Top 10 Concept Hip Hop/Rap Albums of all Time
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Introduction: Top 10 Concept Hip Hop/Rap Albums of all Time. What are concept albums? A concept album is an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. This is typically achieved through a single central narrative or theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, or lyrical. We have been lucky to have been blessed with so many classic concept Hip Hop/Rap albums over the years. Making this list was incredibly hard, to the point where we had to vote on a few things. We have chosen what we believe are the top 10 greatest hip hop/rap concept albums ever and we hope you enjoy it. A few rap classics may be missing but to be fair everything boils down to personal opinion. ENJOY!
The Roots – Undun
Artist: The Roots
Release Date: December 2 2011
Album Concept: “undun is the story of this kid who becomes criminal, but he wasn’t born criminal. He’s not the nouveau exotic primitive bug-eyed gunrunner… he’s actually thoughtful and is neither victim nor hero. Just some kid who begins to order his world in a way that makes the most sense to him at a given moment… At the end of the day… isn’t that what we all do?” – Questlove.
In other words, Undun is an existential concept album about the character Redford Stevens (taken from a Sufjan Stevens song). It starts with Redford dying in reverse up until he is alive and plays his life in reverse. It begins with his death, then speaks on his reflection on life as he lays in the coma, to having suicidal thoughts, to getting involved in drug dealing and finally living in piss poor poverty.
Our Narration: Undun is such a depressing album that it’s not something you can put on any day to listen to it. You have to be in a certain mood. We like the fact that the story is told in reverse, reminded us of that classic Nas song called rewind from Stillmatic. It may be a short album, but no one can deny that its personal impact on the listener.
Best Tracks: Kool On, Make My, Lighthouse, Stomp
I’m in the double G, three-piece tux
Screaming dressed to kill
Hope somebody call my bluff
It’s a full house… sipping on a royal flush
Two queens is on my cuffs
Good times is in the cards
Living on borrowed time
I’m paying the extra charge
To feel like something small is worth a hundred large
Swag is on retard, charm is on massage
Wit is on guard, I challenge you to a duel
Who needs a chain when every thought’s a jewel
God bless the weirdo when everyone’s a fool
Lupe fiasco – The Cool
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Album: The Cool
Release Date: December 18 2007
Album Concept: The Cool is a concept album based on a song (The Cool) and its character from his debut rap classic album Food & Liquor. The name of the character is Michael Young History. The album also refers to two other main characters: The Streets who is a female and meant to be the embodiment of the street life. The other character called the The Game who is a male is meant to represent the game which is life as a drug dealer and pimp. The album details his life in in 7 songs on the album to his eventual death.
Our Narration: Food & Liquor may be the better album, but Lupe is just an lyrically impressive as he was on his debut album. We love the way he paints a picture so vivid that we become completely immersed within the story. We also like how some songs on the album is not about Michael Young History. The Cool is a classic concept album that everyone should hear. Can we add that Superstar is one of the greatest mainstream rap songs of all time!
Best Tracks: The Coolest, Superstar, Paris, Tokyo, Gold Watch, Dumb it Down and Put You On Game
I like Yohji Yamamoto and a Max Roach solo
Leather Gucci belts and Guilty Brotherhood polos
I like Montblanc pens and Moleskine paper
I like Goyard bags and green Now and Laters
Monocle magazine and Japanese manga
Futura Nosferatus and HTM trainers
I love Street Fighter 2, I just really hate Zangief
Only Ken and Ryu, I find it hard to beat Blanka
Keep a Wee Ninja hanging and an UNKLE album banging
Little Brother – The Minstrel Show
Artist: Little Borther
Album: The Minstrel Show
Release Date: September 13 2005
Album Concept: The concept of the The Minstrel Show is based on a fictional television network named U Black Niggas Network (UBN). The network airs satire of stereotypical advertisements and shows for the African American demographic. It follows the theme of a minstrel show, minstrel shows were disgusting racist acts performed by white people in black face for all white audiences many years back.
