Since the beginning of rap, numerous releases have flooded the markets for quick listening. In the end, some of these rap albums stay, while most others leave, never becoming one of the most influential rap albums long-term.
More than simply above-average, the albums on this list are historically relevant due to the great impact they’ve had on listeners throughout time. While exciting recent albums such as Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” won’t appear on this list now, they will be prime candidates for a future list. And so, to get right to it, here is a list of Amalgam Digital’s top 10 most influential rap albums of all time.
1.The Sugarhill Gang – Sugarhill Gang
Though it wasn’t even close to the greatest rap album ever, and was not particularly top-selling in its time, Sugarhill Gang is known for having popularized hip-hop and essentially ushered it in as a legitimate genre. Although one song in particular, “Rapper’s Delight,” has been wrongly labeled as the first hip-hop song ever created (actually credited to “King Tim III” by the Fatback Band), it really was the first valid attempt at rap and was definitive enough to spark the historic rise of hip-hop and the quick fall of disco as a trending genre. The Sugarhill Gang wasn’t saying much of anything in the album, but it nevertheless opened up all available lanes for the likes of Grandmaster Flash and the other members of the first-generation of rappers—certainly making it historic and landing a spot on Amalgam’s most influential rap albums of all time.
2. N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton
It pioneered and popularized “gangsta-rap” upon its release, inspired countless rappers for years to come, dazzled critics up to present day, and still remains relevant with last year’s movie adaptation of the same name. N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton has consistently broken into the likes of pop-culture through one form or another. Additionally, Straight Outta Compton would end up giving much needed traction to notable members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre—kicking off their solo careers. Whether it’s the disregard for lyrical norms, the stellar production value, or the members’ over-the-top energy, this influential album is what gangsta-rap is all about.
3. Dr. Dre – The Chronic
Although Ice Cube’s controversial success, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, had exceptional magnitude following N.W.A’s peak of power and influence, his album could not exactly match that of his companion Dr. Dre, who would drop The Chronic and essentially shift the likes of rap culture definitively. Perhaps the most skilled producer out of the super group’s members, Dr. Dre was viewed as a sure-fire hit when push came to shove. Sure enough, his work exceeded even the deepest of expectations and would end up establishing the signature west-coast sound, referred to as G-Funk (Gangsta-Funk), and which would move onward through the 90’s. Known for its unparalleled production value, The Chronic also prominently featured an up-and-coming Snoop Dogg, who would gain some much-needed attention of his own. And so, it’s no surprise that The Chronic is still one the most influential rap albums of all time.
4. 2Pac – All Eyez on Me
Branching out from the G-Funk that Dr. Dre introduced, Tupac made his own inspiring contribution to the rap world with his fourth studio album, All Eyez on Me. Spawning hit singles such as “California Love” and “How Do You Want It,” this album centered on more of a progressive sound and celebrated thug-life in its hippest form. Featuring a slew of west-coast rappers including his most vital supporter (at the time), Dr. Dre, the album marked the moment in Tupac’s career when he seemed to single-handedly control the hip-hop genre. Rappers of the era were beginning to explain the truth of the streets and Tupac wanted to head it off with All Eyez on Me. And so, by precedent, it has inspired and continues to inspire other rappers of all styles, making it one of the most influential rap albums.
5. Nas – Illmatic
Switching over to the rich happenings of the east-coast, we have Nas’ debut album Illmatic. Upon release, this album contributed to a revival of the New York rap scene and, just as Dr. Dre accomplished with his west-coast debut, it created the east-coast trend that would be recognized for the decade. With its heavy production and greater focus on dense lyricism, the New York rap sound was directly derived by Illmatic’s darker and truer nature compared to its west-coast counterparts. This is what would inspire countless talented acts such as Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah, Kendrick Lamar, Killer Mike and nearly all the Five Percenters. Closely rivaling the 90’s success of the west-coast, Illmatic had the staying power to allow New York to keep relevant at such a monumental time for hip-hop.
