29th August 2020
This is a list of The top 10 Solo Debut Hip-Hop albums since 1990 due to my age. There have been many great debut Hip-Hop albums but this list has been curated based on quality, also impact for the artist. As objective as I can be, I apologise for any disagreement but hey, who doesn’t love a debate?
10. Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor
Lupe Fiasco from Chicago has always been a lyricist that speaks to the conscious, and his freestyle of Kanye West’s Diamonds from Sierra Leone was a testament to his conscious lyricism, it also caught Kanye’s attention to the point he asked him to feature on Touch The Sky.
Although Lupe had been recording in preparation of his debut album since 2003, he featured on Kanye’s critically acclaimed sophomore album Late Registration that reached #1 on the billboard charts, this was through Touch The Sky which was the 4th single of this album and probably the best exposure you could get ahead of your debut release.
Impressed by the Touch The Sky feature which was now a part of his Roc-A-Fella library, Jay-Z had reached out to Lupe and agreed to Executively produce his debut album, Pressure (feat. Jay-Z) shows an element of the student, sensei relationship and this enabled Lupe to get a Jill Scott feature and production from The Neptunes and Kanye West, which whom he already had a relationship with.
Heavily produced by Chicago producers Soundtrakk, Prolyfic and Needlz from Michigan.
Songs like Real, Just Might Be Ok and Sunshine combine intellectual flow and lyricism with good quality, experienced production which will never fail.
Kick, Push which became a skateboarding anthem was the lead single, mellow beats with cool flow, similar to the Neptunes cut and second single I Gotcha.
9. It’s Dark & Hell is Hot
DMX made his name through battling MCs throughout New York city. From Mount Vernon and Yonkers; DMX came up with Ruff Ryders Records officially in 1997, but initially way before ‘97 as they started off as DMX’s managers and also The LOX. Whilst managing X, In December ‘97; Ruff Ryders were able to get him a feature on LL Cool J’s 4, 3, 2, 1, alongside Method Man, Redman and Canibus X which was a big record for ‘98 and created good publicity for DMX ahead of the release of his debut album.
He’d been recording it since ‘96 and ready to finally release Its Dark & Hell is Hot in May 1998. X was an artist that gave himself to his listeners, extremely transparent and a story teller; Crime Story is a smooth record, probably one of the songs recorded in ‘96 as it has a vintage sound to it. Ruff Ryders Anthem was just that, an anthem for motorbike gangs around America, not to mention my personal favourite Get at Me Dog, the leading single. A classic album with a good balance of hype and smooth records.
8. In My Mind
Back in ‘92 Pharrell and his best friend Chad started a production duo named The Neptunes which has come to become one of the best production duos in Hip-Hop history, spending a majority of the latter 90s expanding their range in music from Hip-hop, to R&B, Pop and Funk to Alternative Rock. Pharrell and Chad have pretty much experimented with sound to its fullest. They had started a band; N.E.R.D. in 1999 and had released 2 albums after 5 years with his band. Along with producing many anthems for acts such as Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Usher, Beenie Man, N.O.R.E., Mary J Blige, Clipse, Bow Wow, LL Cool J, Justin Timberlake, Nelly, Kelis, T.I. and this doesn’t even scratch the surface, we’re talking one of the most sought out in the industry.
After having gained much experience through working with a variety of talent in the industry and experimenting with a variety of sounds, we’re in 2006, with over a decade of experience Pharrell felt it was time to finally take a shot at this solo.
Making In My Mind technically his debut solo album, enabling his industry rapport, Pharrell got features from Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Nelly, Kanye West and Pusha T which is a hell of a roster for a debut album.
Sonically it sounded great and produce many anthems for the decade of the 2000s, especially Can I Have it Like That, That Girl and Number One. A switch in pace proved with tracks such as Angel, I Really Like You and Stay with Me where we get Pharrell hitting those high notes. The true originator of the Rap and R&B singer hybrid and In My Mind proves this notion.
7. The Documentary
The Game, the early 21st century’s West Coast rap representor is another artist on this list discovered by Dr. Dre after catching wind of his mixtape, You Know What It Is Vol. 1. At just 23 years old in 2002; Game spent years taking a backseat to 50 cent and studying 50’s movements under the Aftermath umbrella, continuing his mixtape series and creating buzz, this led to him signing with G-Unit Records in 2004 in preparation of releasing his debut album.
After spending 2 years recording content for his debut album, some of it ended up in his mixtapes.
But they say good things come to those that wait and that was certainly the case for The Game.
He had finally dropped The Documentary in 2005 after utilising his time well, he was able to get production from Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Just Blaze, Havoc, the list goes on.
