Best albums of all time by Black artists

February 9, 2021
Tamla

Best albums of all time by Black artists

There would be no American music as we know it without the contributions of Black artists. Since the first African music was brought over by people in bondage as early as the 15th century, Black singers and musicians have had a hand in every aspect of American music’s evolution. From country-western, the foundation of which was banjo music from Africa, to rock ‘n’ roll, first played by a Black woman on electric guitar in 1938, each genre of American music has a Black artist (or many) who helped create it.

In addition to establishing new sounds, Black musicians worked to advance civic life, as well. They helped bring about an end to segregation, with the likes of Josephine Baker, Ray Charles, and dozens more refusing to play to segregated crowds, with white allies like The Beatles taking similar stands. They also used their music to advance messages; from Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

To celebrate some of the greatest American music of all time, Stacker compiled data on the top 100 albums by Black artists according to data from Best Ever Albums, which ranks albums according to their appearance and performance on 40,000 editorial and data-based charts including Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and Billboard. The Best Ever Albums score is derived from a formula that weighs how many charts an album has appeared on and how high it was on each of those charts and awards points accordingly. For more background on how Best Ever Albums determines its rankings, click here.

As with any ranking, no “best of” list can be fully representative—particularly when dealing with such a wide range of time, talent, and musical style. The fact that Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Whitney Houston, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald—among dozens of others—don’t appear here underscores that shortcoming. Still, this iteration of the best albums of all time by Black artists offers an insightful look at a significant cross-section of American music that ranges from jazz to soul to hip-hop and back again, with household names like Jimi Hendrix and less obvious monikers like Love and Flying Lotus.

In conjunction with this piece, be sure to check out our Spotify playlist featuring a track from each of these albums.

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1 / 100
Glassnote

#100. 'Awaken, My Love!' by Childish Gambino

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,547
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 79
- Rank in decade: #103
- Rank all-time: #742
- Year: 2016

Childish Gambino has proven there is little he can’t do. The actor, producer, writer, director, comedian, and rapper (who is also known as Donald Glover) went heavy on the singing when he released his third studio album, “Awaken, My Love!” The album, which contains soulful, funky chart-toppers like "Me and Your Mama,” was produced and written by Gambino (with the exception of the track “Zombies”).

Must-listen: “Me and Your Mama”

2 / 100
Atlantic

#99. 'Lady Soul' by Aretha Franklin

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,591
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 79
- Rank in decade: #77
- Rank all-time: #735
- Year: 1968

It was obvious that 14-year-old Aretha Franklin was going to be a star when she was recorded live in 1956 by J-V-B records singing “You Grow Closer” at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit (the complete recordings were released in 1965 by Checker Recordings).

Just six years later, she was laying down blues and big-band tracks that would set her inevitable ascendancy to a cultural icon with a seven-decade career spanning gospel, soul, R&B, pop, rock, and virtually everything in between. In 1987, Franklin became the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “Lady Soul” features some of Franklin’s most famous songs of her storied career, including “(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman” and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.”

Must-listen: “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone”

3 / 100
Tamla Motown

#98. 'Let's Get It On' by Marvin Gaye

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,609
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #166
- Rank all-time: #728
- Year: 1973

A hallmark in soul music, Marvin Gaye’s eight-track “Let’s Get It On” album went platinum in three weeks flat and propelled the artist to icon status. In many ways, the album marked a return to Gaye’s 1960s heartthrob status and stood in stark contrast to his more introspective persona on the 1971 album “What’s Going On.”

Must-listen: “Keep Gettin’ It On”

4 / 100
Infamous Records/HClass Entertainment

#97. 'The Infamous...' by Mobb Deep

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,646
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #130
- Rank all-time: #716
- Year: 1995

Mobb Deep’s sophomore album came about during an iconic and unforgettable era in hip-hop. From Wu-Tang to Nas, there was no shortage of talent. The album featured members Havoc and Prodigy, along with appearances by Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Q-Tip, and Nas. The album showed up at #15 on the Billboard charts and had four singles, of which "Shook Ones (Part II)" was the most popular. The album went on to be a defining feature of the East Coast hardcore hip-hop scene.

Must-listen: “Shook Ones, Pt. II”

5 / 100
Atlantic

#96. 'My Favorite Things' by John Coltrane

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,663
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #76
- Rank all-time: #709
- Year: 1961

History’s most important tenor saxophonist John Coltrane did more than turn jazz on its head: He created a whole new musical genre called psychedelic rock. Almost 60 years later, “My Favorite Things,” is still relevant and revolutionary, showing one of many gifts Coltrane gave to the historic story of jazz in America.

Must-listen: “My Favorite Things”

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6 / 100
Top Dawg Entertainment

#95. 'Section.80' by Kendrick Lamar

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,665
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #98
- Rank all-time: #708
- Year: 2011

Kendrick Lamar could be seen as a direct descendant of the West Coast Hip-Hop style created in Southern California during the 1990s. “Section.80” flows like a long drive up the coast. But his insightfulness is what sets him apart from the generations past. Lamar shows a thoughtful self-awareness that makes him relatable to a wide array of audiences.

Must-listen: “Rigamortis”

7 / 100
Brainfeeder

#94. 'The Epic' by Kamasi Washington

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,720
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #96
- Rank all-time: #698
- Year: 2015

You’ve probably already heard his saxophone playing in the background of a Kendrick Lamar track, or maybe you saw him touring with Snoop Dogg, but Kamasi Washington went even bigger than all that with his first album “The Epic.” The album is almost three hours long and features more than 60 musicians.

Must-listen: “Clair de Lune”

8 / 100
Prestige

#93. 'Saxophone Colossus' by Sonny Rollins

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,740
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #14
- Rank all-time: #693
- Year: 1957

Made up of only five tracks, “Saxophone Colossus” might be Sonny Rollins’ most defining album. He made it less than a year after kicking his addiction to heroin. That year he recorded a handful of other albums, as well as being featured on records of other artists. Rollins, who had recordings with Art Blakey and Bud Powell under his belt by the time he was 20, is still alive and performing at 90 years old.

Must-listen: “Strode Rode”

9 / 100
Def Jam Recordings/Columbia

#92. 'Fear Of A Black Planet' by Public Enemy

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,741
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 79
- Rank in decade: #125
- Rank all-time: #692
- Year: 1990

Chuck D.—prolific producer, activist, and rapper—once famously called Public Enemy, the rap group he formed, the “CNN for Black people.” That’s because, in the late ‘80s, the masses had to look to hip-hop to cover racial disparities in American culture, the prison-industrial complex, poverty, profiling, and police brutality. Chuck D. helped to strengthen a culture of hip-hop that worked for social change and inspired a generation of artists.

Must-listen: “Brothers Gonna Work It Out”

10 / 100
LaFace Records

#91. 'ATLiens' by OutKast

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,749
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #124
- Rank all-time: #690
- Year: 1996

Atlanta-based hip-hop duo Outkast released its sophomore album “ATLiens” in 1996 when Andre 3000 and Big Boi were going through some big changes in life. Andre was sober, celibate, and vegan while working on it. Big Boi suffered the loss of a family member and welcomed his first child. Those factors may have influenced their work on this profound album which nearly topped the Billboard charts and remains relevant to this day.