6. The Notorious B.I.G – Ready to Die
Similar to Nas and Ice Cube, Biggie Smalls wanted to portray gangsta-rap in a way that would intimidate listeners, rather than glorifying its thuggish nature. This he did in his debut album Ready to Die, which exhibited one of the most clever and well thought out storytelling in rap history. The appeal of the story comes from, of course, the lyrics, but also from various sound effects ranging from the birth of a baby at the start of the collection to the sound of slowing heartbeats at the end. These sound effects (gun fire, ringing, etc.) also worked its way into his production and became a sort of table for his raps. Up until the time of release, this type of rap album wasn’t naturally explored, so he received widespread acclaim from critics. In his own right, Notorious B.I.G paved the way for future storytellers, while also introducing catchy hooks and more over-the-top sexual themes as a definitive style. It is no surprise that this album landed Biggie a spot on the top 10 most influential rap albums of all time.
7. Wu-Tang Clan – Enter Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers)
While it’s no secret that the Clan brought about a certain musical revolution to hip-hop, they achieved much more following their first release, Enter Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers). Well known for their lyrics containing ultra-violence, Kung-Fu, and odd humor, the album managed to cause a breakout in rap for the Wu-Tang Clan as a unique collective that immediately drew in fascinated listeners and other rappers alike. The historic implications of this particular album, for the most part, came from the rapid growth of the group as a brand. From their popularity, other ventures in exterior media were tasked by Clan members, such as appearances in video games and movies, and even an establishment of legitimate clothing line. All these came from the traction of their first album and were exceptionally rare in rap at the time. The grand influence that this had on the world of hip-hop is obvious, with countless rappers nowadays pursuing other media outlets. Spearheaded by their masterful leader, RZA, the Clan saw breakouts with this album of nearly every member of the group—most notably Raekwon and GZA. Without this album, it is safe to say that hip-hop would not have the creative quirks and varied styles that exist in the genre today.
8. GZA – Liquid Swords
Although Raekwon impressed listeners with his debut album, he couldn’t quite match the power and influence of the Wu-Tang Clan’s genius, GZA. With his second album overall, Liquid Swords, GZA shocked the rap world with some of the most complex and shadowy lyrics in rap history. The tone, both lyrically and instrumentally, set the album at healthy mix of both sinister and beautiful—an amazing balance of opposites. As far as guests, GZA was dedicated to put each prominent member of Wu-Tang Clan on the album and, as could be witnessed, no member seemed out-of-place. Alongside RZA’s renowned production skills, GZA thrived in his own individual space and pursuit of recognition, which in turn resulted with Liquid Swords becoming one of the most influential rap albums of all time.
9. Eminem – Marshall Mathers LP
Both unique and insightful, Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP grew to direct his discharge of musical expression into a more meaningful and self-probing endeavor than his previous works. This collection also further defined his tendency for commentary on such topics as fan’s expectations, harshness of critics, and his piling issue of drug use. This sort of commentary was rather uncharacteristic of most rappers and would become an interesting center to Slim Shady’s style. Additionally, this album held political outcry and attacks on the media for accusing Eminem (among many other musicians) of wrongly influencing kids following the Columbine High School Massacre. Simply the controversy surrounding Eminem is enough to show that this album deserves a spot as one of the most influential rap albums, but the real heart of the Marshal Mathers LP’s influence comes from the storytelling, autobiographical elements, exceptional production value by the great Dr. Dre, as well as the speedy and scattered raps of Eminem himself.
10. Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
With what could be considered a strong candidate for most intriguing hip-hop album of all time, the southern-based rap-duo Outkast dazzled rap fans with their 2003 double-release, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below—an impressive new sound that blended many different genres including jazz and funk, with rap. As each half of the full release provided their own personal take, the lyrics were wild and ranged from romantic and sexual to aggressive and edgy. This creatively and ambitious piece was, and still is, critically acclaimed and is responsible for shining a spotlight on the often-times underestimated southern rap scene. Outkast delivered an album that, with all its talent and musical prowess, stands tall as an experimental, yet flawless monument to the rappers of the future.