But nothing helped more than having the most popping rap artist of that time fully endorsing your album. Having just released his timeless classic debut album, 50 cent was scorching hot and heavily assisted with Game’s debut album with 3 features and presenting The Game as the next G-Unit member up after himself. Hate it or Love it, How We Do and Westside Story was also like a 3-track joint EP within the LP. The Game was the West Coast’s equivalent to 50 Cent for the East Coast at the time, this was great for G-Unit and Aftermath.
Tracks like Dreams, Where I’m From, No More Fun & Games and Start from Scratch and Special shows his ability ride over funk beats and show his prevalent West Coast sound.
The quality sounded great and The West Coast finally had an act that looks like they could be the hottest in the game since Snoop in ‘93, I mean, 2Pac, Eminem and 50 Cent all had heavy West Coast affiliations but none of them were from California.
Higher and Put You on the Game were high energy cuts similar to the 50 cent vibe I had mentioned earlier. The Documentary was a moment and an exciting time for LA Hip-Hop.
6. Reasonable Doubt
Jay-Z came into the game with a different mentality to the majority of his counterparts. With a mindset of ownership and building in-house capital. Himself, Dame Dash and Biggs had started Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995.
Jigga had spent the early years of the 90’s acquiring capital by all means necessary, however; this led to him being able to start his record label Roc-A-Fella Records and prepare for his own debut album, which will also be the Roc-A-Fella Records debut release.
The leading single from this album was also the lead single of The Nutty Professor Soundtrack which was in the top 10 US charts in 1996, this song was Ain’t No N***a. Roc-A-Fella Records signed a partnership deal with Def Jam Records to distribute this debut album as Roc-A-Fella’s responsibility for content fell heavily on Jay-Z’s shoulders.
The album dropped as another classic Hip-Hop moment, though it released in an over-saturated climate, it wasn’t overlooked and aged well as time passed, featuring a song full of chemistry with Biggie and the classic Foxy Brown and Mary J Blige records. Also, an introduction to his protégé, Memphis Bleek on the illustrious Coming of Age and records that’d later become classic Hip-Hop samples such as Dead Presidents and Bring it On.
5. The Chronic
Dr. Dre an artist that´s overseen so many eras within this Hip-Hop culture. He went under the moniker Dr. J after his favorite basketball player Julius Erving but had evolved it to Dr. Dre as his first name is Andre. Dre was only 19/20 around these times and found a passion for DJing, rhyming and scratching.
In 1984 he had joined the World Class Wreckin´ Cru which was an Electro-Hop band as the genre of Jazz and Funk was still very much what was popular within black culture at this time.
However as ´86 came around and Hip-Hop began to get more prominent, Dre had left the band to follow what he was truly passionate about and started a Hip-Hop band with his friends from his city of Compton. This band became to be known as the infamous NWA and they had a great run however, politics got in the way where one of the artists; Eazy-E had taken the profits for the work of the whole band and after a good 5-year run, the band had disbanded and each member began focusing on their solo careers.
Along with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre´s solo career really took off as he had signed with Death Row Records owned by himself and fellow Compton native Suge Knight after he had threatened Eazy-E and Ruthless Records to force them to release Dr. Dre from NWA.
Suge was a music executive and gangster blood and got whatever he needed by force if he had to, himself and Dre had started up Death Row Records as a subsidiary label under Jimmy Iovine´s Interscope Records. Death Row Records had discovered up and coming artist from Long Beach California Snoop Dogg (read above) and took in Tupac Shakur as he had moved from New York to LA.
The chemistry between Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg was flawless and they had begun to work on Dre´s debut album The Chronic in 1992 which gave us classic after classic. We basically got a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg 3-track EP with Fuck Wit Dre Day and Nuthin’ But a G Thang along with Deep Cover which was released 7 months prior. Snoop provides vocal contributions to 11 of the 16 songs.
Nas is another artist from Queens New York that made this list and he´d grind his way into recording content as a teenager and young adult. Linking up with Large Professor around these times a producer only a couple of years older than Nas.
At only 19 years old MC Serch had managed and signed Nas to Columbia records in 1992, Serch was able to feature Nas´ track Halftime on a movie soundtrack which had begun the process for the project Illmatic and from there Nas was beginning to gain recognition and comparisons.
Advance 2 years, 21-years old and Nas had finally finished his debut album Illmatic ready to release it to the world´s critics and disappoint it did not, as the music still stands today and it´s referred to as an undebatable classic album.
