Top 15 Hip Hop Albums of All Time

October 14, 2009 at 10:55 am (Uncategorized)

I eat and breathe hip hop more than anything else, but I think 95% of hip hop is the worst music we’ve ever made.  So my list might look a little different.  It comes from listening to thousands of things so that I start to get really sick of the stuff that falls into the bullshit category.  It also comes from really loving the blindspots your eyes get when you rub your closed lids for a long time.


15. Bahamadia – Kollage, 1996.


Yeah.  Bahamadia is one of the dopest rappers I’ve ever heard.  She’s extremely poetic and delivers incredibly sculpted verses, like the long first line on “Rugged Ruff” that goes on for like four bars.  Fans of my writing are down with the vibe of songs like “Spontaneity” already. Jeremy Robert Johnson thinks she’s monotone and that’s one of the major reasons I think he’s overrated.  And DJ Premier handles most of the beats!

14. Dangerdoom – The Mouse and the Mask, 2005.


This album has two of the best hip hop artists ever, ever, period, together in the same room.  MF Doom and Danger Mouse are both, without a doubt, the most innovative (Doom at raps and Danger on beats) in the game right now.  This album’s got Danger doing some of his most trippy and experimental shit ever… but the sick thing about DM is that on every album, no matter what, there are some amazing songs.  I still think there’s few better songs for a mushroom trip than Gnarls Barkley’s “Transformer.”  And MF Doom makes an appearance again on this list…

13. De La Soul – Buhloone Mindstate, 1993.

de la

To tell you the truth, as much as I love De La Soul and think they contributed more to hip hop than almost anyone else, I don’t listen to them nearly as much as other stuff.  I’m too bent to the hard beat shit, and De La has always been beautifully frictionless.  This is a very dope album though, and it feels to me like one of their most important for hip hop.  Listen to the track “In the Woods” and get hooked.

12. The Fugees – The Score, 1996.


Ah shit, how many of these songs have I had stuck in my fuckin’ head over the years!  This album is a 100% masterpiece, even if they really didn’t give us much else in their career as a group.  Lauryn Hill is a miracle.  The whole album runs together like a film flawlessly, best to listen to straight, but there’s so many individual tracks you can bump it’s insane.  Check “Fu-Gee-La,” of course.

11. 2 Pac – Me Against the World, 1995.

2 pac

You know, I didn’t even like 2 Pac very much until two months ago I moved out to the West  Coast.  It just happened that I heard “Old School” right as I got to Portland and started listening to it like six times a day.  I also think it might be the smell of West Coast air.  I’m starting to really love 2 Pac.  He was the shit in Juice too.  But yeah, listen to “Old School” a lot of times.  Easy Mo Bee also produced a couple really great tracks on this album – the same guy who did all the best songs off Biggie’s Ready to Die.

10. Gang Starr – Moment of Truth, 1998.

gang st

I’ve listened to so much Gang Starr that I can’t listen to all of it anymore, but this album is the one that’s stayed  fresh through all of it.  Guru’s dope, but sometimes he spends more time rapping about keeping it real than actually just sitting down and dropping ill verses.  He gets some of his best in here.  And DJ Premier is on every single hip hop head’s top-three-producers-of-all-time list.  Check “You Know My Steez” to know what the fuck Gang Starr’s steez is all about.  Oh, also: Gang Starr’s importance to hip hop goes beyond their own music; they were behind some of the 90’s dopest underground rappers, like Bahamadia, Jeru the Damaja, and Group Home.

9. Viktor Vaughn (MF Doom) – Vaudeville Villian, 2003.

mf doo

This is MF Doom at his absolute best.  A perfect blend of urban tones, surrealism, sci-fi shit, cartoon-logic… MF Doom is a mad genius.  And the main reason I like it so much is because I don’t think Doom’s had such perfect beats for his kind of raps on any other project.  I’ve never heard of most of the people who did the production on the album but I wanna hear more.  It’s absolute headtrips but with a beat you can follow.  And RJD2 dropped a track on it.  Listen to “Raedawn,” that kinda texture-for-a-beat thing is what I love so much about Viktor Vaughn.

