Hip-hop has come a long way since its beginnings 40 years ago, and its influence has spread out on a global level. Now, another generation of rappers and producers is emerging to take hip-hop further into the next decade, and they've taken the influences of those that walked in the same shoes in the past 20 years and modernized it for what's coming next. But for each of these artists, there has been one song or album that changed their lives and made them want to have a career in hip-hop. With that in mind, XXL asked 23 rappers and producers to pinpoint the one song or album that changed their lives in a way that pushed them to think differently, to relate to their music or to enter hip-hop at all in the first place. —XXL Staff

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“Crossroads,” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. E. 1999 Eternal, that album was crazy. Nothing but hits on that album, it was crazy. That was the album that made me realize how effective music is. How relative it is to the time. "1st Of Tha Month" on there. Adrenaline Rush was crazy too, Twista’s album.


Angel Haze

I think it would have to be Sia. Some people have real problems. I was, like, a sad girl when I was 17. There's a sadness that still resonates hope inside of people. As an artist and a person and knowing what I did know about her and listening to music from my own perspective, it gave me a whole new level of her life and shit.

angel haze


It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy. It changed my life in a way that, prior to that, hip-hop was just beats and rhymes to me. And when that record happened it became much more. It was a call. It was a calling to let me know there's a reason why I love hip-hop, because I can communicate a message through it.



“I Used To Love H.E.R.” [by Common] changed my life. I just never heard nothing like that in my life, let alone a rap song.



DMX, It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot. That’s the album that taught me how to rap. That album taught me how to make an album.


Photo Courtesy: Atlantic Records

Ca$h Out

Man, I could say when Jeezy first dropped that Thug Motivation album. He had the world on fire. He had the streets. And it really motivated you to get up and get it. Whew. That’s why I called my album Let’s Get It, you feel me? That’s [what] he made you wanna do. It wasn’t like he was the best lyrically, but the way he put the words together. Like, if you from the streets, you know he knows what he’s talking about,' cause anybody could get on the track and listen to Jeezy and steal some words he says or something like that. But there’s certain ways you put words together; if you been in them kitchens, if you been in the trap houses, if you been in shootouts, you like, “Man, he talking some real-life facts.” The way he said, “I took a seven out of 62 and made it into this.” You know he know what he talking about.

cash out


The album that changed my life is N.W.A. ‘Cause that’s the first time as kid I heard an album with explicit lyrics on it. I knew who Ice Cube was and Eazy-E. But for radio, not being able to listen to it. This record is so real. I was listening to this shit and the curses in it, and I was just so fucked up. That one changed my life, and that one opened me up to hip-hop. I wanted to rap right there. That led me to Nas years later, that led me to Illmatic. That was it. That’s when I knew I wanted to be Nas Escobar.


CyHi Da Prynce

"Brenda's Got A Baby." 'Pac is in the video holding a baby with all his jewelry on. He got all four finger rings, but he don't even know he got it on 'cause that's not what he raps about. He's talking about this baby he's holding that was in the trash can. That's what music is. You can be fly and flamboyant but still rap about stuff that you should be rapping about and not just the B.S. all the time.

cyhi da prynce

Dizzy Wright

I would probably say Distant Relatives by Damian Marley [and Nas]. It’s because Nas is talking a lot of empowerment on that album. Just being a young Black King, and that’s what I represent. He was really an OG. The Rastafari twist to it, the reggae vibe, the knowledge you get from Damian Marley is crazy. If you look up the lyrics, it’s incredible. That’s probably the album that I was like, yo, I got to be a young King.

dizzy wright

Dun Deal

I would say, the one thing that changed my idea about music completely was The Love Below. When I first heard the album, I kind of ran through Speakerboxxx first, and I was like, okay, this is cool, but where's Andre? I thought it was a double disc of both their music. So I put on The Love Below and I was like, what is this? And I didn't understand it. I listened to the whole thing, and I was like, what? What is this? And the next day I listened to it, and I was like, wow, this is really genius. I don't think people were ready for what The Love Below was, but it was a classic album. And it just changed my ideas of what hip-hop was.

