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The Top 10 Hip-Hop Albums of All Time (For Real)

Best of lists are a dime a dozen and they have one serious flaw. They're mostly driven by the opinions of an individual. Not that opinions aren't important or valuable. They're great to read, ponder and argue about, but how could we better apply rankings to an artistic endeavour? Well, sales are an objective way to rank albums, but as you can see from the top 40 charts, mass market consumers are not the best measure of quality. If they were MC Hammer's album Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em would be the second best hip-hop album of all time. Critical acclaim can also determine what's the "best", but while a critic's opinion may be more credible, it's still just an opinion.

For this list of the top 10 hip-hop albums of all time I've eliminated my personal opinion completely. There are many albums that did not make this list that would have if I was doing it based on my own tastes. Instead, the list was determined by a formula. This is the most objective and fair way to truly determine the "best". Any disagreement based on your own opinion has no merit and will be promptly ridiculed. However, if you think the formula is flawed, I welcome discussion. Also, live albums and greatest hits compilations were not considered as the goal was to select the best ALBUMS, not a cherry-picked selection of songs from an artist's career.

The formula is as follows.

First I started with a list of hip-hop albums that have sold more than 5 million copies. Now as I alluded, bad or trendy albums sometimes sell like hotcakes, so this is not the only measure, but the starting point. A great and influential album that did not sell too well, may indeed be a great album, but can't really claim the title "Top 10".

According to Billboard, 17 hip-hop albums have sold over 5 million copies, so this is our starting point. For every million albums over 5 million that an album sold I awarded a 1% multiplier.

Next, I looked at critical acclaim. As you know, an album with blockbuster sales may simply be a trend that is bought by the masses, but hated by by critics (I'm looking at you Vanilla Ice & MC Hammer). So by including critical acclaim as part of the formula we can eliminate these types of albums. I looked across a wide array of critical reviews for each album and after averaging them I applied a critical review rating on a 10 point scale. The critical acclaim multipliers are as follows:

Under 5 = -1%
5  to 6.5 = 0%
6.6 to 6.9 = 1%
7.0 to 7.25 = 2%
7.26 to 7.49 = 3%
7.50 to 7.74 = 4%
7.75 to 7.99 = 5%
8 to 8.24 = 6%
8.25 to 8.49 = 7%
8.50 to 8.74 = 8%
8.75 to 8.99 = 9%
9 to 9.24 = 10%
9.25 to 9.49 = 11%
9.50 to 9.74 = 12%
9.75 to 10 = 13%

In this way, albums with high sales numbers AND universal critical acclaim are pushed higher in the rankings. Sales alone or critical acclaim alone were not enough, to make the top 10 each album had to have both.

Finally, the rankings begin with the resale value of each album. Resale value tells us how well an album has held its value. For example, a copy of Will Smith's Big Willie Style can be bought on the open market today for an average price of just $1.79. This tells us that the album has not held its value very well and since this is the starting point of my formula Big Willie Style did not have a chance to make the top 10 even though it sold over 9 million copies. On the other hand, if we look at an album like Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP (which also sold 9 million copies), the average selling price on the open market today is $8.09. This shows that the demand has held up much better for Eminem than for Will Smith. Please note: for double albums the retail value was adjusted so that we had an accurate comparison with single discs.

So to determine the winners I started with the RESALE VALUE of each of the 17 albums that have sold over 5 million copies, then I added the SALES BONUS and the CRITICAL ACCLAIM BONUS to it to get a TOTAL VALUE for each record. The album with the highest TOTAL VALUE can currently claim the title of best hip-hop album of all time based on a true objective analysis, not opinion.

See the full spreadsheet that determined the winners here.

Without further ado, I give you the Top 10 hip-hop albums of all time.