Must-listen: “ATLiens”

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11 / 100
Philips

#90. 'A Tábua De Esmeralda' by Jorge Ben

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,805
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #158
- Rank all-time: #674
- Year: 1974

The title of Jorge Ben’s 1974 release translates to “The Emerald Tablet,” which was a stone containing ancient writings popular with European alchemists. A traditional Brazillian Samba musician who is highly regarded as a master of the craft, Ben filled this album with references to Egyptian texts along with upbeat melodies. Ben released more than 30 albums throughout his career.

Must-listen: “O namorado da viúva”

12 / 100
Chess

#89. 'Chuck Berry Is On Top' by Chuck Berry

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,825
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #13
- Rank all-time: #671
- Year: 1959

Chuck Berry—who once said famously said he saw his career as “one long Sister Rosetta Tharpe impersonation” (see if the opening measures of her 1947 track “The Lord Followed Me” sounds familiar)—personified the adage “third time’s a charm” with his junior studio album that is widely considered to be his best. “Chuck Berry Is On Top” features his classics “Johnny B Goode,” “Maybellene,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” (just for starters) that were not just high-performing tracks of their time but have survived as rock ‘n’ roll standards for more than 70 years.

Must-listen: “Maybellene”

13 / 100
Not Now Music

#88. 'Brilliant Corners' by Thelonious Monk

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,836
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #12
- Rank all-time: #668
- Year: 1957

It wasn’t easy being Thelonious Monk at first, existing on the fringes as he did of New York City’s mid-20th-century jazz scene. But at 39 years old, with the release of his junior effort “Brilliant Corners,” Monk took his rightful, recognized place as one of the greatest pianists and composers of all time.

Must-listen: “I Surrender, Dear”

14 / 100
Columbia

#87. 'Lady In Satin' by Billie Holiday

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,850
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #11
- Rank all-time: #666
- Year: 1958

Lady Satin” was the last album released while the great Lady Day was still alive, her upper vocal range damaged from years of heroin abuse. The tracks come across gritty and solemn but with the distinct beauty and delicacy that she demanded of the recording. Holiday sings from a place of staggering experience and immense, palpable loss. Whenever one wants to sit in the biting beauty sadness brings, there is quite possibly no better soundtrack than this.

Must-listen: “But Beautiful”

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15 / 100
Tamla

#86. 'Talking Book' by Stevie Wonder

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,905
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #150
- Rank all-time: #652
- Year: 1972

Stevie Wonder (born Stevland Hardaway Morris), blind since infancy, demonstrated an early mastery over multiple instruments and a natural singing ability. His first album came out in 1962 when he was just 12. On “Talking Book,” Wonder broke from his standard Motown fare, opting instead for fresh expression through inspired ballads and inventive funk tracks that synthesized essential social commentary with high-energy dance tunes.

Must-listen: “Superstition”

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16 / 100
Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records

#85. 'Untitled Unmastered.' by Kendrick Lamar

- Best Ever Albums score: 2,928
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #94
- Rank all-time: #646
- Year: 2016

Lamar’s fourth album flipped the script on his previous album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The tracks are titled with dates and numbers. There’s no album artwork. The lyrics show him as an artist responding to fame and criticism by speaking up. “Untitled Unmastered” is Lamar making a statement, presented by an artist unburdened by the need to prove himself.

Must-listen: “untitled 04”

17 / 100
Blue Note

#84. 'Moanin'' by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,014
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #9
- Rank all-time: #632
- Year: 1959

Art Blakey was a self-taught bandleader who brought along countless others on his rise to prominence in the world of jazz music. “Moanin’” was originally self-titled, but got renamed on later pressings because of the first track’s popularity.

Must-listen: “Moanin’”

18 / 100
Universal

#83. 'Live At The Apollo' by James Brown

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,091
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 79
- Rank in decade: #70
- Rank all-time: #615
- Year: 1963

James Brown’s stunning “Live at the Apollo,” the singer’s first live album, is cemented in the annals of soul and rock history as the best live concert to be captured on record. On that recording from 1962 (released the following year) is a medley featuring “Please, Please, Please,” a tune with all the elements that made James Brown James Brown.

The song has no lyrics beyond the title itself, with a few lines of longing (“Baby you did me wrong,” “Well, well you done me wrong,” and so forth), which would have been a tough sell for virtually any other artist. Record labels at first were so put off by the grittiness of the song when he began performing it in 1954 that Brown went unsigned until 1956 when King Records took a chance and set the Hardest Working Man in Show Business in motion and, arguably, changed soul music forever while setting the stage for a new genre of music decades later known as hip-hop.

Must-listen: “Medley: Please Please Please/You've Got The Power/I Found Someone”

19 / 100
Chance The Rapper

#82. 'Acid Rap' by Chance The Rapper

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,150
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
- Rank in decade: #86
- Rank all-time: #609
- Year: 2013

Chance the Rapper’s second mixtape, 2013’s “Acid Rap,” solidified the Chicago artist’s ascent to stardom as well as his disdain for record labels. The mixtape was free to download and featured an array of collaborators, giving “Acid Rap” a fusion of genres. The album is bursting with hits including “Good A** Intro” and “Chain Smoker.”

Must-listen: “Good A** Intro”

20 / 100
Rhymesayers Entertainment

#81. 'Mm.. Food' by MF DOOM

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,160
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #103
- Rank all-time: #604
- Year: 2004

MF DOOM has almost as many names as there are albums featuring his work. In an interview with Spin magazine, Doom described his fifth studio album “Mm… Food” as being about “things you find on a picnic, or at a picnic table.” That quote makes sense when you press play, with tracks like “Beef Rap,” “Filet O Rapper,” and “Gumbo.” Doom is many people in many places making many kinds of music, but that’s what sets him apart.

Must-listen: “Kookies”

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21 / 100
Madlib Invazion

#80. 'Piñata' by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,171
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 79
- Rank in decade: #83
- Rank all-time: #602
- Year: 2014

From humble beginnings selling mixtapes, Gibbs earned his place in the world of street rap with his third album. Released in 2014, “Piñata” is the second collaboration between Gibbs and Madlib. Danny Brown, Raekwon, Scarface, Mac Miller are among the many artists who collaborated on the album.

Must-listen: “Real”

22 / 100
Epic

#79. 'Stand!' by Sly & The Family Stone

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,260
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #67
- Rank all-time: #592
- Year: 1969

Sly & The Family Stone broke boundaries from the beginning. The group’s album “Stand!” contained the first #1 single, “Everyday People.” The album deals with complex social issues with melodies and beats guaranteed to keep your feet moving.

Must-listen: “Everyday People”

23 / 100
Roc-A-Fella Records

#78. '808s & Heartbreak' by Kanye West

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,310
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 76
- Rank in decade: #99
- Rank all-time: #577
- Year: 2008

The fourth studio album by Kanye West featured the rapper's intimate processing of turbulent events going on in his life at the time. His mother had recently passed unexpectedly, and an engagement ended. Though family and friends encouraged him to take time off, West went inside and created “808 & Heartbreak” from an emotional state, creating a lasting piece of artistry that continues to have a great impact.

