When we asked a local record collector about his favorite old school hip hop albums, we weren’t ready for what we were going to hear.
The result? Old school styled rap and hip hop for days.
Meet Miki Rastaman, hip hop expert
We asked Miki Rastaman, hip hop expert and record collector from North Macedonia living in Malta to recommend us his favorite old school hip hop albums that you must have on vinyl.
If you’re wondering, there is a reason we asked Miki – believe us, he knows what he is talking about.
After he heard Public Enemy for the first time in 1996 that was it, he was hooked. Since then, Miki has gone to collect over 700 LPs, 800 cassette tapes, 300 MP3 CDs, over 4TB of digital hip hop and a “shit ton of DVDs”. From DJing on bootleg cassette tapes in the 90s to recording his own rap, Miki is an OG hip hop head.
What is old school hip hop?
When we refer to “old school hip hop” that doesn’t only refer to an era. You can find old school styled hip hop that was released in the 2000s.
It’s characterized by the simpler rapping techniques of the time and the lyrical content revolving around social issues, partying and braggadocio (bragging).
In terms of production, Miki tells us that old school productions were made on the E-mu SP 1200 and SP 4500 drum machine and sampler.
Why we buy vinyl and support local record shops
For many people, vinyl records allude to the past, a memory in wax. For others, it’s a matter of collecting all your favorites in a physical format – it simply feels better to hold a piece of history in your hands.
What we value about vinyl records is the fact that you have 15-22 minutes of pure listening – no worrying about what song to put on next or cancelling the next advert. Just music. For us this amounts to meditation and a break from the onslaught of 21st Century distractions.
We recommend that you seek out your local record shop and support the small guys that are doing the scene a favor. Only there can you feel the record in your hands to understand if its rightful home is on your shelf.
Notes about the list
Below are Miki’s top 40 old school records that shaped the state of what hip hop is today. The albums are in no order, so feel free to bounce around and see what you can find.
We’ve included a YouTube link under the title so you can listen to the album, a short description, some hip hop history and a fun fact or two.
For those that don’t have the luxury of being able to stroll down to your local record shop, then we’ve included links to Amazon, Discogs and other online sellers of wax. For the hip hop albums that are not available on vinyl, pick up the CD or cassette instead.
1. Ice-T – Rhyme Pays, an explicitly infamous album
“Rhyme Pays” was Ice-T’s debut release and is known as a true classic hip hop album. It’s considered one of the earliest examples of West Coast gangsta rap. The album starts off with a hard drum beat using a sample from Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”.
It’s a groundbreaking and unapologetic style that would dominate the West Coast scene for the years to come.
In fact, it was the first ever hip hop album to have a parental advisory label due to the explicit lyrics. Thanks to Ice-T’s first album, it sparked a public conversation on lyrics mentioning gang violence, sex and drugs that led to debates on censorship in music.
It was controversial, but it sure worked.
2. Chubb Rock – The One, of the classic hip hop albums
Released in 1991, this is the classic old school hip hop album by Chubb Rock that gave him the reputation as a top rapper of a generation.
Jamaican born and New York bred, he is a key rapper from the 80’s and 90’s. Topics of the album range from love, relationships and social issues, notably police violence.
It was nominated for a Grammy in 1992 for Best Rap Solo Performance only to lose to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”. Smooth beats and clever lyrics, this is a must have for your hip hop record collection.
3. Run DMC – Tougher Than Leather, one of the 80’s hip hop albums with heavy rock influence
Brought to you by the original hard core hip outfit Run DMC, Tougher Than Leather was their fifth studio album released in 1988. And you can definitely feel the 80’s rocker vibe on this record.
It continued the trend of incorporating rock sounds into their hip hop tracks. This can be heard on their version of “Mary, Mary” originally written by the Monkees in 1966.
“Tougher Than Leather” off the album actually has short guitar solos between verses.
4. Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, a landmark hip hop vinyl
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back is considered one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. It’s politically charged, using samples of funk, soul, R&B and speeches, it has left a lasting influence on rap and hip hop culture.
Chuck D, the leader of the group once said, “rap music is the invisible TV station Black America never had”. On this album Public Enemy was able to broadcast issues such as race and police brutality on a huge scale due to its commercial success.
Fun fact: the vinyl’s cover features a target with Public Enemy’s logo in the center, capturing the aggressive style of the album. It became one of the most recognized symbols in hip hop culture.
5. De La Soul – 3 Ft High and Rising, one vibe of a hip hop vinyl
A quintessential album for hip hop. Groovy baselines, innovative jazz, funk and rock samples as well as poetic wordplay. All elements that make 3 Ft High and Rising one of the great old school hip hop albums.
