Entertainment Music The 100 Best Rap Albums of All Time Artists range from Run the Jewels to Nas and his classic"Illmatic" Share PINTEREST Email Print Music Rap & Hip Hop Top Picks Basics Rock Music Pop Music Alternative Music Classical Music Country Music Folk Music Rhythm & Blues World Music Punk Music Heavy Metal Jazz Latin Music Oldies Learn More By Henry Adaso Henry Adaso Henry Adaso has written about hip-hop since 2005 and founded the award-winning blog The Rap Up. He has written for "Vibe," MTV, Rap Rehab, and more. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on 05/24/19 Hip-hop has produced plenty of great music over its 40-plus-year history. Few albums are worthy of the title "greatest," while others are good enough to make the list. These albums were picked on the basis of creativity, originality, replay value, and overall cultural impact. 100 of 100 Run the Jewels: 'Run the Jewels' Courtesy Fools Gold Killer Mike is really good at rapping. El-P is really good at rapping and excellent at making beats. Put these two together and nobody could screw it up. 99 of 100 The Freestyle Fellowship: 'To Whom It May Concern' Sun Music Amid the thugged-out reign of N.W.A. and Cypress Hill, Freestyle Fellowship countered with lyrical virtuosity. 98 of 100 Too Short: 'Born to Mack' Jive Records Raw, uncut, and X-rated tales of female conquests abound. At a mere eight tracks, "Born to Mack" was indeed too short. 97 of 100 MF Doom: 'Operation Doomsday' Metal Face Records Doom's off-kilter rhymes, scenic skits, and soul-inspired production made "Operation Doomsday" a unique set worthy of multiple spins. 96 of 100 Pharoahe Monch: 'Internal Affairs' Priority Records "Internal Affairs" was Pharoahe Monch's Rocky Balboa moment. Most of the album was recorded in a closet without air conditioning, which imbues it with a raw feeling. The gritty production comes from now-vintage equipment such as SP-12s and AKAI 2000s . 95 of 100 Jeru the Damaja: 'The Sun Rises in the East' Payday Records Fame proved elusive for the Brooklyn emcee, but Jeru's talent and Premier's mind-blowing compositions made his debut one of the quintessential '90s hip-hop albums. 94 of 100 Kendrick Lamar: 'Good Kid, m.A.A.d City' Top Dawg Entertainment There's a lot to love about Kendrick Lamar's "Good Kid, m.A.A.d City." For starters, it's a remarkable rap album in every way rap can be remarkable. It's a portrait of the jungle through the eyes of the prey. Despite a Grammy snub, it was well received by fans, critics, and peers. 93 of 100 Juvenile: '400 Degreez' Cash Money Records A combination of Juvie's melodic flow and Cash Money's high-end production made "400 Degreez" a Southern rap favorite in 1998. 92 of 100 The Roots: 'Things Fall Apart' MCA This mid-career success for The Roots was a huge step forward from the righteous fury of their first three LPs. 91 of 100 Del: 'I Wish My Brother George Was Here' Elektra Records While his cousin Ice Cube was busy stirring up the gangsta rap scene, Del was laying the foundation for what would become a healthy alternative-hip-hop landscape. 90 of 100 Xzibit: '40 Dayz & 40 Nightz' RCA Records Xzibit molds his voice into a gruff instrument, overpowering the beats when necessary. It's a brilliant gambit when it works. 89 of 100 Reflection Eternal: 'Train of Thought' Rawkus Super lyricist Talib Kweli and super producer Hi-Tek join forces on a masterwork that underlined the Rawkus era in hip-hop. 88 of 100 Slum Village: 'Fantastic Volume II' GoodVibe Two of the three masterminds behind "Fantastic Volume II" are no longer alive, but this album left an indelible mark on hip-hop. SV's experimentation with neo-soul and quirky raps flung the door open for groups such as Little Brother and Tanya Morgan. 87 of 100 Black Moon: 'Enta Da Stage' Wreck Records Unlike most hip-hop albums of its era, "Enta Da Stage" eschewed confrontational raps and opted for a brooding, electrifying brand of hip-hop. 86 of 100 Wyclef Jean: 'The Carnival' Sony This is where it all began. Wyclef's debut set the bar high for the rest of the Fugees' solo efforts. "The Carnival" was a masterful piece that combined Clef's smart songwriting with excellent beatsmithing. It was a critical and commercial smash. 