The Top 50 Hip-Hop Albums of the Millennium

Run the Jewels live at FYF Fest 2015

ti-king30. T.I. – King

(2006; Grand Hustle)

On “King Back” which opens King, Just Blaze samples a big-band composition, which sounds like the score to the final showdown of a Kung Fu film, where one underdog dispatches the hostile advances of an entire gang with hyperbolic grace. It’s a perfect catalyst for T.I. to definitively declare himself one of the gilded anchors in a brutally fickle genre. From the remake of UGK’s classic “Front Back” to “Ride Wit Me” T.I. proves himself to be an adept MC steeped in southern charisma. Meanwhile “What You Know” may be the most underrated rap epic of this century’s first decade. It’s near impossible to not feel 5 inches taller, when listening to the Atlanta MC’s gentle reminders of his infamy. King is like literature that describes the mundane world with such brash assurance it’s a bolt of clairvoyance where you think the words are talking specifically to you. There are numerous lines on King that, when delivered through T.I’s resolved drawl, should be written out in elegant calligraphy, used as literary epigraphs, and tattooed on our inner-wrists. – Paul Glanting

Freddie Gibbs Madlib Pinata review29. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata

(2014; Madlib Invazion)

The Venn diagram of hip-hop fans who like Freddie Gibbs’ singular ground-level take on crime rap and also can’t get enough of Madlib’s abstract genre-hopping vinyl nerd production might seem small. But Gibbs and Madlib had a clearly aligned vision that paid off in spades: Piñata filters Gibbs’s highly detailed observations of life, love, sex, drugs, violence and, well, incredible fried chicken dinners (it is impossible to listen to “Harold’s” without getting hungry) through an immersive sonic tapestry of ’70s funk rhythms, languorous jazz and dozens of blaxploitation film samples. Earl Sweatshirt, Raekwon, Danny Brown, Scarface, the late Mac Miller and others show up to drop excellent guest verses, but rest assured, this is Freddie’s show. While the gangster narratives of “Thuggin” and “Supplier” are well within the Gary, Indiana MC’s wheelhouse, he also gets more intensely personal and vulnerable on songs like “Deeper” and “Lakers” than most rappers stylistically comparable to Gibbs ever do. – Liam Green

kanye-late28. Kanye West – Late Registration

(2005; Roc-a-fella)

West solidified his presence in hip-hop with his inaugural opus, The College Dropout but it was the decidedly airy, nuanced, and refined Late Registration that solidified West’s presence within culture at large. Dealing with prevalent social justice themes alongside some of the funniest and most charming moments in rap at the time, West’s Late Registration is an album that feels effortless, in spite of its outsize ambition. Like the greatest works of all art, West’s rhymes and flow resound with a boundless confidence. A masterclass in charm and sincerity, Late Registration is perhaps the last album that West ever recorded to truly wear its heart on its sleeve. – Brian Roesler

Drake NWTS27. Drake – Nothing Was the Same

(2013; Cash Money/Young Money/OVO)

It should be noted that Nothing Was the Same isn’t the most important Drake album; that’d be Take Care, his 2011 opus, the eclecticism, post-regionalism, and pop sense of which help pushed rap fully into the digital age. But Nothing Was the Same is the best Drake album, because it gets to build on Take Care. It polishes that album’s glassy, fortress-of-solitude aesthetic, builds on its vengefully nostalgic tone. And Drake himself is at his best here, singing more effectively and rapping more fluidly and forcefully. It’s the best Drake album because it’s a sequel. He had the formula: all he had to do was perfect it. And he did. – Ben Dickerson

Danny Brown Old26. Danny Brown – Old

(2013; Mass Appeal)

I’ll say this readily and without caveats: There is no one in hip-hop more goddamn honest than Danny Brown. He is completely incapable of bullshitting the listener and his music reflects that. Old represents the most multifaceted examination of Brown’s complex personality and musical interests in his four-album discography. It’s separated into two conceptual halves: The first—Side A—focuses mostly on detail-rich but harrowing snapshots of his life before rap, fraught with the violence of the drug trade (“Old,” “The Return”) and characterized by abject poverty (“25 Bucks,” “Wonderbread,” “Torture”). Its musical backdrop, appropriately, is austere boom-bap, with occasional bizarre flourishes like the creepy woodwind loop of “Wonderbread.” By contrast, Side B is a well-earned celebration of Brown’s success with party jams galore from representatives of the EDM galaxy much more forward-thinking than many of their peers including Rustie, A-Trak and Skywlkr. (I can verify that dropping “Smokin & Drinkin” in the midst of almost any party will have positive results.) That aforementioned honesty of Brown’s, though, keeps getting in the way, and he acknowledges he’s only postponing the return of demons he tried to exorcise earlier in the album. Who can’t relate to that in one way or another? The clash of emotions and sounds that comprises Old makes it a powerful, nuanced document of a witty, introspective, frequently vulgar, always captivating mind. – Liam Green

best albums of 2015 Future25. Future – DS2

(2015; Epic)

