I was asked by a friend to make a list of 20 essential hip-hop albums, and this is what I came up with. They are more or less ordered from most-to-least accessible. At the bottom, there is a playlist with a track from each album.
1. Enter the Wu-Tang by Wu-Tang Clan
The gold standard.
2. Ready to Die by The Notorious B.I.G.
The early favorite of the white male.
3. Game Theory by The Roots
The one that doesn’t curse very much and doesn’t demean women.
4. Stankonia by OutKast
The exception when you professed not to like “rap” in middle school.
5. The College Dropout by Kanye West
The one that took Stankonia‘s crown.
6. Below the Heavens by Blu & Exile
The one you’d have loved if you’d ever heard of it.
7. The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest
The jazzy one where they talk about pagers.
8. Hell Hath No Fury by Clipse
The one where, after the first 7, you’ve hopefully developed enough of a sense of humor to laugh at the lyricism.
9. Liquid Swords by GZA/Genius
The one that may be better than #1, but you wouldn’t have realized it at first.
10. The Blueprint by Jay-Z
The one with “Izzo”, where you realize the album is consistent, and the rest of it is much better.
11. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West
The one that might be the strangest album on the list, but you don’t mind because it’s Kanye.
12. Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde by The Pharcyde
The best west-coast hip-hop album of the 90’s, but you’ve never heard of it.
13. Paul’s Boutique by Beastie Boys
The one that sampled The Beatles and was still sold in stores.
14. Shades of Blue by Madlib
The instrumental one from the modern king of hip-hop instrumentals.
15. Madvillainy by Madvillain
The one that truly flips hip-hop on its head.
16. Endtroducing….. by DJ Shadow
The one that was almost entirely composed of samples.
17. Follow the Leader by Eric B. & Rakim
The old-school classic, featuring the most talented rapper ever.
18. Illmatic by Nas
The golden age classic, which argues with my previous statement and features arguably the greatest producer ever.
19. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy
The political, heavy-hitting one with the reality television star.
20. Donuts by J Dilla
The instrumental one that is the king of hip-hop instrumentals around the turn of the century.