Rap music is ingrained in American culture. Over the last few decades, rap albums have consistently garnered top spots on all the music charts. Considering that when the genre first came out into the public, many radio stations wouldn’t even touch the albums, rap albums are now some of the most commonly played ones across radio, clubs, and events in general!
The interesting thing about the progression of rap albums is that with every decade of new rappers comes a new type of rapping technique and sound that solidifies new up and coming artists. Throughout the decades there have been a range of rappers who have produced albums that will forever go down in history. They have perfectly crafted the art of storytelling through rhyme, throwing subtle shade and insults through witty words, and creating personas that have made rappers so beloved and “cool”.
A consistent theme is that the greatest rap albums are ones who have lyrics that share personal emotions with their listeners, including their fears, frustrations, and regrets. But great raps are more than just drugs, sex, and alcohol. They tap into a new level of human emotions that so many people can relate to and have made the topics that are no longer considered shameful.
But in addition to the emotional storytelling that great rap albums all have a theatrical appearance that makes them different from the average human. These great albums encompass a dramatic persona that people either love to love or love to hate.
As Rolling Stones stated, the new class of stars such as Megan Thee Stallion and Roddy Ricch have re-defined rap albums not just for the actual lyrics, but for the personas they created and shared on social media that skyrocketed them to fame.
So every generation has had its own group of stand-out rap albums. When we look at the musical genre holistically since the humble beginnings in Brooklyn to the digital age of 2020, what are the best rap albums of all time? Well, we are about to share them with you now!
1. Speakerboxxx by Outkast
According to Oxegyn, Outkast saved their best work for last! Speakerboxxx was their fifth album and easily the most impactful! They experimented with a whole range of rapping techniques
that inspired generations to come. It was a fusion of Southern twang, hip-hop and rap, and each member of the group had their own chance to shine on the album. It is a great way for Outkast to forever be preserved in the world of rap music.
2. Ready to Die by Notorious B.I.G.
Let’s be frank, rap music would not be the same if it wasn’t for Notorious B.I.G. They undoubtedly released a whole heap of monumental rap albums, their best one being the debut album titled Ready to Die, which dropped in 1994. The album was full of songs that showcased Notorious B.I.G’s ability to combine storytelling with freestyling techniques. It defined what East Coast hip-hop was during that decade and the album continues to inspire hundreds of new emerging rap artists today.
3. Paul’s Boutique by The Beatsie Boys.
These white boys dropped one of the sickest rap albums of all time in the late 1980’s. The rap album was one of the first times in which rap music was infused with house music, hip-hop beats and turn-table flare. While not given the credit it deserves during that decade, reflecting back all these years later, it is undoubtedly an iconic album that still rocks people’s world to this day in age—when impressing people is really hard to do!
4. Illmatic by Nas.
Everyone today knows Lil Nas X as the young rapper who broke all the Billboard music records. While Lil Nas X has broken down barriers in the last few years with a refreshing take on rap music, he got his inspiration (and he got his name) from the original rapper Nas, who dropped the legendary album Illmatic in the 1990s. Nas came straight out of Queens, New York and his rap albums like Illmatic created a vivid listening experience that allowed people’s imaginations to run wild. His album proved that rap albums can transport people into a whole new world!
5.The Blueprint by JayZ.
The man, the myth, the rapping legend. JayZ is one of a kind and his rap albums like The Blueprint will forever go down in rapping history! This one was his sixth collection that he dropped and it paid homage to his journey in life thus far. Things got really deep on the album as he openly shared moments of his life, like his criminal trials, with listeners. But the reason this album is one of the best is because JayZ teamed up with Kanye West, who produced this album. Two of the greatest rapping minds working on this one masterpiece of a rap album—no doubt it was certainly going to make this list!
6. Circles by Mac Miller
One of the biggest tragedies of our lifetime is that this budding rap superstar Mac Miller died before he really got the chance to produce ground-breaking rap albums. And while we are all still mourning his death, he left the world with one of his best pieces of work, Circles. Coincidently this album from Mac Miller helped his many fans properly mourn his passing and actually gained him new fans as well! This album was surprisingly different to the previous music he created and even nabbed a Grammy nomination! The rap music on this album is different—it’s soft, compassionate and easy-listening that fans could easily listen to on repeat.
7. The Marchal Mathers LP by Eminem
While Eminem launched on to the rap scene as a massive surprise, his iconic albums like The Marchal Mathers is here to stay on the list forever. While one of the few white rappers of his time, he grew up in Detroit and had plenty of emotional topics to wrap about. This album justly captures his insane rapping techniques, his theatrical persona, his witty storytelling execution and his captivating delivery of each and every word in all of his lyrics.
8. It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy
GQ Magazine explains that Public Enemy’s thought provoking album full of social observations is one to forever be in the ranks of best rap albums of all time. This was the rap group’s second album and they nailed the combination of rock music, hip hop music, and rap music. The songs are layered deep and there are alarming sounds introduced throughout the album. But it was the album’s motive to speak to social injustice that gave it an edge of punk to really make it stand out amongst all the other rap albums of the time. This album also allowed the group to solidify their spot in the ranks of the rapping industry.
Rap music certainly is different today than it was in the past. But it is the past rap albums that have allowed the rap genre to grow and flourish as much as it has. While new up and comers will likely take top spots on the Billboard charts and break those records, the greatest rap albums of all time will always be the greatest.