85 of 100 Scarface: 'The Fix' Def Jam "The Fix" was one of those albums that came out of nowhere and made you forget everything else going on in Southern rap. With robust beats by Mike Dean and a young Kanye West and Scarface in peak form, "The Fix" was an instant hit and a Southern rap classic. 84 of 100 The Roots: 'Illadelph Halflife' Geffen The year is 1996 and hip-hop heads aren't so sure about live instrumentation. So The Roots flip the script and sample themselves in a brave artistic endeavor. 83 of 100 Busta Rhymes: 'When Disaster Strikes' Elektra Records Busta's second album is arguably his most consistent work. It definitely contains his most memorable singles: "Dangerous" and "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See." 82 of 100 MC Lyte: 'Lyte As a Rock' Courtesy Atlantic Hip-hop in 1988 was a misogynistic place. MC Lyte's debut, "Lyte as a Rock," helped usher in a wave of skilled, confident rappers who just happened to be women. Standouts include "Paper Thin" and "I Cram to Understand U." 81 of 100 Eminem: 'The Marshall Mathers LP' Aftermath "The Marshall Mathers LP" was an undeniable hip-hop masterpiece that reinforced Eminem's status as one of the most exciting artists of the new millennium. 80 of 100 2Pac: 'All Eyez on Me' Death Row Records Tupac Shakur was fresh out of jail when he released "All Eyez on Me," and you could hear the raw thoughts of a man grappling with his inner conflict. On one side were the brazen cuts that showed his tough side; on the other, he was soft as a pillow, immortalizing dead homies on the sentimental "Life Goes On." 79 of 100 Diamond and the Psychotic Neurotics: 'Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop' Mercury Records "Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop" announced Diamond D as one of the best producers on the mic. It also gave us a sneak peek of hip-hop's future, in sound and rhyme. The album featured fierce rhymes and beats by the likes of Big L, Fat Joe, and Q-Tip, among others. Finding early promotional copies of this album years later is like finding unicorn blood. 78 of 100 Kanye West: 'The College Dropout' Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam Kanye's first album, "The College Dropout," was one for the ages. His hunger on this album is unmatched. Warm, sample-heavy production backs up Mr. West's self-conscious lyrics. "College Dropout" appealed to both mainstream and underground audiences. 77 of 100 DMX: 'It's Dark and Hell Is Hot' Def Jam DMX's debut album, "It's Dark and Hell Is Hot," arrived in May 1998 and established him as the hottest thing in rap. At a time when bad boy stars such as Mase and Diddy ruled radio with a pop-friendly sound, X took the dark route. He barked (literally) his way to the top of the charts, thanks to key singles "Get at Me Dog" and "Ruff Ryder's Anthem." And "How's It Goin' Down" with Faith Evans showed this dog wasn't all bark. 76 of 100 Eminem: 'The Slim Shady LP' Aftermath A 24-year-old bleached-blond rapper from Detroit wasn't anyone's image of a hip-hop artist at the turn of the decade. But once Eminem opened his mouth, no one could question his skill. "The Slim Shady LP" sold over 5 million copies and solidified Em as a new force in rap. 75 of 100 Jungle Brothers: 'Straight Out the Jungle' Warlock Records 1980s hip-hop is colored by drum breaks, bad fashion, and Afrocentrism. Jungle Brothers provided Afro comfort music to soundtrack it all. Their debut is one of the most influential of the era. 74 of 100 Gang Starr: 'Step in the Arena' Chrysalis Records Guru used his monotone voice like an instrument to call attention to inner-city strife, while Premier backed him up with some of the grimiest beats hip-hop has ever heard. 73 of 100 Pharcyde: 'Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde' Delicious Vinyl Records While De La Soul was brewing Daisy Age rap on the East Coast, Pharcyde was diligently paying attention out West. "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde" has many fun, irreverent moments ("Oh S**t") and angst ("Officer") and mush ("Passin' Me By"), but not once do the zany fellas on the mic compromise passion for a bitter whine. 