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The 25 Greatest Hip-Hop Debut Albums of All Time

on March 14, 2018, 12:14pm
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20. N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton (1988)

 The 25 Greatest Hip Hop Debut Albums of All Time

Though Straight Outta Compton starts to wane near its conclusion, that opening gangsta rap salvo of the title cut, “Fuck Tha Police”, and “Gangsta Gangsta” still hits as hard as ever three decades later. From the album cover holding the listener at gunpoint to the record’s no-holds barred depiction of harsh inner city life and brutal police relations in the black community, rarely, if ever, has an album felt more real, angry, and dangerous. Though N.W.A had already begun to fracture by the time Straight Outta Compton had dropped, the album caused enough ruckus to put the rap world, white suburbs, and even the FBI on notice. –Matt Melis

Standout Track:

Definitive Lyric: “Fuck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground/ A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown/ And not the other color, so police think/ They have the authority to kill a minority” — from “Fuck Tha Police”

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19. Roxanne Shanté – Bad Sister (1989)

roxanne shante The 25 Greatest Hip Hop Debut Albums of All Time

Educated as a teen in Marley Marl and the Queensbridge Juice Crew’s school of rap beefs, Roxanne Shanté had been sharpening her skills in the Roxanne Wars (most notably “Roxanne’s Revenge”) and against legendary MCs like KRS-One for more than half a decade before she laid down her debut, Bad Sister, at the not-so-tender age of 20. The result is a 14-track masterclass that leaves no doubt that Shanté is, well, one bad sister, who can dish it out better than almost anyone else. Though she all but retired by age 25, Shanté remains a rap battle legend, a mentor for generations of female MCs, and an early advocate in rap for female empowerment. –Matt Melis

Standout Track:

Definitive Lyric: “Some people call me Shanie, some people call me Rox/ And those who try to diss I just knocks them out the box/ ‘Cause I’m Shanti and why’all know the routine/ And here we go again, so all hail the queen” — from “Have a Nice Day”

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18. Scarface – Mr. Scarface Is Back (1991)

scarface is back The 25 Greatest Hip Hop Debut Albums of All Time

Scarface is often overlooked in the discussion of the best MCs of all time, despite his equal skill for writing confessional songs about mental illness and vivid street tales of drug dealing and violence. The Houston rapper puts that versatility to full use on Mr. Scarface Is Back, unearthing his inner demons on “Diary of a Madman”, matter-of-factly stating his gangster bona fides on “Mr. Scarface”, and unfurling a story of revenge on “A Minute to Pray and a Second to Die”. Based on his work with Geto Boys and solo debut alone, Brad Jordan belongs with The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Ice Cube, JAY-Z, and Raekwon as one of the most influential gangsta rappers of all time. –Eddie Fu

Standout Track:

Definitive Lyric: “Dear diary, today I hit a nigga with the torch/ Shot him on his face and watched him die on his front porch” — from “Diary of a Madman”

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17. Clipse – Lord Willin’ (2002)

clipse The 25 Greatest Hip Hop Debut Albums of All Time

Brothers Pusha T and No Malice made their debut with the poly-rhythmic street opus Lord Willin’ in 2002. The project followed their triumphant death march “The Funeral”, which flopped and shelved their original debut, Exclusive Audio Footage. Produced by The Neptunes, Lord Willin’ highlighted their rudiment and synth-dominant, post-New Jack Swing sound, which paired drum line cadences with heavy bass and quirky, futuristic melodies on singles like “Grindin” and “When the Last Time”. The rappers’ easy banter, throaty ad-libs, and Virginia Beach folklore rounded out the mix, priming all parties for success both on the pop charts and in the streets. –Karas Lamb

Standout Track:

Definitive Lyric:Only big boys keep deuces on the ride/ Gucci Chuck Taylor with the dragon on the side/ Man, I make a buck, why scram?/ I’m trying to show y’all who the fuck I am/ The jewels is flirting, be damned if I’m hurting/ Legend in two games like I’m Pee Wee Kirkland.” — from “Grindin'”

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16. Foxy Brown – Ill Na Na (1996)

foxy brown The 25 Greatest Hip Hop Debut Albums of All Time

Foxy Brown was just a teenager when recording her debut album, but her confident delivery and husky voice made it apparent why there was a bidding war for her signing. In addition to being adept at producing radio singles like “Get Me Home” and Mafioso rap tracks like “Letter to the Firm”, Foxy also had the charisma not to be outshined by Method Man. Ill Na Na will always be judged against Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core for many reasons, but the album deserves to be recognized for its own merits. –Eddie Fu

Standout Track:

Definitive Lyric: “Yo Na Na so Ill, first week out/ Shipped a half a mil, niggas freaked out/ She’s all about sex, pard-on, check your facts” — from “Ill Na Na”

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