Must-listen: “See You in My Nightmares”

24 / 100
Warp Records

#77. 'Cosmogramma' by Flying Lotus

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,322
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #78
- Rank all-time: #576
- Year: 2010

Flying Lotus is the stage name for Los Angeles producer Steven Ellison, who was brought up in the world of music as the nephew of jazz master Alice Coltrane. The album contains a blend of sounds from Ellison’s entire world of influence. From electronic music and hip-hop to jazz and video game sounds, his work on “Cosmogramma” runs the creative gamut of what a brilliant musical mind can do.

Must-listen: “...And the World Laughs With You”

25 / 100
Curtom/Buddah Records

#76. 'Super Fly' by Curtis Mayfield

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,326
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #138
- Rank all-time: #575
- Year: 1972

Curtis Mayfield goes down in history as one of the most politically conscious artists of his time, a talented songwriter and guitarist, progressive soul musician, and insightful record producer. Mayfield got his start in a gospel choir and joined The Impressions when he was just 14 years old. “Super Fly” marked Mayfield’s third solo album and is rich with the early '70s turmoil coming on the heels of the civil rights movement as it collided with American conservatism.

Must-listen: “Pusherman”

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26 / 100
Epic

#75. 'We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service' by A Tribe Called Quest

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,333
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #77
- Rank all-time: #573
- Year: 2016

Many people associate concept albums with bands like The Who or The Moody Blues. But the style has also been par for the course for A Tribe Called Quest, a band that released all six of its albums as cohesive, full-length commentaries on American culture. The group’s final album, 'We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service” lays out next-level raps over tracks as varied as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and Musical Youth (“Pass the Dutchie”) with all-star guests including Kendrick Lamar and Elton John.

Must-listen: “We the People...”

27 / 100
Parkwood Entertainment

#74. 'Lemonade' by Beyoncé

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,337
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 78
- Rank in decade: #76
- Rank all-time: #572
- Year: 2016

Beyoncé got her start as a teenager in Destiny’s Child, which in its own right was one of the bestselling girl groups in American history. She forged out on her own with the album “Dangerously in Love” in 2003. As her success grew so too did her messaging, which culminated in 2016 with the epic “Lemonade,” her sixth studio album. That record, which explores themes of family history, politics, relationships, and infidelity, came alongside an hour-long art film.

Must-listen: “Daddy Lessons”

28 / 100
Odeon

#73. 'Clube Da Esquina' by Milton Nascimento / Lô Borges

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,361
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #135
- Rank all-time: #569
- Year: 1972

Milton Nascimento is one of the most influential Brazillian musicians of all time. “Clube Da Esquina” was recorded with his dear friend and songwriting partner Lô Borges. They began writing together while Nascimento was performing at night and working as an accountant by day in the city of Belo Horizonte. Pitchfork called the album “Pet Sounds, Innervisions, and The White Album all rolled into one,” and said it “remains beloved even for those who know just a few Brazilian albums.”

Must-listen: “Cravo E Canela”

29 / 100
Virgin

#72. 'Voodoo' by D'Angelo

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,419
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #98
- Rank all-time: #564
- Year: 2000

Pop-soul artist D’Angelo, who had worked as a member of The Soulquarians, created something new with his sophomore effort “Voodoo.” After taking three years to record, mix, and finish, the end result shadowed the history of R&B while taking the genre to a modern space unoccupied by other artists of that time.

Must-listen: “The Root”

30 / 100
Big Life

#71. '3 Feet High And Rising' by De La Soul

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,472
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 78
- Rank in decade: #83
- Rank all-time: #558
- Year: 1989

Hailing from Long Island, hip-hop threesome (four when they brought in producer DJ Paul “Prince Paul” Huston) De La Soul’s first album “3 Feet High And Rising” took a unique stand on the East Coast rap scene. All of the four members went to the same school and created music from a place of evolving self-awareness. It was this lightness and positivity which set them apart from the rest.

Must-listen: “Potholes in My Lawn”

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31 / 100
London Records

#70. 'Here's Little Richard' by Little Richard

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,552
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 79
- Rank in decade: #8
- Rank all-time: #545
- Year: 1957

With numerous singles preceding his first full-length album, the wildly new and inventive Little Richard defined his own genre in the 1950s. His on-stage persona, flamboyant and bright, was new to the world of pop music. Countless musicians were influenced by Richards over the years. “Here’s Little Richard” was his highest-ranking album of all time, coming in at #13 on the Billboard charts.

Must-listen: “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave”

32 / 100
RCA

#69. 'Black Messiah' by D'Angelo And The Vanguard

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,625
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #71
- Rank all-time: #531
- Year: 2014

Fourteen years following “Voodoo,” R&B icon D’Angelo returned with “Black Messiah.” After struggling through some hardships and gaining new skills, his fourth album was released shortly after multiple Black men were killed by police around the country including in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. D’Angelo’s music spoke to the outrage of many, but it was also an experience of hope during a slew of dark days. The album was well worth the wait.

Must-listen: “Another Life”

33 / 100
4AD

#68. 'Dear Science' by TV On The Radio

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,628
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 78
- Rank in decade: #93
- Rank all-time: #530
- Year: 2008

Rock band TV On The Radio has a gritty, distorted, hard sound unlike anything else. With lyrics that go into the intellectual, and music that can make anybody get up out of their seat, “Dear Science” tells stories from somewhere between knowing and seeking, is often chaotic and wailing, and true to the band’s signature grit. Known to many to put on great performances, this rap, funk, rock group plays to a crowd all its own.

Must-listen: “Shout Me Out” (listen for obvious borrows from Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall”)

34 / 100
Atlantic

#67. 'Giant Steps' by John Coltrane

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,732
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #63
- Rank all-time: #519
- Year: 1960

Released after a period of recovery from drug addiction, “Giant Steps” is viewed as a masterwork of jazz music. Seen as a sort of response to Miles Davis’ slower tempo “Kind of Blue,” Coltrane’s first album on Atlantic Records was created from a veteran mindset. The title track “Giant Steps” features Cedar Walton on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Lex Humphries in the percussion section.

Must-listen: “Countdown”

35 / 100
Columbia

#66. 'Sketches Of Spain' by Miles Davis

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,763
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #62
- Rank all-time: #513
- Year: 1960

“Sketches of Spain” is a concept album that broke barriers of jazz conventions at the time. Mixed and recorded with a wide range of artists from varying musical backgrounds, the album received high praise and showcased a new side of Davis. Thanks to a partnership with composer Gil Evans who put together the album’s Latin flare, “Sketches of Spain” serves as an easily accessible piece of jazz history.

Must-listen: “Will O’ the Wisp”

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36 / 100
Roc-A-Fella Records

#65. 'The Blueprint' by Jay-Z

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,764
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 78
- Rank in decade: #89
- Rank all-time: #512
- Year: 2001

The stunning, award-speckled rise of Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) over his 30-year career began with his independently released “Reasonable Doubt” in 1996 on his newly created label Roc-A-Fella and continues to this day with that label making him the richest man in hip-hop. Jay-Z’s net worth stands at around $1 billion, making him the first hip-hop billionaire in history. He demonstrates the vast reaches of today’s music industry, with his hands over the years in a streaming service, alcohol company, clothing line, sports club, and various entertainment labels.