72 of 100 Kendrick Lamar: 'To Pimp a Butterfly' Aftermath "To Pimp a Butterfly" is a concept album with a convoluted arc that Kendrick follows with rare discipline. It retains vestiges of "Good Kid, m.A.A.d City" themes, with Lucy (Lucifer) supplanting Sherane. It deserves a seat alongside timeless works such as "Fear of a Black Planet" and "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted." 71 of 100 Mobb Deep: 'The Infamous' Sony One of rap's greatest duos, Mobb Deep brought QB dun talk to hip-hop audiences in the '90s. East Coast hip-hop was a competitive space in the '90s, and Mobb's first album, "Juvenile Hell," flew under the radar. In 1995, Havoc and Prodigy made huge creative leaps with "The Infamous." With Havoc serving up hardbody beats and Prodigy thrilling listeners with cinematic crime rap, "The Infamous" became one of the most influential gangsta rap albums. 70 of 100 Biz Markie: 'Goin' Off' Cold Chillin' Records The Human Beatbox came onto the scene with jokes in his veins and a boogers-out attitude on the mic. With Marley Marl weaving some of the tightest beats of the Golden Era and Biz dropping lung-cracking rhymes, "Goin' Off" affirmed Biz Markie as a certified master of ceremonies. 69 of 100 Kanye West: 'Late Registration' Roc-A-Fella When everyone wondered if Kanye could re-enact the magic of his stellar debut, his response was a resounding yes. "Late Registration" not only built on his previous sound palette, but it also packed even more lyrical punch than his debut. West was rewarded with a Grammy for his effort. 68 of 100 Geto Boys: 'We Can't Be Stopped' Rap-A-Lot Records It's hard for those who weren't there to understand, but the Geto Boys were rap heroes to every little ghetto boy and girl on the Gulf Coast who dared dream of counting bars at a time when East Coast and West Coast were vying for rap supremacy. It's a great album full of raw tales every hood can relate to, from Houston to Haiti. 67 of 100 Queen Latifah: 'All Hail the Queen' Tommy Boy Records Latifah's debut showcased her Grade A rapping chops, with songs such as "Wrath of My Madness" and "Ladies First" announcing the Jersey native as rap's new royalty. 66 of 100 DJ Shadow: 'Endtroducing' Island "Endtroducing" is one of the most influential hip-hop albums of all time. The largely instrumental album sounded like nothing else that was out in 1996. Shadow culled samples from obscure places to create a hazy spell of an album. 65 of 100 AZ: 'Doe or Die' Capitol Records After his star turn on Nas' "Life's a B***h," AZ launched his solo career with the arrival of "Doe or Die." Nas returns the favor on "Mo Money, Mo Murder," while songs such as "Rather Unique" and "Gimme Yours" hark back to the street spirit of "Illmatic." 64 of 100 Boogie Down Productions: 'By All Means Necessary' Jive If you're one of those glass-half-full people, you'll note that the only positive side of Scott La Rock's unfortunate murder was in the direction of "By All Means Necessary." KRS-One found himself denouncing Black-on-Black violence and railing against injustice on the classic BDP album. La Rock would have approved. 63 of 100 UGK: 'Ridin' Dirty' Sony "Ridin' Dirty" is UGK's most important album and one of the best rap albums ever recorded. The album gets its unique identity from Bun and Pimp's yin and yang connection. Bun is the surgical emcee, while Pimp is the flamboyant philosopher. Everyone should buy two copies. 62 of 100 GZA/Genius: 'Liquid Swords' Geffen "Liquid Swords" introduced GZA as the cerebral swordsman. RZA's serene, atmospheric board work helps transform the album from alt-rap bravery to a Wu masterpiece. 61 of 100 Mos Def: 'Black on Both Sides' Rawkus Mos Def's solo debut, "Black on Both Sides," scores major points in key categories: aesthetics, substance, and production. It knocks from end to end. Whether kicking rhymes about his personal politics or painting a portrait of a plump backside, Mos does it with vivid skill. 