Best Rap Albums of All Time
Gripping, distinctive, explosive, shocking, potent, poignant—the words that come to mind to describe rap are as varied as the ever-evolving genre itself. But one feature holds constant: it’s one of the most inventive and electrifying forms of modern music, and it’s changed the face of culture since commercial songs started being released in the 1970s.
From popular classics like Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt to lesser-known gems like Aceyalone’s A Book of Human Language, titles that argue for best rap album are wide-ranging and rich. And depending on which enthusiasts you talk to, you’re bound to get a different list of the ones that make the cut.
Nevertheless, we’re showing our hand with our picks for the 10 best rap albums of all time—though we’ll let you be the ultimate judge as you listen in.
#1 Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest
Where would modern rap be without these East Coast jazz rap pioneers? We don’t even want to speculate. In Midnight Marauders, New York’s A Tribe Called Quest fused jazz, hip hop, and rap with searing, memorable lyrics and low-key beats to bless us with one of the most mellow yet addictive bohemian rap albums of the early 90s.1
The hip-hop community wholeheartedly agrees. Midnight Marauders has been revered as one of the most seminal albums in hip hop history, influencing the likes of Busta Rhymes, Digable Planets, and The Fugees. Represent, represent indeed.
#2 2001, Dr. Dre
West Coast rap is synonymous with one of the real OGs, Dr. Dre. Reminiscent of Mos Def and Wu-Tang Clan’s in-your-face East Coast style, this incomprehensibly gifted artist parted with N.W.A. and merged into Death Row Records. He quickly went from MC to of the most recognized voices on the planet—and a veritable god in the hip-hop scene.
Like all of the classic hip-hop albums listed here, his best album is up for debate, but we have a soft spot for the explosiveness that is 2001. Dr. Dre’s passion, resentment, and fire come out as gritty, clever lyrics on this record. The album features several of the most mesmerizing songs in the rap canon, including:
- “The Next Episode”
- “The Watcher”
- “Still D.R.E”
Forget about Dre? Not possible.
#3 A Book of Human Language, Aceyalone
Los Angeles rapper Aceyalone started on open mics like LA’s iconic Good Life Cafe, where he made a smashing impression on the West Coast’s underground rap scene. There, he captivated the attention of producer J-Sumbi, who recruited the hip hop prodigy to be one of four unique artists on the album “To Whom it May Concern.”
Skillful rhyming is at the heart of Aceyalone’s sophomore album, but that’s just one element in its magic. The album scintillates with a novel, unusually sensual texture, flowing from one song to the next as a kind of stream-of-consciousness.
Today, Aceyalone is considered one of the most underappreciated but intelligent rappers out there, and many mind-bending songs on A Book of Human Language have drawn comparisons to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.2
#4 The Marshall Mathers, Eminem
Eminem unquestionably took the world by storm when his sophomore album, The Slim Shady, burst onto the scene in 1999.
By the time The Marshall Mathers was released, Eminem hadn’t just proved that a blonde boy from Detroit could be a potent, whiplash-inducing MC—he was poised to eclipse his predecessors with pure, raw talent.
Countless music critics have crowned Eminem the king of rap. Touré of Rolling Stone (controversially) deemed him an even more exceptional MC than Snoop Dogg, Prodigy, and Common.3 On the album, you’ll find record-shattering, spellbinding songs like:
- “The Real Slim Shady”
- “The Way I Am”
As for Slim Shady himself? He stood up to time and then some. The Marshall Mathers LP has sold 25 million copies, rendering it one of the best-selling rap albums of all time. It also compelled Eminem to answer, “Hey, Slim, what if you win?” when he took home the Grammy award for Best Rap Album in 2001.
#5 Greatest Hits, Ice Cube
Actor, activist, and Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Ice Cube jump-started the musical leg of his career with the notorious N.W.A. He swiftly carved out a name for himself as one of the most influential leaders in gangsta rap, gaining notoriety the world over for his masterful lyricism and unparalleled timing.
The compilation of his greatest hits features megahit tracks, including:
- “Check Yo Self”
- “We Be Clubbin’”
- “$100 Bill Y’All”
Pop on Cube’s Greatest Hits, and don’t be surprised if you get dizzy from how many times you spin on repeat.
#6 Eazy-Duz-It, Eazy E
The late Eazy E dropped beats like few others, collaborating with Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella to craft some of the most prominent and inspiring hits in rap history.
