Whether you are a rap music enthusiast or simply looking to expand your musical horizons by adding rap to your vinyl record collection, you may be wondering which albums are deemed “must haves” when it comes to the rap genre. The most influential artists and albums in rap can be difficult to narrow down, as there are a myriad of masterpieces that have made an impact on both the genre and society as a whole. However, the following 7 artists and albums have proven to be some of the most powerful and prominent over the years, shaping society in countless ways.
Read on to find our top 7 rap vinyl records that will complete your collection:
#1 N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton (1988)
Originating on the West Coast, specifically in the heart of Los Angeles, American rapper Eazy-E started the group N.W.A which soon took the world by storm upon the release of their debut studio album Straight Outta Compton. As a direct result of the album, which has been deemed the greatest gangsta rap album of all time, N.W.A became one of, if not the most, influential groups in the rap genre.
Straight Outta Compton is a politically charged, socially conscious masterpiece that uses aggressive lyricism to convey the message of racial injustice in America, specifically in LA at the time. The message embedded deep within gangsta rap beats began a revolution in the rap industry, transforming and popularizing hip-hop across the nation. Since its release, the album has sold well over 3 million copies, marking its unwavering influence and impact to this day.
#2 A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory (1991)
Three years after the release of Straight Outta Compton, A Tribe Called Quest released their second studio album, The Low End Theory. While this album is vastly different from Straight Outta Compton in terms of lyricism and tempo, the group accredited N.W.A’s album as inspiration. Ironically, The Low End Theory rejected the concept of gangsta rap, and instead focused on the workings of jazz samples by bridging the gap between hip hop and jazz genres. However, the influence and inspiration of Straight Outta Compton stemmed from Dr. Dre’s production technique and the overall layout of the album.
When A Tribe Called Quest released The Low End Theory, rap music, once again, took an innovative turn. As opposed to outwardly aggressive lyricism and upbeat tracks, the album relied on the sounds of trumpets, pianos, and drums along with hip-hop beats to create a sound that had never been heard before. In doing so, The Low End Theory broke the mold of traditional rap at the time, leading the album to the top charts.
#3 Dr. Dre - The Chronic (1992)
From N.W.A to Death Row Records, Dr. Dre’s impact in the world of rap music has been, and continues to be, one of the most prominent among artists in this genre. In the early 90’s, Dr. Dre released his debut studio album The Chronic after splitting with N.W.A.
Through this album, Dr. Dre discussed a variety of politically charged topics during a time when it was needed most. In the midst of the LA riots, this album rose to the top of the charts, and for good reason. The Chronic gave a voice to those who felt the wrath of racial injustice at the time and did so through powerful lyricism and instrumental, soul-filled melodies.
The success of this album can be seen through the unwavering support by fans over the years. In fact, The Chronic has been re-released 3 times to keep up with the perpetual demand since its release. That said, this album was progressive in many ways, but above all, the album helped shape West Coast hip hop and proved gangsta rap to be commercially viable.
#4 Nas - Illmatic (1994)
When taking a closer look at East Coast hip hop, Nas has been deemed a staple artist that paved the way for many other rappers which would emerge in the following years. With the release of Illmatic, the album initially lacked in sales, despite its later success. At the time, rap and hip hop culture was becoming less prominent in New York as it has rapidly expanded to the West Coast. However, Nas played a pivotal role in revitalizing the hip hop music scene and culture in the East Coast with Illmatic.
Discussing themes of day to day struggles of the underprivileged youth in New York, this album found its success in being relatable to specific demographics. Illmatic was composed with emotionally moving narratives alongside innovative sounds of jazz and hip hop fusion. With this, the album tells the story of an inner city kid with aspirations of making a name for himself.
#5 Tupac - All Eyez on Me (1996)
Tupac Shakur’s fourth studio album, and his last album released before his premature death, was titled All Eyez on Me and released on February 13, 1996. Under Interscope and Death Row Records, the album references much of Shakur’s “thug life” and his experiences as a young black man.
Immediately upon Shakur’s release from prison, he landed in Los Angeles and began recording what would unknowingly become a record breaking album. The time he spent incarcerated is greatly reflected in the anger and passion portrayed in each song on the album. With such high prestige and success, it is unbelievable that the album was recorded in a matter of just two weeks.
All Eyez on Me received an immense amount of critical acclaim as soon as it was released, and to this day acts as one of the most influential albums in the rap genre. That said, it is no surprise that to this day Tupac remains widely recognized and culturally relevant in the realm of hip hop music.
#6 Kanye West - Graduation (2007)
Moving into the 2000’s Kanye West made his rise to fame and solidified this success with his third studio album Graduation. Taking an innovative approach to the rap genre, Kanye worked with electronic beats and a synchronizer to create a sound that had never been heard before. In doing so, Kanye fused mainstream music with hip hop, creating a sound that reached a broader audience. Rap music was then able to be appreciated by the mainstream audience while maintaining its roots simultaneously.
Graduation’s influence on rap culture is undeniable. Shifting from gangsta rap in the 90’s to a more diverse and mainstream sound, Kanye was able to demonstrate his broad range of talent and the ability to push boundaries.
#7 Kendrick Lamar - Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012)
Recorded and produced in Kendrick Lamar’s hometown of Los Angeles, California alongside Dr. Dre, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was released on October 22, 2012. The Grammy Award-winning album, specifically for Album of the Year, depicts the narrative of Lamar’s rough upbringing and life experiences growing up in the city of Compton. With low tempo beats and creative hooks, the message of this album is accompanied by a unique flow and rhythm, beautifully tying the project together seamlessly.
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is more than just an album with a well-thought out tracklist. In its composition, Lamar, along with a number of producers and contributors, uses this work of art as a thematic masterpiece. The album tells a story of childhood innocence turned into adulthood which had been strongly impacted by social surroundings over the years. Lamar’s struggles to escape reality turned into groundbreaking success as he used his voice and experiences to relate to American underprivileged youth in this album. As such, the album became a widely-recognized and creatively distinct work of art in this genre.
Get to collecting and start listening
While these albums and artists merely scratch the surface of an extensive genre filled with numerous impactful musicians, the 7 albums listed above are a key starting point. Each of the albums in this list have influenced, expanded, or altered the rap genre in some way, shape, or form and are each considered monumental in their own way.
When it comes to rap vinyl records, and your own personal collection, you will want to be sure to make the most out of your listening experience. In doing so, playing your records on a high quality vinyl record player will not only keep your record collection long-lasting and in great condition, but will also allow you to fully embrace the sound of your records as well.
If you are looking for a vinyl record player with the utmost quality, Victrola has a wide selection of record players that are just as unique as your musical preference, whether that includes rap or reggae vinyl records. The timeless aesthetic of Victrola record players extend far beyond their refined appearance and are matched with unrivaled sound quality as well.
No matter where you choose to start your rap vinyl record collection, be sure to do so with a record player that cares for your records just as much as you do.
If you want to add some country vinyl records to your collection, check out our blog here.