60 of 100 Nas: 'Stillmatic' Sony Nas could spend the rest of his career chasing a shadow named "Illmatic." 2001's "Stillmatic" was the closest he came to capturing the angst and paranoia of his boyhood self. Standouts include the scathing Jay-Z diss "Ether" and the time-bending classic "Rewind." 59 of 100 Nas: 'It Was Written' Columbia "It Was Written" is Nas' attempt to match the grit and glory of "Illmatic." Highlights include "The Message," "I Gave U Power," and "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)" with Lauryn Hill. 58 of 100 OutKast: 'Stankonia' LaFace Creative ebullience abounds, but three of 2002's best rap songs are all here: "B.O.B.," "So Fresh, So Clean," and the baby mama drama jama "Ms. Jackson." 57 of 100 De La Soul: 'De La Soul Is Dead' Tommy Boy Entertainment De La Soul reinvented its sound on "De La Soul Is Dead." After being derided as hippies, they shifted away from the Daisy Age image of the first album and returned with a poker-face album that retained some of the early zaniness. 56 of 100 OutKast: 'Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik' LaFace OutKast's debut is as much a triumph for Andre 3000 and Big Boi as it is for production outfit Organized Noize. One part Southern-fried beatsmithery and one part poetic sorcery, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is 100 percent dope. 55 of 100 Jay-Z: 'The Blueprint' Roc-A-Fella It's an album so great not even Osama bin Laden could stop its flight to the top on 9/11/01. "Blueprint" solidified Jay's place as a GOAT contender. It's one of the best hip-hop albums of the 2000s. 54 of 100 Kool G Rap & DJ Polo: 'Road to the Riches' Warner Bros. Records Marley Marl supplies the cold beats, DJ Polo provides the cuts, and Kool G Rap attacks every track with the nastiest lisp in the five boroughs. 53 of 100 Madvillain:'Madvillainy' Stones Throw Records Prime poets MF Doom and Madlib joined forces to create this enduring masterwork in 2004. 52 of 100 Dr. Dre: '2001' Aftermath An extension of Dr. Dre's classic debut, "2001" (aka "Chronic 2001") is a syncopated day in the life of a G. 51 of 100 The Coup: 'Genocide & Juice' Wild Pitch Records Now a duo, The Coup makes a more focused album full of political rhetoric, vivid storytelling, and slick production. 50 of 100 Big Punisher: 'Capital Punishment' Columbia Records Pun impressed with his larger-than-life debut, which sports immediate standouts such as "Still Not a Player" and "You Ain't a Killer." 49 of 100 Black Star: 'Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star' Rawkus A mic in one hand and a copy of "The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey" in the other, Mos Def and Talib Kweli excelled with their consciousness revivalism form of hip-hop. 48 of 100 OutKast: 'ATLiens' LaFace WIth Organized Noize manning the boards once again, OutKast emerged with a thoroughly enjoyable Southern rap album that rivals its predecessor for greatness. 47 of 100 The Roots: 'Do You Want More?!!!??!' Geffen In 1995, The Roots released a groundbreaking album that offered a peek into the experimental approach to music they would later hang their hats on. It's 100% sample-free—no additives. 46 of 100 Organized Konfusion: 'Stress: The Extinction Agenda' Elektra Records "Stress: The Extinction Agenda," Organized Konfusion's second album, is more ambitious and exceptionally well written compared to the first. Highlights include the title track and "Let's Organize." 45 of 100 LL Cool J: 'Radio' Def Jam LL Cool J released a ton of clunkers in the latter part of his career, but "Radio" stands testament to his days as a great emcee: tough, def, and jingling, baby. 44 of 100 Brand Nubian: 'One for All' Elektra Records Grand Puba, Sadat X, Lord Jamar, and DJ Alamo brought social commentary and spirituality to the forefront of '90s rap with gems such as "Slow Down" and "Wake Up." 43 of 100 Lauryn Hill: 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' Sony Lauryn Hill's "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" offered the best blend of rap and R&B in hip-hop history. Her stellar songwriting flourished from song to song, whether grappling with spirituality ("Final Hour," "Forgive Them, Father") or stroking sexuality without exploiting it ("Nothing Even Matters"). 