Are you a hip hop head who has just got their very first record player? Are you the owner of a fine sound system that is looking to expand their musical collection with some hip hop? Are you simply a fan of how warm some of the best hip hop vinyls sound through a good set of speakers?
Then come on in, as we explore some of my own personal favorite hip hop albums, those that I believe sound best on a sound system and that expand the tonal palette of the listener innumerably.
- Madvilliany – Madvillain
- Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt
- Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys
- You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack – Viper
- Illmatic – Nas
- Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest
- Stankonia – OutKast
- Endtroducing… – DJ Shadow
- Beauty and the Beat – Edan
- Red Burns – Standing on the Corner
- To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
- Boy in da Corner – Dizzee Rascal
- Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
- N****s on the Moon – Death Grips
- Veteran – JPEGMAFIA
- Uneven Compromise – Lil Ugly Mane
- Blowout Comb – Digable Planets
- GREY Area – Little Simz
- Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version – Ol’ Dirty Bastard
- CLPPNG – clipping.
1. Madvilliany – Madvillain
What I would consider one of the best records on vinyl is this offering by super duo Madvillain – made up of landmarks of the alternative hip hop genre Madlib and MF DOOM.
As far as the notion of the modern hip hop producer goes, Madlib soars far above the rest, a prolific sampler of off the rader jazz vinyls. As for MF DOOM, he laid the foundations for an entire hip hop movement, ensuring that abstract and circuitous hip hop would have a place to stay throughout the century.
2. Some Rap Songs – Earl Sweatshirt
Earl was incredibly inspired by Madvillain, and we can see shades of both Madlib and DOOM on display here, with hauntological and bizarre loops laying a bed for bars taken even further into abstraction.
As a letter to his deceased father, this is an extremely personal record and seeks to expand hip hop music into an area that borders on utterly confessional. This is a portrait of an artist going through it and coming out the other side, thankful and blessed for having said what was on his mind.
3. Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys
Reeking far more of sampledelia, we have one of the original crowning statements in experimental hip hop by the now ubiquitous household name the Beastie Boys.
The band’s debut album Licensed to Ill certainly had its moments, but more often than not threatened to eject the boys into novelty.
Here, they declare their love for the 70s in a candid and frank letter that exhibits each facet of their wild sense of humor, crippling yearning for female attention, and unmatched ability to spin a yarn straight from a Saturday morning cartoon strip, cementing their place among hip hop’s latest and greatest.
4. You’ll Cowards Don’t Even Smoke Crack – Viper
One of the more surreal oddities from gangsta rap comes in the form of viper, a seeming parody of many of the cliches and tropes of middle American hip hop who above all else takes himself a lot more seriously than others.
His story is drenched in mystery and seasoned with a fair amount of genuine darkness and evil. This separate example of his work, however, is surely one of the 100 most valuable vinyl records at least as far as sheer comedic value is concerned, that is at least if the comedy is occupying some uncanny zone between real and deepfake.
5. Illmatic – Nas
Putting all sorts of his contemporaries to shame, including those over at Death Row Records, we have the one and only nasty Nas whose debut solo album Illmatic still frequently tops lists of the best albums of the 90s.
This is a studio album steeped in the real truths and stories of street life. On this album, Nas is nothing short of a poet, a prophet for the downtrodden whose lives he saw tear themselves asunder every day.
6. Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest
You could pick any one of their first three albums and be satisfied that you have chosen the right album for the job of representing them, for each one exhibits a different side to them that is nothing short of marvelous.
Coming to fruition around the inception of conscious hip hop, these New Yorkers would conceive hip hop a little differently, thus going on to create three classic albums that are beloved by hip hop fans far and wide, easily cementing their place as one of the classic rap groups of the 90s.
7. Stankonia – OutKast
Arriving at a time when no one was taking even the concept of Southern hip hop in any way seriously, this duo soon came to prove all detractors wrong and then completely subvert all they had done with this record, a rollicking rollercoaster ride of genres spliced together at a moment’s notice.