This laid the foundation for the laid-back sound of hip hop’s golden age of the 90’s.
The album’s title refers to Johnny Cash’s song “Five Feet High and Rising”. They adapted it to a record title after De La Soul member Dave AKA Trugoy the Dove came across it in his dad’s vinyl collection.
6. Big Daddy Kane – It’s A Big Daddy Thing, old school hip hop lore
The originally daddy, Big Daddy Kane was the ultimate lover man of 90’s hip hop scene. I mean just listen to “Smooth Operator” off this album: smooth flow, smart beats and that background sax.
It was a top ranker on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The album was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, sending Big Daddy Kane straight to the top of old school hip hop lore.
Big Daddy Kane was as slick as his drip. His fashion sense arguably left a lasting influence on hip-hop and he might just be the reason why “bling” became a trend in the first place.
7. Roxanne Shante – Bad Sister, pioneering female hip hop badass and mentor
Snarky style and sharp lyrics, Roxanne Shante’s Bad Sister is one of Miki’s top hip hop albums for old school collectors. Roxanne Shante is seen as the first female MC to get wide commercial success.
The track “Have a Nice Day” features that classic breakbeat of the 90’s and “Wack It” is a bit of a throwback to the 80’s with those synths.
Shante retired five years after the 1989 release and went on to getting a Ph.D. in psychology and running her own practice in New York. She stayed involved in hip-hop as a mentor to young, female rappers – hats off.
8. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Wanted Dead Or Alive, listen and walk the streets of 90’s NYC
Wanted Dead Or Alive features Kool G Rap’s storytelling style, with DJ Polo’s iconic production. It received critical acclaim for its uncompromising portrayals of urban life and made Kool G Rap a leading rapper in New York city at the time.
It’s the kind of album you can just put on, let it roll and enjoy the ride.
Fun fact: features Big Daddy Kane and Sir Mix-a-Lot.
9. Special Ed – Youngest In Charge, one of the old school hip hop albums simply ahead of it’s time
Special Ed spits bars at the age of 17 on Youngest In Charge. Jazzy punches, mature lyrics characterize his first album released in 1989.
His flow, rhymes and beats were ahead of his time – especially considering his age at the time.
Our favorite from the album is “I’m the Magnificent” with riffs reminiscent of Sublime.
10. Boogie Down Productions (BDP) – Criminal Minded, ragga hip hop origins
Released in 1987 Criminal Minded by BDP is one of our top picks for old school hip hop – and old school it is!
Led by KRS-One, they were one of the first hardcore and political rap groups. Also known as “The Teacher” on this album you get some ragga and dancehall influences – one of the first American rappers to do it.
It’s a minimal hip hop album that leaves a whole lotta room for KRS-One’s mad delivery.
11. GZA – Words From The Genius
A rare album that showcase’s GZA’s earlier material. You know when it’s a great old school album when you’ve gotta play it through.
Here’s an excerpt from “Life of A Drug Dealer”:
“And I’m in it, physically gaining power,
Constantly counting up cash by the hour
And it feels good to be paid
Regardless of how many victims get slayed
Accomplices of mine drop like flies
But in this, every day a homeboy dies
Whether shot in the body or cyanide in ya Bacardi
‘Cause it’s a cutthroat party”
12. Eric B & Rakim – Don’t Sweat The Technique, classic NYC style
One of the premier DJ/MC duos of their time, Eric B & Rakim had a hand in leading hip-hop to the modern age. Eric B. was an influential producer and DJ who rocked the James Brown samples like a king. Rakim on the other hand, is still considered one of the best MCs of all time with his elaborate metaphors and complex rhymes, all smooth as hell.
From the opening of the 1992 album Don’t Sweat The Technique, you know that you’re about to get hit with quality. Strong imagery of riding the A Train on the New York City subway on this album.
This was the last studio album before the epic duo split up.
13. Organized Konfusion – Organized Konfusion, cult hip hop album with intelligent rhymes
Coming out of Queens, NYC, the duo Prince Po and Pharoahe Monch released their self-titled album in 1991. Minimal beats, intelligent rhymes, this is an example of a 90’s era old-school hip-hop album.
Think innovative productions, complex rhymes and socially conscious themes. It’s a cult hip hop record that can arguably be considered the underground rap album of 1990s.
We love the touch of piano on Fudge Pudge, it gives it that swanky East Coast touch.
14. Crazy Sam & Da Verbal Assassins – Street Power, cranked up rap energy
Raw, gritty and hard to find information about, Crazy Sam & Da Verbal Assassins slay it on their album Street Power. It’s full-on street energy rap on this album.
