nwa cover

Best of the Best: The 10 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums From 1988


At that point in time, 1988, rap had a solid foundation as a result of over a decade of groundwork.  Additionally, the barriers that acts like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys had recently knocked down proved there was a market for this Bronx-born style of music.  Real money and marketing efforts started being used to bring Hip-Hop’s growing popularity to the masses. In March of that year, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince won the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance, and Yo! MTV Raps debuted in August.

The greatest example of Hip-Hop capitalizing on all this though was the amount of quality music  that was released that year.  There was so much of it that 1988 is widely regarded as rap’s best year ever.  And so AllHipHop.com rose to the challenge of ranking its most remarkable releases.

These are the best of the best.  Here are the greatest Hip-Hop albums from ‘88.  It is referred to as rap’s first Golden Era, and for very good reason.

10). Straight Out the Jungle by The Jungle Brothers: While De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest are often recognized for their contributions to the Native Tongues movement, it officially began with the Jungle Brothers’ debut, Straight Out the Jungle.  From sex raps to Afrocentrism, the album was clearly a well-rounded piece of work that presented the trio as daring emcees.  They weren’t afraid to explore real topics.  The trail they blazed is still being followed to this day.

9). Lyte as a Rock by MC Lyte: MC Lyte’s first album was a breakthrough in Hip-Hop.  Her commanding vocals, sense of style, and rapping abilities made her a tour de force.  “Paper Thin,” “I Cram to Understand U,” “10% Dis,” and the title track proved that she could hold her own in the male-dominated world of rap.  Public Enemy’s Chuck D put it best, “S**t, she’s the bomb.  Lyte is the ultimate MC, with the voice, style, and the ability to cut a rhyme and make it hurt.”

8). Power by Ice-T: Ice-T’s sophomore effort is one of Hip-Hop’s most honest evaluations of the crime life that would be glorified in the coming years by countless others.  However, songs like “High Rollers” and “Drama” both expose the real consequences of that lifestyle.  And as a former criminal himself, Ice-T’s rhymes are some of the best commentary on the subject that Hip-Hop has ever heard.

7). By All Means Necessary by Boogie Down Productions: After the death of Scott La Rock (R.I.P.), KRS-One returned with this Hip-Hop classic.  From beginning to end, this 10-track set is very potent.  “Jimmy,” “Stop the Violence,” and “Illegal Business” confront sex, violence, and drugs.  And while a record like “My Philosophy” discusses BDP’s evolution, it still manages to take a subliminal shot at Run DMC.  This album has a lot to teach, but one of the most memorable lessons is “Don’t f**k with Kris.”

6). Follow the Leader by Eric B. & Rakim: Most people would fold under the pressure to follow up a monumental debut.  But Eric B. and Rakim aren’t most people.  Atop improved production courtesy of Eric B., Rakim again delivers of some of Hip-Hop’s greatest lyrics.  This is the duo in their prime.  Like Ra said on “Microphone Fiend”: Spread the word, cause I’m in E-F-F-E-C-T/A smooth operator operating correctly.

5). Strictly Business by EPMD: EPMD was ahead of their time.  For a case in point, check out how “It’s My Thing” opens with helicopter sounds and samples “Seven Minutes of Funk.”  Erick Sermon’s productions served as a precursor to the G-Funk sound that would soon emerge from the West Coast.  In terms of rapping, “Jane,” another one of the albums many highlights, has the two guys from Brentwood, Long Island, seamlessly rhyming back-and-forth with each line.

4). Long Live the Kane by Big Daddy Kane: The first solo offering from Big Daddy Kane is one of rap’s best albums.  He has raps for days about how great he is, but unlike most rappers, Kane’s boasts are justified by his incredible skills.  “Raw,” “Set it Off,” and the flawless “Ain’t No Half Steppin’” are all reasons why “[his] rhymes will remain like a hieroglyphic” like he says on “Just Rhymin’ with Biz.”

3). The Great Adventures of Slick Rick by Slick Rick: This is an album which lives up to its title as a result of Slick Rick (and his alter-ego MC Ricky D) covering a lot of ground in 49 minutes and 46 seconds.  Because of Rick’s personality and amazing storytelling prowess, songs like “Treat Her Like a Prostitute” and “Lick the Balls” appear comfortably alongside records like “Teenage Love” and “Hey Young World.”  “Children’s Story” though is LP’s magnum opus.

2). Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A: Never had the streets been addressed with such explicit ferocity.  “F**K tha Police” in particular got a lot of attention.  And while some of it was violent (Without a gun and a badge, what do you got?/A sucker in a uniform waitin’ to get shot), it also raised awareness about police brutality (Police think they have the authority to kill a minority).  Neither of those things should’ve been ignored.  And because of the controversy N.W.A created, they weren’t.

1). It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy: With the crack epidemic and Reaganomics in full swing, Public Enemy’s second album transcended music and served as a call for social change.  There is a sense of urgency in everything that’s heard.  And that helped create the album’s most enduring quality which is that it provides hope.  Even after a quarter of a century, It Takes a Nation remains one of the most righteous recordings of all-time.

Honorable Mentions for “The 10 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums From 1988” List:

Critical Beatdown by The Ultramagnetic MCs
Tougher Than Leather by Run DMC
In Full Gear by Stetsasonic
Life Is…Too $hort by Too Short
Act a Fool by King T

What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

  • El moreno de Queens #Dominican

    1-The State vs. Radric Davis
    2-Finally Rich
    3-Excuse my French

    • brotha_man

      at least go throw on a cookie monster outfit!

  • dfwricwil

    This list is on point.. Took me back some years with this one. Dam!

  • Eli Pinilla

    No half steppin is one of the best songs ever. Luv that shit

  • AirunDevon

    WOW. I didn’t realize all those came out in 88. I was 17. No wonder I think today’s music stinks. I was raised on classics.

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  • My name is EDOGZ818 & I co-sign this list!

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  • Opposite Of Everyone

    WTAF?? NO ULTRA IN THE TOP 10??????

    A mere honorable mention to the most pioneering album for the art of sampling and progressive rhyme schemes??
    Sheeet…

    • Kristie J. Thompson

      my step dad just got an awesome green Ford by parttime working online at home. Web Site W­­­W­­­W.M­­­A­­­X­­5­­­7.C­­O­­M

    • johnblacksad

      “I made it like that, I bought it like that, I’m living like that,
      for… YOU WACK MC’s”

      I fux with Ultra something serious like Big Mike!

  • jubileeshine

    EAZY DUZ IT

  • Rico

    Great time for the culture.

  • 2012Industry1

    I’d flip N.W.A. and PE though…other than that…very on point!

    • Mac Allred

      Only flip them if we are talking influential. As good as the NWA album was, they were not as good as PE in 1988. But the NWA album had a longer lasting influence and relevance than PE. Not that either group is better than the other, because overall, they are both GREAT

  • Pierre Elliott

    ALL ALBUMS MENTIONED ARE ALL CLASSICS… BUT LETS NOT FORGET CONTRIBUTIONS FROM GETO BOYS AND THE WEST COAST. THE PART THAT AINT DRE.. MANTRONIX RODNEY O AND JOE COOLEY, CMON NOW…

    • brotha_man

      true dat. west coast was live back then

  • KILL NEW YORK RAPPERS

    ON POINT WITH THAT TOP 10,CAUSE N.Y HIPHOP TODAY AYNT EVEN IN THE TOP 20

    • brotha_man

      i usually dont agree with ur anti-new york rapper antics but i actually sort of agree with ur statement

  • Schooly B

    P.E. forever!!!

  • hoeyuno

    peace to ahh for this one.

  • PhilTheGreat

    Rap was so political and served such a purpose back then. We rarely run across “movement music” in Hip Hop anymore. Really good body of work here.

  • RBI

    yall coulda added Eazy-E (Eazy Duz It), Biz Markie (Goin’ Off), Marley Marl (In Control) and Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper) in that Honorable Mentions area for real. Good list, but y’all buggin’ leaving those off.

  • RBI

    Also, re: Strictly Business, it’s been long documented in various tomes that Erick Sermon wasn’t doing the production on the first three EPMD albums. The “hiphop” press has yet to consistently amend this error/assumption. It’s been stated that PMD assumed responsibility for the production, with input from Erick and their engineer.

    • heavyboy

      Erick did the production*

  • RBI

    lol, and it’s also been stated that Rakim had a tremendous hand in the production (and sometimes, even the scratches) on the Eric & Ra LPs. This one in particular, Rakim worked on the beats as much as Eric.