Though perhaps not their most cohesive statement as a group, this stands as a towering edifice to honor the possibilities inherent in the genre of hip hop.
8. Endtroducing… – DJ Shadow
Speaking of the possibilities of hip hop, in comes an artist like DJ Shadow who seeks to prize the sheer instrumental capabilities of the genre. This album is composed of nothing more than samples aligned and produced together in Shadow’s signature way, exhibiting how to handle vinyl records.
The space this album conjures up is dark and mossy, the strings on ‘Stem/Long Stem’ ringing out against the marble crenellations of the cathedral that it is being broadcast from, a distress signal copping a feel of the darkness all around just so that its source can feel the light once more.
These are stunningly emotional and endlessly intriguing studies towards an instrumental future for hip hop music, showing just what can happen when samples get cleared.
9. Beauty and the Beat – Edan
Speaking of instrumentals, may I cast light on this pillar of the underground hip hop community, Edan. His abilities on the decks is not up for debate, and here we see perhaps his finest hour, curating a whole host of samples into a lean and psychedelic package that is still relevant today.
The absolute antithesis to West Coast rap, Edan seeks and destroys any examples of it that dust his path, firmly indoctrinated into the social and cultural tradition of East Coast hip hop, offering forth a hip hop version of life that is both inundating and intoxicating.
10. Red Burns – Standing on the Corner
Though this album is far more than just a hip hop album, I thought it ought to be included on this list of the best hip hop vinyls nevertheless. In fact, the sheer versatility of this album is precisely what critics so laud about them in the first place.
Many often liken the experience of listening to Standing on the Corner as though flicking through a radio station that has its antennae permanently set on New York, exploring almost psychogeographically the various twists and turns that each street has experienced through the lens of the minorities that have attempted to make a living there.
11. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
A powerful and never more timely statement comes in the form of this jazz rap epic, a double album released in 2015 that essentially rewrote the rule book of hip hop.
Though only seven or so years old at the time of writing, this album is lauded high above others as being one of the most important hip hop albums of our time and of all time, as well as being one of the best albums ever made.
It seems more than fortuitous that we got to see the aligning of so many talented musicians on one singularly powerful project.
12. Boy in da Corner – Dizzee Rascal
Though it seems to make perfect sense now, at the time of release in the early noughties even the very idea of a style of hip hop in the UK that could match that of the US seemed ludicrous.
And yet, that is precisely what Dizzee Rascal sought and achieved, putting the UK on the map before even reaching the age of 20, rewriting what hip hop could be and paving the way for countless artists like him.
13. Atrocity Exhibition – Danny Brown
Much like the title suggests, this album features Danny Brown contorted into caricatures of precisely all of the atrocities he has put himself through over the past decades of his life, laying out the full list of intoxicants consumed while only really exhibiting the withdrawal.
The album’s content is so intense as to almost be like a cartoon, and so can be enjoyed in this way, especially atop the nuanced and psychedelic beats courtesy of Lewisham resident Paul White which act like the perfect accompaniment to an artist looking to push themselves beyond the next drop to actually detailing what the drop from high to low looks like.
14. N****s on the Moon – Death Grips
Though undoubtedly one of the Death Grips releases that is more of an acquired taste, I take this first disc of The Powers That B separately because each is more or less an individual album in its own right.
This separate entity is still a formidable force, slathered with raw electronics that chronicle the stage between the matrix and the world of the real, vocals smattered atop like shattered stained glass effigies to all of the pain and violence that the 20th century has wrought upon mankind, with lyrics that posit far more questions than answers.
15. Veteran – JPEGMAFIA
Continuing the late list trend we have established of beguiling intensity, I lay this album before you in the hopes that it is not too much for you to consider at this stage.
