The five albums that established hip hop
(Credit: Alamy/Hip Hop Hero)


The five albums that established hip hop

Before we find out what the best hip hop album is we have to go back to the genre’s humble beginnings. Hip hop was born in 1970s New York. A form of rebellion in hip hop three is the magic number, and the invention of hip hop culture is mainly credited to three individuals along their affiliates partially.

Those three people are DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore. Kool Herc is credited with introducing what he calls ‘The Merry-Go-Round Technique’ to African-American DJs to create an extended break. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are credited with introducing MCing over the extended breaks, and Grand Wizard Theodore is credited with popularising the scratch technique to add excitement and vigour to records. 

Since the 1970s, hip hop has continued to evolve and grow ever more popular, becoming internationally one of the world’s most popular genres of music. With artists such as Kanye West and Jay-Z now achieving billionaire status off the back of this worldwide genre. Each decade and each region of the United States has contributed in one way or another in getting the genre of hip hop to where it is at today. The 70s saw the birth of hip hop as a culture with its three pillars: rap music, b-boy street entertainment and graffiti art. The ’80s saw rap music supersede the other two as different sounds and styles emerged. The ’90s saw rap music become a nationwide phenomenon, and by the 2000s, it had become the most in-demand genre of music in America. 

However, regardless of the incredible strides, the genre has made since its inception, there are certain projects that are undeniably hip hop’s bedrock. Projects that, without them, hip hop would look completely different to how it does. One thing that is not surprising when looking at all of the hip hop albums ever released is that, even now, the best-selling albums are classics made many decades ago. Many of them are those bedrock albums that hold up the genre people know and love.

So as we hit bedrock, here are the five albums that established hip hop.

The five albums that established hip hop:

5. On Fire – Stetsastonic (1986)

Stetsasonic, arguably, gets unfairly overlooked when it comes to groups that laid the foundation for hip hop. Formed in 1981, Stetsasonic was one of the first hip hop groups to use live instrumentation in their recordings and were the blueprint for later groups such as The Roots.

Stetsasonic is considered one of the pioneering forces with regard to jazz rap, one of the essential East Coast subgenres and developed it throughout the 1980s, while electro was experiencing its heyday. Released in 1986 by Tommy Boy Records, On Fire was the group’s debut album.

4. The Message – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five (1982)

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five is one of hip hop’s first groups. Formed in the South Bronx (where hip hop began) in the late 1970s, under the wing of Grandmaster Flash (one of hip hop’s pioneers), the group was extremely successful and popular across the city.

Having built their buzz by performing at block parties and house parties in the Bronx, their first hit in the early 1980s was ‘Freedom’. However, their mainstream explosion came with the release of their 1982 single, ‘The Message’. A political, passionate single that brought the focus to MCs lyrics and not the DJ’s skills. A pivotal shift in hip hop. The Message album was released later the same year and was met with critical acclaim.

3. It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back – Public Enemy (1988)

Public Enemy is legendary within hip hop, and the members are all, individually, considered icons. From Chuck D with his scream rapping to Flava Flav and his clock chain. With so much influence, when they released their single ‘Rebel Without A Pause’, there was instantly madness. A politically charged, racially charged song meant to empower the black youth of America, it mobilised communities and was an instant classic.

With such a heavyweight of a lead single, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back by 1989 was certified platinum, making it one of the first hip hop albums to go platinum.

2. Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A (1988)

California crew N.W.A. (N*ggaz Wit Attitudes) are legendary within hip hop, and the members are all, individually, considered pioneers in their own right. With Dr Dre’s beats separating the crew from the rest of hip hop as he ingeniously sampled smooth funk, creating the relaxing subgenre G-Funk the crew began to rule the charts in the late 80s.

With Ice Cube and Eazy-E being the frontmen of the gangsta rap crew, the clique quickly catapulted to the top as America began to embrace the new West Coast sound. Despite its lack of promotion and radio play as a result of the media’s smear campaign on the crew and their music, the album received gangsta rap’s first platinum certification.

Dr Dre would continue to shape hip hop into the early 1990s with the continuation of his G-Funk production style on Death Row Records.

1. RUN DMC – RUN DMC (1984)

Run DMC had a seismic impact on hip hop culture when they first formed. Not only were they the first hip hop act to have a partnership deal with a major fashion brand, but they were also the first hip hop act to get a gold record, a platinum record and a multi-platinum record.

RUN DMC, the group’s debut album was executively produced by Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, a hip hop powerhouse. Songs such as ‘Rock Box’ had significant cultural impacts with regard to the stigma around hip hop and helped race relations. Furthermore, the song is considered to be the first ever rock-rap song.

According to the godfather of gangsta rap Ice-T, RUN DMC was “the first rap album that broke big, which paved the way for everybody into being able to make rap albums, not just singles.” The RUN DMC album was monumental and to this day is legendary. The album’s lead single ‘It’s Like That’ peaked at number one on the UK singles chart and is double-platinum in the UK.