Few artists in modern rap are more mercurial and contradictory than Future: an MC with pop-song melodic instincts who intermittently flaunts and hates them, a relentless hedonist with enough clarity to periodically recoil in horror at his drug use, a misogynistic solipsist pondering suicide in the club. All of these facets are present on DS2, the third (and, thus far, best) studio album by Atlanta’s preeminent codeine dreamer. Often, the traits are at war with one another, as on “I Serve the Base”: He’s so fucking high his brain veers abruptly from dissection of his career (“Try to make me a pop star and they made a monster”) to what might be a haunted allusion to the NYPD murder of Eric Garner (“Say your last words, can’t breathe”) and back to drugs (“Full of so much chronic need a detox”). Problematic and grim though he often is, Future is also rarely less than compelling, and you sense the immense pain behind the bluster in songs like “Blood on the Money” and “Kno the Meaning.” Add a coterie of hallucinatory synths and skeletal trap drums from Southside, Metro Boomin and Zaytoven to the mix, and you have a recipe for hip-hop excellence. – Liam Green

Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap24. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap

(2013; Self-released)

It’s not uncommon for us to attempt to critically canonize artists after only one major record, even if history has taught us to be patient. Great artists not always but at least often reveal themselves over time, and that kind of patience watching work over time, both older records and how they stand up and newer produced work, has rarely hurt an artist that should be acclaimed. That said, Chance the Rapper is the exception that proves the rule. There is something immediately and identifiably great about Acid Rap, an album that merges arthouse backpacker rap ideology of beats, production and the expansiveness available within hip-hop with mainstream approachable rhymes. It’s no wonder hearing the tape why Chance went from a buzzed-about underground rapper following 10 Day to someone cozying up with Kanye West and Beyonce; he managed to embed himself via clever wordplay and one hell of a delivery, honed after years of live performances, deep within the flesh of both mainstream and underground rappers. And he did so all while remaining unsigned, championing the same street-level attitude rap had during its shared birth in the same area and time-period of punk, which is both a testament to the quality of his record to overcome others with more money behind them and a credit to the rap community for so strongly embracing a self-released work, catapulting its creator to mega-stardom, a thing rock hasn’t done in well over two decades. – Langdon Hickman

ghostface-fishscale23. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale

(2006; Def Jam)

Only a decade separated Ghostface’s debut and Fishscale, but by the time Dennis Coles released his fifth album he had been elevated to the status of something of a hardcore hip-hop elder statesman at 35. But the key to its appeal and its enduring acclaim is in its fire and its hunger. Ghostface had already achieved success, exiled himself temporarily to Africa and purchased, melted down and remolded several giant gold bracelets. But with Fishscale, he proved he wasn’t done saying what he had to say, whether it was Raekwon-assisted crime narratives (“Kilo,” “R.A.G.U.”), vulnerable reminiscences (“Whip You With a Strap”), unapologetic hype tracks (“The Champ”) or (checks notes) Spongebob the pimp? (“Underwater”). Paired with Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, Fishscale was proof that Wu-Tang had entered a new era, without letting go of the thing that made their generals triumph more than a decade prior. – Jeff Terich

Vince Staples Big Fish Theory review22. Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

(2017; Def Jam)

Vince Staples makes a pretty convincing case that he doesn’t give a shit. Criticizing “The Star Spangled Banner” because it doesn’t slap, setting up a GoFundMe retirement account—these are the actions of a man who is not here for your bullshit. And while that’s true, to an extent, he’s spent the past five years helping to bring hip-hop into a future that everyone else is still catching up to. After a staggering, dark double-album debut in the incredible Summertime 06, Staples went both electronic and oceanic with Big Fish Theory, an album every bit as chilling but wrapped in production that felt more urgent, physical and hedonistic. It’s a club album in the catacombs, the most introspective set of bangers hip-hop has produced in the past decade or so. To call this album “fun” might overlook how dark it is—death, suicide and paranoia are around every corner—but, well, it is pretty fun, and the meticulousness of its construction contradicts the idea that Vince doesn’t care. And, lest there be any doubt, it slaps. – Jeff Terich

kanye-college21. Kanye West – The College Dropout

(2004; Roc-a-fella)

After crafting albums for Jay-Z, who pulsed with alpha fervor, Kanye’s early earnestness positions The College Dropout as a superhero (or super villain?) origin story. Jay-Z, allegedly, urged West to focus on production and leave the rapping to the pros. Nonetheless, in true Kanye form, like a pitcher that demands that his manager put him in the cleanup spot, Kanye was hellbent on doing both. Truthfully, The College Dropout’s lyrical output is often awkward and his narratives clumsy but what felt like sophomoric pride in 2004, has aged into an endearing classic that is not above insecurity or self-deprecation (on “Last Call”, West calls himself “the Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer of the Roc…”). The double-entendre of “Through the Wire” (recorded while his jaw was wired shut after a car accident) hears Kanye’s candid introspection through swollen mumbles. It’s charming and sad and admirable and a foreshadowing of Kanye’s now-legendary defiance of polite society. – Paul Glanting

