The 10 Best Debut Rap Albums

Hip-hop has long had a special relationship with the debut album — perhaps more so than any other genre. A debut album marks an MC's introduction to the world. It defines their legacy. And, for the most part, it goes down as their most definitive masterwork. For example, Dr. Dre had The Chronic. Nas had Illmatic. Jay Z had Reasonable Doubt. Biggie had Ready to Die.

Here are the 10 greatest hip-hop debut albums of all time.

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OutKast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Outkast Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Year: 1994

Highlights: "Player's Ball," "Git Up, Git Out"

Hip-hop's most consistent group started off on a strong note with Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. OutKast's first outing worked in part because Big Boi and Andre 3000 redefined most people's perception of southern rap. They created an experience that was far more progressive and, ultimately, familiar. They were "two dope boys in a ​Cadillac" with witty rhymes and funk-inspired production.

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Kanye West - The College Dropout

Kanye West College Dropout

Year: 2004

Highlights: "Jesus Walks," "Spaceship"

The path to Kanye West's debut, The College Dropout, was paved with great expectations. West shattered every barrier placed in front him, fighting his way through the fire to deliver one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. The College Dropout's mix of soul, wit, and warmth made it a favorite among hip-hop heads young and old. It was further validated by Best Rap Album Grammy.

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A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.

Peoples Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm cover

Year: 1990

Highlights: "Bonita Applebum," "Can I Kick It?"

A Tribe Called Quest's stunning debut appealed to lovers of alternative hip-hop and still resonates today. One highlight you've probably heard is "Bonita Applebum," an ode to a high school shawty which gets bonus points for its safe sex message: "I got crazy prophylactics."

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De La Soul - 3 Feet High and Rising

Giclée print of original album art work of De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, designed by Toby Mott.
Toby Mott/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Year: 1989

Highlights: "Eye Know," "Potholes in My Lawn"

One of the most innovative albums of their time, De La Soul's 3 Feet High & Rising pushed the boundaries of what was deemed possible in the late 80s/early 90s hip-hop. More than two decades after its release, the group's debut is still enjoyable from start to finish. Their sophomore album wasn't too shabby, either.

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Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city

good kid, m.A.A.d city
Photo from Amazon

Year: 2012

Highlights: "Don't Kill My Vibe," "Backseat Freestyle"

There's a lot to love about Kendrick Lamar's Interscope debut. For starters, it's a remarkable rap album in every sense rap can be remarkable in this age. It's a portrait of the jungle through the eyes of a prey. And despite a Grammy snub, it was well received by fans, critics and peers.

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Dr. Dre - The Chronic

The Chronic
Photo from Amazon

Year: 1992

Highlights: "Nuthin' But a G Thang," "Stranded on Death Row"

Dr. Dre's solo debut, The Chronic, is one of the most important hip-hop albums ever. With a young and hungry Snoop Dogg playing his able wing-man, Dre captivated hip-hop with G-funk and bass-driven beats that announced the new name running the game.

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Wu-Tang Clan - 36 Chambers

Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Photo from Amazon

Year: 1993

Highlights: "C.R.E.A.M.," "Bring da Ruckus"

Wu-Tang Clan's debut, 36 Chambers, wasn't just a great collection of songs. It also introduced a number of characters that would go on to reach great heights individually. Wu's gritty sound, powered by RZA, was the perfect backdrop for their eccentric storytelling. This album is the number one reason Wu-Tang is widely considered the greatest hip-hop group of all time.

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Jay Z - Reasonable Doubt

Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt

Year: 1996

Highlights: "Can I Live," "Feelin' It"

Before Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, mafioso rap lacked nuance but not substance. Jay studied the game and perfected the template. In addition to meticulously crafted tales of materialism, he added a vulnerable side that personified less-than-usual street lords. One of the best albums hip-hop has witnessed yet.

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Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die

Notorious BIG Ready To Die

Year: 1993

Highlights: "Gimme the Loot," Juicy"

Ready to Die is widely acknowledged as a hip-hop masterpiece. And for good reason. Biggie's first outing is a plowed furrow moisturized by visceral tales of survival. The only album released in Biggie's lifetime is compelling enough to stand up to virtually any hip-hop work of its era. Ready to Die reached gold within two months, platinum within a year. It also notched a prestigious 4.5 Mic rating in The Source, which praised Biggie's storytelling.

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Nas - Illmatic

Photo from Amazon

Year: 1994

Highlights: "NY State of Mind," "One Love"

Nas is young, hungry and inspired throughout his groundbreaking debut. With his borough, Queensbridge, as a constant backdrop, Nasty Nas offers vivid stories about blunt heads, fly ladies and prisoners. Equal parts bleak and hopeful; dark alleys and sun rays. In the end, Nas created a potent piece of poetry that still endures.