42 of 100 EPMD: 'Unfinished Business' Priority Records At a time when hip-hop was dominated by rage, Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith slowed things down with the decidedly smooth, fresh, and exciting "Unfinished Business." 41 of 100 Ice-T: 'Power' Warner Bros The one gangsta rap album to rule them all, "Power" portrayed inner-city street life in graphic detail while sending an anti-crime message to the hood. 40 of 100 The Notorious B.I.G.: 'Life After Death' Bad Boy Records Biggie must have known this would be his last album. He stuffed it with as many songs as he could muster: street anthems, radio hits, comedic skits, and a wide cast of co-stars. "Life After Death" is certified diamond for sales totaling over 10 million units. 39 of 100 Gang Starr: 'Hard to Earn' Chrysalis Records "Hard to Earn" varied from Gang Starr's previous albums: It was harsher and more insular. It also captured Guru and Premier's growing frustration with sucker emcees. 38 of 100 A Tribe Called Quest: 'People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm' Sony Records Authentic, fun, and beautifully produced, Tribe's stunning debut appealed to lovers of alternative hip-hop and still inspires. 37 of 100 Pete Rock & CL Smooth: 'Mecca and the Soul Brother' Elektra Records Pete Rock and CL Smooth helped usher in a pivotal point in hip-hop with their mix of smooth, horn-heavy beats and sophisticated rhymes. 36 of 100 Dead Prez: 'Let's Get Free' Columbia Records The most revolutionary hip-hop group since Public Enemy, Dead Prez helped revive the consciousness movement with this powerful debut LP. 35 of 100 Public Enemy: 'Fear of a Black Planet' Def Jam Dark, raw and provocative, "Fear of a Black Planet" produced classic cuts such as "911 Is a Joke" and "Who Stole the Soul." 34 of 100 Ghostface Killah: 'Ironman' Sony Records Backed by RZA's slick and somber beats, Ghostface dropped a combustive debut rife with rich stories and wild metaphors. 33 of 100 Ice Cube: 'AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted' Priority Records After a messy breakup with NWA, Ice Cube filled his debut album with dark stories of manic frustration. 32 of 100 Redman: 'Whut? Thee Album' Def Jam Redman's wild sense of humor is the main star of "Whut? Thee Album," but it's also notable for its rousing energy, funky party jams, and ferocious boasts. 31 of 100 Beastie Boys: 'Paul's Boutique' Capitol Records As critics were writing off Beastie Boys as a one-album wonder, Ad-Rock, Mike, and MCA went back to their L.A. studio and worked feverishly on their follow-up to the monumental "Licensed to Ill." The result was "Paul's Boutique," an album that packed a combination of creative depth and layered production. 30 of 100 LL Cool J: 'Mama Said Knock You Out' Def Jam Striking a balance between pleasant and pugnacious, "Mama Said Knock You Out" marked Uncle L's growth as a rapper. The hard-edged songs are here ("Murdergram," "Mama Said Knock You Out"), but they're perfectly complemented by smooth, accessible jams ("Around the Way Girl"). Marley Marl's excellent production helps make "Mama" a masterpiece. 29 of 100 Makaveli: 'The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory' Death Row Records Some say "Makaveli" is 2Pac's best album. It's certainly his hardest and most surreal. Released less than eight weeks after Pac's death, the album further eternalized Pac's enigma. The album's best songs include the street anthem "Hail Mary" and the (adoptive) hometown tribute "To Live and Die in LA." 28 of 100 Scarface: 'The Diary' Rap-A-Lot Records The third time was the charm for Brad "Scarface" Jordan. His third solo foray, "The Diary," immediately established the Houston rapper as the South's answer to Rakim, thanks to his smart storytelling and inimitable flow. 27 of 100 Big Daddy Kane: 'Long Live the Kane' Cold Chillin' Records Big Daddy Kane wrote the manuscript for braggart rap on "Long Live the Kane." Marley Marl's sparse production and Kane's slick wordplay are worth noting. Like Tony the Tiger, he's GRRRRREAAAT. 