LL Cool J – Radio (1985): Although he was just a teenager, LL sounded far tougher than most of his early rap peers on his phenomenal debut album, which still holds up today.
Beastie Boys – License to Ill (1987): Few may have anticipated that the first ever number one rap album would be helmed by three white Jewish guys, but then again who knew their beats and flow would be so dope and infectious. One of the all-time best party records.
Slick Rick – The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988): Slick Rick’s sing-songy delivery of hilariously but politically incorrect stories, (“Treat Her Like a Prostitute” for example) has influenced everyone from Snoop Dogg to Jay-Z.
Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988): Frequently cited as one of the greatest albums ever made — Public Enemy borrowed the ferocious attitude of punk and paired it Chuck D’s politically insightful lyrics to form a sound that was of its time and yet somehow timeless.
3rd Bass – The Cactus Album (1989): Unlike a lot of other white rappers, the emcees (MC Search and Pete Nice) of 3rd Bass paid homage to their black predecessors while forging a style all their own.
EPMD – Business As Usual (1990): While not considered EPMD’s best (that would be Strictly Business), this album was one of their most solid. It includes the debut of Redman, who was featured on the tracks, “Hardcore” and “Brothers on My Jock”.
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990): Chuck D was spits about hot button issues such as South African apartheid and the first Bush administration. Because of its cultural significance, it was chosen to the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.
LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (1990): LL re-established his rap dominance and made rival Kool Moe Dee disappear with this funky album which was just the first of Cool J’s many career comebacks.
Method Man – Tical (1994): Considered to be a centerpiece of the East Coast rap rennaisance of the early 90s, Meth’s Tical was ahead of its time. It was Method Man’s solo debut as well as the first solo project from a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Warren G – Regulate…G Funk Era (1994): Warren G struck gold with his hit “Regulate” and parlayed that into a successful debut album. Regulate…G Funk Era went on to go triple platinum and capitalized on the “G-Funk” sound when it was at its height.
Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt (1996): This was the debut of (arguably) the greatest rapper of all time. This was Jay-Z at his most hungry, with a tracklist that fans know by heart. If anyone wants to know what a complete album is, look no further.
Foxy Brown – Il Na Na (1996): Ever since her verse on LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya Remix”, Foxy’s debut album was highly anticipated. Ill Na Na didn’t disappoint. Foxy was one of the few quality ‘fem-cees’ in the mid-90s.
DMX – It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998): When X’s debut album was released in 1998 it was at a time when West Coast rap dominated the airwaves. This album ushered in a new era of gritty East Coast rap.
Method Man and Redman – Blackout! (1999): Two of rap’s favorite potheads are also two of rap’s most dedicated lyricists. When Meth and Red came together to drop Blackout it showed that they were a force to be reckoned with. Lighters up.
Scarface – The Fix (2000): Without much fanfare, Geto Boyz rapper Scarface released The Fix. Your favorite rapper’s rapper, painted gritty tales of heartache and hope over the hottest beats at the time. Facemob at his finest.
Ja Rule – Pain Is Love (2001): While Ja Rule is still a polarizing performer, his Pain is Love is filled with incredibly popular duets which included an up and coming Ashanti and J.Lo.
Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001): Jay renamed himself J-Hova, battled with Nas and cemented himself as king of the hip-hop mountain with this iconic hip-hop masterpiece, which oddly enough came out on September 11th.
Ludacris – Chicken-N-Beer (2003): Luda’s 3rd album was filled with cross over hits like “Stand Up” and “Splash Waterfalls”. Luda also addressed his detractors like Oprah and Bill O’Reilly.
Jay Z – The Black Album (2003): This was supposed to be Jay-Z’s ‘retirement’ record (yeah, right…) but if it had been it would have been a stellar way to bow out. Any one of this album’s blockbuster hits (“Dirt Off Your Shoulder”, “99 Problems”, “Moment of Clarity”) stand out as special in their own right.
Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004): Kanye West stepped from behind the scenes as a producer and became a star in his own right with this debut album. Once Kanye dropped “Jesus Walks” hip-hop just wasn’t the same anymore.
Young Jeezy – Thug Motivation 101 (2005): Never has a underground fanbase been so important to an artist major release. Drug lyrics over an Atlanta sound that was heavy at the time, you couldn’t avoid hearing TM 101 in everyone’s trunk.
Kanye West – Late Registration (2005): Kanye’s string of hits (“Gold Digger”, “Touch the Sky”) and ambition only grew on his second stellar album. There were also hints of a more emo turn to come with the moving “Hey Mama”.
Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (2006): Scatalogical lyrics and off the wall references abound in this critically acclaimed solo release from the Wu Tang Clan member. Only Ghostface would drop a Larry King Live reference that works.
Kanye West – Graduation (2007): Graduation showed the lyrical growth that propelled Kanye into the upper echelon of today’s rap game. Depending on who you ask, this is the album that made Kanye a music icon.
Rick Ross – Teflon Don (2010) : After three well received albums, Rick Ross dropped this dope boy classic. Teflon Don had great production and displayed Ross’s versatility over different subject matter. Ugh.
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With the release of the new book Def Jam Recordings, which commemorates the legendary label’s 25th anniversary, we at theGrio have picked our favorite 25 Def Jam rap albums. This list was compiled through a combination of record sales and reviews. Lets celebrate Def Jam and the great music that’s been created for the past quarter century.