The 100 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time (100-76): Staff List (2024)

We count down our picks for the best full-length hip-hop projects ever made.


Damien Scott, Gail Mitchell, Angel Diaz, Carl Lamarre, Michael Saponara, Heran Mamo, Kyle Denis

The 100 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time (100-76): Staff List (1)

Hip-Hop has spoiled us. In the 50 years since a group of kids decided to throw a party in the Bronx, the genre has grown and blossomed in ways Kool Herc couldn’t have imagined. Hip-hop left New York and moved south to Atlanta, Miami, Memphis, and Houston, and west to Chicago and St. Louis. It took up shop out in Los Angeles and The Bay Area and reinvented itself before moving back across the country. And in that time, as it worked its way across this country, we’ve been fortunate to experience a seemingly endless amount of incredible, culture-shifting, delectable, classic albums.

There have been so many amazing albums that it’s damn near impossible to capture them all in one list. You can point to any corner of the map and find 50 albums that could be the best album ever made. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably already had this conversation multiple times at parties or over dinner or in your various group chats. It’s a tough nut to crack. But, it’s a challenge we relish.

So, to round off Black Music Month, we decided to attempt the impossible and rank the 100 greatest rap albums of all time. Yep, of all time — and, yep, from all regions. A few members of our staff huddled to come up with a list of albums we believe represent the best of what the genre has given us over the past 50 years. We had a few criteria when deciding: We only included full-length projects that were commercially released, so no mixtapes or EPs. We took into account the world into which the album was released: Did it break new ground or was it just a different version of a more popular album? We weighed the album’s impact and how it’s endured over time: Did it change the game? Do people still play it? And, of course, since we’re Billboard, we took into account how the albums performed commercially — though ultimately, that was a lesser consideration.

To make this more digestible, we’re going to roll this out over the next four weeks, 25 albums at a time. Make sure to check back each Thursday to see what made the list. And remember, every album on this is incredible. Even though 100 sounds like a big number, when compared to all the albums that have dropped over the years, it’s nothing. There are going to be some incredible albums that did not make it. So it goes. If there are some you strongly believed we missed, let us know.


  • 100. Lil Baby, My Turn

    The 100 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time (100-76): Staff List (2)

    Year: 2020

    Lil Baby secured the solo spotlight with his sophom*ore album My Turn. It’s easy to mistake his mellow vocals as being devoid of emotion, but his lyricism uncovers the perplexing reality of what it’s like to experience glitz and glamour after coming out of the gutter (“What’s the chances that you run you up a couple mil’?/ And you really come from sleepin’ out the projects?” Baby wonders on “Hurtin.”). And the turbo-speed delivery on songs like the Future-featuring “Live Off My Closet” mimics the rapid rate of his own ascension in the rap game.But he’s ready to become a dignitary on “The Bigger Picture,” a modern-day Black Lives Matter protest anthem where Baby’s poignant reflections about racial injustice galvanize him to lead his community to action: “I got power, now I gotta say somethin’.” Baby earned his first Billboard 200 chart leader with My Turn, and on top of producing two Hot 100 top 10 hits with the deluxe edition’s 42 Dugg-assisted “We Paid” and “The Bigger Picture,” it ended 2020 as the most popular album of the year in the U.S., according to MRC Data, as well as the most-streamed album of the year. — HERAN MAMO

  • 99. E-40, In a Major Way

    Year: 1995

    E-40’s best album, the perfect synthesis of his swaggering flow and the Bay Area style he pioneered, also contains a transcendentally sweet moment. On the socially conscious song “It’s All Bad,” 40 addresses his then-five-year-old son, who asks “Daddy sprinkle me with some more game,” and even raps bars of his own. The track is not the strongest off In a Major Way, that honor belongs to the silky “Sprinkle Me” or “1-Luv,” a moving exploration of life behind bars, but it illustrates why E-40 has endured and grown from a local stalwart to a global hip-hop force: since the earliest days of his career, he’s been molding minds, inventing vocabulary and making music that made the Bay Area’s highly idiosyncratic style feel welcoming and inclusive, even for his own preschooler. — GRANT RINDNER

  • 98. Do or Die, Picture This

    Year: 1996

    For most people, Chicago rap beings when Kanye got into a near-fatal car accident and then threw on a pink Polo shirt. But the Chi has as deep a rap history as any major city. Do or Die, a trio from Chicago’s west side, looms large over that history. After the group found local success with their single “Po Pimp,” they were signed to Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records where they dropped their gutsy and funky debut. Produced primarily by the Legendary Traxster and featuring a young Tung Twista, Picture This gave Chicago a flag to plant in its home soil while the West and East coasts were dominating the airwaves. — DAMIEN SCOTT