To exemplify this, an excerpt from the track “Come In From Da Underground”: “I leave the barrel smoking like a crackhead.”
We’ll go ahead and say it – they don’t make rap like this anymore.
15. Flavor Unit MCs – Roll With The Flava, a true bumpin’ classic
The Flavor Unit MCs are a crew of MCs from New York and New Jersey, known today as the Unit. Queen Latifah was an original member, who took over the crew after the original producer 45 King fell into serious drug abuse.
She now runs it along with Flavor Unit Management. This artist management clientele over the years includes names like Outkast, Faith Evans and LL Cool J.
In your face and powerful, this LP features various artists including one badass Queen Latifah, Rottin Raskalz, Brooklyn Assault Team and Groove Garden. Every track is a treasure, one of the greatest old school hip hop albums out there.
Files into the East Coast, gangsta and hardcore category.
16. Schoolly D – Smoke Some Kill, dark sounding old school
Old school stoner rap from the first track, this is a great album from what Ice T calls “the forefather of gangsta rap”.
A West Philadelphia native, he was confrontational and willing to shock his audience. His music has been sampled by many great artists and he has left a lasting impression on hip hop with this album as well as his previous ones.
If you like old school rap and don’t own this, go get yourself a copy – not so many were made and it’s a rare find.
17. Dana Dane – Dana Dane With Fame, a top selling classic old school rap album
Dana Dane described his musical approach as “writing stories that have chronological depth as well as moral values”.
This debut album was released in 1987 and peaked at #46 on the Billboard album chart, certified gold. It sounds straight out that decade – unmistakable 80’s rap.
There exist copies on CD, LP and cassette, go get it on Amazon.
18. KMD – BL_CK B_ST_RDS, hardcore NYC
Black Bastards (stylized as BL_CK B_ST_RDS) was the last album of KMD, recorded in 1993 and released in 2000. It’s a historical album since it was supposed to be released in 1994, but was withheld due to it’s controversial cover art depicting a Sambo cartoon being lynched.
It’s hardcore, New York hip hop, and a great album to have on vinyl with raw, atmospheric seemingly unfinished elements in the production.
Notably it features Zev Love X Dumile, who later changed his moniker to MF Doom.
19. KMD – Mr. Hood, laid back 90’s old school
Following the previous hip hop album, another one to add to your collection is Mr. Hood also by KMD. Released in 1991 it reached number 67 on Billboard Top R&B Albums chart in the US.
“Peachfuzz” was a successful single off this record and we love the piano and soft beat that reflects the New York style, where it was recorded.
20. Lakim Shabazz – Pure Righteousness, one of the jazzy, underground hip hop albums
Lakim Shabazz was a New Jersey born rapper affiliated with Mark “45 King” who was a member of the Flavor Unit, which included Queen Latifah as previously mentioned.
Pure Righteousness was produced by 45 King and released in 1988. This is pure underground, old school rap folks.
21. Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, iconic hip hop record
Released as a part of Ice Cube’s solo career after his bitter split with N.W.A. he released AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted in 1990. The result was that it was one of the defining albums of the 90’s.
Originally, he wanted it to be produced by N.W.A. producer Dr. Dre, but the idea was axed by label decisions. The crosshairs of Ice Cube’s debut solo album are set on institutional racism by revealing the oppressed social norms of the people living in the ghettos of LA.
Fun fact: Ice Cube’s work on N.W.A’s earlier Straight Outta Compton he helped West Coast hip hop to be defined from East Coast styles.
Just check the only video produced for this album – more proof that Ice Cube is among the greatest.
22. LL Cool J – G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), a notable album in a long career of success
LL Cool J is one of hip hop’s longest running successes. And if you haven’t listened to G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), you won’t know what we’re talking about.
It’s got more than one insane feature on the album including Ja Rule, Redman, Method Man, DMX, Snoop Dog and Xzibit.
Released in 2000, this is one of the later releases on this list that reached number one of the US Billboard 200 Chart. Not to mention the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. We highlight that this is one of LL Cool J’s many marks he’s left on the scene.
23. Lord Finesse – Return Of The Funky Man, classic braggadocio rap
Lord Finesse is one of the most innovative and solid lyricists in the history of rap with his braggadocio and punch line rap style. He is also one of the forefathers to the influential hip hop collective D.I.T.C. (including members Fat Joe, Big L, Showbiz & AG and others).
This one takes you back to the days of rough beats and supreme lyrics – one of the great hip hop albums to own.