"She Lives In My Lap" was amazing. It's really the whole album that amazed me; I couldn't really pinpoint a specific song, like, "This is the one." But you know, "Prototype" and all that was great, but he made it so different. I'm from California, where gangsta rap rules supreme, so I had never really experienced anything like that in my life, and it expanded my horizons on music. I wanted to listen to everything. I knew that Andre—of course he's talented—but you have to draw inspiration for things like that. I wanted to go through and listen to where he got these ideas from.

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Photo Credit: Cam Kirk

Fat Trel

Rick Ross, Port Of Miami. After Biggie died, I think being fat and ugly went out the window, you feel me? A lot of these pretty boy niggas that came along, it was just looking ugly for the ugly, fat niggas. You know what I am saying? I think when Ross stepped out with that “Hustlin’,” he was on top of the club on the ceiling, in the back of the 745. This was 2005, 2004. It was like, “Whoa!” And I’m a real nigga. My mother went crazy, so to see my mother react like I don’t need to clean up my act. I don’t need to get pretty. I can stay myself. We gonna stay fat. We gonna stay ugly. If he made it work, it can work. I think Port Of Miami changed my life. It changed my attitude. I built a different aura after listening to him rap. I chose different slang, different lifestyle.

fat trel

Gangsta Boo

Here, My Dear from Marvin Gaye and The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. Oh, it’s not just one, it’s like three. And Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette. Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear ‘cause that changed my life once I found out that he wrote it to the woman that was divorcing him pretty much because he didn’t have any money to give her. And he was like, “Hey, I should just give you my album. Here, my dear.” As a writer, I thought that was very genius of him, and it came out to be one of his best-written albums of all time after he died. I’m sure it would have been that way if he was alive, unless he was able to top that, which I doubt. A lot of artists haven’t topped that to this day, and he did that album in the ‘70s.

The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, it was just a well put together album from beginning to end. So many hits on it and then I was young and in love, so every song I related to. Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette, was somebody that I could relate to. With the “You Oughta Know” because she’s pretty much telling the guy in the song, “Yo dude.” She was just raw. I like how Alanis Morissette was always kind of mystic and how she used to move her hands really weird when she performed. And she had the long, witch kind of hair. Jagged Little Pill helped me out a lot in life, from “Isn’t It Ironic?” to “You Oughta Know.” Shit, she had so many songs on that CD.

gangsta boo

Gorilla Zoe

"Hood Niggas." That opened up the flood gates. It was my first single, and it went Gold, so naturally it put me in a better place.

gorilla zoe


Had to be the Marshall Mathers LP, the original one. The album, it was just—I used to listen to it religiously, and everything that Eminem said on it was just ill. It taught me how to rap. It guided me on how to get my mind right after dropping out of high school. I read between all the negativity on the album and saw the positive stuff. That he actually came from nothing, and it really inspired me. Just knowing that he came from nothing and made himself into one of the biggest rappers.


Kirko Bangz

Eminem, Encore. Eminem, I grew up on him. When I was going through shit, he was somebody I always could relate to, because he always talked about the things he was going through, the shit he was going through with particular people. Everything was always so honest and blunt, and that's how I approach things when I get on the mic. When I was going through things, I didn't have anybody to talk to, because I was a private dude, and I felt like Em was too. So to hear somebody who I felt like was the same type of person as me doing the same type of thing I wanted to do as far as rapping and shit, I was influenced by that. And it got me through a lot of shit as well.

kirko bangz


It must be Wu-Tang Forever because that’s when I really got into Wu-Tang and this is what I want to do. It has to be Wu-Tang Forever. I just related to it. It was so tight. I fucking loved it. It was gritty and raw and real and to the point and full of fucking New York slang that I didn’t understand. I don’t think people in New York know what he talking about. His fucking rolodex of slang is insane. That was the first real hip-hop album that I listened to.