#10. Jay-Z: Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life
Record Label: Roc-A-Fella
Originally released: 29-SEP-1998
Sales (Millions): 5
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 8.3
Resale Value: $7.45
Total Value (with multipliers): $7.97

1. Intro - Hand It Down

2. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)

3. If I Should Die

4. Ride Or Die

5. N*gg* What, N*gg* Who

6. Money, Cash, Hoes

7. A Week Ago

8. Coming Of Age (Da Sequel)

9. Can I Get A...

10. Paper Chase

11. Reservoir Dogs

12. It's Like That

13. It's Alright

14. Money Ain't A Thang

#9. Fugees: The Score
Record Label: Ruffhouse Records
Originally released: 1996
Sales (Millions): 6
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 9.4
Resale Value: $7.19
Total Value (with multipliers): $8.05

1. Red Intro

2. How Many Mics

3. Ready Or Not

4. Zealots

5. The Beast

6. Fu-Gee-La

7. Family Business

8. Killing Me Softly With His Song

9. The Score

10. The Mask

11. Cowboys

12. No Woman, No Cry

13. Manifest / Outro

14. Fu-Gee-La (Refugee Camp Remix)

15. Fu-Gee-La (Sly & Robbie Mix)

16. Mista Mista

#8. Nelly: Country Grammar
Record Label: Universal Records
Originally released: 2000
Sales (Millions): 8
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 7.5
Resale Value: $8.25
Total Value (with multipliers): $8.83

1. Intro

2. St. Louie

3. Greed, Hate & Envy

4. Country Grammar (Hot..)

5. Steal The Show

6. Interlude

7. Ride Wit Me

8. E.I.

9. Thicky Thick Girl

10. For My

11. Utha Side

12. Tho Dem Wrappas

13. Wrap Sumden

14. Batter Up

15. Never Let 'Em C U Sweat

16. Luven Me

17. Outro

#7. Lauryn Hill: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Record Label: RUFFHOUSE
Originally released: 25-AUG-1998
Sales (Millions): 8
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 9.2
Resale Value: $7.99
Total Value (with multipliers): $9.03

1. Intro

2. Lost Ones

3. Ex-Factor

4. To Zion

5. Doo Wop (That Thing)

6. Superstar

7. Final Hour

8. When It Hurts So Bad

9. I Used To Love Him

10. Forgive Them Father

11. Every Ghetto, Every City

12. Nothing Even Matters

13. Everything Is Everything

14. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill

15. Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You

16. Tell Him

#6. Eminem: The Marshall Mathers LP
Record Label: Interscope
Originally released: 2000
Sales (Millions): 9
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 8.7
Resale Value: $8.09
Total Value (with multipliers): $9.06

1. Public Service Announcement 2000

2. Kill You

3. Stan

4. Paul (skit)

5. Who Knew

6. Steve Berman

7. The Way I Am

8. The Real Slim Shady

9. Remember Me?

10. I'm Back

11. Marshall Mathers

12. Ken Kaniff (skit)

13. Drug Ballad

14. Amityville

15. Bitch Please II

16. Kim

17. Under The Influence

18. Criminal

#5. DMX: ...And Then There Was X
Record Label: Ral
Originally released: 21-DEC-1999
Sales (Millions): 5
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 7.5
Resale Value: $8.99
Total Value (with multipliers): $9.35

1. The Kennel (Skit)

2. One More Road To Cross

3. The Professional

4. Fame

5. Alot To Learn (Skit)

6. Here We Go Again

7. Party Up

8. Make A Move

9. What These Bitches Want

10. What's My Name?

11. More 2 A Song

12. Don't You Ever

13. The Shakedown (Skit)

14. D-X-L (Hard White)

15. Comin' For Ya

16. Prayer III

17. Angel

18. Good Girls, Bad Guys

#4. Dr. Dre: 2001
Record Label: Aftermath
Originally released: 1999
Sales (Millions): 6
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 8.4
Resale Value: $8.75
Total Value (with multipliers): $9.45