Where do we even begin? Late Registration stole the limelight (deservingly) in 2005 but The Minstrel Show is every bit as impressive. This album is so smooth and laid back due to 9th Wonder’s excellent production. It is an intelligent album that wonderfully blends different means of production while still sending out important messages. You get the sense that Little Brother was fed up with the state of hip-hop back then and the stereotypes that rappers and hip-hop culture were enforcing. Supposedly, BET (a black television network) famously banned the video ‘Lovin it’ from airing on their network because the video was too intelligent. We don’t know about that because we love the video and we need more like it! If you’re a fan of Kendrick Lamar and Blu this album is for you. A true classic of the genre.
Best Tracks: Beautiful Morning, Lovin it, Say it again, Sincerely Yours, Hiding Place, We Got Now
We Got Now
Now they heard some of yo songs, and peeped you from the side
And watched yo videos and seen the car you drive
CHILLLLL! – And we know what to expect my nigga
Done seen it all before I ain’t impressed, my nigga
But they heard all of our songs, and peeped us from the side
And came out to the shows and seen us on the grind
CHILLLLL! – And this is how we get down muh’fuckers
We don’t care who got next, this is now muh’fuckers!
MF DOOM – MM.. FOOD
Artist: MF Doom
Album: MM.. Food
Release Date: November 16 2004
Album Concept: MM.. Food is simply a concept album on food. Possibly Doom’s favourite type of foods he loves to munch.
Our narration: We love how childish and carefree this album is, right from the beginning all the way to the very end. Doom’s rapping and flow are supreme and the production is fantastic. Everything just flows so well. What an incredible 2000-2009 decade this man has had. He was simply unmatched in his prime. Madvillainy shows us how good he can rap but MM.., Food shows us why he is a top 10 MC of all time.
Best Tracks: Beef Rap, One Beer, Kon Queso, Kookies
Beef rap, could lead to getting teeth capped
Or even a wreath for ma dukes on some grief crap
I suggest you change your diet
It can lead to high blood pressure if you fry it
Or even a stroke, heart attack, heart disease
It ain’t no starting back once arteries start to squeeze
Take the easy way out phony, until then
They know they wouldn’t be talking that bologna in the bullpen
So disgusting, pardon self as I discuss this
They talk a wealth of shit and they ain’t never seen the justice
Bust this, like a cold milk from out the toilet
Two batteries some Brillo and some foil, heat’ll boil it
Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D City
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: Good Kid M.A.A.D City
Release Date: October 22 2012
Album Concept: Good kid, m.A.A.d. city is Kendrick Lamar’s non-linear narrative of growing up in Compton, California. Compton is known for its high crime rate and gang activity. It is a coming of age story of a young teenage Kendrick Lamar in battling peer pressure and gang violence as he leaves all that behind and transitions into the all-time great rapper we know today.
Our Narration: GKMC is surely going down as one of the greatest concept rap albums of all time. An instant classic upon arrival and hailed as the West Coast’s Illmatic. It’s not hard to see why it was given such a prestigious label. Just like Nas, Kendrick Lamar is a phenomenal storytelling rapper and he tells the story of himself growing up in Compton very well. Not every concept rap album can resonate with everyone but GKMC had the streets, the casual listeners, the suburbs, the critics and nerds on lock. Few rap albums have been able to do that, that’s how universal the album was.
Best tracks: Sherane, The Art of Peer Pressure, Sing About Me, Im Dying of Thirst, Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe, Money Trees
The Art of Peer Pressure
Me and my niggas four deep in a white Toyota
A quarter tank of gas, one pistol, and orange soda
Janky stash box when the federales’ll roll up
Basketball shorts with the Gonzales Park odor
We on the mission for bad bitches and trouble
I hope the universe love you today
‘Cause the energy we bringin’ sure to carry away
A flock of positive activists and fill the body with hate
If it’s necessary; bumpin’ Jeezy first album, lookin’ distracted
Speakin’ language only we know, you think it’s an accent
Cunninlynguists – A Piece of Strange
Album: A Piece of Strange
Release Date: January 24 2006
Album Concept: The album follows the story of a man and those closest to him in their struggles with right and wrong, love and hate, faith and sin. All of the different members of the group (and the guest features) take the role as a character in a story dabbling in racism, sin, and morals.