  • 97. Geto Boys, We Can’t Be Stopped

    Year: 1991

    When it comes to Geto Boys’ third project, the conversation always bends towards “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” and for good reason. Haunting and morose, the song cut through the noise with an unwavering clarity of purpose: to highlight just how f–ked up it is trying to make it out of a U.S. ghetto when your options are limited to gangster s–t. The rest of the album does well in exploring that motif, giving an unfiltered look at the south that wasn’t being shown in the popular music videos of the day. To call it groundbreaking feels reductive because in reality it decimated the ground it came in on. — D.S.

  • 96. Run DMC, Raising Hell

    Year: 1986

    After Run-D.M.C. helped bring rap into the modern era with their debut album and then used their second LP to help the genre find new audiences by melding it with rock, Run-D.M.C. was on an unthinkable run. Turned out they had nowhere to go but up: The group’s third album continues its focus on sparse, hard-hitting production as Rick Rubin works his minimalist magic, pulling from all places to create a sound bed authentic enough for rap purists but accessible and innovative enough to break through into the mainstream. Run and D.M.C. pen songs that span the gamut of black life in the ’80s, covering everything from the shoes people wore (“My Adidas”) to the struggles the endured (“Proud to Be Black”). But Raising Hell‘s reality is that, thanks for the aforementioned songs and tracks like the Aerosmith collab “Walk This Way,” both rap and Run-D.M.C. began to go mainstream. — D.S.

  • 95. LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out

    Year: 1990

    Nearly 40 years after the 1985 release of his debut albumRadio, the ladies still love cool James. And that’s thanks to a canon of seminal albums in the ‘80s and early ‘90s that played a pivotal role in shaping and proving rap’s mainstream appeal. With this — his double-platinum, Marley Marl-produced 1990 fourth studio album — LL knocked aside naysayers who thought prior albumWalking With a Pantherleaned too pop for the room. Classics like the hard-hitting title track (which nabbed the Grammy for best rap solo performance) and neighborhood romance romp “Around the Way Girl” proved his rap gamesmanship hadn’t lost any of its authenticity. — GAIL MITCHELL

  • 94. EPMD, Business as Usual

    Year: 1991

    With a catalog full of classics that resoundingly vibrated through the underground in the ’80s and ’90s, EPMD’s third LP (their first release on Def Jam) not only makes this list, but gets the crown as their best work. This opus (and stunning album artwork) was chiefly inspired by anger towards haters and their former label Sleeping Bag Records (“I’m Mad” is the literally the first song on the track list). Erick and Parrish were in fact not making the dollars they felt they deserved, especially with two consecutive gold, critically acclaimed albums in the two years prior to Business as Usual.

    Undeterred, EPMD focused. They delivered an adamantium-strong, well-rounded project smothered in underground funk. It is replete with seismic bangers, whimsical concept tales, and outlandish storytelling continuation. Notwithstanding, LL Cool J masterfully assaulted “Rampage” with one of his greatest guest verses and Redman made a brilliantly belligerent debut on “Hardcore.” – SHAHEEM REID

  • 93. B.G., Chopper City in the Ghetto

    Year: 1999

    Before Lil Wayne became the superstar of Cash Money Records, B.G. was seen as one of the label’s franchise players – and his album Chopper City in the Ghetto was proof of why. His deep, slinky-voiced street tales provided an alluring contrast to Mannie Fresh’s skittering hi-hats and synthetic horns and cymbals, a bouncy late-’90s evolution of the jazz that was such a strong part of their New Orleans heritage. While Geezy was plenty strong on his own, as he says on the album’s second-most-notable song, “Cash Money Is an Army.” But the high point is “Bling Bling,” a song where he and his fellow Hot Boyz compatriots join forces for a glitzy, synth-heavy celebration of jewelry that became a permanent staple of hip-hop lingo. — WILLIAM E. KETCHUM

  • 92. Three Six Mafia, Mystic Stylez

    Year: 1995

    Three 6 Mafia made history winning an Oscar for their musical contribution to the 2005 Memphis rap drama Hustle & Flow, but any track pulled from 1995’s Mystic Stylez could be the most memorable music cue in a horror classic. The group didn’t invent horrorcore, but fused it with authentic southern rap in a way that is still influencing teenage artists nearly three decades later. Many of the album’s beats (from DJ Paul and Juicy J of course), move with the slow, but undeniable pace of a movie killer stalking their prey, and act as a perfect contrast to the nimble flows — which even led to a brief beef between the group and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. With Memphis currently in the midst of a rap renaissance, the importance of LPs like Mystic Stylez is why Three 6 Mafia’s stamp of approval remains invaluable for the city’s rising talent. — G.R.

