Hip-hop is a legendary genre of music, spawning so many amazing artists and songs alike. Hip-hop vinyl records however, are a whole new world. When you consider vinyl as opposed to other mediums, a few factors you might not have considered will come to mind.
They seem like small things, but they might shuffle around what you’d previously considered to be a must-have in your collection!
Nas is a legendary rapper, and “Illmatic” was the debut of his career. This album did not see commercial success on its initial release, however now, it’s become sought after and iconic. Its re-release years later performed significantly better due to its growing popularity years after its release. This case goes to show how records that may not have been a success in their time could grow to be years later.
Some would argue that this is truly the greatest hip-hop album ever conceived. This comes down to things like the raw, powerful lyrics and masterful flow of words and beats. The thought provoking record raises issues of poverty, drug addiction and the rise of violent crimes as a result of it in Nas’ home of New York. With such lyrical genius and innovative rhymes behind the raps, this is no doubt one of the most powerful hip-hop records to date. The cover of a young Nas against a backdrop of the city sells the energy of the contemplative lyrics and the overall tone of the album.
Whether you go by the single or the LP, both of them are very important to the genre of hip-hop. After all, “Rapper’s Delight” was arguably the record that brought hip-hop to a wider audience, it being the first hugely successful rap record ever sold and debatably the first ever recorded. The record’s cover is simple but pops out too, the style of graffiti text written against a brick wall being iconography that is still commonly referenced today.
Then the self-titled LP, “The Sugarhill Gang”, only further cemented hip-hop’s place in the music industry with another flying success. The energetic cover capturing the gang in performance, with a flashy show of their name popping out against a dark background, while red lights cover everyone present in the show. It builds even further on the masterful “Rapper’s Delight” single, and holds its candle as one of the first and most important records in this genre and probably the closest thing we can relate to its popularity and origins.
Another early record of the genre, “Run-DMC” not only solidified hip-hop as a genre, but brought a brand new feeling to it with its unique sound, messages and attitude. The record hones in on topics others skimmed over at the time, with thought provoking messages around the issues of inflation and unemployment that the East Coast suffered from at the time, in the hit single “It’s Like That”, among others.
Overall, the vibes, beats and rhymes that Run-DMC provided would go on to shape 80’s hip-hop with a pinch of electro influence that would leave an impactful mark on the record’s unique sound. The cover is simple, but classic, and would look good in any collection with another iconic visual of a brick wall, with an iconic visual of Russell Simmons and Larry Smith on the front of it, the whole cover being black and white other than their logo.
The first solo album of the iconic Dr Dre, and another staple in the history of rap and hip-hop. Leaving his career in NWA behind with the fowl, vulgar and shocking entry into his solo career, he even took the time to express a disdain for his former NWA members through some pretty nasty insults. Dre teamed up with the likes of an early Snoop Dogg in several of the record’s songs, too.
This record paved the way for shocking, vulgar and violent raps to follow it in the future of the genre, which would eventually lead to the consistent partnership of Dr Dre and Eminem, a popular rapper who would elevate the genre with more heinous, offensive raps and impressively catchy beats. The album is massively misogynistic and offensive, but the horrible attitude of a thug pulled people in with its aggressive lyrics, unbeatable tunes and undeniable funk. The cover paints a picture of a young Dr Dre centred in a golden frame with his name in the same colour above him, perfect for the arrogant nature of the album to follow.
Another debut album, that would see RZA form the mixture of talents to construct the Wu-Tang Clan. Inspectah Deck had stated in a 2015 interview that the group would stay in the same house and take turns recording and writing to the same beats separately. Their individual work would be masterfully pieced together by RZA. This meant that each member of the clan could contribute their own insight and personality into each verse they performed and wrote, which comes through strongly in the album itself.
“Da Mystery of Chessboxin” is an enticing song title on its own, it only leaves you wondering what else this seemingly strange LP will have in store for you. However once you dive in, you’ll find metaphoric, symbolic lyrics that take you on a thought provoking journey. The cover shows the whole clan wearing blank white masks, hoods over their heads and a small badge with their logo on it. The logo clearly shown in the corner, and being shone on the wall behind them. The almost eerie look of the cover suits the songs inside it perfectly, given their mysterious, but insightful energy. This record left its mark as another important stepping stone in rap and hip-hop, to create inspiration for the aforementioned Nas, Jay-Z and so many more to come.
Public Enemy made another solid, important move in the world of rap and hip hop. Standing out against the crowd which primarily made their music that of powerful protest, they instead went in a new direction with their LP. Rather than protest, Public Enemy focused their album on expressing black awareness. Their new, energetic performances spread an important political message, and did so in a captivating way to reach millions of ears.
A massive appeal to this LP is just how many samples from different places they were able to use. Times were different back then, it would probably be near impossible to be able to use the intro of Queen’s “Flash’s Theme” without either paying big money or getting into trouble, but when “Terminator X”, they were able to do just that. The album’s cover sees Chuck D and Flavor Flav standing behind bars, with shadows of fencing looming over and around them. Their logo proudly on show at the top, the cover suggests the theming of the album, that being awareness of the struggles black people were, and still are faced with. This album retains its powerful message and impact to this day, and marks an important use of a rapper’s voice in hip-hop.
This LP is another case of a record that just couldn’t really come to be in the modern day and age due to the shift regarding sampling laws. In the 80’s, if someone had recorded it, it was free real estate! That being said, this album had a strange lifespan. Initially, upon release, it saw meager feedback in comparison to the Beastie Boys’ debut album, “Licensed to Ill.” The tone and instrumentation of both albums in stark contrast to one another left fans scratching their heads at the time.
But now, we look back on this album for what it was at the time. A movement along with other records beside it in the world of hip-hop. Clever usage of samples from popular artists like The Beatles, Mountain and more created an entire LP of hidden gems that people glossed over at the time, down to them not sounding like the band’s previous album.
The album’s cover of a street corner with “Paul’s Boutique” appropriately displayed on the sign doesn’t give too much of an insight into what kind of LP the listener will be getting into. Though the way the building is vastly brighter, next to a closed up store next to it, certainly suggests a good and lively time. This album, while not many admitted it until years later, carved the path for sampling in hip-hop.
We mentioned N.W.A a little earlier down to Dr Dre’s association with them, and here they are to round out the list. With Ice Cube and Easy-E at the height of their rebellion to society, “Fuck Tha Police” and “Straight Outta Compton” were both banned from being played on MTV down to their controversial, aggressive messages and the danger they suggested even peaking the attention of local authorities. The vulgar nature of the LP would shape the careers of each member involved.
The cover’s angle of looking up at N.W.A with their logo and album name sprayed against solid black, rugged edges sets us up for one of the most intense gangster rap records of all time. While it’s true that the album is rather indecent and at the time, considered a danger down to the aggression towards authorities, it does still tackle important themes of serious issues relevant to both their hometown and America as a whole, particularly to minorities. This punch in the face of an album marks itself as an important step in hip-hop and shaped the future for rebellious raps to follow years later.
Only picking out a handful means it’s impossible to include every single record that might fall under this title, however, the albums we’ve chosen are widely considered to be the best of the best, from several different sources. Hip-hop is a fascinating genre, full of so many twists and turns in how it was commonly produced, and how some rapper or group would emerge and flip the game back on its head.
Artists we revere today would likely look back at some of these artists and albums as their influences, we mentioned a few within the article that have mentioned this as fact. Second hand records or brand new vinyl records, any of these would be worth owning and would make amazing pieces in any fan of the genre’s collection.
So in the name of the proud, controversial energy of hip-hop as we know it, these are what we believe to be the best hip-hip vinyl records of all time.