His secret? Relying on himself to build his brands and rapping about that which he knows most about: himself. It’s not a stretch to say Jay-Z is believed to be among the best rappers in history.

Must-listen: “Song Cry”

37 / 100
G.O.O.D. MUSIC/Def Jam Recordings

#64. 'The Life Of Pablo' by Kanye West

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,916
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 75
- Rank in decade: #67
- Rank all-time: #495
- Year: 2016

“The Life Of Pablo” represents one of Kanye West’s most self-realized (and, possibly, self-obsessed) albums. Though it didn’t receive the same kind of recognition as previous work, West was able to reach out to an already established base who adores his musical skills, and the fun of questioning his methods.

Must-listen: “I Love Kanye”

38 / 100
Ruthless Records/Priority Records

#63. 'Straight Outta Compton' by N.W.A

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,972
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 78
- Rank in decade: #69
- Rank all-time: #490
- Year: 1988

“Straight Outta Compton” is the debut album from the unforgettable West Coast hip-hop group N.W.A. With tracks that were too much for MTV and the FBI, the album—recorded for a reported $12,000—was one of the most intense and massively popular examples of gangster rap in the late 1980s. The group was the first home of many artists who went on to create solo careers including Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy E.

Must-listen: “Express Yourself”

39 / 100
Warner Bros. Records

#62. '1999' by Prince

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,988
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #68
- Rank all-time: #488
- Year: 1982

Throughout his tenure, Prince created a staggering 39 studio albums and four live albums as well as numerous compilations. Few of those albums stand out like “Lovesexy,” “Sign O’ the Times,” or the iconic “1999,” which catapulted Prince to international star status when he was just 24 years old. “1999” came out just 12 months after “Controversy” and included five commercially released singles: the apocalyptic “1999,” “Automatic,” “Delirious,” “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” and “Little Red Corvette.” The album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

Must-listen: “1999”

40 / 100
Columbia

#61. 'Head Hunters' by Herbie Hancock

- Best Ever Albums score: 3,995
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #113
- Rank all-time: #484
- Year: 1973

Prolific pianist and composer Herbie Hancock was 7 when it became obvious he was a musical prodigy. But throughout his tenure as a classical musician and jazz composer, including becoming the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Original Score, Hancock is most well-known for the unforgettable “Head Hunters” that functioned, above all else, as a departure from classic jazz. With heavy synths and funk, Hancock planted a new flag in the arc of musical evolution and history, transforming the industry with tracks like “Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man.”

Must-listen: “Watermelon Man”

41 / 100
Elektra

#60. 'Tracy Chapman' by Tracy Chapman

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,107
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 78
- Rank in decade: #66
- Rank all-time: #468
- Year: 1988

With heavyweight tracks like “Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album brought substantial commercial success with numerous singles hitting the Billboard charts. From early beginnings as a busker on the streets of Boston, Chapman cemented her legacy in folk music with this series of varied, story-driven songs. The album, released on Elektra Records, was expected to have modest sales; not long after its release, the album went platinum and made Chapman a household name.

Must-listen: “Fast Car”

42 / 100
Columbia

#59. 'Igor' by Tyler, The Creator

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,197
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #60
- Rank all-time: #460
- Year: 2019

Tyler, The Creator lived up to his name with “Igor.” The artist handled every aspect of the album, from production to musical arrangements. Known for expressing personal anguish from his past through his music, “Igor” brings us a slightly older and wiser version of the rapper.

Must-listen: “Gone, Gone”

43 / 100
Bad Boy Entertainment/Wondaland

#58. 'The ArchAndroid' by Janelle Monáe

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,227
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #58
- Rank all-time: #456
- Year: 2010

Janelle Monáe, who has done everything from opening for Erykah Badu to playing with Of Montreal at the Lilith Fair, was 24 when “The ArchAndroid” was released on Atlantic Records. The songs on this album vary wildly between funk, R&B, disco, cabaret, and virtually everywhere in between and are filled with pop culture references from “Star Wars” to Muhammed Ali. Monae said the tracks were inspired by dreams and colors. The musical-genre ping pong’s only recent comparison would be OutKast’s “The Love Below.”

Must-listen: “Dance or Die”

44 / 100
Atlantic

#57. 'The Shape Of Jazz To Come' by Ornette Coleman

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,276
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #7
- Rank all-time: #450
- Year: 1959

Ornette Coleman’s Atlantic debut “The Shape Of Jazz To Come” was built on a structure unlike anything else at the time. Though it appeared unconventional then, today the album fits neatly into the progressive jazz movement. “The Shape of Jazz” also debuted Coleman performing with a rhythm section; something he hadn’t done on a record up until this.

Must-listen: “Eventually”

45 / 100
Roc-A-Fella Records

#56. 'Graduation' by Kanye West

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,310
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
- Rank in decade: #78
- Rank all-time: #446
- Year: 2007

“Graduation” showcases all of Kanye West’s energy and creativity in tracks with his signature creative mixing. As his third album, West showed how his skills were just that much better than those of his counterparts. Many agree that “Graduation” marks the point in West’s career when he went from a mere mortal musician to rap icon.

Must-listen: “Stronger”

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46 / 100
Interscope Records

#55. 'The Chronic' by Dr. Dre

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,372
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #82
- Rank all-time: #441
- Year: 1992

While N.W.A. launched Dr. Dre, Dre’s “The Chronic” became the launching vehicle for a handful of others—including a mostly underground rapper going by the name Snoop Dog. Dre, a legend in the business, has since come under fire numerous times for his treatment of other rappers, his homophobic language, and claims of abuse by multiple women.

Must-listen: “Nothin’ but a ‘G’ Thang”

47 / 100
Jive

#54. 'Midnight Marauders' by A Tribe Called Quest

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,384
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #81
- Rank all-time: #440
- Year: 1993

Midnight Marauders,” the third album by legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, proved to be the most successful and sold more than 1 million copies in its first year. Moving from a history of including jazz influence, this album had a more distinct feeling of funk and showcased the growing philosophical lyricism of members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White.

Must-listen: “Electric Relaxation”

48 / 100
Atlantic

#53. 'I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You' by Aretha Franklin

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,438
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #54
- Rank all-time: #435
- Year: 1967

“I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” is a veritable who’s-who of top Franklin numbers, from the title track and “Respect” to “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” and “Drown in My Own Tears.” Still, Rolling Stone knocked the album when it came out for sounding flat.

Must-listen: “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”

49 / 100
Stones Throw Records

#52. 'Donuts' by J Dilla

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,516
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #75
- Rank all-time: #429
- Year: 2006

The incomparable J Dilla had his hands in more musical moments in hip-hop history than most. “Donuts,” likely the artist’s penultimate work, is comprised of 31 tracks that stand as individual masterpieces. Dilla released the album shortly before dying from complications from a rare blood disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. Long after his death, music long considered lost was unearthed and added to the legend of one of hip-hop’s most influential beatmakers.