  • 91. Migos, Culture

    Year: 2017

    The beloved Atlanta trio shook up the rap game and became a pop culture phenomenon with its second full-length album Culture. The first of the Culture trilogy, the 13-track set is the most concise showcase of the group’s compelling sonic DNA: a rapid-fire triplet flow that revolutionized cadences in rap music; memorable ad-libs and slang terms that’ve entered the hip-hop lexicon; and classic ATL trap production courtesy of top producers like Zaytoven, DJ Durel and Murda Beatz. Its lead single “Bad and Boujee,” featuring Lil Uzi Vert, became an epochal moment in Migos’ career — primarily due to its iconic “Raindrop, drop-top/ Smokin’ on cookie in the hotbox” chorus that spurred internet memes; Donald Glover thanked Migos for making the track while hailing them as “the Bealtes of this generation” at the 2017 Golden Globes. Culture did cement Migos as the one of the most influential acts in rap and transformed the group into a commercially successful act: It earned Migos its first Billboard 200-topping album and first set of Grammy nominations in 2018, for best rap album and best rap performance with “Bad and Boujee,” which also became the group’s first Hot 100 No. 1 smash. Given the group’s tragic ending – Takeoff was killed in 2022, Quavo and Offset reportedly had a falling out and Migos officially disbanded in 2023 – Culture serves as an excellent remembrance of better times. — H.M.

  • 90. The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

    The 100 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time (100-76): Staff List (3)

    Year: 1992

    Back in the early ’90s when N.W.A was dominating the charts with its brand of visceral gangster rap, there didn’t seem to be much room for anything else. But else where a movement was brewing. A movement that valued novelty over realism and fun over pathos. A leading project of that movement was the Pharcyde’s debut — which is full of, well, bizarre tales, which make you nod your head and laugh out loud. The group went left of what was popping on the radio and made something wholly original. A lot of that can be credited to J-Swift, the eccentric genius producer who helmed the project. It may be trite, but after Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde nothing was the same. — D.S.

  • 89. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet

    Year: 1990

    Raucous, unsettling, radically heartening, Fear of a Black Planet is a generation-transcending masterpiece, where P.E. takes us from the revolution war room to the frontlines on the road to Black empowerment. “Welcome To The Terrordome” was so alluringly agitating, Mike Tyson used the P.E. catalog staple as his anthem when he walked to the ring en route to decapitating opponents. Chuck D spoke for all young Blacks who were fighting societal oppression, but who had the rebellious wherewithal to never submit, rapping “I got so much trouble on my mind/ Refuse!/ To Lose!” That inexorable conviction is so omnipresent throughout the LP, especially on the unrelenting “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” which you can consider the big brother to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” Meanwhile, “Fight the Power” is the grandson of James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” as the greatest hip-hop call to arms for the Black community. — S.R.

  • 88. Ice-T, O.G. Original Gangster

    Year: 1991

    Let’s get the obvious joke out of the way: Yes, the guy most kids know as a cop on the long-running Law & Order: SVU was a gangsta rap pioneer. Not only was he a pioneer, Ice-T made a certifiable classic of the form with his fourth album. Sprawling at 24 tracks, O.G. offered a nuanced take on street life with T questioning a lot of the actions he would go on to brag about. But instead of derailing the party, the contradictions make for a more absorbing listen, lending humanity to a genre many viewed as cold and antisocial. Turns out that’s just want the people wanted as O.G. debuted at No. 15 on the Billboard 200 and wound up going gold, setting a new standard for gangster rap in its wake. — D.S.

  • 87. The Roots, Things Fall Apart

    Year: 1999

    For their first few albums together, The Roots were already more than just a novelty act: They were known as the first “hip-hop band,” bringing the jazzy energy of jam sessions to their music and building a reputation for a unique live show. But with Things Fall Apart, they began to forge their artistic identity with more conviction. Named after a seminal novel by renowned African author Chinua Achebe and beginning with a skit that stems from disenchanted jazz musicians in Spike Lee’s Mo Betta Blues, the group wanted to make a statement about their careers and their place in the hip-hop lexicon. Questlove began to integrate the off-kilter hip-hop soul that was perfected by Soulquarian peers like J Dilla, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, while rappers Black Thought, Malik B and Dice Raw were in a zone — dropping brilliant verses alongside a roster of all-star MCs like Mos Def, Common, a young Beanie Sigel, and Eve, the latter appearing with Badu on the soulful, Grammy-winning love song “You Got Me.” — W.E.K.