26 of 100 A Tribe Called Quest: 'Midnight Marauders' Jive Records Tribe's third disc is a collection of melodic, Crisco-slick sizzlers. You'll love "Electric Relaxation," "Award Tour," and "Oh My God." 25 of 100 Ultramagnetic MC's: 'Critical Beatdown' Next Plateau "Critical Beatdown" is important for three reasons: It's arguably the best album of 1988; it revolutionized the art of hip-hop sampling thanks to Ced-Gee's brilliant use of the E-mu SP-1200 sampler; and it introduced the world to the exceptionally creative weirdo known as Kool Keith. 24 of 100 Run-DMC: 'Raising Hell' Profile Records "Raising Hell" was the most uncompromising Run DMC album, and also the most accessible. It has this gloriously invigorating feel that resonated with audiences old and new. "Raising Hell" is important for its originality as well as its influence. "My Adidas" is still an anthem for hip-hop fashion, while "Walk This Way" helped started a trend of rock-rap fusion. 23 of 100 D.O.C." 'No One Can Do It Better' Ruthless Records Before a car crash wrecked D.O.C.'s larynx, he made an undeniable hip-hop classic. "No One Can Do It Better" sidestepped West Coast gun talk in favor of East Coast lyricism and featured some of Dr. Dre's finest production. 22 of 100 EPMD: 'Strictly Business' Priority Records EPMD is the most sampled group in hip-hop for good reason: Their production is a thing of beauty. Combine that with Erick and P's laid-back rhymes and you get strictly dopeness. 21 of 100 Afrika Bambaataa: 'Looking for the Perfect Beat' Tommy Boy Records Afrika Bambaataa was a trailblazer, an innovator of the hip-hop aesthetic. "Looking for the Perfect Beat" is a good place to start if you're seeking to familiarize yourself with his most significant works, including "Planet Rock" and "Unity Pt. 1," a collaboration James Brown. 20 of 100 Main Source: 'Breaking Atoms' Wild Pitch Records The sample-heavy "Breaking Atoms" was one of the most influential albums ever, in that it helped launch the careers of Nas, Akinyele, and others. It also inspired a production technique that's still widely emulated. 19 of 100 Common: 'Resurrection' Relativity Records 1994 was a flagship year for hip-hop, with "Illmatic" and "Ready to Die" arriving. Yet Chicago rapper Common (then known as Common Sense) still managed to stand out with his smart, jazz-tinged sophomore LP, "Resurrection." 18 of 100 Cypress Hill: 'Cypress Hill' Columbia Records Aside from being the first popular Latino rap group, Cypress Hill also did a respectable job of bridging the gap between rock and hip-hop on its self-titled debut album. Highlights include "How I Could Just Kill a Man" and "The Phunkcy Feel One." 17 of 100 Snoop Doggy Dogg: 'Doggystyle' Death Row Records "Doggystyle" kicked the door wide for many West Coast emcees. Dr. Dre's finesse aside, Snoop's piquant delivery and melodic flow were equally crucial to the success of "Doggystyle." 16 of 100 Fugees: 'The Score' Columbia Records Fugees' second album, "The Score," was so remarkable that most fans forgot about the less memorable debut. Truth be told, "The Score" was a huge improvement over the lackluster "Blunted on Reality." 15 of 100 Beastie Boys: 'Licensed to Ill' Def Jam There are two stars on "Licensed to Ill," and both deserve equal credit. Rick Rubin, the true pioneer of rap rock, is the one pulling the musical puppet strings on this thing. But the album would be nothing without the Beasties destroying every track with their unbridled passion. 14 of 100 Boogie Down Productions: 'Criminal Minded' B-Boy Records KRS-One was the dreaded poet, Scott La Rock the musical visionary. Together they cooked up an album that shook up the landscape of hip-hop. "Criminal Minded" should be studied in college. 13 of 100 OutKast: 'Aquemini' LaFace Records "Aquemini" is evidence of just how often Boi and Dre loved to reinvent their sound. They abandoned everything that had worked in the past and went straight for harmonica, acoustic guitar, and even a tinny splice of electro. 