Must-listen: “Last Donut of the Night”

50 / 100
G.O.O.D. MUSIC/Def Jam Recordings

#51. 'Kids See Ghosts' by Kids See Ghosts

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,571
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #54
- Rank all-time: #424
- Year: 2018

“Kids See Ghosts” is a musical collaboration between Kid Cudi and Kanye West. Cudi is known for being honest about his issues with mental health and said this album, along with the partnership with West, was influential in his process of getting well. Cudi continues to model how expressions of vulnerability build strength.

Must-listen: “Reborn”

51 / 100
Sony Records/Ruffhouse Records

#50. 'The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill' by Lauryn Hill

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,608
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
- Rank in decade: #75
- Rank all-time: #422
- Year: 1998

Few artists (or listeners) will do anything but bow to the continued brilliance and relevance of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Lauryn Hill’s debut album brought hip-hop into the mainstream music scene in an entirely new way and earned her five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year—a first for a woman hip-hop artist.

Must-listen: “Doo Woop (That Thing)”

52 / 100
Westbound Records

#49. 'Maggot Brain' by Funkadelic

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,722
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #105
- Rank all-time: #414
- Year: 1971

“Maggot Brain” showcased the arrival of the wild guitar stylings of Eddie Hazel, who some called the next Jimi Hendrix. With lyrics voiced by soon to be wildly famous George Clinton, Funkadelic’s showed what Detroit would produce after years of being the home of Motown. The psychedelic sounds were unlike anything else at the time, and the album remains a classic to this day.

Must-listen: “Maggot Brain”

53 / 100
Epic

#48. 'There's A Riot Goin' On' by Sly & The Family Stone

- Best Ever Albums score: 4,999
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #97
- Rank all-time: #389
- Year: 1971

“There’s A Riot Goin’ On” was a departure from Sly & The Family Stone’s previous album “Stand!” in that the former’s joyful melodies were replaced by the latter’s more cynical side. This was an album made during Sly Stone’s exploration of drugs, and it spoke of a darker world with harsher edges.

Must-listen: “Family Affair”

54 / 100
Epic

#47. 'Bad' by Michael Jackson

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,067
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 76
- Rank in decade: #52
- Rank all-time: #387
- Year: 1987

Michael Jackson’s conflicted history can make it difficult or unseemly to appreciate the irreversible impact he had on today’s music. In his musical career, Jackson broke the color barrier by being the first Black artist on MTV with his “Billie Jean” video; he determined a new method of production and promotion with “Thriller;” and he took home hundreds of awards. He also followed in the footsteps of greats like Nat King Cole, pushing the boundaries of what roles Black men could acceptably occupy in American society, whether adored, wanted, or rebellious.

Must-listen: “Bad”

55 / 100
LaFace Records/Arista

#46. 'Stankonia' by Outkast

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,086
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #69
- Rank all-time: #384
- Year: 2000

Outkast has always been consistent by being different. The duo’s fourth album “Stankonia” continued on with a boundaries-shattering style that harnessed the energy of the time and introduced radical hope for a new future.

Must-listen: “Ms. Jackson”

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56 / 100
Mass Appeal

#45. 'Run The Jewels 2' by Run The Jewels

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,182
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #46
- Rank all-time: #375
- Year: 2014

Few rappers critique the world with the kind of ferocity and scope of Run The Jewels members El-P and Killer Mike. And no one—from politicians to materialistic celebrities—is safe from the ire expressed on ‘Run The Jewels 2.’ These no-limit rappers began as a festival act and “RTJ2” is their first official album together.

Must-listen: “All My Life”

57 / 100
Island Records/Tuff Gong

#44. 'Legend' by Bob Marley & The Wailers

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,187
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #47
- Rank all-time: #374
- Year: 1984

Bob Marley sold more than 20 million records and goes down in history as being the first worldwide success to come from the “Third World.” As an ambassador for reggae music, he helped to spread Rastafari messaging through his songs and shone a spotlight on Jamaica and its politics. He additionally made reggae mainstream, paving the way for its international popularity throughout the United States, Britain, and Africa. “Legend,” his penultimate compilation of greatest hits, runs through the top tracks of Marley’s career.

Must-listen: “Redemption Song”

58 / 100
Atlantic/Volt

#43. 'Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul' by Otis Redding

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,305
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #48
- Rank all-time: #369
- Year: 1965

“Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul” featured classic songs such as “Satisfaction” and “Change Gonna Come.” Recorded in two separate sessions over a 24-hour period, the largely impromptu soundtrack holds within it a certain feeling of magic and spontaneity.

Must-listen: “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”

59 / 100
Columbia

#42. 'Flower Boy' by Tyler, The Creator

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,379
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #45
- Rank all-time: #366
- Year: 2017

Tyler, The Creator tries coming to terms with some of his previous conflicts and aggressive stances on his album “Flower Boy.” Taking in years of tumult and time spent processing emotions, the album is an honest piece of art that strives for something more. Though his forward stance continues, “The Creator” brings the listener along towards a better, more mature future with these songs.

Must-listen: “See You Again”

60 / 100
Epic

#41. 'Off The Wall' by Michael Jackson

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,492
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 79
- Rank in decade: #90
- Rank all-time: #359
- Year: 1979

‘“Off The Wall” marks Michael Jackson’s debut as a superstar separate from his previously achieved family fame. Open and honest, 21-year-old Jackson sang about where he was and what got him there. Produced by Quincy Jones, the album is often considered a fan favorite over the more commercially successful followup album “Thriller.”

Must-listen: “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”

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61 / 100
Blue Note

#40. 'Blue Train' by John Coltrane

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,496
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #4
- Rank all-time: #358
- Year: 1957

Recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey, “Blue Train” marked the start of John Coltrane breaking away from fellow greats to forge his own path. With five songs totaling around 40 minutes, the album remains relevant today and is still considered to be one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time. Even Coltrane himself said the album was one of his favorites.

Must-listen: “Locomotion”

62 / 100
Warp Records/Fool's Gold Records

#39. 'Atrocity Exhibition' by Danny Brown

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,571
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #44
- Rank all-time: #353
- Year: 2016

Detroit rapper Danny Brown showcases all the wild, and many of the slightly less enviable, sides of addiction and struggle in his album “Atrocity Exhibition.” The tracks serve as heady reminders of just how harrowing substance abuse can be.

Must-listen: “Today”

63 / 100
Cherry Red

#38. 'Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables' by Dead Kennedys

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,775
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #44
- Rank all-time: #342
- Year: 1980

Saying the Dead Kennedys defined hardcore isn’t a stretch, especially when listening to the fast-paced punk songs on “Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables.” Unabashedly left-leaning statements against conservatives and capitalism are laced through the tracks. It’s a wild experience, provided in an unfiltered and raw format, which was exactly how it was intended.

Must-listen: “California Uber Alles”

64 / 100
Geffen Records

#37. 'Liquid Swords' by GZA

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,923
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #64
- Rank all-time: #332
- Year: 1995

Rap aficionados might know GZA from his role in the iconic and everlasting group known as the Wu-Tang Clan, but his solo work is incredible as well. GZA’s second solo album, mostly recorded in his Staten Island, New York, basement, “Liquid Swords” goes down in history as one of the greatest East Coast hip-hop albums. Listen to any one of these tracks, or preferably the full album as a whole, and you’ll understand why GZA is also known as “The Genius.”

