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Da Greatest
XXL has weeded through 40 years of music to give you a year-by-year breakdown of the most essential albums and singles in hip-hop history

Compiled by Michael Gonzales, Mark Skillz and the XXL staff

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the December/January 2014 issue of XXL Magazine.

On Aug. 11, 1973, hip-hop was born in the Bronx at a party thrown by DJ Kool Herc. It may have seemed like a one-off novelty at the time, but it was just the beginning. Hip-hop has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry, which has dominated the airwaves, the Billboard charts and arenas across the country, thanks to its mainstream acceptance. The music has been both embraced and adored by the public as it’s been ingrained into everyday life and entertainment.

To celebrate four decades of rap music, XXL has put together a detailed year-by-year breakdown of the Top 10 Songs and Top 10 Albums* of each year. From 1973 to 1983 hip-hop was more about the singles and breakbeats than albums. LPs were released but became more relevant in 1984, so the XXL list doesn’t include any albums until that year. There is way more dope music that didn’t fit in the Top 10s, so narrowing the lists down was hard, but XXL likes challenges. Here, we pay homage to this 40-year anniversary with the ultimate listening guide. Without hip-hop, this would be a whole different world.

*Check out the complete lists of 10 songs and albums per year in our most recent issue.

1973 Singles*
“Apache/Bongo Rock,” The Incredible Bongo Band (break)
“I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Baby,” Barry White (break)
“The Champ,” The Mohawks (break)
“The Mexican,” Babe Ruth (break)
“Funky Drummer,” James Brown (break)
*The breakbeats listed under 1973 include songs spanning 1968-1973. They have been included here due to their popularity in hip-hop’s formative months.

1974 Singles
“Hit Or Miss,” Bo Diddley (break)
“Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” James Brown (break)
“Do It (’Til You’re Satisfied),” B.T. Express (break)
“Ashley’s Roachclip,” The Soul Searchers (break)
“The Payback,” James Brown (break)

James Brown

1975 Singles
“Scratchin’,” Magic Disco Machine (break)
“Love Is The Message,” MFSB (break)
“Do It Anyway You Wanna Do It,” People’s Choice (break)
“(It’s Not The Express) It’s The J.B.’s Monaurail,” The J.B.’s (break)
“The Jam,” Graham Central Station (break)

1976 Singles
“Seven Minutes Of Funk,” The Whole Darn Family (break)
“Catch A Groove,” Juice (break)
“Dazz,” Brick (break)
“Down On The Avenue,” Fat Larry’s Band (break)
“I Can’t Stop,” John Davis And The Monster Orchestra (break)

1977 Singles
“Music, Harmony And Rhythm,” Brooklyn Dreams (break)
“Trans-Europe Express,” Kraftwerk (break)
“Joyous,” Pleasure (break)
“Mambo N0. 5,” Samba Soul (break)
“Groove To Get Down,” T-Connection (break)

1978 Singles
“Dance To The Drummer’s Beat,” Herman Kelly And Life (break)
“Got To Be Real,” Cheryl Lynn (break)
“Theme From S.W.A.T.,” Rhythm Heritage (break)
“Hot Shot,” Karen Young (break)
“Shangri La,” La Pregunta (break)


1979 Singles
“Good Times,” Chic (break)
“Super Sporm,” Captain Sky (break)
“King Tim III (Personality Jock),” Fatback Band
“Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll,” Vaughan Mason And Crew
“Rapper’s Delight,” The Sugarhill Gang

Funky 4+1

1980 Singles
“Adventures Of Super Rhyme (Rap),” Jimmy Spicer
“The Breaks,” Kurtis Blow
“High Powered Rap,” Crash Crew
“8th Wonder,” The Sugarhill Gang
“Love Rap,” Spoonie Gee

1981 Singles
“Do It, Do It,” Disco Four
“Feel The Heartbeat,” Treacherous Three
“A Heartbeat Rap,” Sweet G
“Showdown,” The Sugarhill Gang Meets Furious Five
“That’s The Joint,” Funky 4 + 1

1982 Singles
“The Message,” Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five
“Planet Rock,” Afrika Bambaataa And The Soulsonic Force
“Punk Rock Rap,” The Cold Crush Brothers
“Rockin’ It,” Fearless Four
“Magic’s Wand,” Whodini

Herbie Hancock

1983 Singles
“Rockit,” Herbie Hancock and Grandmixer D.ST
“White Lines,” Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five
“New York New York,” Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five
“Buffalo Gals,” Malcolm McLaren & The World’s Famous Supreme Team
“Problems Of The World,” Fearless Four

