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The Top Best 10 Rap Albums of All Time

By Enzo Marshall in Arts & Culture

Rap music is one of the most passion-filled art forms in existence. Both the artists and the listeners are very passionate about the music they listen to. When most non-rap fans think of rap, they think of modern rap full of verses about stereotypical things like money, drugs, and putting down women; but as I see it, rap is about an escape, an expression of oppression and poverty. Even when rap is about stereotypical things, those things are still an escape from rappers’ realities. Overall, rap is misunderstood and underappreciated, but with this list I am going to include the very best albums that the rap industry has ever produced. In each listing I included a song that sums up the album. These are all either the most popular song on the album, or a song that exemplifies the things I talk about in the listing. Things that I will take into account are lyrics, beats, production quality, message, and flow.

Number 1- “Illmatic” by Nas (1994)

Nas - "Illmatic"

Nas - "Illmatic"

Nas’s debut album, “Illmatic”, is an album that truly changed hip-hop. By combining the slick flow of fellow New York rapper Rakim, the story telling lyrics of Slick Rick, and his own flare of true New York ruggedness and grit, Nas created an album that has gone down in history as one of the greatest albums ever and is one of my personal favorites. Nas’s lyrics are composed of stories about slinging dope in the streets of Brooklyn, preaching about living life to its fullest, and sharing the hardships of being a poor black male in New York and the US in general. The beats on this album are mostly composed of smooth stand-up bass, piano, jazz drums, and the occasional record scratch, which together make for slow jazzy beats and provide a nice contrast to the intense lyrics. The message of this album is what makes it truly great. Nas speaks simply about his life, which in itself is a truly powerful thing because people unfamiliar with a life like that gain a new understanding.

Song to sum up the album: “NY State of Mind”

Number 2- “Me Against the World” by 2pac (1995)

2pac - "Me Against The World"

2pac - "Me Against The World"

2pac’s third album, “Me Against the World”, is a perfect view into the mind of the legendary rapper. 2pac’s unique and instantly recognizable style put over the hard hitting, funky, classic west coast beats makes every song on the album catchy, but if you dig a little deeper into the songs you can see the introspective messages that make 2pac what he is. The lyrics on this album consist of 2pac’s fear for his life (which was justified because he was murdered in 1996), loss of his innocence, and self judgement. 2pac’s legendary flow, and this album’s lyrics, which provide a window into the mind of Tupac Shakur, are what makes this album the second best ever.

Song to sum up the album: “So Many Tears”

Number 3- “Ready To Die” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1994)

The Notorious B.I.G - "Ready to Die"

The Notorious B.I.G - "Ready to Die"

“Ready To Die”, Biggie Smalls’ debut album rocked the nation when it released in 1994. Critics went wild over the new face in the rap game, and the album went platinum within a year of its release and today the album has sold well over 4 million copies. This one album almost instantly gave B.I.G. the title of “King of New York.” The beats on the album are quite minimal and showcase Biggie’s lyrics and heavily enunciated style. The lyrics, which sometimes seem like they justify selling crack and robbing people, are truly about the depression that a lifestyle like Biggie’s can bring on. “Ready to Die” is one of the most influential albums ever.

Song to sum up the album: “Juicy”

Number 4- “The Chronic” by Dr. Dre (1992)

Dr. Dre - "The Chronic"

Dr. Dre - "The Chronic"

Dr. Dre’s first album after leaving the legendary group, NWA, “The Chronic”, was a huge success at its release and even for a long period after its release. This single album put west coast rap in the entire country’s spotlight. This album is a nice break from other albums which have deep, profound lyrics. “The Chronic” is just about super funky beats, slick rhymes, and really good music. The lyrics are mostly about Dr. Dre’s daily life which consisted of lots of weed, lots of women, lots of cars, and lots of money. Almost every song on the album features Dr. Dre’s partner in crime, Snoop Dogg, who provides his classic chill vibe to accompany the G-Funk beats all across the album. Dr. Dre single-handedly moved the Hip-Hop community’s eyes away from New York and on to L.A. which changed rap forever.