When I was younger, this is gonna sound weird, but I couldn’t hear music. I couldn’t hear lyrics. When I listened to a song, obviously everybody knows a hook. But I didn’t understand in these songs people were telling stories or people were saying things. Growing up as a child I didn’t get that. I was listening to Three 6 Mafia and smoking weed and all this other shit, and I wasn’t listening to what they were saying. It was cool, but I never actually really listened to what Project was talking about. Project Pat and North Memphis and where’s he from. Just hearing him discuss the things that he was after listen to Wu-Tang Forever and really realizing what people were saying, it just opened my mind. Yeah, that changed how I view music.


Metro Boomin

Country Grammar by Nelly; Country Grammar and Nellyville. I'm from St. Louis, so it just felt close to home. If anywhere, it had a huge impact where I'm from, because it's not like St. Louis is like L.A. or New York or Florida or something like that; it was like, man, this shit is coming from here. So everybody was real proud of it, the whole city took real pride in everything that Nelly and the St. Lunatics was doing. It definitely influenced me in wanting to get into music. Just seeing that, seeing them on TV, seeing everything that came with that it was like, wow, this shit is hard. They did crazy hits year after year. That shit was ridiculous.

Metro Boomin Cam Kirk

Photo Credit: Cam Kirk

Snow Tha Product

Yeah, I would say Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP. This is making me a super Eminem fanboy right now. [Laughs] But that's really what it was. You know, with rap being Black-dominated, males, I got to see that somebody is accepted and it doesn't matter your skin color. He's doing what he wants to be doing, and how aggressive, his rhyme patterns; everything about how he did it was intriguing to me. Being from the West Coast, there were a lot of West Coast rappers, but Eminem just had this crazy...it would grab the attention, and you would just listen to whatever he was saying. And that changed my life, because I was like, I want to be that passionate about this. That's dope. And it was still funny—it wasn't just the angry rapper stuff—it was funny, quirky and aggressive, and that was really dope.

snow tha product


That’s tough. That’s ridiculously tough. For me, album that changed my life is John Coltrane, A Love Supreme. A lot of people [think] that album is a thank-you letter to God. If you know the history of it, John Coltrane, like a lot of jazz artists, was on heroin. It was like weed. Heroin back then was like weed nowadays. He was hooked on it kind of bad though, and when he got off, he locked himself in a room for four days and made that album. And the whole album is a thank-you letter to God for saying thank you for getting me off that. If you look at the titles, it’s called “Acknowledgement,” “Pursuance.” All tie in from A to Z. I would say John Coltrane, A Love Supreme, because I was able to get it without hearing one word.



I’m a hip-hop guy, I’m a music guy. You know, just hip-hop being the era that I came up in. I’m gonna go left, I’ma go to the left coast. I’ma say N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton. There was two things I was gonna do in life. I was either gonna do music or I was gonna be a professional wrestler. And wrestling had the upper hand until I heard Straight Outta Compton. I was like, “Nah, I wanna do that.” It literally changed my life. It changed my direction of what I was gonna pursue as a career.


Trinidad Jame$

It has to be The Love Below or Graduation as far as life-changing. Graduation was before I was doing music. It influenced me in fashion and art, and that cover was so cool with the bear. I was working in a boutique at the time, and it was just like, this guy can do anything, as far as a more fashion standpoint. He brings it into his music, and people accept him for who he is. It was so cool. If someone else was doing it, people would have thought it was pretty childish. But people accept him for whatever he does. So I was like, if they can accept him, there’s no excuse for them to not accept me or anybody else. As far as The Love Below, I listened to that album seriously when I got into music. When I listen to those sounds, that album comes out in '03. I was like, these sounds are still relevant. You can release “Prototype” now and it still will be an amazing song.

Trinidad James


I was coming up to a lot of Lil Wayne, like when I started rapping and all that. Lil Wayne albums influenced my life a lot.


Yung Joc

The Fugees album. Just to hear the shit Lauryn Hill would say and how good they made it sound. How passionate the music was, it was amazing. Just “Killing Me Softly.” That shit came on right now you’d get the whole crowd singing that shit. [Begins singing “Killin’ Me Softly.”]

Yung Joc