24. Terminator – Terminator X & The Valley Of Jeep Beets, of the experimental hip hop albums
Called by Spin magazine “the vinyl version of a great block party backed by the world’s best DJ.”
It’s an album full of old school beats and little-known MCs. Released in 1991 it reached number 97 of the Billboard 200 and number 19 on Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums charts.
Terminator X is best known as a member of the iconic Public Enemy hip hop group.
This one is classified as an experimental, political and hardcore album. The album name is a play on the 1984 film “The Terminator” and the 1964 film “The Valley of the Dolls.”
“Buck Whylin’” off the album is particularly in your face.
25. Onyx – Bacdafucup, the definition of hardcore old school rap
Talk about a way to start off an LP. Bacdafucup is Onyx’s debut album from 1993 and it’s the one that peaked at 17 on the US Billboard 200 receiving multiple awards.
This is the most in your face album on the list and a fine example of old school, no funny business hip hop. To prove our point: the album cover was made by having the group members stand on plexiglass. Onyx member Sticky Fingas wanted people to see the group from under their shoes.
Fun fact: throughout the recording of the album the group was taking acid:
“that’s partially what kept our energy going at that high level. We had that battery pack. LSD was our secret weapon.”
26. Showbiz & A.G. – Runaway Slave, East Coast jazzy hip hop
Released in 1992 Runaway Slave is one of those jazzy hip hop albums recorded by duo Showbiz and A.G. The record has a few guest appearances from DeShawn, Dres, Lord Finesse and Big L.
Showbiz and A.G. started by selling tapes out of the trunks of their cars and Runaway Slave was their debut album that turned into a hip hop essential. Think jazzy horns, snapping snares and stiff drum kicks.
These two are criminally underrated.
27. EPMD – Strictly Business, one of the greatest albums of all time
Released in 1988 this is not only rated one of the best hip hop albums, but also one of the greatest of all time by multiple authorities including Rolling Stone.
Within four months of its release it earned RIAA gold album certification. What’s crazy to think about is that this was a debut album.
The album features funky samples and party raps that vary between dissing other MCs and recounting sexual exploits. A true summer classic that goes perfect to BBQs in the backyard.
This was a pioneering album that had a laid-back feel with a menacing sound. The West Coast would pick this up and run with it, creatin the subgenre of G-funk.
28. Grand Puba – Reel To Reel, one of the great & underrated hip hop albums
Grand Puba debuted his solo career with Reel To Reel in 1992 after leaving Brand Nubian where he was the lead rapper. The album did very well on release and featured a track “Check It Out” with Mary J Blige.
The production of the LP is top notch and Puba can be considered as one the cleverest MCs from the old school era. It’s braggadocio, humorous and understandably on this list of top hip hop albums to have in your collection.
29. Brand Nubian – In God We Trust, a militant hip hop record
This album was released after Grand Puba from the above dropped from the group.
It’s extremely militant reflecting the group’s identity as Five Percenters which adheres to the Philosophy of the Nation of Gods and Earths, a black nationalist movement influenced by Islam. This is made very clear with the first track featuring the Muslim call to prayer.
It’s fair to say that after Grand Puba’s departure, MCs Sadat X and Lord Jamar along with DJ Sincere stuck to their guns and fired off one hard and straight to the point album.
30. Black Sheep – A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, East Coast gold
Talk about a way to start a record – the intro is gritty, satirical and follows it up with the 100 mile-an-hour track “U Mean I’m Not”.
This is another old school album that received certified gold status by the RIAA, which refers to sales exceeding 500,000 units in the US.
There’s a lot of gems on the album, but “The Choice is Yours (Revisited)” shines the brightest. Join the high ranks of record collectors by adding one of the best albums of the 90’s to your hip hop essentials.
31. 3rd Bass – Derelicts Of Dialect, infectious beats and potent rhymes
Infectious beats, insane production and very potent rhymes characterize this album. 3rd Bass remain as one of the few white hip hop artists to achieve sweeping acceptance in the larger hip hop community.
This was their second and last studio album that showed influences from De La Soul and A Tribe called Quest with anecdotes inspired by the previously mentioned 3 Feet High and Rising album.
32. X-Clan – To the East, Blackwards, black conscious lyricism
Funky beats over conscious rhythms, this is a masterpiece from 1990. While there were many Afrocentric rap groups with political fervor, few reached the level of X-Clan. They brought black conscious lyricism to the forefront.
The production is characterized by funk beats and scratching throughout the album.
33. Kid ‘N Play – Funhouse, positive hip hop in a gangsta world
Upbeat, danceable, positive and certified gold. Kid ‘N Play were one of the first to spin rap’s hardcore character into a positive message for the masses.