1984 Albums
Run-DMC, Run-DMC
Ego Trip, Kurtis Blow
On The Nile, Egyptian Lover
Fat Boys, Fat Boys
Escape, Whodini

1984 Singles
“Hey DJ,” World Class Supreme Team
“Rock Box,” Run-DMC
“Jam On It,” Newcleus
“Just Having Fun (Do The Beatbox),” Doug E. Fresh
“Beatbox,” The Art Of Noise


1985 Albums
Kings Of Rock, Run-DMC
Radio, LL Cool J
Raw, Uncut & X-Rated, Too $hort
Mantronix: The Album, Mantronix
The Champagne Of Rap, Dr. Jeckyll And Mr. Hyde

1985 Singles
“Marley Marl Scratch,” Marley Marl featuring MC Shan
“I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” LL Cool J
“Johnny The Fox,” Tricky Tee
“A Fly Girl,” Boogie Boys
“The Show”/ “La Di Da Di,” Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew

1986 Albums
Raising Hell, Run-DMC
Licensed To Ill, Beastie Boys
Hot, Cool & Vicious, Salt-N-Pepa
Back In Black, Whodini
Schoolly D, Schoolly D

1986 Singles
“The Bridge,” MC Shan
“Eric B. Is President”/ “My Melody,” Eric B. & Rakim
“Bang Zoom (Let’s Go-Go),” The Real Roxanne feat. Hitman Howie Tee
“South Bronx,” Boogie Down Productions
“6 ’n The Mornin’,” Ice-T

1987 Albums
Paid In Full, Eric B. & Rakim
Criminal Minded, Boogie Down Productions
How Ya Like Me Now, Kool Moe Dee
Yo! Bum Rush The Show, Public Enemy
Saturday Night—The Album, Schoolly D

1987 Singles
“Raw,” Big Daddy Kane
“Bring The Noise,” Public Enemy
“Nobody Beats The Biz,” Biz Markie
“Top Billin’,” Audio Two
“I’m Bad,” LL Cool J

LL Cool J

1988 Albums
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Public Enemy
Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A
Follow The Leader, Eric B. & Rakim
The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, Slick Rick
Long Live The Kane, Big Daddy Kane

1988 Singles
“Microphone Fiend,” Eric B. & Rakim
“My Philosophy,” Boogie Down Productions
“The Symphony,” Marley Marl featuring Masta Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane
“Vapors,” Biz Markie
“Strong Island,” J.V.C. F.O.R.C.E.

1989 Albums
3 Feet High And Rising, De La Soul
No One Can Do It Better, The D.O.C.
Paul’s Boutique, Beastie Boys
All Hail The Queen, Queen Latifah
The Cactus Album, 3rd Bass

1989 Singles
“Straight Outta Compton,” N.W.A
“Children’s Story,” Slick Rick
“Self-Destruction,” Stop The Violence Movement
“Doowutchyalike,” Digital Underground
“I Got It Made,” Special Ed

Ice Cube

1990 Albums
AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Ice Cube
People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm, A Tribe Called Quest
One For All, Brand Nubian
Mama Said Knock You Out, LL Cool J
Sex Packets, Digital Underground

1990 Singles
“Bonita Applebum,” A Tribe Called Quest
“Looking At The Front Door,” Main Source
“Call Me D-Nice,” D-Nice
“Rock Dis Funky Joint,” Poor Righteous Teachers
“The Boomin’ System,” LL Cool J

1991 Albums
Step In The Arena, Gang Starr
Breaking Atoms, Main Source
The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest
A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing, Black Sheep
I Wish My Brother George Was Here, Del The Funkee Homosapien


1991 Singles
“O.P.P.,” Naughty By Nature
“Slow Down,” Brand Nubian
“Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” Geto Boys
“Fuck Compton,” Tim Dog
“How I Could Just Kill A Man,” Cypress Hill

1992 Albums
The Chronic, Dr. Dre
Mecca And The Soul Brother, Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Stunts, Blunts & Hip-Hop, Diamond D
Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, Pharcyde
Dead Serious, Das EFX

1992 Singles
“Deep Cover,” Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg
“Jump Around,” House Of Pain
“Poppa Large (East Coast Remix),” Ultramagnetic MCs
“Who Got Da Props?,” Black Moon
“Gangsta Bitch,” Apache

1993 Albums
Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Wu-Tang Clan
Enter Da Stage, Black Moon
’93 ’Til Infinity, Souls Of Mischief
Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space), Digable Planets
Represent, Fat Joe

Wu-Tang Clan

1993 Singles
“Protect Ya Neck,” Wu-Tang Clan
“Slam,” Onyx
“Sound Of Da Police,” KRS-One
"Party And Bullshit,” The Notorious B.I.G.
“Method Man,” Wu-Tang Clan

1994 Albums
Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, OutKast
Illmatic, Nas
Ready To Die, The Notorious B.I.G.
Tical, Method Man
Regulate…G Funk Era, Warren G