Tracks such as NY State of Mind and Memory Lane show transparency in the lyricism, but that right there is what made this album so classic. The lyrical content is king on Illmatic, The world is yours, One Time 4 Your Mind, It Ain’t Hard to Tell and the leading single Halftime are all tracks heavily deliviering on the promise of lyrical raps.
3. Ready to Die
Puff Daddy had recognised Biggie´s talent working as an A&R for Uptown Records in 1992, however; Puff had got fired from Uptown Records and things were looking too good to be true for Biggie as a 20-year old young man selling cocaine to make ends meet.
Although this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Puff had decided to launch his own record label; Bad Boy Records in 1993 and had obviously signed Biggie instantly to the label; that year Biggie had garnished some buzz surrounding his name by featuring on a few Mary J Blige records and the remix for labelmate Craig Mack´s classic record Flava in Ya Ear.
Now Biggie was ready to release his own body of music in the year of ´94 and that he did with the classic Ready to Die.
Flow; 2nd to none, mixed with nice lyrical content, cuts like Big Poppa prove this, along with Machine Gun Funk, One More Chance and Unbelievable, Ready to Die shows a major influence of funk and when merged with Biggie’s vocals, it makes a great match.
Also moments where he and Method Man go back to back as the hottest flowers from New York at the time.
Everyday Struggle, Me & My Bitch, Suicidal Thoughts and the timeless hit Juicy were records full of transparency, relating to the listener. Gimme the Loot, Machine Gun Funk, and Ready to DIe were 3 of the first 5 songs which created a sturdy base of lyrical prowess to be expected on the album.
2. Get Rich or Die Tryin’
From Queens New York; 50 Cent came into the game a villain. He entered with an infamous track titled How to Rob where he was dissing prominent figures within the Hip-Hop and R&B industry from Jay-Z, to Will Smith, to R-Kelly, to Wu-Tang, you name them, they were mentioned and this was back in 1999 as a 24-year-old. But a sticky situation with fellow Queens artists Murda Inc had led to 50 getting industry blackballed where many artists from New York were hesitant to work with him.
Although he had formed his set G-Unit with his childhood friends Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks in 1999, 50 really started making major waves as underground talent in New York with 4 mixtapes in 2002 (3 of them featuring G-Unit) and one of these mixtapes had caught Eminem´s eye, impressed by the content he had flew 50 to LA to meet Dr. Dre. Eminem´s label Shady Record´s is a subsidiary record label under Dre´s Aftermath so all three parties began working on 50´s debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin´ released in 2003 and the rest is history another timeless classic, featuring anthems like In Da Club, P.I.M.P. and 21 Questions.
This album was a staple in Gangsta Rap; violent records like Heat, Backdown and the intro; What Up Gangsta, great for gym and Boxers.
However, the funk was never neglected as records like 21 Questions, Like My Style, In Da Club and P.I.M.P. probably proved that this was his best attribute and help 50 prove versatility.
Snoop burst onto the scene being co-signed by Dr. Dre, as his big breakthrough came from Dre´s Deep Cover featuring a young 21-year-old Snoop. He was making waves in the scene as a heavy presence throughout Dr. Dre´s “The Chronic” and the doors were ready for Snoop to bust through with his debut album being fully produced by Dr. Dre; Doggystyle.
Accompanied by Dre and 2Pac coming out with the second release under Death Row Records after Dre’s The Chronic.
The pressure was on for Snoop, not only did he build heavy anticipation for his debut album from his contributions to The Chronic.
It seemed like California had been quiet since Ice Cube in 1990 compared to New York and the East Coast which had Q-Tip, Nas and Redman scorching at that time. Also, Redman had just dropped his well-acclaimed debut album which took heavy elements of 80’s funk music.
But the wait was over and Doggystyle dropped which certified Hip-Hop back in California’s ball court. The Chronic was critically acclaimed and this was also an instant classic with pretty much every song being an anthem. Not a minute is wasted, but it also served as an introduction to Long Beach California, Snoop certainly brought his friends and family with him including his actual cousin Daz Dillinger, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Warren G and RBX.
A record that marriages Gangsta Rap with 80’s Funk coining the illustrious genre G-Funk.
Doggystyle is a timeless classic album serving a platoon of anthems that could still rock any party today! Almost 30 years later!
- Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)
- Eminem – Slim Shady LP (1999)
- Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (2010)
- Ice Cube – Amerikkkas Most Wanted (1990)
- Tyler, the Creator – Goblin (2011)
- Redman – Whut? The Album (1992)
- Chief Keef – Finally Rich (2012)
- Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995)
- Kendrick Lamar – Section.80 (2011)