8. The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II, 1992.


The first time you discover this will be the happiest 3 months of your life.  Then it’ll slow down and it’ll get sad because you’ll know you can never be that happy again.  It sounds like it happened the same way for the members of the band, too.  But this album is  a perfect, perfect moment in The Pharcyde’s creative growths captured.  Some of the best non-stop dancing shit hip hop’s ever had – all of ’em but Fat Lip started out as dancers on In Living Color.  Saddest part of this story: the incredible producer of virtually every song on the album, J-Swift, got addicted to the crack (hence there being only one song he didn’t make) and disappeared from the world.  He’s still alive somewhere, I think.  But he definitely doesn’t make Bizarre Ride‘s anymore.

7. Nas – Illmatic, 1994.


Bet you’re surprised this isn’t even lower on the list, huh?  I looked through some other people’s lists before making this one up and so many people had it as #1.  Maybe it is #1.  I dunno.  It’s #7 to me.  But everyone knows how good of a rapper Nas is.  Nobody can sling words like him.  And Illmatic‘s got my most favorite beat makers on it: DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Large Professor, and Q-Tip.  (By the way, you guys heard Q-Tip’s “Shaka“?)

6. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders, 1993.


Yes, a lot of people get mad at me for giving it to this instead of Low End TheoryMidnight Marauders is better.  Sorry.  I get that we’re all down with the real stand-up bass and all that shit, but the sound gets three times as colorful on Midnight and Tribe does what Tribe did and didn’t do again.  These songs are the reason people still get filled up all warm when they think of Tribe.  Check out “Lyrics to Go,” I think it’s a real accomplishment (musically, it’s revolving in a three-bar pattern instead of four, like every other hip hop song ever made) and it’s Q-Tip at his most poetic.  I actually used some of the lyrics from this album in my book Asphalt Flowerhead.  (Now I’m wondering if those lyrics were actually from Low End…)

5. J Dilla – Donuts, 2006.

j dil

I was gonna write a whole post just about this album, but I figured you didn’t wanna listen to my gush about it for more than just a paragraph.  This is J Dilla’s deathbed album.  It came out three days before he died.  In every song, even the songs that seem to be looking out the window and thinking of other, happier things, this album is a man contemplating death.  You feel it all through you.  And he’s being so fucking strong about it.  Inspirational, worth crying to.  This is, in my opinion, the best hip hop album musically that’s ever been done.  J’s greatest gift.

4. Wu Tang Clan – Enter the 36 Chambers, 1993.


Duh.  Is there a single person in America who needs me to explain this to them?  If you haven’t already spent a shitload of time addicted to Wu I don’t want to be friends with you.  One thing worth talking about, however, is how fucking good all the Wu solo albums dropping around the same time are.  I wish I could’ve fit them on this list (and let’s be honest, Liquid Swords is better than shit like Kollage – but Bahamadia needed to be on here too).  Meth’s Tical, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, OBD’s Return to the 36 Chambers, the GZA album I mentioned… Wu Tang really was a dynasty.  And no matter how much the newer albums make me frown, they’re still 100% the shit.

3. Big L – Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous, 1995.

big l

I always hold this album so high on the list of important hip hop because I think it illustrates, better than any other hip hop ever, how the phenomena of poverty and violence as particular to our contemporary culture manifests, and is provoked.  Big L is 100% street poet – as a writer I got addicted to how fresh he says shit for a long time.  I don’t know if he has something to say or if we learn from listening to his bad example.  But I think he’s a genius and a blessing either way.  Buckwild and Lord Finesse hold down a lot of the production.  Listen to the title track off this one and, of course, “Put it On”.

2. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – The Main Ingredient, 1994.

pete cl

Because Pete Rock is that sick.  He pulls a hip hop album to number two by himself.  Nah, CL is dope too, but I don’t think he’s anything special next to Pete.  This is just pure, uncut hip hop to the face.  Yes.  Listen to “I Got A Love,” “All the Places” and “I Get Physical”.  Listen to all of it.  Don’t short yourself.

1. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die, 1994.


This is it.  Biggie Smalls, man, who else?  Plus you got a track from DJ Premier, one from Lord Finesse, and one featuring Method Man.  Biggie tells the same story Big L’s telling only Biggie’s telling it from the top of the pyramid and L’s from the bottom.  I still think “Machine Gun Funk” is the best hip hop song ever rmade.  Sometimes I think of Biggie as the Hemingway of hip hop.  Jeremy Robert Johnson also disagrees with me about this, but he’s from Bent, Oregon.


  1. jdosborne said,

    Here’s a loose list. Guess who doesn’t have much knowledge about the hip-hop? This guy.

    Aesop Rock – Labor Days
    Mr. Lif – I Phantom
    Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
    M.I.A. – Arular
    Lil Wayne – Tha Carter II
    Company Flow – Funcrusher Plus
    KMD – Black Bastards
    Aesop Rock – Float
    El-P – Fantastic Damage
    Wale – Mixtape About Nothing (not really an album, I know)
    Aesop Rock – Bazooka Tooth
    Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt
    Lupe Fiasco – The Cool
    A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory
    Cage – Hell’s Winter

  2. cat_1948 said,

    Nice list! But Ready to Die #1? And where’s the old school albums? I mean 80s. No love for Paid in Full?

  3. Matt Coppola said,

    10. Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest
    9. Madvilliany – Madvillian
    8. Graduation – Kanye West
    7. Deltron 3030 – Deltron
    6. Enter the 36 Chambers – Wu-Tang Clan
    5. The Score – Fugees
    4. Tical – Method Man
    3. A Prince Among Thieves – Prince Paul
    2. Illmatic – Nas
    1. Paul Revere – Beastie Boys

    Honorable Mention
    The Marshall Mathers LP
    Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde
    Beauty and the Beat
    I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
    Game Theory
    Dr. Octagonalygist
    Black Star
    Black on Both Sides

  4. Rahul said,

    10) it takes a nation of millions to hold us back – public enemy
    9) The infamous – mobb deep
    8) Straight outta Compton – nwa
    7) Reasonable Doubt – jay z
    6) doggystyle – snoop doggy dogg
    5) raising hell – run dmc
    4) paid in full – Eric b & rakim
    3) the chronic – dr dre
    2) illmatic – nas
    1) ready to die – biggie smalls

    aight where da tupac album??? Personally I felt he never made a complete album.although I luv 7 day theory and da other stuff. Wu??? Well I give em props and they probs too goood. Tribe called quest??? Other stuff??? Well I’m actually tryin to listen and collect ol’ skool rap. I is downloading as much as I can. I have most stuff l, but u Noe… Only 8GB iPod touch 😦

  5. The God Kilo said,

    Illmatic is the best album of all time, hands down no contest. Sorry.

  6. Sicks said,

    There is no way you can have a greatest hip hop album list and not mention outkast(the greatest hip-hop duo of all time)

    • forrestarmstrong said,

      There’s a decent amount I woulda changed if I redid this list today… Madvillain over Dangerdoom, lots of things over Bahamadia, the inclusion of Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us BackIllmatic kicked up higher… but Outkast isn’t one of the things I’d change. I like them a lot, respect them as musicians… don’t think they’re aesthetic is something really important to hip hop. I know I disagree with a lot of people in that. I’m alone in a lot of my thoughts.

      Looking back at the lists you guys put up… glad one person agrees with me on Ready to Die! Many people were shocked to see I put that first. Almost unanimously, people were saying it was Illmatic.

      But one or two people even told me Life After Death was better than Ready to Die! I think you just gotta be on the East Coast to really get why we love Biggie like we do…

  7. Top 10 Abstract Albums « Forrest Armstrong said,

    […] did a Top 15 Hip Hop Albums of All Time list a few months ago, and I included this one… here’s what I wrote about it then: […]

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