  • 86. The Game, The Documentary

    Year: 2005

    When the West Coast craved a new rap face in the 2000s, The Game gladly accepted, rejuvenating an entire region. With Dr. Dre and 50 Cent on speed dial, The Game leapfrogged his peers on 2005’s TheDocumentary. Though 50’s songwriting wizardry on “How We Do” and “Hate It Or Love It” gave Game mainstream appeal, it was Chuck Taylor’s grittiness and lyrical finesse on “Dreams,” “Start From Scratch” and “Runnin” that truly solidified his debut album. — CARL LAMARRE

  • 85. Outkast, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

    Year: 1994

    It’s sounds boring in 2024, but you can really divide southern rap into two eras: Before Outkast and After Outkast. Before Outkast most thought of southern rap as mostly bass booty anthems and party songs. Sure, there were some outliers, but none made a big enough impact to change the perception. Then came Antwon “Big Boi” Patton and André “Andre 3000” Benjamin. Their debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, is a heady album, one that works hard to prove that young black men all around the country are facing the same issues — and that gangstas and playas come in all shapes and sizes. It was revelatory at the time, and is still effective three decades later. All of rap — not just in the south, either — owes a debt of gratitude to Outkast. — D.S.

  • 84. The D.O.C., No One Can Do It Better

    Year: 1989

    If you’re of a certain age, you may have no idea who The D.O.C. is. Well, he was one of the best rappers to come out of the West Coast, even though he was originally from Texas. He co-founded Death Row records and wrote a gang of hits for N.W.A. He also dropped one of the best albums of the ’80s in No One Can Do It Better. Produced by Dr. Dre, D.O.C.’s debut was filled with expertly tailored funk riffs and drums that could knock a sub from a ’64 loose. Tracks like “Mind Blown,” “The Formula” and “The D.O.C. & The Doctor” showed a nimble MC who reinvigorated Ruthless Records with his classic debut. — D.S.

  • 83. The Diplomats, Diplomatic Immunity

    Year: 2003

    By the time The Diplomats released their double-disc debut under Roc-A-Fella Records, their name had already been ringing bells in New York City. The group, co-founded by Cam’ron and Jim Jones, was rooted in decades of friendship from growing up together in Harlem, and they’d gone on a historic mixtape run in 2002 where they’d established their own slang, sound and USA-inspired iconography. As a result, Diplomatic Immunity was a fully-formed presentation: Cam, Jim, Juelz and Freaky Zeeky had brilliant chemistry with differing rap styles, Heatmakerz and Just Blaze supplied them with brilliantly triumphant soul samples, and kids around the country were walking around with fitted hats and throwback jerseys three sizes too big. — W.E.K.

  • 82. MC Lyte, Lyte as a Rock

    Year: 1988

    As one of the genre’s pioneering foremothers, Queens, NY-bred rapper MC Lyte – born Lana Michele Moorer – helped kick down the door for female MCs to stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts. The diminutive dynamo released her critically acclaimed debut album, an Audio Two production, at the age of 18. On what’s been touted as the first full album by a female rapper as a solo artist, the husky-voiced Lyte fearlessly tackled socially conscious and personal matters such as infidelity (“Paper Thin”), drug addiction (“I Cram to Understand U [Sam]”) and beat-stealing (“10% Dis”) — alongside the symbolic title track — through deft rhymes that still resonate. — G.M.

  • 81. Missy Elliott, Miss E... So Addictive

    Year: 2001

    Few artists have been able to merge the worlds of hip-hop and R&B as inventively as Missy Elliott, and her third album arguably sees her at the peak of her creative powers. She and Timbaland had already been hot since 20 years ago by then —and they teamed up to co-produce one of the spaciest, quirkiest batches of beats you’ll ever hear, which Missy takes on with stunning versatility. She demands men hold their own in the bedroom on “One Minute Man,” delivers a sincere, romantic ballad with “Take Away,” and provides the club an eternal staple in “Get Ur Freak On.” Futuristic production, limber flows and velvety vocals: Missy Elliott has it all, and there’s never been anyone in hip-hop like her. — W.E.K.