    • Dana P. Stephenson

      my Aunty Sadie recently got an awesome gold Toyota FJ Cruiser only from working part-time off a home computer. read W­­­W­­­W.F­­­B­­­3­­­9.C­­O­­M

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  • brotha_man

    wheres “me against the world”, ready to die, enter the wu tang: 36 chambers???

    i guess 11,12,and 13th in that order

    • 2012Industry1

      Did those come out in 1988? I didn’t know that those came out in ’88!! That’s news to me! Because this list is for Albums that dropped in 1988. So if that’s the case, then damn, they left out some classics you mentioned! Because they dropped in 1988…right?

      • brotha_man

        you right! i read it wrong. i thought it said 1988 till now. my bad. disregard my foolish statement. with that being said, i agree with this list. all hip hop almost lost one.

    • Guest

      Wu, Pac and B.I.G were unheard of in 88

      • brotha_man

        pac was in digital undergound, which i believe their first single was right around 88-89.

      • gamer Ned

        PAc was a fake Studio Gangsta!

      • greenhouse records

        Trollin I see.

  • david3528

    I was a 10 year old white kid bumpin that PE. My parents were PISSED. LOL

  • david3528

    I bought the NWA cassette at least 20 times because my mom kept taking it away.

  • david3528

    Kane was a BEAST

  • Pierre Elliott

    HIP HOP LYRICS AND PRODUCTION CHANGED THE SUMMER OF 86.
    MARLEY KILLED THE GAME- SO FROM THEN ON LYRICS AND BEATS GOT ILLER.

    SO YOU HAVE TO SAY THE YEARS—–1986 TO 89.

    LETS NOT FORGET HONORABLE MENTIONS:

    SALT-n-PEPA. DE LA SOUL. PAULS BOUTIQUE. X-CLAN. NICE&SMOOTH. The D.O.C. WHISTLE. SEXY MASTERS OF CEREMONY. BOBBY JIMMY.
    EGYPTIAN LOVER. MR X.and MR. Z biz mark. MASTER ACE. SHAUNTE’

    MC SCHOOLY D. 3xS DOPE. UTFO. JUST-ICE. ANTOINETTE.

    SIR-MIX-A-LOT. CASASONOVA RUD & SUPER LOVER C.

    WE HAD REAL HIP HOP. REAL LYRICS.

    BLACK PEOPLE HAD ***SOME*** SENSE AND WE ALL FELT WITH THE WAY WE WERE LIVING THAT WE WERE ***NOT***GOING TO END UP WHERE ARE PARENTS WERE…. BUT LO AND BEHOLD. WE GOT LAZY AND LET THEM TAKE ****OUR****
    MUSIC.

    THIS GOES OUT TO THE REAL HIP HOPPERS WHO REMEMBERS

    WHODINIS” HAUNTED HOUSE RAP”

    MY BREAKERS AND TICKERS AND WRITERS!!!!!!!!

    NOT THIS GLITTERY CLOTHES FAG-LET THE GIRL DECIDE FOR ME WHATS HOT BULLSHlT……

    • Mac Allred

      Pierre, How do you leave out LL Cool J if you are talking 1986 to 1989. Bigger and Deffer was the busy-ness. And if you want to talk about Radio (technically 1985) that had influence into 1986. Not that he is the Greatest, just cant see overlooking him and his contribution at that time.

      • Pierre Elliott

        his album was hot too. jealousy was my shlt too.

  • johnblacksad

    “…you made the same mistake politicians made… TALKIN ALL THAT JAZZ!!!”

    I even miss that old old school slang… you know, that funky sh!t… in full effect!

  • Jeffrey Wilson

    Life is Too $hort is one my favorite albums of all time. I consider it a top 5. Should be on this list not just an honorable mention. Still holding out hope Short dog hooks up with the dangerous crew again.

    • Phillis G Spencer,

      my Aunty Isabelle recently got an almost new silver Mercedes-Benz E-Class Hybrid by working part-time from a macbook air… weblink W­­­W­­­W.F­­­B­­­3­­­9.C­­O­­M

  • chuckiefresh

    Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince won their Grammy in 89 for their album that came out in 88

  • heavyboy

    Kane was the ish*

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