Run DMC’s ‘Raising Hell’ (1986) kicked off hip-hop’s golden age. Before the mid-80s, hip-hop, block parties and rapping wasn’t an album-orientated culture. Arguably, it’s this record that changed that.
Salt-N-Pepa released the taboo-busting LP ‘Hot, Cool & Vicious’ in 1986 and it became the first album by a female rap act to attain gold and platinum status in America.
Rakim and Eric B’s ‘Paid In Full’ (1987) marks a leap forward in the evolution of sampling and the rise of the forthright MC. With his groundbreaking studio techniques and undeniable presence of personality, in Rakim hip-hop had found one of its finest voices.
Public Enemy’s ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ (1988) was a game-changing record with a punk attitude. Designed to echo the sonic attack of their live shows, Public Enemy’s second album came raging out of the speakers.
NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ (1988) represented a watershed moment, both defining and popularising the gangsta-rap template: profane rhymes over thunderous funk, shot through with a heady atmosphere of danger and nihilism.
Brooklyn’s MC Lyte became the first solo female rapper to release a full album with 1988's critically lauded ‘Lyte as a Rock’.
De La Soul’s ‘3 Feet High And Rising’ (1989) marked the dawning of the Daisy Age. Sonic collages and riddles for lyrics helped create a fully-realised 3D world, open for visitors.
Ice Cube’s second album ‘Death Certificate’ (1991) established him as hip-hop’s most wilfully provocative motormouth, effortlessly capable of generating moral outrage among politicians, the press and parents’ groups.
Dr Dre ruled hip-hop behind a cloud of smoke after this pungent dose of G-funk that was ‘The Chronic’ (1992) hit the shelves. NWA had screeched to a halt, and he’d ventured out on his own to show the world that he was the brain behind the beats all along.
Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ (1993) saw America’s East Coast fighting back as a new crew prepared to dominate.
Cypress Hill’s ‘Black Sunday’ (1993) became hip-hop’s most comprehensive crossover success to date. It was the record that sneaked gun-talk and blunt-smoke into the bedrooms of white suburban teens.
A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Midnight Marauders’ (1993) was their third straight masterpiece – a success rate that is pretty much an anomaly in hip-hop.
Snoop Doggy Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ (1993) built on his debut on Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ and showcased his irresistible flow. ‘Gin And Juice’ and ‘Who Am I (What’s My Name)?’ became instant classics, and their creator a rap legend.
Beastie Boys’ ‘Ill Communication’ (1994) blended punk and rap on ‘Sabotage’, challenged misogyny in hip-hop on ‘Sure Shot’ and even sampled a flute on ‘Flute Loop’. When all this is taken as a whole, ‘Ill Communication’ makes most bands look as imaginative as a pavement.
The Notorious BIG’s ‘Ready To Die’ (1994) was the release that reinvigorated hip-hop within the city that had birthed it: New York. A street-level battle-rapper since his mid-teens, Biggie had developed into one of hip-hop’s most dazzling stylists, capable of delivering endless quotables via an extraordinary and monumentally stoned flow.
Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ took him from aspirational prodigy to world-renowned hip-hop poet. In ‘Illmatic’, the genre had found its benchmark record – a blueprint that future stars would be measured against.
Company Flow’s ‘Funcrusher Plus’ (1997) kicked off hip-hop’s leftfield backpack revolution. While mainstream hip-hop had lost its spark, the DIY underground was thriving.
Eminem’s ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ (2000) saw misogyny and violence hit the mainstream as the rapper’s third album launched him into the commercial stratosphere, turning lurid tales of domestic abuse into pop.
Outkast’s ‘Stankonia’ (2000) was the album that proved the Dirty South would rise again. The East and West Coasts aren’t the only US hip-hop breeding grounds.
Missy Elliott’s ‘Miss E… So Addictive’ (2001) was a futuristic blend of rap, R&B and techno that made Missy a bona fide superstar – and took hip-hop into uncharted territory
Fugees’ Lauryn Hill gifted the world ‘The Miseducation Of…’ in 1998, blending hip-hop and R&B and making Hill into an icon.
Roots Manuva's ‘Run Come Save Me’ (2001) saw UK hip-hop find its voice. While many early British attempts at the genre had been cheesy and derivative, this record’s home-grown sounds soon gave the UK its own flavour.
Kanye West’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ (2010) was the ultimate realisation of hip-hop’s total renaissance man.
Together on 2011’s ‘Watch The Throne’, Jay Z & Kanye West reinvigorated the hip-hop collaboration album, despite it being essentially an exercise in two very rich men rapping about being very rich men.
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ (2012) made him the “new king of the West Coast”. Young but wise beyond his years, his debut proved the future was bright.