Our Narrative: Unique. Beautiful. Soulful. Mesmeric. A Piece of Strange is what every concept rap album should model itself after. We’d go as far out to say that A Piece of Strange is one of the most extraordinary underground rap albums of all time. Producer Kno who continues to be criminally under looked brings in the perfect sound dose of soul, nostalgia, regret and melancholia. Don’t call yourself an underground hip-hop fan if you haven’t heard this album.
Best tracks: Since When?, Caved In, Beautiful Girl, Never Know why, Remember Me, Brain Cell, the Gates, Where Will You Be?
We slipping far under the ghoul yard
In grim tombs we some dim stars, batteries full barred
At birth, but it’s hard to stay charged on earth
Cause world wide like girth, the wise are in dirt
Grandmama’s used to bus us to church
Stretch out a fat meal on the table from something slim
Now we starving, faith on the back of a carton
To find it, follow tracks down arms
And boulevards in the south, park
Watch as mouth art paints audio visuals
Prince Paul – A Prince Among Thieves
Artist: Prince Paul
Album: A Prince Among Thieves
Release Date: February 23 1999
Album Concept: A Prince Among Thieves is a concept album that follows rapper Tariq who is played by MC Breeze Brewin’ from the Juggaknots as he struggles to collect money for studio time to finish his demo to present to RZA. Tariq’s friend named True played by MC Big Sha, unfortunately, introduces him to drug dealing and the two become apart of the drug underworld in an attempt to make a thousand dollars to record his demo tape.
Our Narration: If you thought GKMC was cinematic then you haven’t heard A Prince Among Thieves which is alongside Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the most cinematic rap album of all time. Every skit and track is done to perfection largely due to the genius Prince Paul who is also responsible for producing De La Soul’s classic album De La Soul is Dead. If you’re looking to listen to any concept album on this list and you are unsure what to start with, we recommend that you start with this album. Be prepared though as you’re in for one heck of a ride.
Best tracks: The Other Line, Steady Slobbin, Weapon World, A Prince Among Thieves
A Prince Among Thieves
Damn, what a price to pay
Shows the thought you can’t take away
Now, forever, sleep is where your body lay
Restin’ in peace is what I hope and pray
Shit, what I won’t tell your moms
As she breakin’ down in a brother’s arms
But she don’t know the truth, so I throw on the charms
“He started buggin’, callin’ in to work
Captain of the fiends so they called him Kirk
After he got caught, he got real berserk
Found out he was smokin’ from who gave him work
I wanted to be the first one to tell you that
Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
Release Date: August 1st 1995
Album Concept: “The theme of the album is two guys that had enough of the negative life and was ready to move on, but had one more sting to pull off. They’re tired of doing what they doing, but they’re trying to make this last quarter million. That’s a lot of money in the streets. We gonna retire and see our grandbabies and get our lives together.” – RZA
In other words, it follows two main ambitious characters on their road to riches. it is a cinematic narrative where Raekwon (Lex Diamonds) is the main character and Ghostface Killah (Tony Starks) is the sidekick. RZA (Bobby Steels) is the director as he is the producer of the album, with the rest of the Clan, named Wu-Gambinos being the supporting cast as they feature frequently throughout the album.
Our narrative: Raekwon’s debut solo was so good that he has never been able to top it. If not for this album we’d never have gotten Reasonable Doubt, Life After Death and Get Rich or Die Tryin. It is one of the most influential and important rap albums of all time. May we also add that this is RZA’s greatest production work.