Must-listen: “Investigative Reports”

65 / 100
Wild Bunch Records

#36. 'Blue Lines' by Massive Attack

- Best Ever Albums score: 5,941
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #63
- Rank all-time: #330
- Year: 1991

Heralded as a predecessor to modern British dance music, Massive Attack’s first album “Blue Lines” was released in the early ‘90s although it sounds like it could’ve been made last week. Soulful lyrics and booming electronic beats melded together to create a uniquely energizing style that inspired a generation of musicians to come. Originating as part of a group known as the Wild Bunch that DJ’ed street parties in Bristol, England, Massive Attack became a force in the formation of New Age electronic music across the world, but that influence is especially seen in artists from the U.K. who followed in the group’s footsteps.

Must-listen: “Unfinished Symphony”

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66 / 100
Wichita

#35. 'Silent Alarm' by Bloc Party

- Best Ever Albums score: 6,084
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
- Rank in decade: #54
- Rank all-time: #326
- Year: 2005

Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm” is an album you don’t need to skip through, with each track containing something new and worthwhile. The album has sold more than 1 million copies in the 15 years since its original release.

Must-listen: “Helicopter”

67 / 100
LaFace Records

#34. 'Aquemini' by OutKast

- Best Ever Albums score: 6,403
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #60
- Rank all-time: #311
- Year: 1998

OutKast redefined Atlanta hip-hop multiple times over the years. The group’s third album “Aquemini” demonstrated a level of growth and ownership over the genre that hadn’t been reached previously. Daunted by the idea of having succeeded with prior albums, each helped along by the production crew Organized Noize, OutKast set out to find itself anew. As with seemingly all things created by Big Boi and Andre 3000, it worked.

Must-listen: “Rosa Parks”

68 / 100
Top Dawg Entertainment

#33. 'Damn.' by Kendrick Lamar

- Best Ever Albums score: 6,639
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #34
- Rank all-time: #297
- Year: 2017

Kendrick Lamar became the first rap artist to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2018 for his fourth studio album, “DAMN.” At just 32 years old, Lamar has already earned 13 Grammys and a nod from Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is widely considered one of his generation’s most influential rappers, and as a songwriter and producer, he’s already helping to churn out and develop new talent, from Ab-Soul to Sza.

Must-listen: “LOVE.”

69 / 100
Island Records

#32. 'Exodus' by Bob Marley & The Wailers

- Best Ever Albums score: 6,663
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #74
- Rank all-time: #295
- Year: 1977

Bob Marley’s home in Jamaica was raided on Dec. 5, 1976 by (likely politically motivated) gunmen two days before Marley was to headline “Smile Jamaica,” a unity-themed concert meant to quell rising political tensions. The would-be assassins shot him, his wife, a friend, and Marley’s manager. A bandaged Marley performed anyway. After the concert, he went to Nassau, Bahamas, with his team; while there, he wrote “Jamming” about the attack on his life. Marley and the Wailers flew to London after Nassau, where they spent several months recording the songs that comprised “Exodus.” The album was ranked #1 of the 20th century by Time magazine.

Must-listen: “Jamming”

70 / 100
Bad Boy Entertainment

#31. 'Ready To Die' by The Notorious B.I.G.

- Best Ever Albums score: 6,693
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #57
- Rank all-time: #294
- Year: 1994

Coming off like he’s reciting a premonition, The Notorious B.I.G. speaks on “Ready To Die” about a future he seemed to have known was coming. He candidly talks about the pitfalls and dangers of selling crack cocaine. He lets you know why he started and what it costs to go down that road. Whereas his West Coast counterpart was a poet, The Notorious B.I.G. was a storyteller who wove narratives from his hard-lived youth throughout his songs. At 24 years old, the artist was murdered in a drive-by shooting. The case remains unsolved to this day.

Must-listen: “Juicy”

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71 / 100
Columbia

#30. 'Mingus Ah Um' by Charles Mingus

- Best Ever Albums score: 7,737
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #2
- Rank all-time: #255
- Year: 1959

Listening to “Mingus Ah Um” is as close as most will come to getting to know the soul of the man behind it. Complex, disjointed at times, and full of emotion, Charles Mingus’ plays to a different crowd. He created a structure for this album but left substantial room for freedom, as well. He wanted everyone to perform what they felt, while he kept the essence true to himself.

Must-listen: “Boogie Stop Shuffle”

72 / 100
Roc-A-Fella Records

#29. 'Late Registration' by Kanye West

- Best Ever Albums score: 7,933
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #43
- Rank all-time: #251
- Year: 2005

“Late Registration” sold almost 1 million copies in the first week it was out. It’s hard to argue that kind of success, regardless of whether or not the man behind the curtain has flaws and exhibits wild behaviors at times. Kanye West’s self-aggrandizing artistry, coupled with being honest about his process to get there, creates a musical hook in human form which his fans just can’t get enough of. Co-producer Jon Brion helped West on his journey to once again catch the attention of the people, and it worked. When it comes down to what the beatmaker and lyricist can’t do, the answer still remains unknown.

Must-listen: “Hey Mama”

73 / 100
Columbia

#28. 'In A Silent Way' by Miles Davis

- Best Ever Albums score: 8,178
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 86
- Rank in decade: #40
- Rank all-time: #247
- Year: 1969

Always the original, Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way” captivated audiences with the unique blend of rock and jazz while also being neither, standing in open defiance of any one genre. With only a general format written down for his bandmates to work from and recorded in one session, the two long jams on “In A Silent Way” transcend rational ideas of time and space. They are as free as the minds of those playing their melodies. The album also features fellow greats including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Zawinul.

Must-listen: “In a Silent Way”

74 / 100
Reprise Records

#27. 'Axis: Bold As Love' by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

- Best Ever Albums score: 8,464
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #38
- Rank all-time: #238
- Year: 1967

Jimi Hendrix grew up listening to Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and jazz music, all of which are audible in his early recordings. In addition to being one of the greatest guitar players to ever live, Hendrix was also one of the greatest performers. He was notorious for playing guitar with his teeth, setting instruments on fire, and smashing them on stage. He took chances with music no one had taken before and paved the way for future innovators like Prince.

“Axis: Bold As Love” is the second studio album from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and features “Little Wing,” a song he wrote about the Monterey Pop Festival as if it was a woman (“When I'm sad, she comes to me / With a thousand smiles, she gives to me free / It's alright she says it's alright / Take anything you want from me, / Anything.”)

Must-listen: “Little Wing”

75 / 100
Def Jam Recordings

#26. 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back' by Public Enemy

- Best Ever Albums score: 8,467
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 80
- Rank in decade: #28
- Rank all-time: #237
- Year: 1988

Formed by Chuck D and Flavor Flav, Public Enemy was sampling music in groundbreaking ways before it was standard hip-hop practice. “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” is a culmination of years of work with deeply layered beats and rich lyrics, and it shows: Public Enemy’s sophomore effort went platinum and paved the way for decades of rappers to come.