1994 Singles
“Flava In Your Ear,” Craig Mack
“Player’s Ball,” OutKast
“Supa Star,” Group Home
“Afro Puffs,” The Lady Of Rage featuring Snoop Doggy Dogg
“Bring The Pain,” Method Man

1995 Albums
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Raekwon
E. 1999 Eternal, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Livin’ Proof, Group Home
Gangsta’s Paradise, Coolio
The Infamous, Mobb Deep

1995 Singles
“I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By,” Method Man featuring Mary J. Blige
“Incarcerated Scarfaces”/“Ice Cream,” Raekwon
“Get Money,” Junior M.A.F.I.A. featuring The Notorious B.I.G.
“Broken Language,” Smoothe Da Hustler featuring Trigger Tha Gambler
“Shook Ones Part II,” Mobb Deep

1996 Albums
Hard Core, Lil Kim
Soul On Ice, Ras Kass
The Score, Fugees
Bow Down, Westside Connection
Reasonable Doubt, Jay Z

1996 Singles
“Killing Me Softly,” Fugees
“Can’t Knock The Hustle,” Jay Z featuring Mary J. Blige
“No Time,” Lil Kim
“Daytona 500,” Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon, Cappadonna and the Force MDs
“Hay,” Crucial Conflict

Notorious BIG

1997 Albums
Life After Death, The Notorious B.I.G.
Wu-Tang Forever, Wu-Tang Clan
The Carnival, Wyclef Jean
Ghetto D, Master P
No Way Out, Puff Daddy & The Family

1997 Singles
“Hypnotize,” The Notorious B.I.G.
“All About The Benjamins,” Puff Daddy featuring The Notorious B.I.G., Lil Kim and The Lox
“No Time,” Lil Kim featuring Puff Daddy
“Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems,” The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Ma$e and Puff Daddy
“Let Me Clear My Throat,” DJ Kool

1998 Albums
Aquemini, OutKast
The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill
It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, DMX
400 Degreez, Juvenile
Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, Jay Z

Lauryn Hill

1998 Singles
“Déjà Vu (Uptown Baby),” Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz
“Ha,” Juvenile
“Get At Me Dog,” DMX
“Victory,” Puff Daddy & The Family featuring The Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes
“Money, Power & Respect,” The Lox featuring DMX and Lil Kim

1999 Albums
2001, Dr. Dre
The Slim Shady LP, Eminem
Murda Muzik, Mobb Deep
Nigga Please, Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Chopper City In The Ghetto, B.G.

1999 Singles
“Holla Holla,” Ja Rule
“Back That Azz Up,” Juvenile featuring Mannie Fresh and Lil Wayne
“Got Your Money,” Ol’ Dirty Bastard featuring Kelis
“Vivrant Thing,” Q-Tip
“Da Rockwilder,” Method Man and Redman


2000 Albums
Stankonia, OutKast
The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem
Country Grammar, Nelly
Back For The First Time, Ludacris
Supreme Clientele, Ghostface Killah

2000 Singles
“Country Grammar (Hot…),” Nelly
“The Next Episode,” Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg
“Whoa!,” Black Rob
“Shake Ya Ass,” Mystikal
“Bad Boyz,” Shyne featuring Barrington Levy

2001 Albums
The Blueprint, Jay Z
Stillmatic, Nas
Pain Is Love, Ja Rule
Broken Silence, Foxy Brown
Word Of Mouf, Ludacris

2001 Singles
“Area Codes,” Ludacris featuring Nate Dogg
“Always On Time,” Ja Rule featuring Ashanti
“Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” Jay Z
“Bia’ Bia’,” Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz featuring Ludacris, Too $hort, Big Kapp and Chyna Whyte
“Music,” Erick Sermon

Lil Jon

2002 Albums
The Fix, Scarface
Lord Willin’, Clipse
Come Home With Me, Cam’ron
The Eminem Show, Eminem
Kings Of Crunk, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz

2002 Singles
“Hot In Herre,” Nelly
“I Need A Girl (Part 1),” P. Diddy featuring Usher and Loon
“What’s Luv?,” Fat Joe featuring Ashanti
“Oh Boy,” Cam’ron featuring Juelz Santana
“Move Bitch,” Ludacris featuring Mystikal and I-20

2003 Albums
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent
Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, OutKast
Chicken-n-Beer, Ludacris
Beg For Mercy, G-Unit
The Black Album, Jay Z


2003 Singles
“In Da Club,” 50 Cent
“Get Low,” Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz
“Right Thurr,” Chingy
“Magic Stick,” Lil Kim featuring 50 Cent
“P.I.M.P.,” 50 Cent