  • 80. Roddy Ricch, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial

    The 100 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time (100-76): Staff List (4)

    Year: 2019

    A string of successful singles, like 2018’s “Die Young” and 2019’s “Ballin’” with Mustard, and a co-sign from West Coast heavyweight Nipsey Hussle set up Compton MC Roddy Ricch for his debut album Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial. His melodic approach and acoustic-driven hip-hop production add a smooth coating to his gritty rags-to-riches tale — but lines like “‘Cause I ain’t sure why my dawg had to make the news reel/ Got promethazine in my eyes, I’m cryin’ purple tears” on the “Intro” prove a Rolex can’t be a Band-Aid for life’s real problems. Its fourth single, “The Box,” morphed into a monster smash, with a swelling orchestral intro, squeaky “eee err” ad-libs and thunderous reverse 808s underlying Ricch’s shape-shifting vocal delivery. Please Excuse Me earned Roddy his first Billboard 200-topping album as well as his first Hot 100 No. 1 with “The Box,”whichspent 11 weeks at the top, snagged three 2021 Grammy nominations (including song of the year) and was certified diamond by the RIAA. — H.M.

  • 79. Travis $cott, Astroworld

    Year: 2018

    Named after the defunct Six Flags AstroWorld in Travis Scott’s Houston hometown, Astroworld invites listeners into Scott’s custom-built world of pandemonium. His wildly entertaining fusion of psychedelic and trap music makes for Scott’s finest production, inciting his trademark mosh pits with the LP’s mind-boggling main attraction, the Drake-assisted “Sicko Mode,” and levitating to a state of euphoria with the help of Stevie Wonder’s dizzying harmonica riffs, James Blake’s ghastly moans and Kid Cudi’s stirring hums on “Stop Trying to Be God,” or Tame Impala’s kaleidoscopic instrumentals and The Weeknd’s ethereal falsetto on “Skeletons.” Astroworld remains Scott’s strongest project in his discography as well as his most decorated: The 17-song set earned the rapper his second Billboard 200-topping album and first best rap album nomination at the 2019 Grammys, where “Sicko Mode” — which became Scott’s first Hot 100 No. 1 and first diamond-certified song — was also nominated for best rap song and best rap performance. — H.M.

  • 78. Madvillain, Madvillainy

    Year: 2004

    Madlib and MF Doom’s respective legacies as underground rap pillars would still exist if their 2004 joint LP Madvillainy didn’t exist, but would lack a crystallizing release that has come to be a seminal gateway record for any fans looking to explore rap’s more idiosyncratic realms. It’s a true superhero showdown, with Doom reeling off some of his most lyrically dense-yet-quotable bars atop Madlib’s collaged beats (“Mad plays the bass like the race card” remains one of the greatest mid-track producer shoutouts ever). Songs like “Meat Grinder” and “Figaro” are off-kilter, but menacing, like a Yorgos Lanthimos movie, while “Raid” and “America’s Most Blunted” honor East and West Coast rap without compromising the essential askewness of Madlib and Doom. — G.R.

  • 77. 8Ball & MJG, Coming Out Hard

    Year: 1993

    Thanks to Yo Gotti, GloRilla, and Moneybag Yo, Memphis rap has been in the mainstream spotlight for the past half decade. But long before CMG became a dominant force, Suave House and its premier duo, 8Ball & MJG, put Memphis rap on the map. The duo’s debut album is soulful tour of the city known as the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll. However, instead of taking listeners to Graceland, they show rap fans the illicit underbelly of the city, where pimps reign supreme and pushers move weight like it’s legal. Over production that mixes blues, soul and funk into a wonderfully dank concoction, the two MCs play off each other — 8Ball’s chill, luxurious flow and MJG’s spitfire approach — to bring to life a side of Memphis most had never seen before. — D.S.

  • 76. Cypress Hill, Cypress Hill

    Year: 1991

    Sometimes Cypress Hill’s discography can be unfairly flattened to just their frat party classics (“Insane in the Brain,” “Hits From the Bong”), but listening to any of their first four records in full cements why the group remains a uniquely revered part of L.A.’s storied rap history. In some ways, their buck-wild approach to collaborative rap made them an answer to Beastie Boys or Wu-Tang Clan, but they also provided a bridge from the early days of gangsta rap into a new phase of West Coast rap, one that could be vivid and violent, but also playful (“Hole in the Head,” “How I Could Just Kill a Man”). — G.R.

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The 100 Greatest Rap Albums of All Time (100-76): Staff List (2024)


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