Must-listen: “Bring the Noise”

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76 / 100
Paisley Park

#25. 'Sign 'O' the Times' by Prince

- Best Ever Albums score: 8,539
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 81
- Rank in decade: #27
- Rank all-time: #233
- Year: 1987

Prince’s musical experimentation transformed rock, funk, pop, and new wave music. He was 7 when he wrote his first song, “Funk Machine,” and used not just his solo career to impact how music was packaged and received, but his work as a collaborator and producer. Early in his career, some of his most ambitious works like “777-9311” were used in other groups like The Time, in which Prince sang backing vocals and played all the instruments.

No one had heard anything like Prince before he came along—but forever after, you could hear his legacy in tunes from acts as wide-ranging as Beck and Justin Timberlake. On “Sign “O” the Times,” Prince graces the public with a modern-day iteration of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”

Must-listen: “Sign “O” the Times”

77 / 100
Epic

#24. 'The Money Store' by Death Grips

- Best Ever Albums score: 8,787
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #26
- Rank all-time: #221
- Year: 2012

It’s confusing, maddening, fast, and loud. It’s rock, rap, and electronic. Death Grips’ “The Money Store” is all-out weird, in the best sense of the word. It’s noise that might make you confused or angry, and maybe you’ll have to get used to it, but once it hits, you won’t find anything else like it out there.

Must-listen: “Punk Weight”

78 / 100
Def Jam Recordings

#23. 'Yeezus' by Kanye West

- Best Ever Albums score: 8,972
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 77
- Rank in decade: #22
- Rank all-time: #214
- Year: 2013

He might appear on this list more than any other artist, and his sixth studio album, “Yeezus” speaks to one of the reasons why. Kanye West is dramatic and big, but he’s versatile and dedicated. With the help of producer Rick Rubin, West engineered a scaled-down version of his work on this album. It feels more direct, less cluttered, and, as with the rest of his albums, it hit home with his fans.

Must-listen: “Blood on the Leaves”

79 / 100
Roc-A-Fella Records

#22. 'The College Dropout' by Kanye West

- Best Ever Albums score: 9,960
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #34
- Rank all-time: #189
- Year: 2004

“The College Dropout” was the first record from West to be released on Roc-a-fella Records. Perhaps his most well-known single on the album, “Through the Wire,” was recorded while West was recovering from a car accident that almost killed him. Throughout the recording, West’s jaw was still wired shut. This album was his first big hit, and foreshadowed the successes to come.

Must-listen: “Through the Wire”

80 / 100
Columbia

#21. 'B***hes Brew' by Miles Davis

- Best Ever Albums score: 11,305
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #41
- Rank all-time: #163
- Year: 1970

Miles Davis innovated on every piece of music he wrote, took chances, and never grew complacent: No two of his albums are alike, and the echoes of his impact can be felt throughout our culture. “B***es Brew” serves as the standout record in the artists’ jazz fusion work, synthesizing jazz with electric piano and guitar, funk, rock, and so much more, planting a flag in the genre’s seminal work to influence all jazz-fusion work that followed.

Must-listen: “John McLaughlin”

81 / 100
Island Def Jam Music Group

#20. 'Channel Orange' by Frank Ocean

- Best Ever Albums score: 12,011
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #13
- Rank all-time: #154
- Year: 2012

Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” flows from ‘70s R&B to modern electronic dance music. This sort of time travel is shown in the track “Pyramids,” which takes the listener on a story spanning nearly all of human history. His honesty and sensitivity have made him popular across the spectrum. “Channel Orange” shows a man committed to learning about himself and the world around him.

Must-listen: “Pyramids”

82 / 100
Circa/Virgin

#19. 'Mezzanine' by Massive Attack

- Best Ever Albums score: 12,094
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #32
- Rank all-time: #153
- Year: 1998

Massive Attack’s third album “Mezzanine” is decidedly dark, with moods and melodies acting as a prelude to the coming shifts in the band; after its release, the band broke up. Because of the timing of the group’s fame, and the fact that its members always remained a sort of underground phenomenon, Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” has retained its status as a cult classic.

Must-listen: “Black Milk”

83 / 100
Tamla

#18. 'Songs In The Key Of Life' by Stevie Wonder

- Best Ever Albums score: 13,692
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 85
- Rank in decade: #32
- Rank all-time: #129
- Year: 1976

Most critics agree Wonder’s crowning achievement was the 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life.” The far-reaching, ambitious record that reads like a greatest hits record earned the distinction of Album of the Year at the 19th Grammy Awards.

Must-listen: “Sir Duke”

84 / 100
Boys Don't Cry

#17. 'Blonde' by Frank Ocean

- Best Ever Albums score: 14,076
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #9
- Rank all-time: #123
- Year: 2016

“Blonde,” written from the perspective of a young, yellow-haired girl riding in a car, represented a significant departure from the artist’s other concept album, the highly acclaimed “Channel Orange.” In “Blonde,” Ocean created a world inside of this girl’s, awash with dreamscapes, driving meditations, vulnerabilities, and social commentaries that are accessible—if strange—to everyone.

Must-listen: “Nikes”

85 / 100
Tamla

#16. 'Innervisions' by Stevie Wonder

- Best Ever Albums score: 14,228
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 85
- Rank in decade: #30
- Rank all-time: #122
- Year: 1973

Stevie Wonder didn’t shy away from the systemic racism he faced every day: “Living for the City” off his “Innervisions” album confronted these issues head-on when few other artists were doing so.

Must-listen: “Living for the City”

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86 / 100
RCA

#15. 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' by Wu-Tang Clan

- Best Ever Albums score: 14,544
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 84
- Rank in decade: #25
- Rank all-time: #119
- Year: 1993

“Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” is the debut album by the nine-person perfection that is Wu-Tang Clan. The album reinvigorated hip-hop across the world and brought back the heart to the New York City rap scene. During the creation of the album, recorded in part at a small house in Staten Island, the band had to scrimp by and even shoplifted canned food at times.

Must-listen: “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit”

87 / 100
Impulse!

#14. 'The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady' by Charles Mingus

- Best Ever Albums score: 15,225
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 87
- Rank in decade: #24
- Rank all-time: #113
- Year: 1963

The complex, four-part composition created by Charles Mingus for “The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady” is unlike anything else in the world of jazz. Studied by academics, this masterwork’s richness and fullness can be consumed by any listener, yet there is ample fodder for trained musicians to discover when analyzing the structure and melodies therein. This deeply personal album was written in part as a ballet and came complete with liner notes composed by Mingus’ psychologist.

Must-listen: “Group Dancers - (Soul Fusion) Freewoman And Oh, This Freedom's Slave Cries”

88 / 100
Stones Throw Records

#13. 'Madvillainy' by Madvillain

- Best Ever Albums score: 17,116
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 86
- Rank in decade: #12
- Rank all-time: #91
- Year: 2004

“Madvillainy” was created as a one-off collaboration between lyricist MF DOOM and producer Madlib. The album is a raw, spontaneous work of art that serves as a musical conversation between its creators. “Madvillainy” remains a mainstay of any serious hip-hop catalog.