12 of 100 Ice Cube: 'Death Certificate' Priority Records Cube's debut, "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted," was outstanding, but his follow-up was even better and more venomous than the first. The thing is named "Death Certificate," after all. The album's "Death" side presented an image of the present, while the "Life" side offered a vision of the future. 11 of 100 Jay-Z: 'Reasonable Doubt' Roc-A-Fella Before "Reasonable Doubt," mafioso rap lacked nuance. Jay studied his peers and perfected their template, bringing a vulnerable side that personified the usual street characters. The outcome was an album that served both as an honest narrative of the ills of street life and an unrepentant defense of it. 10 of 100 2Pac: 'Me Against the World' Interscope "Me Against the World" is 2Pac at his best. No thug core tracks, no name-inscribed missiles aimed at East Coast rappers. Simply Pac at his most poignant and most defiant, the duality in all its brilliance. 09 of 100 A Tribe Called Quest: 'The Low End Theory' Jive Records "The Low End Theory" is Tribe at its best. Ali Shaheed, Q-Tip, and Phife Dawg became one of the greatest rap groups of all time by trafficking in smart lyrics drizzled over smooth, jazz-rap layers. 08 of 100 N.W.A.: 'Straight Outta Compton' Priority Records Eazy, Dre, Cube, and the rest of 'em had to fight for their right to party. No one—not even the alphabet people—could stop them from publicly, viciously and explicitly indicting the powers that be. It's a true West Coast masterpiece. 07 of 100 Dr. Dre: 'The Chronic' Death Row Records 1991 produced many great albums: Pete Rock & CL Smooth's "Mecca and the Soul Brother," Pharcyde's "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde," and Diamond D's "Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop." But it was Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" that towered over hip-hop that year and for many years to come. Dre's G-funk basslines, bolstered generously by Snoop's slick flow, announced the new name running the game. 06 of 100 Wu-Tang Clan: 'Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' Loud Records "36 Chambers" is one of the greatest debuts hip-hop has ever seen. The 12-song spectacle barely gave the nine original swordsmen enough room to stretch out their eccentricities. Highlights include "C.R.E.A.M.," "Protect Ya Neck," and the pragmatic life hack "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F**k' Wit." 05 of 100 Raekwon: 'Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...' Loud Records "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..." is a journey through the thrills, the violence, and the rote regimen that constitute a New York drug kingpin's life. It's a crime-rap manifesto that shaped the course of mafioso rap throughout the '90s. 04 of 100 Eric B. & Rakim: 'Paid in Full' Island Records While his peers bragged about the size of their manhood, Rakim styled on them with peculiar precision. The man loves painting pictures with words, and "Paid in Full" is his ultimate canvas. 03 of 100 Public Enemy: 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back' Def Jam Public Enemy challenged everything that posed an obstacle to the oppressed: racism, injustice, crooked cops, profiling, everything. P.E.'s second album is an undeniable hip-hop classic. 02 of 100 The Notorious B.I.G.: 'Ready to Die' Big Beat Records Biggie's ability to coolly captivate an audience with his storytelling chops, capture a difficult emotion (e.g., suicidal thoughts), or mine comedy from the most serious of subjects (e.g., robbery) are skills rarely seen in the same package. Biggie Smalls is the illest. 01 of 100 Nas: 'Illmatic' Columbia Records There are great hip-hop albums, and then there's "Illmatic." A 19-year-old word wizard, Nas packed potent poetry into 39 minutes, while A-list producers such as DJ Premier and Pete Rock supplied the perfect score. "Illmatic" is the greatest hip-hop album of all time.