5 Pioneering Hip-Hop Albums That Revolutionized Rap Music

Hip-hop is defined by its sub-genres. With each new decade or era, rappers of different regions and origins provide their own take on hip-hop, creating a new branch on the tree of the genre and further adding to its evolution. And, when one of these movements gains enough momentum, it not only earns mainstream prominence but also continues to inspire and birth new artists who create even more sub-genres.

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Below, we decided to examine some albums throughout the 50-year history of rap that best exemplified this. Spanning from the late 1980s to just a decade ago, here are five albums that helped revolutionize hip-hop.

‘Straight Outta Compton,’ N.W.A. (1988)

Practically spawning the concept of gangster rap in the mainstream, N.W.A. and their debut studio album Straight Outta Compton turned heads all over the nation. Thanks to provocative hits like the title track, “Fuck tha Police,” and “Express Yourself,” the posse helped to establish the West Coast as a hub for rap music.

Although N.W.A. would eventually split, its most notable members like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube would go on to influence countless iconic artists, which may not have been possible without the success of Straight Outta Compton.

‘Illmatic,’ Nas (1994)

Arriving in New York, rap’s birthplace soon began to reach the peak of its power in hip-hop. Nas’ Illmatic was the epitome of the city’s soundscape at the time. Popularizing boom-bap production and jazzy samples, Nas completed his crisp instrumentals with fiery and thorough wordplay.

His debut LP, Illmatic would jump-start a legendary career for Nas, which would see him directly influence future stars like J. Cole, Joey Bada$$, and more.

[RELATED: J. Cole Shares List of Hip-Hop Artists Who Inspired Him]

‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,’ Lauryn Hill (1998)

Merging soul, R&B, and hip-hop, Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation album would become a model of genre-blending perfection. With skillful hooks and smooth raps, Hill would inspire countless icons in the generations to come, as several songs from her LP were sampled in smash hits by Drake, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Cardi B, and more.

‘Get Rich or Die Tryin,’ 50 Cent (2003)

In the early 2000s, R&B and pop penetrated hip-hop like never before, dominating many of the popular collaborations and songwriting tendencies. But, as gritty as they come, 50 Cent would swoop in to put a halt to this trend with his debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Possessing a unique skill set that allowed him to write catchy hooks while also presenting raunchy, aggressive cadences and lyrics, the New Yorker restored gangster rap’s place in the genre, bringing it new meaning along the way.

‘Yeezus,’ Kanye West (2013)

Practically reinventing himself with every single album release, Kanye West’s Yeezus album in 2013 was likely the most jarring and impactful project he ever embarked on. Using the album to jab at his naysayers in the music and fashion industry, Yeezus’ combination of brash lyricism, electronic-inspired production, and fresh approach to West’s love for sampling resulted in an LP that still inspires artists to this day, evident in Travis Scott’s July 2023 album UTOPIA.

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