Best tracks: Criminology, Heaven & hell, Knowledge God, Criminology, Ice Cream
AK’s black bust back like seventy Macs
I’m all that, street niggas knowing my steez black
Ron G, you know he coincide with me, see,
Marvelous menace for society
But anyway, let’s toast, champagne thoughts with Ghost
I max the most shotguns through the nose
Fuck rap, hip hop put me on top
‘Lo wears, and Tommy Hil fly shit with a knot
The witty unpredictable live shit, drive by shit
Do or die shit, I’ll take your lye and shit
And then you know, I’m running through the penal, foul
Four-toothed child was wild
The old lady snitched, but fuck it, you know it, one love kid
No I’m not doing a bid
Notorious B.I.G. – Ready To Die
Artist: Notorious B.I.G
Album: Ready To Die
Release Date: September 13 1994
Album Concept: Ready to Die is an autobiography concept album that tells us biggie’s life at the bottom, living in a ghetto environment and committing crimes to get by to his meteoric rise to the top. He commits suicide at the end due to paranoia, guilt, depression and the pressures of life.
Simply, one of the greatest rap albums to display how grim and messed up the street life is and even when you leave it behind, what you lived through sticks with you forever. No amount of money and material possessions can make you forget your past experiences and what you did to get to the top. Phenomenal debut album.
Best tracks: Things Done Changed, Warning, Ready to Die, Everyday Struggle, Respect, Suicidal Thoughts
When I die, fuck it, I wanna go to hell
‘Cause I’m a piece of shit, it ain’t hard to fuckin’ tell
It don’t make sense, goin’ to heaven with the goodie-goodies
Dressed in white, I like black Timbs and black hoodies
God’ll prob’ly have me on some real strict shit
No sleepin’ all day, no gettin’ my dick licked
Hangin’ with the goodie-goodies, loungin’ in paradise
Fuck that shit, I wanna tote guns and shoot dice
(You talkin’ some crazy shit now, nigga)
All my life I been considered as the worst
Lyin’ to my mother, even stealin’ out her purse
Crime after crime, from drugs to extortion
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Artist: Kanye West
Album: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Release Date: November 22 2010
Album Concept: The concept of MBDTF is one of a Greek tragedy that explores the relationship between Kanye’s character Fantasy and another character in the album called Pheonix. It portrays Kanye (a Greek God) at his peak on the very top of the rap game (Can we get much higher chorus) to his downward spiral of losing his top spot in the rap game due to his piss poor arrogance and having to deal with his grave mistakes. Once Fantasy has been kicked off the top of the mountain (Mount Olympus as referred to in Gorgeous) by the other Greek Gods, he resumes a normal life and meets a girl called Phoenix. Fantasy falls deeply in love with her but she is not the perfect girl she appears to be as he finds out she is cheating on him with some other guy. They split and Kanye realizes that he was also part of the problem to why they separated. He is humbled and his life goes on. He’s lost two things that were most important him, being at the top of the rap game and Phoenix. He can never get those two back as he has upset the other Greek Gods and Pheonix has moved on. Now he is just a normal person who has to learn to survive in America like every other normal person who has issues with debt and so on. Issues that he never had before until he became normal. Ultimately this concept story is a film being watched by children as Nicki Minaj mentions at the beginning of the Dark Fantasy song and Fantasy is being shown as a lesson to them, that being do not let your ego ruin you or you might end up like Fantasy. Read More Here.
Our Narrative: From the very beginning right to the very end MBDTF is an exquisite listen. There are no bad tracks and despite it being a long album, you will never get bored of listening to it. This is Kanye at the very top of his game. The real question is, will he ever top this?
Best tracks: Dark Fantasy, Gorgeous, Power, Devil in a New Dress, Lost in the World
Is hip hop just a euphemism for a new religion?
The soul music of the slaves that the youth is missing
This is more than just my road to redemption
Malcolm West had the whole nation standing at attention
As long as I’m in Polo smiling, they think they got me
But they would try to crack me if they ever see a black me
I thought I chose a field where they couldn’t sack me
If a nigga ain’t shootin’ a jump shot, running a track meet
But this pimp is, at the top of Mount Olympus
Ready for the World’s game, this is my Olympics
We make ‘em say ho cause the game is so pimpish
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