Offering forth his view of the world in decidedly less abstract terms, JPEGMAFIA offers a timely and uncomfortable trip through his contemporaneous mindset, chock full of samples that have been manipulated beyond all human recognition like war torn corpses or the latest Kanye West business venture. J
PEG sets a high bar for self respect in a time where record labels can run rings around anyone they want.
16. Uneven Compromise – Lil Ugly Mane
Though not technically an album, this EP from mid West’s Lil Ugly Mane undoubtedly boasts the scope of a full length while merging all of the individual tracks into one cohesive piece of music, unique for vinyl record types.
Each phase of the release passes through some of the main thematic concerns of Lil Ugly Mane’s rap and hip hop artistry: the first sees him delving into the vat of blood that is horrorcore; the second is an instrumental / sample collage on artistic integrity in hip hop; the third an expertly ciphered oration of a friend’s gradual decline into substance abuse.
17. Blowout Comb – Digable Planets
This sophomore release from arguably one of rap’s coolest trios is a groundbreaking release despite sounding so effortless.
This is oft considered one of the first hip hop albums to consciously consider the influence of jazz on the holistic sound of hip hop, making use of both samples and live instrumentation to get its various points across, offering forth another psychogeographical tour through the New York of their conception.
18. GREY Area – Little Simz
Another album that makes incredible use of live instrumentation to carry forth its point comes with the penultimate album by UK based Little Simz.
For a genre of music that seeks to stand up against the oppressor, there is still not enough female representation within its walls, though this is thankfully changing, due in no small part to exemplary artists like Little Simz, who not only stand toe to toe with some of the best hip hop has to offer but also offer forth their own unique perspectives.
19. Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version – Ol’ Dirty Bastard
The Wu Tang Clan undoubtedly deserve a place on any list of the best hip hop vinyls, though it seems an obvious choice so I thought I would, instead, proffer forth the debut solo album of my favorite member.
The consistency of this album is patchy at best, though with Ol’ Dirty Bastard one is not necessarily coming into the work with the expectation a polished piece of music, but rather for the unique and often hilarious character that he is and that is captured on recording for us to enjoy.
His influence can be seen all over the more intense and experimental sides of hip hop these days, so it stands to reason that I should pay him respect right here.
20. CLPPNG – clipping.
To round off the list we have an offering from industrial hip hop monoliths clipping.
With all the horror and machinery you might expect from a Throbbing Gristle record and yet all the vocal dexterity of a mid 90s masterpiece, clipping. offer their own unique perspective on what hip hop could and should be in the modern day, with timely bars about real lives lived and stories spun.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, your curiosity has been satiated and your bag is full of goodies to take away and listen to in the comfort of your own listening environment!
FAQs Best Hip Hop Vinyls
Does hip-hop sound good on vinyl?
Indeed it does, particularly as this is how it was originally conceived, with disc jockeys playing loops of drum breaks on vinyl over big speakers while an MC (Master of Ceremonies) would freestyle lyrics on top. The warm and bass heavy tonal spectrum of hip hop is a perfect pairing for vinyl largely because this is how it would originally have been conceived.
What is the best hip-hop record label?
Though this title would once have gone to a label like Death Row Records, I believe that this is now the domain of labels like Stones Throw Records and Top Dawg Entertainment, though the latter will soon be going into remission, what with label head and ‘top dog’ Kendrick Lamar recently releasing what he purports to be his final album with the label. Still, the former is going strong to this day.
What are the top 10 vinyl records?
There is not a top 10 of vinyl records, because the list would be entirely subjective and based only on the user’s opinion.
What is the #1 rap album?
As with any genre of music there is, of course, no one album that ought to be held aloft over all others. However, if I were to put my two cents into the equation, I would suggest something as ubiquitous as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterly, which in itself seems to capture the entire spectrum of what hip hop was and is now, not to mention what it can be, gilded by timely lyrics that validate the suffering of African Americans that is still felt today, whether through generational trauma or the very real instances of systematic racism seen throughout society in the western world.