Song to sum up the album: “Nuthin’ But a G Thang”

Number 5- “Enter the Wu-Tang” by The Wu-Tang Clan (1993)

The Wu-Tang Clan - "Enter the Wu-Tang"

The Wu-Tang Clan - "Enter the Wu-Tang"

When the Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album in 1993, people were shocked with the raw lyrics the members were spitting. Wu-Tang used the profane lyrics introduced by NWA in 1988 with “Straight Outta Compton”, but added the New York harshness that came naturally to them which produced a completely raw and uncut album. The album created a new wave of rap in New York, which at the time was mostly influenced by the Jazz-Rap of artists like A Tribe Called Quest. Members of the Wu-Tang clan include: Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, and RZA, and each member brought their own style to this album. The lyrics on the album contain rhymes about killing, stealing, torture, and hard drugs and create an image of the urban life that was all too common. The beats on the album are a mix of the jazz beats common in New York at the time, and the hard hitting bass of west coast gangsta rap, but Wu-Tang decided to make the beats on the album seem more rough around the edges in order to enhance the rugged feel of the album. From the point that this album was released, rap has been forever changed because rappers aren’t afraid to speak uncut about the reality that they face everyday.

Song to sum up the album: “Protect Ya Neck”

Number 6- “Straight Outta Compton” by NWA (1988)

NWA - "Straight Outta Compton"

NWA - "Straight Outta Compton"

“Straight Outta Compton” is probably the most influential rap album of all time. In 1988, west coast rap didn’t exist yet as the game was dominated almost completely by New York, but five relative nobodies from Compton, California took a shot at the rap game, and the effect was profound. The five members were all friends, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ran, DJ Yella, and Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were already interested in making music, but they had to convince the rest of the members to join the group. Once the album dropped, America went a little crazy, either hating on it because of the profanity, or praising it for finally making the reality of police brutality clear to the general public. This album introduced the west coast into rap, but also introduced rap to lyrics that weren’t just about money and lavish lifestyles.

Song to sum up the album: “Straight Outta Compton”

Number 7- ”Low End Theory” by A Tribe Called Quest (1991)

A Tribe Called Quest - "Low End Theory"

A Tribe Called Quest - "Low End Theory"

“Low End Theory” represents the perfect cross between rap and jazz. At the time of its release, “Low End Theory” was considered an alternative rap album, but today it is one of the most praised albums to ever have been released. The album contains very few lyrics with swearing or references to drugs or crime. The beats are complete jazz, containing mostly stand up bass. The two rappers on the album, Phife Dawg and Q-tip, provide smooth rhymes making the album sound laid back. For years after this album’s release, New York couldn’t get enough of the jazzy laid back style of A Tribe Called Quest.

Song to sum up the album: “Check the Rhime”

Number 8- ” Aquemini” by Outkast (1998)

Outkast - "Aquemini"

Outkast - "Aquemini"

Atlanta’s Outkast is mostly known for their pop style songs like their famous “Hey Ya,” but their third album, “Aquemini”, is in my opinion their best. “Aquemini” was made before Outkast changed to making more poppy songs, but it did come out after they made a different change. On Outkast’s first two albums, they used more traditional, electronically produced beats; and while they found a lot of success doing that for some reason they decided to switch their beats to acoustic guitar, synths, and drums on “Aquemini.” This was a risky move, but they pulled it off and produced the 8th best rap album of all time.

Song to sum up the album: “Slump”

Number 9- “Paid in Full” by Rakim and Eric B. (1987)

Rakim and Eric B - "Paid in Full"

Rakim and Eric B - "Paid in Full"

Rakim is often considered the rapper with the best flow of all time. On his first album, in a partnership with DJ Eric B., he showcases his flow perfectly. He uses his rhyming powers to perfectly accompany the classic disc-scratching beats of Eric B. This album was made in the rap era when lyrics were still mostly about money and expensive things, but the lyrics aren’t what makes this album great, it’s the smooth consistent flow by Rakim that stays steady for entire songs, and every bar is better than the last. “Paid In Full” perfectly sums up pre-90’s rap.

Song to sum up the album: “I Know You Got Soul”

Number 10- “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” by Raekwon (1995)

Raekwon - "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx"

Raekwon - "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx"

After The Wu-Tang Clan broke up, every member tried to make it big in the rap game on their own, and they all had quite a bit of success; but none had quite as much success as Raekwon did with his first solo album, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx”. The album is centered around the story of a drug kingpin in New York, and Raekwon narrates the story perfectly. The rapping is similar to Raekwon’s style while he was a member of Wu-Tang Clan, but the lyrics are less a compilation of shocking things, like Wu-Tang’s, and more a fluid story. Many people consider this the best album ever, but it falls at number ten on my list.

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