1. Lolo (Intro)

2. The Watcher

3. F@ck You

4. Still D.R.E.

5. Big Ego's

6. XXplosive

7. What's The Difference

8. Bar One

9. Light Speed

10. Forgot About Dre

11. The Next Episode

12. Let's Get High

13. B*tch N*ggaz

14. The Car Bomb

15. Murder Ink

16. Ed-ucation

17. Some L.A. N*gg*z

18. Pause 4 Porno

19. Housewife

20. Ackrite

21. Bang Bang

22. The Message (Featuring Mary J. Blige, Rell)

23. Outro (Non Album Version)

#3. Puff Daddy & The Family: No Way Out
Record Label: Bad Boy Records
Originally released: 01-JUL-1997
Sales (Millions): 7
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 7.6
Resale Value: $8.99
Total Value (with multipliers): $9.53  

1. No Way Out (Intro)

2. Victory (Featuring The Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes)

3. Been Around The World (Featuring The Notorious B.I.G. & Mase)

4. What You Gonna Do?

5. Don't Stop What You're Doing (Featuring Lil' Kim)

6. If I Should Die Tonight (Interlude)(Featuring Carl Thomas)

7. Do You Know?

8. Young G's (Featuring The Notorious B.I.G. & Jay-Z)

9. I Love You Baby (Featuring Black Rob)

10. It's All About The Benjamins (Remix)(Featuring The Notorious B.I.G., Lil' Kim & The Lox)

11. Pain

12. Is This The End? (Featuring Ginuwine, Twista & Carl Thomas)

13. I Got The Power (Featuring The Lox)

14. Friend (Featuring Foxy Brown)

15. Senorita

16. I'll Be Missing You (Featuring Faith Evans & 112)

17. Can't Nobody Hold Me Down (Featuring Mase)

#2. The Notorious B.I.G.: Life After Death
Record Label: Bad Boy Records
Originally released: 25-MAR-1997
Sales (Millions): 10
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 9.2
Resale Value: $8.50
Total Value (with multipliers): $9.77 

1. Life After Death (Intro)

2. Somebody's Gotta Die

3. Hypnotize

4. Kick In The Door

5. #!*@ You Tonight (Featuring R. Kelly)

6. Last Day (Featuring The Lox)

7. I Love The Dough (Featuring Jay-Z & Angel Winbush)

8. What's Beef

9. B.I.G. (Interlude)

10. Mo Money Mo Problems (Featuring Mase & Puff Daddy)

11. N*gg*s Bleed

12. I Got A Story To Tell

13. Notorious Thugs

14. Miss You

15. Another (Featuring Lil' Kim)

16. Going Back To Cali

17. Ten Crack Commandments

18. Playa Hater

19. Nasty Boy

20. Sky's The Limit (Featuring 112)

21. The World Is Filled... (Featuring Too Short & Puff Daddy)

22. My Downfall (Featuring DMC)

23. Long Kiss Goodnight

24. You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)

#1. 2Pac: All Eyez On Me
Record Label: Death Row
Originally released: 13-FEB-1996
Sales (Millions): 9
Critical Acclaim (Scale of 10): 9.1
Resale Value: $8.60
Total Value (with multipliers): $9.80  

1. Ambitionz Az A Ridah

2. All Bout U

3. Skandalouz

4. Got My Mind Made Up

5. How Do U Want It

6. 2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted

7. No More Pain

8. Heartz Of Men

9. Life Goes On

10. Only God Can Judge Me

11. Tradin War Stories

12. California Love (Remix)

13. I Ain't Mad At Cha

14. What'z Ya Phone #

15. Can't C Me

16. Shorty Wanna Be A Thug

17. Holla At Me

18. Wonda Why They Call U Bitch

19. When We Ride

20. Thug Passion

21. Picture Me Rollin'

22. Check Out Time

23. Ratha Be Ya N*gg*

24. All Eyez On Me

25. Run Tha Streetz

26. Ain't Hard 2 Find

27. Heaven Ain't Hard 2 Find

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