2004 Albums
Encore, Eminem
The College Dropout, Kanye West
Kamikaze, Twista
Crunk Juice, Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz
Straight Outta Cashville, Young Buck

2004 Singles
“Lean Back,” Terror Squad
“Slow Motion” Juvenile featuring Soulja Slim
“99 Problems,” Jay Z
“Tipsy,” J-Kwon
“Slow Jamz,” Twista featuring Kanye West and Jamie Foxx

50 Cent

2005 Albums
Late Registration, Kanye West
Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, Young Jeezy
The Documentary, Game
Tha Carter II, Lil Wayne
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ Soundtrack, 50 Cent

2005 Singles
“Still Tippin’,” Mike Jones featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall
“Stay Fly,” Three 6 Mafia featuring 8Ball & MJG and Young Buck
“Candy Shop,” 50 Cent featuring Olivia
“Gold Digger,” Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx
“I’m A Hustla,” Cassidy

2006 Albums
King, T.I.
Fishscale, Ghostface Killah
Doctor’s Advocate, Game
The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102, Young Jeezy
Tha Blue Carpet Treatment, Snoop Dogg


2006 Singles
“Hustlin’,” Rick Ross
“It’s Goin’ Down,” Yung Joc featuring Nitti
“Snap Yo Fingers,” Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz featuring E-40 & Sean Paul
“What You Know,” T.I.
“It’s Okay (One Blood),” Game featuring Junior Reid

2007 Albums
Graduation, Kanye West
Below The Heavens, Blu & Exile
American Gangster, Jay Z
Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, Lupe Fiasco
T.I. Vs. T.I.P., T.I.

2007 Singles
“Can’t Tell Me Nothin,’” Kanye West
“Stronger,” Kanye West
“Shawty,” Plies featuring T-Pain
“This Is Why I’m Hot,” Mims
“Crank That,” Soulja Boy

Kanye West

2008 Albums
Tha Carter III, Lil Wayne
808s &Heartbreak, Kanye West
Paper Trail, T.I.
Trilla, Rick Ross
The Recession, Young Jeezy

2008 Singles
“Lollipop,” Lil Wayne featuring Static Major
“Swagga Like Us,” T.I. and Jay Z featuring Lil Wayne and Kanye West
“Love Lockdown,” Kanye West
“Live Your Life,” T.I. featuring Rihanna
“A Milli,” Lil Wayne

2009 Albums
The Blueprint 3, Jay Z
Man On The Moon: The End Of Day, Kid Cudi
Deeper Than Rap, Rick Ross
Relapse, Eminem
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Part II, Raekwon

Jay Z

2009 Singles
“Empire State Of Mind,” Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys
“Best I Ever Had,” Drake
“Forever,” Drake featuring Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem
“Maybach Music 2,” Rick Ross featuring T-Pain, Kanye West and Lil Wayne
“Nothin’ On You,” B.o.B featuring Bruno Mars

2010 Albums
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West
Teflon Don, Rick Ross
Pilot Talk, Curren$y
Thank Me Later, Drake
Recovery, Eminem

2010 Singles
“Love The Way You Lie,” Eminem featuring Rihanna
“All Of The Lights,” Kanye West
“Monster,” Kanye West featuring Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Bon Iver
“B.M.F.,” Rick Ross featuring Styles P
“No Hands,” Waka Flocka Flame featuring Roscoe Dash and Wale


2011 Albums
Take Care, Drake
Watch The Throne, Jay Z and Kanye West
Cole World: The Sideline Story, J. Cole
Section.80, Kendrick Lamar
Rolling Papers, Wiz Khalifa

2011 Singles
“Niggas In Paris,” Jay Z and Kanye West
“Ima Boss,” Meek Mill featuring Rick Ross
“Rack City,” Tyga
“I’m On One,” DJ Khaled featuring Drake, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne
“Black And Yellow,” Wiz Khalifa

2012 Albums
good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick Lamar
Life Is Good, Nas
R.A.P. Music, Killer Mike
Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head, T.I.
Dreams And Nightmares, Meek Mill

2012 Singles
“Thrift Shop,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz
“Stay Schemin’,” Rick Ross featuring Drake and French Montana
“All Gold Everything,” Trinidad Jame$
“Mercy,” Kanye West featuring Big Sean, 2 Chainz and Pusha T
“Swimming Pools (Drank),” Kendrick Lamar

2013 Albums
Yeezus, Kanye West
Magna Carta… Holy Grail, Jay Z
The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem
My Name Is My Name, Pusha T
Nothing Was The Same, Drake

J. Cole

2013 Singles
“Type Of Way,” Rich Homie Quan
“Versace,” Migos
“Started From The Bottom,” Drake
“Control,” Big Sean featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica
“Power Trip,” J. Cole featuring Miguel ♠