Must-listen: “All Caps”

89 / 100
Warner Bros. Records

#12. 'Purple Rain' by Prince And The Revolution

- Best Ever Albums score: 17,917
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 83
- Rank in decade: #11
- Rank all-time: #86
- Year: 1984

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1999 enacted a new threshold for top-selling artists called the Diamond awards to act as a threshold for albums that sell at least 10 million copies. Prince’s “Purple Rain” album easily fit that category with well over 25 million copies (and counting) sold. When Billboard ranked all 92 (at the time) diamond-certified albums in 2016, “Purple Rain” was #1.

Must-listen: “Purple Rain”

90 / 100
Epic

#11. 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson

- Best Ever Albums score: 19,350
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 82
- Rank in decade: #9
- Rank all-time: #79
- Year: 1982

Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” goes down in history as one of the most influential rock albums of all time, but it was so much more than that. The album fuses R&B, pop, rock, and even adult contemporary, uniting fans of every ilk to make it the #1 selling album of all time. Certified 33-times platinum, Jackson supposedly got drew inspiration for “Thriller” from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” creating seamless synchronicity between painstakingly choreographed music videos and new sounds (and basslines—see “Billie Jean”) that put the album in a class all by itself.

Must-listen: “Billie Jean”

91 / 100
Impulse!

#10. 'A Love Supreme' by John Coltrane

- Best Ever Albums score: 19,379
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 87
- Rank in decade: #19
- Rank all-time: #78
- Year: 1965

A Love Supreme” is a celebration of recovery, connection to God, and musical spiritualism. In the liner notes, John Coltrane reflects on his “spiritual awakening” after severe alcoholism and heroin addiction that almost cost him his career. Even the track listings—“Acknowledgment,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and Psalm”—refer to his connection to his faith and recovery.

Must-listen: “Psalm”

92 / 100
Reprise Records

#9. 'Electric Ladyland' by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

- Best Ever Albums score: 20,525
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 86
- Rank in decade: #18
- Rank all-time: #73
- Year: 1968

“Electric Ladyland” was the third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience before bassist Noel Redding quit the band following a June 29, 1969, show in Denver. The album featured backing vocals from the Sweet Inspirations, an all-female group led by Whitney Houston’s mom Emily “Cissy” Houston, on “Burning of the Midnight Lamp;” and “Crosstown Traffic” featured Hendrix on a kazoo he made himself out of some cellophane and a comb.

Must-listen: “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”

93 / 100
Elektra

#8. 'Forever Changes' by Love

- Best Ever Albums score: 20,581
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 85
- Rank in decade: #17
- Rank all-time: #72
- Year: 1967

Psychedelic rock act Love’s “Forever Changes” was the group’s third studio album and barely registered against the backdrop of the Summer of Love, peaking in 1968 at #154. The album has been reissued multiple times and is today widely revered as, in the words of one Pitchfork review, frontman Arthur Lee’s “paranoia-soaked 1967 masterpiece.”

Must-listen: “Alone Again Or”

94 / 100
Columbia

#7. 'Illmatic' by Nas

- Best Ever Albums score: 20,600
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 86
- Rank in decade: #14
- Rank all-time: #71
- Year: 1994

West Coast rap reigned supreme in the early ‘90s as hip-hop—still in its adolescence—spread nationwide. That changed in 1994 when East Coast rappers Nas and Biggie reestablished the region as “The Rap Mecca.” Despite being passed over for a signing contract with Def Jam Recordings, Nas came out swinging with his debut album “Illmatic” which is today widely regarded as one of the greatest rap albums ever made. Proving its timelessness, “Illmatic” was rereleased in 2013—almost 20 years after its initial pressing—as a box set complete with wooden case, vinyl pressing, gold CD, and four-dozen-page booklet insert.

Must-listen: “The World Is Yours”

95 / 100
Tamla

#6. 'What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye

- Best Ever Albums score: 21,149
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 85
- Rank in decade: #20
- Rank all-time: #70
- Year: 1971

Soul artist Marvin Gaye’s influence can be heard in modern-day tracks by Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”), The Weeknd (“The Music”), and Bilal (“Love It”). The talented musician did more than write his own tunes still adored today: He was also responsible for massive hits for The Marvelettes, Martha & The Vandellas, and did production work for Gladys Knight & The Pips and Chris Clark and the Originals. His 1971 album “What’s Going On” is widely understood to be one of the most transformative, important albums of the entire 20th century.

Must-listen: “What’s Going On”

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96 / 100
Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records

#5. 'Good Kid, m.A.A.d City' by Kendrick Lamar

- Best Ever Albums score: 30,433
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 88
- Rank in decade: #4
- Rank all-time: #41
- Year: 2012

“Good Kid, m.A.A.d City” is a concept album through and through, tracing a nonlinear telling of Kendrick Lamar’s life with a who’s-who of producers credits from Dr. Dre and Pharrell Williams to T-Minus. Subtitled “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar,” the album’s cover is a Polaroid of the artist as a toddler and real voicemails from his parents can be heard on the album.

Must-listen: “Money Trees”

97 / 100
Columbia

#4. 'Kind Of Blue' by Miles Davis

- Best Ever Albums score: 31,010
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 89
- Rank in decade: #1
- Rank all-time: #39
- Year: 1959

Miles Davis’ albums did more than influence music; they altogether changed it. “Kind of Blue” perfectly encapsulates this law, as the compilation is almost universally seen as the best jazz album ever made. In it, you find Davis demonstrating—as per usual—an uncanny ability to harness new sounds of the day and put them at the forefront of his music.

Must-listen: “So What”

98 / 100
Track Record

#3. 'Are You Experienced' by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

- Best Ever Albums score: 31,185
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 87
- Rank in decade: #12
- Rank all-time: #37
- Year: 1967

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s widely influential debut album “Are You Experienced” transcended genres with songs that fused together R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, acid rock, soul, jazz, blues, and pop. That, along with Hendrix’s unmistakable sound on the guitar and efficient lyrics, sent the album soaring to the top of the charts. Today, the album has sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Must-listen: “Purple Haze”

99 / 100
Roc-A-Fella Records

#2. 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' by Kanye West

- Best Ever Albums score: 32,779
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 85
- Rank in decade: #2
- Rank all-time: #34
- Year: 2010

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” came out swinging, taking the #1 spot on the U.S. Billboard 200 and selling 496,000 copies in the first seven days before eventually going double platinum and securing a Grammy for Best Rap Album. The highly collaborative, genre-smashing album features a revolving door of musical guests and cameos that include Elton John, Alicia Keys, RZA, Chris Rock, Jay-Z, Bon Iver, Nicki Manaj, and (many, many, many) more.

Must-listen: “All of the LIghts”

100 / 100
Top Dawg Entertainment/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records

#1. 'To Pimp a Butterfly' by Kendrick Lamar

- Best Ever Albums score: 40,130
- Best Ever Albums user rating: 90
- Rank in decade: #1
- Rank all-time: #25
- Year: 2015

Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” has been called alternatively “perfect” (The Verge), “dense and complex” (Pitchfork), and “dazzling” (uDiscoverMusic). Tracks feature fellow heavy-hitters including Dr. Dre, George Clinton, and Snoop Dogg, and move through a dizzying array of lyrics that explore Black American history. Words rise up alongside a stunning merge of jazz, funk, and soul that would likely stun prior inventive geniuses like Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis.

Must-listen: “i”

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