15 Classic Hip-Hop Debuts
Wu Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers will forever go down as one of the most solid debuts in hip hop history. This album was huge for East Coast rap, and many regard it as the the blueprint for rap music. It was produced RZA who was behind the success of a number of Wu Tang records as well as several solo albums that came from the group. Commercially, this record was highly successful despite being quite underground at the time of its release. This is no doubt one the best albums in hip hop, period, with some banging tracks including "C.R.E.A.M." and "Protect Ya Neck".
Kanye West - The College Dropout (2004)
Some of Kanye’s best work ever is right here. Yeezy was focused on honing his production techniques prior to dropping The College Dropout, and he was struggling to find the interest to release a project as a rapper. The album was received extremely well, lauded for expressing honest hip hop, compared to braggadocio and Mafioso rap. West’s album gave an emotive perspective, even comedic at times, and has definitely become a staple within his impressive discography.
Nas – Illmatic (1994)
Nas released this classic into rap music when he was only 20 years-old. 20 years later, the rapper continues to draw in crowds performing the album in its entirely at music festivals this past year. Nas’ Illmatic is respected for its poetic flair. Furthermore, the OG was not afraid to talk about some heavy issues prevalent at the time such as violence, drugs and crime-- all with an acute sense of reality. Whilst initially this record did not start off as a big seller, in the years ahead, it is an album that has come to be very much appreciated by heads everywhere, earning platinum certification status.
Jay Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
For many Jay Z fans, Reasonable Doubt is often considered one of his best albums. Although it took time to pick up pace when it was released, today it is known as a staple record for any lover of the genre. Jay Z channeled a hustler vibe on this album, providing some quality rap about his struggles in NYC. Reasonable Doubt gave us some huge Jigga tracks including, “Can I Live”, “Can’t Knock The Hustle” and “Ain’t No Nigga”.
50 Cent - Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ – (2003)
50 Cent’s debut album was a hotly anticipated project at the time boasting production from Dr Dre and Eminem. Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ set off a real bomb when it was released, selling around 12 million units. 50 Cent’s thug image, and stories lived up the hype of the record which candidly told the story of defeating a life of crime and violence.
Raekwon - Only Built For Cuban Linx (1995)
As well as his role in Wu Tang, this solo debut took Raekwon’s hip hop profile to the next level. Only Built For Cuban Linx is no doubt some of the best Mafioso rap we have seen in hip hop and it shows Raekwon’s spit game at his finest. This album holds a big place in history for also being very influential to rappers of subsequent generations.
Outkast -Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)
This album was the first project from Outkast duo Big Boi and Andre 3000. At the time, Outkast gave the hip hop world something that was unlike anything heard before in the genre. The record was received by many critics as being truthful, giving a peek into what it was like to live in the South as a young kid. It was also seen as very artistic with its incorporation of live instruments. Initially, many claimed that Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was not “real hip hop”. But now it is viewed as putting the South on the map in a spectacular way, which paved the way for more artists from the South to come out the woodwork.
Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
Lauryn Hill gave us her first solo record in 1998. The talented artist incorporated several genres into the album including RnB, neo-soul, funk as well as hip hop. But the record was recognized mostly for the way in which Hill gave real insight into to her life by including some very personal records as well as her political opinions.
Puff Daddy - No Way Out (1997)
Whilst No Way Out was Puffy’s debut album as a rapper, he had been in the game producing for some time. This record was heavily influenced by the passing of Diddy’s long-time friend Biggie Smalls. The album consists of a collection of tracks which paid homage to him such as with “I’ll Be Missing You," plus it contained bangers like “Been Around The World”. No Way Out gave hip hop a good look at what Puffy was capable of as a rapper and songwriter.
Notorious B.I.G. - Ready To Die (1994)
Ready To Die is the LP that defines the musical success of the late Biggie Smalls. He was in part responsible for helping to revitalize rap in the East Coast. What impressed fans the most was Biggie’s ability to be so effortlessly smart with his lyrics but at the same time absolutely relatable. Ready To Die is a complete body of work with no fillers, just dope music so there is no need to press the skip button.
NWA - Straight Outta Compton (1988)
NWA jumped onto the scene with this record, that put both gangster rap on the map and as well as the West Coast. This album showed hip hop what the West was all about. It was a rebellious contribution to hip hop, exposing the violence of Compton, not to mention being filled with profanities.
Kendrick Lamar - Section.80
Although Good Kid, M.A.A.D City is better known to the hip hop world as K Dot’s finest work and sometimes considered his debut, Section.80 is where he got his leg up within the genre and it found him on the precipice of something huge-- so huge he would later go on to sign to Dr. Dre. Each of the tracks on this album has a back story from Kendrick, and it showed off his unique lyrical ability and vocal manipulation. It was here that his first gave us a deep look into what matters to the rapper with tracks such as "A.D.H.D" and "Keisha's Song (Her Pain)."
Dr Dre - The Chronic (1992)
The Chronic was Dr Dre’s first solo album after breaking away from NWA. He made a big impact on hip hop with this record, releasing it through his own label Death Row Records. The Chronic is known for bringing out the best in G-Funk whilst it also helped launch the careers of many of Dre’s homies, including Nate Dogg and Snoop Dogg.
Eminem - The Slim Shady LP (1999)
So technically this wasn't Eminem's official debut album, if we are to bring his self-released LP Infinite into play. However, for the sake of this article's integrity, we are considering this his proper full-length debut (and there is no debate that it was his breakthrough). The Slim Shady LP really took hip hop music to the another level as many had never witnessed a spitter so intricate and raw as Eminem, and equally so full of shock value. Eminem was apologetic to none with this record, as he defeated all the odds against him to become a huge name in hip hop, and in music in general.