The best hip hop albums of all time were ranked by Tone Deaf.
Yes there are countless great records full of swagger, however swagger alone does not make you the GOAT. Any good rapper should have charisma, this is a necessity not a bonus. To be truly timeless you need substance and skill.
Here are the top 20 hip hop albums deemed to have the best songwriting and/or lyricism of all time, ranked from least to most consistent across their track list.
20. Drake – Take Care
Drake might be making bubble gum RnB pop songs now, but he didn’t start that way. His early mixtape tracks showed the world he is one of the most talented rappers and songwriters on the planet. Drake – Take Care is probably his most consistent record released to date.
19. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
Ryan Lewis’ production was fresh and innovate, and Macklemore’s raps were impressive, profound and enthralling. This record is skilful enough for rap fans to love, and accessible enough that it generated massive global hits.
18. Wu-Tang Clan: ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’
The Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album is arguably the most important hip hop album of the Nineties. Sparse yet defining production by RZA’s complimented by the raps from Method Man, Ol Dirty Bastard, GZA, Chef Raekwon, Ghostface Killah who with one record, became iconic.
17. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Few artists are respected as much as Kendrick Lamar. He’s a rappers rapper, but he’s also every pop kids choice of hip hop expression. Released in 2012, no west coast record had such a big cultural impact since Dre’s 2001.
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16. Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Could this record be the best blend of rap and R&B in hip-hop history? Her stellar songwriting grappling with spirituality, love and parenting has made Lauryn Hill’s record of the best of all time.
15. Kanye West – Late Registration
The skits on this album are pretty shit, but the songs are near perfect. Kanye’s ear for collaboration and hip hop are unmatched and he delivered a perfected version of his debut album with Late Registration. This is very much The Collage Dropout 2.0.
14. Dr Dre – 2001
This record cemented Dre as the GOAT. He hasn’t made much impressive music since however is still an icon of hip hop. His whole brand, legacy and fortune can be traced back to this album.
13. The Notorious B.I.G.: ‘Ready to Die’
Who can flow like biggie? The standout track “Juicy” represents everything about both this record and B.I.G.’s remarkable artistry as a lyricists, story teller and flow.
12. Lupe Fiasco – Food & Liquor
A debut record that took Kanye influences and created something entirely new. The record stands the test of time because not only is Lupe’s flow and lyrics fantastic with every track, but the melodies and track concepts were so unique for the time they have become iconic.
11. Mac Lethal – 11:11
Mac Lethal is the best rapper to come out of Kansas City, and few globally are as versatile in style and skill than him. From track 1, Mac Lethal showcases his poetry, rhythm, personality and relatability. It is a record that is truly Mid West; real, fun, reflective and frustrated all at once.
10. Atmosphere – When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint That Shit Gold
This was Ants best production, his unique style fully realised into what was a sonic journey unmatched by any record other than Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Slug also fully realised his story telling, social commentary and songwriting on this record. Every song is more interesting and spectacular than the last. A perfect record from the Minneapolis duo.
9. NWA – Straight outta Compton
Protest music at its best. Straight outta Compton could be the Adam and Eve of all good west coast hip hip.
8. 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’
50 Cent created one magnificent album and hasn’t got close the genius of Get Rich or Die Tryin since. This record has everything a hip hop record should have; gripping songwriting, stand out features, compelling narratives and awesome lyrics.
7. Nas – Illmatic
Nas potent poetry is what makes him one of the greatest of all time, and Illmatic is his best record.
6. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter IV
The best punchline record ever released. Line after line is impressive, funny and/or quotable. It would be impossible to make a punchline record better than Tha Carter IV.
5. Eminem – Marshal Mathers LP
Has anyone had more influence on hip hop than Eminem? The Marshal Mathers LP is an undeniable hip hop masterpiece.
4. Jay Z – The Black Album
Jay-Z’s ninth album is his best album. It’s a 55 minute showcase of Jay-Z’s pride, reflectiveness and confidence. We get the best of Jay-Z’s songwriting and lyricism on this record making it one of the best hip hop albums of all time.
3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye’s best production and most ambitious song writing. When Kanye released this record, he put all other hip hop artists on notice; push the boundaries and make art, not just rap, or stand down.
2. Brother Ali – Shadows on the Sun
Brother Ali’s ‘Shadows on the Sun’ should be every rappers aspiration. It’s story telling, punchlines, vulnerability and lyricism is a master class. The album gets better with every listen because you simply can’t absorb everything that is going on with even the first 5 listens.
Brother Ali is an albino American rapper who has taken the throne of hip hop’s cultural leader.
1. Lupe Fiasco – The Cool
Lupe’s The Cool is the #1 hip hop record of all time because it is simply a perfect album that cannot be written or produced any better. The album somehow feels like a movie and you get so caught up in the narrative of every song you miss the GOAT rhyme schemes and flows if you’re not focused.