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View Comments (61)
  • No graduation or Get rich and die trying and Shouldn’t Big Fish Theory be ahead of DAMN since it was ranked the number Album of 2017? But otherwise nice list

  • The fact that the MMLP was number 41 has discredited this list… But I’ll read on and make a collective opinion.

  • That’s now 2! Diamond selling albums not reaching even the top 30 with Outkasts Speakerboxxx at 35… This isn’t looking good right now.

  • Just reached the top 10 and WOW. Easily the most disagreeable list of top 50 let alone the top 10… Here’s mine for a readers reference and all need no introduction.
    10.) Encore – Eminem
    9.) Graduation – Kanye West
    8.) The Blueprint – Jay Z
    7.) Stankonia – Outkast
    6.) D.A.M.N – Kendrick Lamar
    5.) Madvillainy – MF DOOM
    4.) Speakerboxxx/Love Below – Outkast
    3.) The Eminem Show – Eminem
    2.) MMLP – Eminem
    1.) Get Rich or Die Tryin’ – 50 Cent

    If you disagree with the order… Each to their own but there’s no denying these are the top 10.

      • Yes Jeff he’s the leading artist in hip hop of the last 20 years. The world likes him, his impact on the genre is unprecedented this millennium and has 2 diamond selling albums… You couldn’t write a list and not have Eminem and those 3 albums in the top 10 without out some criticism of the list.

        • does it have to be 3 eminem albums in the top ten? what about two? would our list be acceptable then?

    • Damn is definitely not top 10 all time. Good Kid Maad City and To Pimp a Butterfly (being his best) are significantly better. Graduation isn’t Kanye’s best project in my opinon. 3 Eminem project should be in a top 10 and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is def not number one. It was good but it wasn’t the best.

    • God’s Son and Life is Good both almost made my list; can’t speak for other writers. i feel like stillmatic didn’t age well.

  • Where’s All Amerikkkan Bada$$, 1999, b4.da.$$ or summer knights? At least 2 of these should’ve been in the top 20 and one in the top 10.

    • I’m wondering the exact same thing. Both are incredible albums. People still disregarding Cole smh. But other than that, I enjoyed this list.

  • No Dave – Psychodrama ? That should be top 5 at least, it’s on the level of tPaB and my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. This is not a real list, not just because of this btw

  • Sad that the cunninlynguists discog. is basically unknown. A piece of strange is easily top 10 compared to the records on this list

  • Ti > cannibal ox? Lmao the instrumentals and lyricism can’t even compete. The fact j dilla donuts was put on here as an instrumental album is rather amusing.

  • Really without, …
    Cormega – The Realness
    Cormega – The True Meaning
    Prodigy – H.N.I.C.
    Pop Da Brown Hornet – The Undaground Emperor

  • I think a majority of the list is rlly good and makes some rlly valid points … However I think no top 50 hip hop album list is complete without at least one A$AP Rocky album

  • No PAC snoop or big albums, and Mia gets
    In?! How?

    What bout Dr Dre chronic album?

    Apologies if I missed them

    • Hey there, one of the authors here. I’m personally disappointed more women didn’t make the top 50 as well, but I can assure you it wasn’t for lack of nominations. Our writers liked the sounds that they liked, voted to their taste, and this is just how the math shook out.

  • Wow I disagree with this wack list so many great albums not mention and a lot of mediocre albums on this list. Here’s 10 to check out, no particular order.
    1-Cormega – The Realness
    2-Beanie Sigel – The B. Is Coming
    3- Sean Price – Mic Tyson
    4- Pharoahe Monch – PTSD
    5-Project Pat – Crook By Da Book
    6- Cormega – The Testament
    7- Styles P – The Green Ghost Project
    8- Snoop Dogg – The Blue Carpet Treatment
    9- Kool G-Rap – Riches, Royalty & Respect
    10- Cormega – Hustler/Rapper

  • Decent list, as it can’t be easy to make a top 50 list. I’m glad Saba was included! Care for me was my favourite album last year.
    I’d switch Stankonia for Yeezus by Kanye West though. There are lots of Ye albums in this list already, but Yeezus might be his finest.

    I would have included Like Water for Chocolate from Common as well. I think it’s released in 2000.

    • It was 2000! And a good album. I think it was bubbling under the top 50. As for Yeezus, we had a three albums per artist max rule, otherwise it would have been the fourth Ye album on the list.

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