Eazy-Duz-It was his debut after the group disbanded. It shot to the top of the charts, ultimately selling 2.5 million copies and solidifying Eazy E’s reputation as the Godfather of Gangsta Rap.
#7 The College Dropout, Kanye West
Responsible for some of the most influential rap albums of the 21st century, like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Late Registration, Yeezus, and more, Kanye West changed rap and its production forever. Say what you will about West’s public persona, but the man is a rap titan and a masterful-born musician.
The College Dropout is nothing less than a timeless testament to the rapper’s talents. Veering away from the subjects typically tackled by West Coast lyricists, the songs in his debut album are defined by:
- Their focus on themes like education, religion, and family
- Hybridizing rap/hip hop with funk, gospel, R&B, and soul influences
- Contributions made by some of the most famous names in hip hop, including Ludacris and Jay-Z
- Securing Ye his first Grammy for Best Rap Album of the Year in 2005
At once serious and comic, vulnerable and self-possessed, The College Dropout quickly became a classic hip hop album. This LP announced the arrival of one of the most skilled and beguiling rappers of our time, who would bring about artists like Pusha T, Travis Scott, and countless others.
#8 Supa Dupa Fly, Missy Elliott
Alongside trailblazing female hip-hop artists like Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott can command a room with her voice and rap’s leading gentlemen. The gregarious and gorgeous Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott proved her phenomenal talent the moment she stepped on the music scene with Supa Dupa Fly, her 1997 debut album.
Produced by Timbaland, another titan in the genre, the certified-platinum album provoked massive critical acclaim (and years of house party hip-shaking) with blockbusters like:
- “Hit Em wit da Hee”
- “Sock it 2 Me”
- “Beep Me 911”
Supa Dupa Fly boasts collaborations with the sultry Lil’ Kim and the late, great Aaliyah. In the 90s, we’d call that girl power. Today, we’d say Missy made the future of rap female (hello, Nicki and Doja Cat).
#9 Ready to Die, The Notorious B.I.G.
Christopher Wallace, better known as rapper The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls, was with us for an all-too-brief 24 years. But talk to any music enthusiast, and you’ll know the runaway hits on Ready to Die have been cemented in collected cultural memory for their “I gotta dance to this” beats and smoldering (and largely autobiographical) lyrics.4
In this 6-times-over platinum album, you’ll find some of the most popular rap songs to ever waft over the airwaves, like:
- “One More Chance”
- “Big Poppa”
The New York legend was killed in 1997, shortly before his follow-up album dropped. But his discography has made an unvanquishable, indelible impact on audiences, rap, and music history.
#10 Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z
In terms of commercial success, public prestige, and commanding seat in the world of hip-hop, yes: Jay-Z is the top dog. But he deserves every accolade for the brilliant lyricism that brought Reasonable Doubt's epic, unforgettable album.
This spectacular debut record out of Def Jam records knocked critics’ and fans’ proverbial socks (and sneakers) off with its grit, courage, and authenticity. Featuring collaborations with a range of artists—Tribe, LL Cool J, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Nas, and Snoop Dogg among them—this album blessed our ears with hits like:
- “Can’t Knock the Hustle”
- “Brooklyn’s Finest”
- “Ain’t No Nigga”
- “Feelin’ It”
Some rap megafans might argue that Jay-Z is overhyped—but we stand by our belief that he’s the unrivaled Godfather of Rap. After all, if Jay couldn’t bring it like the best of them, where’d he get that swagger?
Best in Rap Honorable Mentions
Any top-10 best rap albums lineup is, we’ll readily admit, far from complete. In such a prolific music genre, new titles are constantly introducing fresh, dynamic, and timeless talent. But we’d be remiss not to mention a few of our selects that came close to clinching our top-ten rankings:
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- Rolling Stone. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Mauraders. https://au.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/best-albums-of-all-time-32520/a-tribe-called-quest-midnight-marauders-2-32820/
- Rap Reviews. Aceyalone, a book of human language. https://www.rapreviews.com/2006/12/aceyalone-a-book-of-human-language/
- Rolling Stone. Eminem’s the marshall mathers lp album review. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/the-marshall-mathers-lp-203914/
- Rolling Stone. The notorious b.i.g. is living large. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/the-notorious-b-i-g-is-living-large-193171/