (Aftermath/Interscope/Shady, 2000) This album is considered Eminem's magnum opus, and ranks as one of the best-selling albums in the United States since Nielsen SoundScan tracking began.
- Jay-Z: The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella, 2001) 3 5 6 7 8 Jay-Z was at the height of his talents here, over production by Kanye West, Just Blaze and others.
Lists 1–5 are exclusively hip hop publications by writers respected in the field. 6–9 are essentially rock publications, though with some breadth of coverage, obviously; 6–7 are American, 8–9, British. 10 is a British dance music magazine that none-the-less had hip hop accounting for more than a fifth of its list. Albums that appear on any four lists or more have been included.
- "Hip Hop's Greatest Albums By Year" in Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Chairman Mao, Gabriel Alvarez & Brent Rollins. ego trip's Book of Rap Lists, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999, pp. 331–337. ISBN 978-0-312-24298-5
- "Top 100 Albums of All-Time", The Source, January 1998.
- Oliver Wang (ed.) Classic Material, Toronto: ECW, 2003. ISBN 978-1-55022-561-7
- Brian Coleman, Check the Technique, New York: Villard, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8129-7775-2
- Peter Shapiro, Rough Guide to Hip Hop, 2nd. ed., London: Rough Guides, 2005. ISBN 978-1-84353-263-7
- "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time", Rolling Stone, November 2003.
- "100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005", Spin, July 2005.
- "100 Best Albums Of All Time", NME, March 2003.
- "Top 100 Favourite Albums of All Time", Melody Maker, January 2000.
- "Best Albums of All Time", Mixmag, 1996.
- David Toop, Rap Attack, 3rd. ed., London: Serpent's Tail, 2000. (p. 213) ISBN 978-1-85242-627-9
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- Toop, David (2000). Rap Attack 3: African Rap to Global Hip Hop. (Expanded Third Edition) London: Serpent's Tail, pp. 150-151 ISBN 1-85242-627-6.
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