Kid and Play started off in rival high school groups until they joined forces. Their former bandmate turned manager switched out 80’s samples of James Brown to more disco and pop feeling beats.
After some success they were brought into the film world due to their clean-cut appearances. After their appearance in the film House Party they spun the Funhouse single from the movie into a full length album.
Fun fact: It features a guest appearance from a lone Salt-N-Pepa.
34. Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill, one of the most important hip hop albums for the West Coast
This album right here is vital hip hop history. Cypress Hill’s self-titled album released in 1991 went double platinum with over 2 million units sold and set a sonic blueprint that would be copied by many. It is considered one of the most important albums of West Coast hip hop and certainly of the 90’s.
This crew brought Spanish language into the hip-hop context where it not only reached the mainstream audiences, transcending inner city ethnic lines. From the editorial reviews on Amazon:
“Their lyrical content negotiates a truce between the urgency of NWA and the playful taunts of the Beastie Boys, interlaced with Spanish vocabulary.”
A must have for hip hop collectors, available in vinyl format on Amazon.
35. K-Solo – Tell The World My Name, one of the beef-ridden old school hip hop albums
The was K-Solo’s debut album after leaving the Hit Squad with Redman, EPMD, Das EFX and Keith Murray. The album is provocative and with tracks like “Your Mom’s in My Business” it’s not hard to see why.
K-Solo is known to have beefs with DMX who disputed over the ownership of the track “Spellbound”. The two served in prison together and K-Solo claims that DMX stole his style.
Either way, K-Solo is an underrated MC from the era. Tell The World My Name remains an iconic old school hip hop album to have on your shelf.
36. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory, a masterpiece bridging jazz and hip hop
There is a reason why The Low End Theory is such a classic – the clear cut beats, clever rhythms and lyrics that echo through the decades. It is one of the pillars of hip hop, a musical masterpiece.
Recorded in the early 90’s and dropped in 1991 it includes minimalist sounds combining bass, drum breaks and jazz samples. While it has an East Coast flavor that bridged jazz and hip hop, this album is universal and considered one of the greatest hip hop records of all time.
37. Slick Rick – The Art Of Storytelling, one of the hip hop albums for the books
Born English and naturalized a US citizen, Slick Rick was a hugely successful rapper despite the controversies.
For context, two out of his four releases he was behind bars for shooting at his ex-bodyguard cousin who was trying to extort money from Slick Rick.
Slick Rick’s comeback album the Art of Storytelling was released in 1999 and went very far on the charts. It reached number 8 on the Billboard 200 and number 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and within a month of dropping, was certified gold. Released on Def Jam Recordings and featuring Nas, Snoop Dogg, Redman and OutKast, this is real hip hop history.
He remains one of the most sampled artists across many genres and is still releasing music to this day. True hip hop heads have got a copy of the Art of Storytelling at home.
38. Ultramagnetic MC’s – Critical Beatdown, an album way ahead of it’s time
One of the illest albums in the era of classic hip hop that was way ahead of it’s time.
Since its release in 1988, it’s been sampled across hip hop history. The production of the album is notable for its funk based samples. Ced-Gee’s use of the E-mu SP-1200 sampler added an abrasive, funk-oriented sound that is devastating even in the modern age of with more modern tools available.
The album is more breakbeat heavy than bass heavy, but this allows the lyrics to come through beautifully. Think manic, staccato-paced rhymes characterized by braggadocio, stream-of-consciousness content allowing the listener to be in the thoughts of minds of the Ultramagnetic MC’s.
39. Urban Thermo Dynamics (UTD) – Manifest Destiny, underrated group on a great old school album
This is a lost gem of old school hip hop albums.
Manifest Destiny is an album based of the recordings of Urban Thermo Dynamics (Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey and his siblings DCQ, and CES) recorded in the 90’s and published in 2004 on Illson Media records.
File this under alternative hip-hop with sick sounding drums with that ’94 sound. If you like Mos Def you will most definitely like this.
40. D-Nice – To Tha Rescue, a true storyteller of old school hip hop
D-Nice is one of those MCs that’s a true storyteller.
To Tha Rescue is one of those hip hop albums that draws you right in. It’s a mix of straightforward beats, clear sounding lyrics and saxophone and guitar accents. “25 Ta Life” is a great example from this album.
Released in 1991, To Tha Rescue also features KRS-One, however they fell out after the release of the album.
You still want more hip hop?
Visit our dedicated hip hop section here.
This article includes affiliate links & as Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.